In the physical world, you learn how to protect yourself. For someone who lives in a city, this may mean things like knowing how to cross the street safely so you don’t get hit by a car; learning how to avoid the rougher parts of town or staying in busier areas at night; securing your possessions, home, and vehicle against theft; and engaging in respectful interaction with other people. For people who live in more rural areas, the skillset is often very different: how to avoid attracting larger predators like bears, wearing bright clothing during hunting season when you are outside, avoiding trees that could fall on you, or staying out of a forest or off of a lake during a thunderstorm. It is the same when you drive: there are basic things you do to protect yourself: putting on a seatbelt, not driving when you are intoxicated or too tired, keeping your hands on the wheel, and obeying stoplights. These kinds of “street smarts” really come into contrast when you move from an environment that you know well to a new environment or even a new culture. Regardless, as we go about life, we develop these street smarts, ways of ensuring that our physical bodies, our stuff, and our homes are safe spaces. These are basically a necessary part of living, and many of us do these so often that they become habituated and intuitive.
We can look to nature for similar lessons–all beings have some ways of defending themselves. From the Sulcata Tortoise with her shell to my Geese with their loud honks, wing slaps, and powerful beaks, to the Blackberry bush and her thorns, all beings in nature also know it is necessary to have protection. These protections may vary widely, but they are all present.
And yet, when I talk to people who are developing spiritual practices, working to open doors to the spirit world, exploring Paganism or Druidry, or other such experimental paths–even sometimes people who have been on these paths for a long time–I don’t always get the sense that they have developed any kind of “metaphysical” street smarts. In fact, in a lot of conversations I have with people, usually someone who has had some intense spirit experiences or is opening up some new doors with new practices, the first thing I ask is about their protective practices. And more often than not, they respond by saying they don’t really do protective work or approach daily protection as a passive thing. Even within some magical or druid traditions, daily protective work is not included.
So today, I’ll be offering some insights into protective work for those practicing nature spirituality. Over the last few years, I’ve written two earlier posts on daily rituals that are good preliminary reading if you are interested: my first post offered a set of questions and examples of daily rituals, which is a great place to get started with how to establish some kind of daily practice. In a second post, I shared some examples of things that druids or other folks practicing nature-based spirituality may specifically want to do for daily practices. Thus, I will be expanding from these two initial posts to share some reasons why doing protective work is a really good idea and offer some different options for such work.
I’ve been doing daily protective work, with supplemental protective larger work, for over 18 years. Every day I do the Ancient Order of Druids in America’s Sphere of Protection ritual, which forms an outstanding basis for protection. I also practice the Golden Dawn’s Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, specifically as part of the Celtic Golden Dawn. I also do daily smoke cleansing and protection work using homemade smoke sticks and longstanding work with sacred herbs as part of private studies. As I shared in my earlier posts, part of working up to a daily protective practice, or any other practice, is figuring out how it can work in your life and making a commitment to that work. There are many different choices and finding what resonates is critical.
Why do protective work?
I started this post talking about street smarts in the physical world because having metaphysical street smarts functions in many of the same ways. There are basic things everyone should do to protect yourself. And just like walking around your city, sometimes you can get away with not protecting yourself for a long time and you don’t have a problem, or other times, you have an immediate problem if you let down your guard. Sometimes, even with the best protection things can still happen.
The point is that once you start opening yourself up in new ways–being open to metaphysical realities, learning how to work with and move energy, connecting to deities or other spirits, engaging in spirit journeying, plant spirit communication, or anything else–you make yourself more visible to the wide range of forces out there. Not all of them are benevolent.
We can’t assume that spirits are benevolent or that every spirit we meet is our friend or wants to be a teacher or guide. This is probably the top way that a lot of people get themselves in a great deal of trouble, trouble that may take years, and a lot of outside help to untangle, if they can untangle it at all. Just like a human city is full of different kinds of people, so is the spirit world. Just like a human city, many spirits are neutral, going about their own business; some are genuinely nice and may be interested in helping you; and yet still others are malevolent and seek to harm or profit from you, the spirit world is the same. Malevolent spirits may be just like your best con man–telling you everything you want to hear, putting on a great show so that you will fall for it, and a new person is none-the-wiser. And all the while their real goal is to feed from you, enslave you, trap you or whatever else they intend on doing. These kinds of encounters can lead to years of suffering and horrible effects in your life. Failing to acknowledge this, and protect yourself, is basically asking yourself to be taken advantage of or worse.
But it’s not just spirits you have to worry about in terms of protection. Humans, too, can sling their fair share of nasty energy in your direction: think about the person who gives you a nasty stare, or someone who is directing their ill intentions towards you, the driver on the road who screams at you and flips you off (it is important to note that all humans can sling negative energy; being proficient in energy work or magic just makes that person much more adept at it). Or the bad energy that can be generated by people or by events that take place: the room you walk into that’s heavy with an undercurrent of anger, or your town that has suffered a recent tragedy, or, a bad cultural climate that has everyone on edge. It can also be embedded in lingering places: going into a building that feels creepy and dark, going into a place with long-term suffering, and so on. All of these things can wear on you, and the more open and sensitive you are (or are working to make yourself be) the more you can pick up and carry along with you, and the more overwhelmed you can be.
Another thing that can be all too common in spiritual communities are deceptions or groupthink situations where one person or a small group tries to manipulate many others with their own visions of the spirit world, bringing some people in and ostracizing others. Having daily protection can help you avoid these kinds of situations or at least see them for what they are, which can be very good for you in the long run.
Another way to think about protection has less of a negative connotation than those last two paragraphs have–and that is moving things a little in my favor in the broader world. Daily protection protects you and helps things that could harm you in the physical world be avoidable. Case in point–I always do an AODA Sphere of Protection on myself and on my car before I take a drive. One day, I was driving in the winter down the Pennsylvania Turnpike when right in front of me was a big truck–the truck hit a bump and a giant ice sheet flew from the back and went right at my windshield. It was probably at least 1″ thick–I couldn’t avoid it without hitting other cars and it all happened very quickly. I literally saw my Sphere of Protection activate and the ice bounced off the windshield. Had it gone through the windshield at the angle it was heading, it probably would have killed me. While this is definitely the most extreme example I had, I was very, very thankful for my Sphere of Protection that day. In another example, I used to have a really bad work dynamic at my previous job–and I had one standing meeting in particular that was always contentious. I would do an extra Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram in the office right before going ot the meeting. And then I’d sit at the meeting, watching people fight, and seeing that energy bounce right back off my shield. One of my co-workers even noted to me that she felt like I managed to stay apart from it all–and I thought to myself, yes, probably because I’m the only person in the room with magical protection. I got myself a different job and kept up the protective work. I have more stories than I can count of smaller examples of this kind of magical protection.
Finally, I also see daily protection work as becoming more and more central to what is necessary to just being able to stay sane and balanced in a world that seems to be crumbling around us. The last few years have made it increasingly clear that every year will get harder and more difficult–which means that the world, human and non-human, will experience more anxiety, fear, and suffering. Protection helps you from taking all of that in.
All of these examples–and even more–are plenty of reasons why it is a good idea to take 5 or 10 minutes a day for daily protective work. Even if there are days you don’t need it, there are days you most definitely do, and you almost never know in advance when those days will be.
Options for Daily Protection
I recommend a bit of a redundant approach to daily protection for a few reasons–so first I’ll lay out some options you can consider, and then I’ll share a bit about combining options.
If at all possible, I suggest some kind of energetic ritual as a basis of your protection. This allows you to take a very active role in your own protection and a good number of different options exist. Doing energetic work each day also strengthens your own ability to move energy, which has a lot of long-term benefits. So think about a ritual this way: not only are you getting the protection it provides but you are also basically getting a small daily workout, which has a big payoff over time when you want to do something larger (such as use your protection ritual across a larger area or raise energy for another purpose, like land healing).
The big downside to ritual methods is that you have to be in energetically good shape to do them. If you are sick, run down or depleted, or incapable of moving energy for whatever reason, this can prevent you from doing a ritual. I find I can’t do my daily protective work when I’m actively sick or in the time that I’m recovering from illness, so I depend on other methods (outlined below). The other downside is that you need to make sure you do a ritual that has an internal balance (e.g. don’t always only banish). Otherwise, you can get unbalanced.
For any potential ritual you are considering, here’s what I suggest: read through the ritual, see how it feels. If you can find someone who knows the ritual and can share it with you, even better. This can be in person or even via Zoom, whatever it takes. If not, see if you can find a video of someone doing it. Sense that energy and that presence. From there, start to learn the ritual. Give yourself time and space to learn the ritual–some of them have multiple steps and may seem complicated, but once you know them, they are quite simple. In my own experience, the rituals that have multiple layers (e.g. multiple elements and movements) have multiple layers of protection, as you are literally building layers as you work. Give yourself time to actually learn the ritual and spend time with it…and evaluate it. If you’ve done this for a few months and it is just not working, then it is perfectly acceptable to try something else. My suggestion is not to give up until you’ve had a chance to really evaluate it beyond the beginner/trying to learn it stage–otherwise, you can’t really evaluate the ritual for what it is.
Ritual of Protection in an existing tradition or order. If you belong to a number of druid or neopagan traditions or an order, many of them teach and offer daily protective work as part of their tradition. I suggest if you belong to such a tradition, you start there and learn that order’s protective working. For example, in the Ancient Order of Druids in America (of which I am the Grand Archdruid), we use the Sphere of Protection. This is based on the seven-element system in AODA, which calls the four quarters (air, fire, water, earth) and then three aspects of spirit (above, below, within) to create an extremely potent protection that also has a variety of other uses.
Another common ritual in the Golden Dawn tradition is the Banishing or Summoning Ritual of the Pentagram (which has a number of forms, the most common being the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram). Dion Fortune’s classic Psychic Self Defense offers one such version, and I specifically work the one shared by John Michael Greer in The Celtic Golden Dawn. There are a number of existing Golden Dawn lodges and systems that you could join.
I speak about these two specifically as they are ones I am well practiced in–but there are thousands of active groups, many of them offering some form of daily protection or protective work. I think one of the marks of being a good fit with a tradition is being able to eventually feel that their protective work fits your needs and personality. I love AODA’s approach to the Sphere of Protection as it is specifically designed to be adaptable to anyone’s belief system, so my SOP looks entirely different than someone else’s, and yet anyone who does the SOP would be able to recognize the SOP, even if it was done using a completely different set of symbols.
Why is finding a group and using their protective working my first suggestion? These are rituals that are developed and vetted by a number of advanced practitioners over a period of time, which means they are quite effective, and have a history over time. On top of that, these are rituals that are being done by multiple people each day, which means that you are not only drawing upon your own energy but you are getting a small boost from the collective group (which gets into theories of group egregore, which is a little outside the scope of this post. For now, I’ll just say that as long as the group is a healthy group, this is a very good thing). So when you do this ritual, you are doing a ritual not as an individual but as a member of a community, which means that any larger spirit guardians and ancestors of the tradition are also giving that a small boost.
Maybe you are a person who says away from groups, and that’s fine–I have other options for you below. Some people have such a strong aversion to groups that working with any group energy (even as a solitary at a distance) wouldn’t be healthy for them, and I totally respect that.
Adapting or Developing Your Own Ritual of Protection. Another option for you is to work to develop your own ritual of protection or adapt one from a book or other source you are using for your own learning. Start by doing your research to think about what kind of ritual you may want to develop: read a lot of books, talk to different people who do protective work, and see what you learn. Talk with your guides, gods, and spirits and see what they recommend. While there is a lot to this (more than I can get into here, but I can expand if people would like in a future blog post), here are two general principles: First, an energetic ritual should draw from energy sources that are not you, sources that you have a reciprocal relationship with (do not use your own energy to do this). And second, an energetic ritual can include some kind of endpoint where those sources of energy come together to form a protective barrier around you
The benefits to this are that over time, you can create something that is uniquely you and your path, meaning that it will be easy for you to maintain as a daily practice and meaning that you can evolve it over time. The drawbacks are that you are on your own, and if you are new, this can be a very difficult challenge and you may end up with something that is not as effective or that can be draining. My suggestion is to seek out support from someone who has done this work or works in a similar way to you, someone that has experience and you can trust.
Protection from Deities, Spirits, or Guides
Many people develop deep relationships with one or more deities, spirits, or other teachers and guides that will help them along their way, protect them, and work with them in various capacities. Usually, this involves some kind of agreement on both parties: the diety wants you to do daily altar work, rituals, prayers, and so on and in exchange may offer protection or other boons. Guides and spirits may function differently, but usually, like any other relationship, there is reciprocation. I only suggest this for people who have established healthy, nurturing relationships that are balanced with spirits or guides (refer to my “why do we need protection” above).
I do not recommend depending solely on your guides/deities or spirit teachers for this work. Why? Because I think all of us need to learn to protect ourselves as a sign of spiritual maturity, for one. It is a good idea to pull our own weight in the spirit world, and learning how to protect ourselves is one part of that. And you get all the benefits I mentioned above.
But another, much as I hate to admit it, is that sometimes things change between you and who you work with, particularly over longer periods of time. What if the deity and you decide to part ways because your work has taken you in a different direction? What if your spirit teacher needs to move on to do other things? It happens, and you can’t always predict the future. If you are depending on someone solely and they are no longer walking a path with you, then you will be left unprotected.
Still, other traditions depend on this kind of protection as their core protective method–using prayers, symbols, and calling upon the name of deity. This kind of protection is a very personal thing, negotiated or offered as part of a long-standing relationship and is thus, very individual.
Protection from Talismans, Plants, Stones, Oils and Objects
A final thing that many people do is to use objects, Plants, Stones, or other things in the world to create protective shields. These are excellent tools, but I do not believe the are sufficient in themselves–I suggest they be combined with the other forms of protection I mentioned above). There are massive traditions that focus on this type of protection
Vinegar bowl: A common practice in the Hoodoo and other American Folk traditions uses vinegar, which helps disrupt etheric energy (which is the energy of spirits who manifest in line with the material plane, as opposed to astral energy). For example, sleeping with a bowl of vinegar at night can prevent spirits from bothering you in your sleep or getting into your dreams.
Salt: Salt can trap that etheric energy, which is another reason it is often used or worn for protection. Salt only protects as long as it is in crystalline form, which is something to be aware of.
Stones: Have their own protective qualities. As an animist, I am always hesitant to purchase stones who may have been removed from their own ecosystem against their will and put in a shop against their will and without respect for their sovereignty–which is not a good way to start a relationship. I prefer instead to seek out local stones who may be willing to be present in my life for a time. But regardless, you can research many different stones and their protective qualities.
Plants and Trees: Also have many of their own metaphysical and protective qualities, and developing relationships with traditional protective plants like Mugwort, Hawthorn, Blackberry, Sage, and so forth can be a very beneficial and productive way of developing a protective relationship. This is where practices like smoke cleansing come in, which in some traditions, also have a protective element.
Protective oils: Part of a ritual I developed for myself as a regular protection ritual for longer travel involves a protective oil–I infuse the oil with plants and herbs and then do energy work and ask my own spirit allies to also provide a blessing (layering all three approaches). This can be used daily or as a “backup” when I’m not feeling well and can’t do the energetic work. I love this oil because it really is all-purpose and can also be used to protect other things–like say, doing a little anointing on my car before a long drive.
Putting it All Together
I prefer to use a layered approach to protection to ensure that my bases are fully covered. Thus, I will be using my daily protective energetic ritual, using some plant and herb support, and also having protection from certain spirit allies when I need it. This layer of protection allows me to go about my day feeling protected and ready to take on whatever I may encounter. Because I work as a land healer in an area with over three centuries of abuses and a lot of nasty things being drawn to such abused areas, those encounters vary quite widely, and I’m always happy for such a good set of protection. Plus, it is good for navigating the complexities of the human realm and today’s growing difficulty, and certainly, it feels necessary when heading up a druid order in an age of growing intolerance and challenges.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that protection may change as you grow and develop. Nature teaches us this lesson–we must be resilient, we must learn to adapt, and grow or change as new opportunities or challenges arise. When I was a new practitioner of druidry and paganism, I was very luck to join AODA and immediately started learning the Sphere of Protection. I credit the SOP to keeping me out of a lot of trouble while I learned and grew, both in the human world and on the spirit planes. I added layers and adapted the SOP as I went, experimented with many different kinds of protection, and found things that worked well for me. As I went along, my practices deepened or changed, and some things were dropped or added as I grew and changed. Some things always stayed, like the SOP. This is part of the natural evolution of being a growing and learning person, and I see that evolution as a necessary thing, particularly in this day and age. The point is, I was always doing the energetic protection and I was committed to it, and that was what mattered.
I suggest everyone make protection a top priority for daily work, or at least regular work. By doing this protection, you can explore more, grow your abilities, and have room to grow and be the spiritual, magical, and connected being that you want to be in the world.