As I’ve mentioned throughout this series, the energetic land healing work that you do is largely based on the situation at hand–what is occurring, what has occurred, or what will occur. Sometimes, you are aware in advance that the land will be severely damaged or destroyed. Trees being cut down for new human structures, pipelines being put in the ground, new strip malls being built, new highways going in, scheduled logging, routine “cutting” of trees under power lines, massive surface mining operations and mountaintop removal, and much, much more are very common these days. Lands and waterways all over the place are under duress at present, and this kind of destruction is common in every corner of the world. Its one thing to hear about these issues, and its another thing to be directly confronted with them. Today’s post is going to look at what we can do to help energetically and physically with sites that are going to be destroyed. We’ll also briefly explore the self care strategies necessary for this kind of work. Today, we tackle what I consider to be the hardest situation of healing work: knowing that impending destruction will take place–and being willing to do something about it.
Note: Today’s post continues my land healing series, and if you haven’t read the earlier posts, I would strongly suggest you read them in order first, as this post builds on the previous ones and doesn’t explain terms that I’ve gone into depth with before. Here are links to the full series: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.
Self Care Strategies, Mental Health, and Environmental Destruction
Going to a place that will be destroyed prior to its destruction, holding space for it, and witnessing the aftermath, is in my opinion one of the hardest situations to work with as a land healer. And so, before we can attend to the land, I want to briefly through the mental health implications of such work. Grist magazine recently ran a story on the mental health implications of mountaintop removal, one of the first stories I’ve ever seen on this topic. As the article suggests, the loss of “homeplace”, places where one grew up or is intimately connected with the land, has severe mental health consequences. Of particular note, high rates of clinical depression and higher rates of suicide are linked with such destruction. While the Grist article focused on mountaintop removal, other articles and studies have looked at the overall linkage to environmental destruction and mental health in places all over the globe; one study in Australia is of particular note. I don’t really think we need scientific studies to tell us how bad watching environmental destruction is firsthand is–however, maybe knowing there is scientific research helps us feel less “unbalanced” or “crazy” after working on such a site. What I really worry about are the people who feel nothing, the people who actively destroy.
The truth is, This is the really difficult stuff, the stuff you wish you didn’t have to see, the stuff you wish you didn’t have to experience. No amount of daily protective or energetic work takes away that pain and suffering that you feel as a witness. I just want to clarify that, and tell you that it’s OK to feel this way. As I wrote about last week, part of what we have to do is start acknowledging, paying attention, and holding space. It’s also OK if you feel you can’t handle something, or if you have to step back for a bit. This stuff is overwhelming at times (especially depending on where you live). I’ve been feeling a bit unbalanced in this regard since coming back to PA because of the many kinds of destruction here present: logging, fracking, mountaintop removal, acid mine runoff, factory pollution–to name a few. Its hard to deal with seeing this stuff everywhere, often, and even trying to go into a natural place free of fracking wells, for example, is a difficult thing to do.
Given this, its important that as we do various healing work on sites–particularly those that will be destroyed or undergoing active harm–we practice self care. I have found, personally, that doing this energetic work outlined here in this post really helps me overcome the strain and pain of these kinds of situations. For me, painting through it, or playing my flute, or visiting places that are protected for rejuvenation also helps (I’ll write about this in more detail in an upcoming post). I’ll also note that going to places that are actively regenerating, and looking for the regeneration, and regenerating it physically is another way to work through the trauma. But its there, and its real, and we can talk openly about it and acknowledge it for what it is. And with that said, let’s look at some specific strategies for healing for sites that will be destroyed.
Strategies for Land Healing on Sites that Will Be Destroyed
Experiencing the powerlessness of visiting a site that will be destroyed is difficult, but you are not actually powerless. I learned this lesson in Michigan–we had a replacement oil pipeline coming in, cutting across the whole state, to replace an old pipeline that was no longer in use. The new pipeline required a lot of digging up of the earth, cutting of trees, damaging the land, and it was really awful (I blogged about it a bit here and some of the restoration work here; I also wrote about oil pipelines energetically here). This particular pipeline was doubly damaging because the pipeline was pumping tar sands oil through its veins, and that’s really bad stuff for the land. A good friend of mine had a number of acres of forests that would be cut along the pipeline route. She asked me to come and do what I could for the trees and the land, as a druid. And so, I and a few others came together and did what we could–and we were rather amazed by the experience. I can tell you this–doing something, the somethings outlined here, make a world of difference when compared with doing nothing. I’ll also mention that a lot of what you can do on such a site depends on if its private or public, and so I’m going to share some strategies that can work for different kinds of sites. Most of these are energetic healing strategies, but a few have physical components as well, and doing some work on both levels is really effective.
Communicating with the land. I begin this kind of work by speaking with the land, using both inner and outer approaches. For those who don’t know what I mean here, I would suggest reviewing my discussions of connecting with trees on the inner and outer planes–most of what I wrote in those posts applies. I share with the land what I know will happen and when, and listen to what it responds in turn. I offer to help and ask it of its needs. Sometimes, I am asked to return at a later date. Sometimes, I am asked to leave and not return. But most of the time, I’m asked to stay and help as I am able. This, as I wrote in the post on the process of unfolding, is the necessary first step.
Saving Seeds and Transplanting. For trees that will be cut, places that will be destroyed, etc, I highly advocate transplanting and saving seeds. Even a single plant saved from a site that will be destroyed can be a very healing action. For example, when my friend’s land was being logged in Michigan, I gathered hawthorn haws and apples from the trees; these I planted in fields where they would have a chance to grow. I also saved a New England Aster plant that I transplanted to my homestead, and saved seeds from a number of other plants. You can’t save everything, but you can save a few key things, and the land and her spirits find this kind of work extraordinarily healing. Even more powerful–if you save the seeds from those that will be lost, and later, you can go replant them in the same spot–you are engaging in extremely powerful healing work. I’ll also say that if you can bless those seeds, using something like what I wrote about here, and then replant them, that’s even better. What this does, essentially, is ensure a future for some of the plants and trees. You are saving this land’s offspring and future offspring. There is nothing more sacred and powerful than that act.
Now there is a whole other layer to this, I’ve discovered, through the practice of herbal medicine. The seeds I mentioned above that I gathered are all healing plants and trees. New England Aster, for example, is a fantastic lung relaxant plant and something that a number of people now take for treating asthma and other lung conditions (myself included!) When I replanted that New England Aster plant, I saved its seeds and I harvested some of the flowers each year for medicine. That medicine was shared with others. So were the seeds–I started them–growing new asters, that I’ve given to people and made medicine from (in fact, I have some downstairs right now growing for new friends here in PA!) Think about that energetically–here is a site that is devalued through human activity. When nature is replaced with something else, whether that is a strip mall, an oil pipeline, and so forth, the message is that nature is of little to no value in its current form. But, through herbal medicine, plant, and seed saving, I’ve given that land a different narrative. Showing that the plants it holds, through their very nature, are valued.
Putting the Land in Hibernation. One of the best things you can do in this circumstance, and what a lot of these other strategies that I describe next are getting at, is to put the land in stasis or hibernation energetically, to help it disconnect in some way from the pain and suffering that will happen. This is really the underlying key this kind of work. If you can find a way to lower the energetic vibrations and consciousness of the land, to disconnect it, to help send its spirits away, that is the best thing you can do. Its kind of like giving a suffering person a pain killer–it helps make the process bearable, even though its still painful. We’ll look at a number of techniques aimed at doing this–and you can also let your own intuition guide you in this respect.
Working with the Stones. I have found, at times, that with logging or other surface destruction (something that is not impacting the bedrock), you can preserve the energetic patterns of the land by sending them into them into the bedrock, into the soil, beneath the land. This is another “putting the land to sleep” kind of strategy, and one that is particularly powerful. The rocks can hold this energy for a time, sometimes, a very long time. Its hard to put this practice into words. Essentially, every living landscape has knowledge, wisdom, energetic patterns, that are in need of preservation in the face of destruction. These energetic patterns are part of the land uses to heal and regenerate when the time is right. I believe, that if you do this work with the stones before destruction, it can help regenerate the land much more effectively once regeneration can occur.
Part of the reason that this works was revealed to me when I was at Ohiopyle State Park in the Laurel Highlands region of PA late last year. I was walking there with a fellow druid and dear friend, and we came across all of these fossils there on the edge of the Youghiogheny river. The fossils were from very ancient forests, ancient trees and branches, shells and more. I realized, at that moment, that the stones and the living landscape were extremely intimately connected–the stones themselves had been living plants at one time–and now they are all beneath the living landscape. I had been using these connections could be used for healing work for some time, but this realization helped me understand why. These stones, fossilized stones in particular (of which we have layers all over the planet) can handle living resonances particularly well. And hold them for as long as necessary.
My method of doing this is simple–I enter a state of meditation and open myself up to the rhythms and flows of the land. I explain what is happening, and show the spirits of the land what I could do with regards to the stones. If I get the affirmative, I essentially take those same energetic patterns, and, using the solar current, push them deep within the stones, deeper than any destruction can go. IMoving energy in this way can take a lot of effort–and a lot of practice. Many of the energy healing practices (like Reiki) or magical practices help attune you to the movement, raising, and flowing of energy, and so those are particularly helpful for doing this work, especially on a larger scale. Reiki practice and other esoteric forms of energy work, for example, teach you how to work with others’ energy (whether that other is a person, plant, or landscape) while not sacrificing your own or sending your own somewhere else. Make sure, if you are doing this work, that you are practicing extreme caution in this regard. Otherwise, this work can be extraordinarily depleting, which is not what we are going for!
I’ll also note that this particular “stone” technique would not be as effective for fracking and mountaintop removal. Oil pipelines that go only 10 or 20 feet below the surface would probably be OK. I am in the process, now, of developing strategies for the fracking wells and mountaintop removal–and when I’ve done so, I can share those as well.
Working with Ghost Pipe to Distance the Pain. One particular plant spirit energy is good for this kind of work, especially for when the destruction starts happening or is ongoing. Its a plant called Indian Ghost Pipe, Ghost Flower, Indian pipe (Latin Name: Monotropa Uniflora). This plant, when used for human herbal healing, offers distancing from pain and suffering or, as Sean Donohue writes, it helps in “putting the pain beside you.” Ghost pipe also functions as a plant that helps cross the boundaries between the worlds, very useful when destruction is imminent or just beginning. I have worked extensively with this plant over a period of years, and I have found it to be an extremely potent ally for land healing work–both for you as the healer and for the land.
What this plant does, energetically, is essentially provide a buffer to the pain and suffering the land experiences both before the event and in the middle of ongoing destruction. Its an exceedingly good plant to use for palliative care applications as well as this specific one.
Usually, to work with this plant spirit in land healing, I will do one of several things. My first method is to see if there are any ghost pipes growing on the land (they come out in midsummer, after good rains, usually for me here that’s late June into July and August). If they are present, I sit and connect with them. A lot of times though, Ghost Pipe isn’t present on the land. And so for this, I tincture the plant (I make a tincture in the same method of my write up on magical crafting and hawthorn). Note Ghost pipe is particularly watery, so a high proof alcohol is needed for the tincture. I water the tincture down quite a bit, putting a dozen or so drops in fresh spring water (blessed through a healing ritual). Then, when I go to do the land healing work, I will bring the ghost pipe-blessed water with me, dropping it at intervals around the location, usually on trees and roots. If I can, I will try to drop it on at least the four quarters of the space, or find other prominent markers (large dominant trees work well). Alternatively, if bringing the ghost pipe tincture and spring water isn’t possible, I will place the tincture on some stones that I will bless, and then bring them with me to the site. If I don’t have any tincture or stones, I can still summon this plant in my mind’s eye, and envision the Indian pipe rising up out of the ground and covering the land (I’ve used that particular strategy when I witness suffering–like a truckload of factory farmed chickens going off to the slaughter while driving down the highway, for example). This year, I’m also going to make a magical anointing oil with ghost pipe (probably dried ghost pipe due to its high water content) and use that as well.
I would suggest if you want to use this plant in the manner I am suggesting here, you should start cultivating a relationship with it in your own life: finding it in the forest, sitting with it, tincturing it, taking some tincture when you need it, etc. In fact, it works extraordinarily well in regards to giving you processing space from the mental health difficulties associated with this work. This plant is extremely distinctive and nearly impossible to mistake for another (and yes, its a plant, not a mushroom).
I will end by saying that Ghost Pipe has a tremendously large range in North America (see this link). However, if you live outside of its range or in a different part of the world, I am certain that you can find another plant with similar features–you’ll need to consult local herbals (or herbalists, medicine makers, wild men/women, etc); alternatively, you can trade for some from someone living in an area where it grows (like me!).
Distance Palliative Care and Healing Work
A final technique that I’ll share for now involves taking a stone or some other natural thing from the land (a piece of branch, etc) that can then be worked on further at a distance. I did this kind of work when I was in Michigan a lot with regards to this pipeline and some other sites that needed ongoing palliative care–if I felt led, I would take a stone with me and bring it to a special altar I had setup on my homestead. The altar had protective warding around it (both stones and water) that helped shield the rest of my sacred sanctuary from anything that might be brought in with the linked stone. Then, at regular intervals, I would do whatever healing work I could–play music there, just sit there and hold space, pour blessed water over the stone, etc. Sometimes, at a later point, I would return the stone to the land. Sometimes, it would stay for a long period of time, just sitting there. I use my intuition in this regard.
I think that’s enough for this week–I’m over 3000 words here, and there’s lots more to say. We’ll continue to work through these different techniques–and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences with what I’ve just posted.