Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Sustainable Practices, by Dana O’Driscoll

Paganism by definition is often regarded to as “Earth-based”, with many pagans feeling close to nature on a spiritual level. But does this mean that pagans are automatically more sustainable and environmentally-friendly people? The story that Dana O’Driscoll gives at the start of this book is one that I’m sure many pagans can relate to; entering into an Earth-centred spiritual practice or religion and feeling closer to nature, yet guilted by the fact that your behaviours and larger culture are in line with harming the Earth and exploiting it. Here in this work, the author goes through how to live through ‘Sacred Action’, in which she outlines as having three principles:

  • Drawing together wisdom from the heart and mind
  • Walking in harmony and care with the land
  • Transforming our lives, landscapes and communities

Here with this concept of Sacred Action, throughout this book she gives constructive tips on how to live your life more sustainably, formatted through the neopagan wheel of the year. There’s so many eco-activities in this book, from different types of composting advice, to creating an olive oil lamp, to building a root cellar barrel – as well as spiritual practices given, such as a wassailing ceremonial rite, a ritual setting up your home as a sacred space, and (my favourite of the book) an everyday prayer and energy blessings for food. Not only will this book help you with trying out new things, but it aids in re-evaluating your lifestyle and passive behaviours that you may not have been aware are contributing to environmental damage.

With this work, the author also provides a refreshing alternative perspective on the eight festivals of the wheel. With Lughnasadh, you’ll be looking at sacred sustainable gardening and at the Spring Equinox you’ll be challenged with re-framing your disposable mindset. Something to mention is that this book is not a wheel of the year 101 book per say, there isn’t a whole lot of information on the historical and cultural context of these festivals. So if that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t get that in this. But for those who want to live your cycles of nature through the year in a more sustainable, intentionally environmentally friendly and eco-conscious way, this book will provide you with many practical tips to do so. It inspired me in a lot of ways.

If I am to give an honest critique, there are a few things I’d like to identify with this book. Within eco-educational spaces, there is a tendency to slip into ableist and classist thinking – whether its intentional or not. I don’t think this book is explicitly discriminatory, however, I think there should’ve been more discussion around the nuance of these issues within eco-educational spaces. In regard to the zero waste movement, where the author does bring it up, she describes it as a “serious undertaking, and even if you aren’t 100% successful, it is certain to help you engage with your own waste” (pg. 98). I loved how she comforts the reader that it’s okay to not be perfect with it because it would still help, but I think because of the blatant inaccessibility of the zero waste movement, I would’ve liked to have seen recognition of that there. Shelbizleee put it perfectly on her YouTube channel, there is much more nuance than the zero waste movement lets on.

In the ‘Earth Ambassadorship’ part of the book (chapter 7, Fall Equinox) she describes how to live Sacred Action through our communities. There’s lovely discussions in here about creating local sustainability groups and advocating for more environmentally friendly workplaces, though there’s little mention of how to enact environmental change through politics and activism (which seems like the most important discussion to have, in my opinion). But the inaccessibility here is further highlighted in the transport advice section, advocating for biking, walking, car sharing and public transit. So much of environmental education is not diverse enough in their perspectives and quickly forget about folk with disabilities that rely on a lot of things that the ‘perfect eco-lifestyle’ deems inappropriate.

The last thing I wanted to highlight is, throughout the book she uses the terms smudging, smudge and smudge sticks, when she refers to basic smoke cleansing. However, the last chapter (Samhain, all about sustainable tools in pagan practices) was wonderful as she outlines how certain plants are identified as being in danger of extinction due to overharvesting and unsustainable wild harvesting, such as white sage (Salvia apiana). She identifies how indigenous groups no longer have access to their sacred plants because of the level of blind consumption and cultural appropriation there is, and gives a list of great local substitutes and tips for ethical and sustainable plant use. The use of the term smudging by non-Indigenous people is contentious and in my research for my YouTube video on endangered sacred plants, I found that many people within Indigenous communities differed on their opinion of such use. My stance, as a public witchcraft educator, is to be respectful of cultural origins of practices and smoke cleansing is a perfectly fine term to utilise. It also tends to be more accurate as the action people are describing is generally not the same as the Indigenous practice of smudging.

Overall, I do think this is a great book. It opens up important conversations that the pagan community needs to have more. Simply worshipping and honouring the Earth in our spiritual thoughts is not enough, we need environmental action and yes, we can incorporate that into our spiritual lives. This book will show you how you can begin doing so. I think the amount of research in here is good to see, though what’s worth noting is that the author is from the United States, so the advice and statistics given is quite biased to that region. This is a medium-paced read, and the general formatting of this book is beautiful, with beautiful illustrations and a decent font size. There’s also a lovely recommended resources section for different aspects of sustainability: gardening, cooking, permaculture, wild foods and herbalism, etc. Sacred Actions by Dana O’Driscoll is a massively valuable read and I do recommend it for anybody who is interested in incorporating environmentalism into their magical and pagan practice.

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