Welcome to Part III of my little article series on Magical Protection, "Practical magic: Tools for Magical Protection," ie. How to keep yourself safe from magical attack, and/or how to get out alive when magical shit hits the fan. If you're just stumbling across this, you can read Part I // "Pieces of Your Self: What NOT to Give Spirits" << here, and Part II // "Witches: Baddest Thing in the Woods, Or Not" << here. Read on for Part III where I talk about more hands-on applications such as auric shields, spelled blades, setting wards, crafting witch bottles, and ritual cleansing. Settle in with some tea, this one's a long one~
In the last post, Part II of the series, I said that basically, if you come up on a Spirit that would rather shoulder check you in the hallway than politely step aside as they see you walking, you should assume that you on your own are not enough to deal with it, and/or you need some sort of weapon or backup (and by deal with it, I don't mean you have to fight -- or kill -- every spirit you come up against; you might need help to just get it to simply leave you alone to go about your business). Here's an example: I go out three nights a week to a property to feed some 20+ horses split between two areas with a bit of forest dividing them and surrounding the main stable area (woods full of wildlife and riding trails, etc). During the day, and especially when it's windy or near a particular moon phase, I can sense Beings out in the woods. I can sense their energy, their presence, their eyes watching me. But I do not get the impression that they are dangerous, malevolent, or would otherwise try to start trouble. They seem, curious. Watchful. Occasionally I acknowledge them with a bow and a greeting. But there is a reason I make an effort to get done with my rounds before the sun goes down.
There is something in those woods. Something else that isn't like those other Beings, fae or whatever they may be. It is something that I can feel with the hair-raising, adrenaline-spiking panic of a prey knowing it is being stalked, hunted by a large predator. And, it only comes out when the woods grow dark. The very fact that it is so intent on me, its presence so palpable, not staying hidden, pressing against my energy field, testing my shields, tells me that it is bigger and badder than me. Or at the very least my equal, and it knows it. It can smell fear as well as any wolf.
The first time I noticed something off, was the first time I had to feed in the dark. It didn't feel the same as during the day, to say the least, but there wasn't anything too overpowering or that stood out on its own as the culprit. The second time, a month or so later, I got caught finishing up just as the sun dipped behind the horizon. Awareness of it hit me and I almost panicked at the suddenness of it. I caught myself from trying to hide or run -- my first instinct -- and threw up my Hedge of Thorns shield, and pressed my own energy back out, making myself seem larger and more intimidating, like one would when encountering a bear on a trail. Then I turned my back and went about my business, keeping part of my awareness on the treeline the whole time. Other than that, I felt helpless, scared, out of my league.
Having bespelled weapons, your own magical shields, spirit helpers/deities, etc. to aid you can help keep you safe or help get you out when magical shit hits the fan.
First, have your Spirit Gang
Discussed in the last article, Part II, this is probably the most important thing you do as a Witch. It should be the basis of your practice, well before you should even be doing anything that would warrant you running into trouble -- usually, anyway. Sometimes trouble just comes looking because you're a glowing beacon of light in the dark. Find a familiar, maybe an animal spirit comes to you, plant spirit allies (such as that old oak on your property or the Spirit of X Thorny Plant-- my particular favorites are blackberry and hawthorn), other spirits, angels, or deities. Having friends in all the high school cliques is better than just having one friend to back you up and gets your hands into more pies, so to speak, but one is better than none. Begin creating right relationship with them. Just be wary of spirits you don't know, who won't give you a name to use, or ask something from you that doesn't sit right. Don't do anything stupid like pledging your first born or the blood of a lamb every equinox to said spirit or god, especially if you are just getting to know each other. Do your research. Spirits/gods come to different people in different ways and do different things with different people, but generally speaking if it is a well known Being, there will be at least some information on it out there. Use the Internet. Read blogs of people dedicated to Them, and so on.
As you work with these spirits and grow closer, giving (most often) and taking like one does in any relationship, being sure to set boundaries from the beginning, you can begin to work with them as traveling companions/bodyguards when you go out on your astral journeys, help you out in situations like mine in waking-reality, etc. as long as that is something that that spirit is wanting and willing to do with/for you. If you're at that point in your relationship, you'll know by then. Not every spirit will be the right Being for the job, but each can help you in different ways, hence the recommendation to have a 'gang' not just one bestie. Another thing of note that is often overlooked, is working with land spirits. There are spirits of place everywhere, from small to large, from active spirits to sleeping elders. Some want nothing to do with humans. Some are willing to consider us worth at least getting to know if not outright work with if we are respectful and giving and work to take care of the land, some are eager to help us and create relationship with us. Make an effort to get to know the spirits of the land where you live, that live around your home. Give offerings, take care of the land. Clean up trash, etc. Meditate with different plants or trees and try communicating with them. If you build relationship with a spirit on your property or of the land where you live, they may aid you in protecting your land/home/family.
Shielding, Wards, etc.
Another core skill that should be cultivated from the beginning of any magical or witchcraft practice is shielding and wards. These can be auric shields made from and attached to your being protecting your energetic self; circle castings that are basically shields around the space where you will be doing a Working; wards set on your home or around your property to keep nasty things and bad energy out; or even witch bottles (discussed more below) or spelled property marker wands which are basically just a physical place holder for a shield/ward, or in the case of witch bottles, acts as its own shield against malevolent energy/spellcraft and can even reflect it back to the sender.
'Auric Shielding' is taught in witchcraft 101 typically as you visualizing a bright white light starting from your center/core and expanding out through your body to create a sort of 'bubble' around you. It may be different colors depending on your personal energy, or how you want to visualize it, or it may come to you to as another form or a combination-- such as the white light + a Hedge of Thorns (basically I visualize myself at the center of a spherical hedge surrounding me on all sides made up of impenetrable thorny brambles and plants with razor sharp, needle-like thorns keeping out anything that would try and harm me).
In casting a circle, the layers of protection are multi-fold and multi-dimensional. The circle is cast, the ritual space defined, and the quarters are typically called-- They witness the working, aid the magic (perhaps), and provide protection in some cases. You can do a Rose Compass from traditional witchcraft practice or something similar, expand your hedge of thorns auric shield to include the whole ritual space/circle, and so on. You can also call on your guides, animal spirit companions, familiar, angels or gods to protect the space while you work (you may need to ask one to be Guard if another is helping with the Working). Some work with a Gatekeeper god, one that both opens the way for you to go out into different realms/planes/worlds, but also keeps other things from sneaking through into this plane/world while you're away or from following you back.
Wards are a bit more tricky, as they are an on-going Working that needs to be kept up with unlike shields or circle castings which are taken down when you're finished. You usually, but not always, will use a physical something to tie it to a place (like the property markers, or a statue at your front door) for wards, and you need an energy source or a way to power the Working continuously, hence the need to come back to the Working over and over again. My husband used to walk the wards on his old home when he was younger every night at sundown. He would walk the property line, retracing the same steps, speaking his charm and feeding energy to the boundary. You might do it nightly, weekly, or at every Full Moon. The biggest thing with wards, he says, besides repetition, is feeling and will. You need to have the will-power and determination to set up a ward that will keep out the shit that wants to mess with you or your family. You need to feel the strength of the ward, feel the protection, feel the -insert emotion- (like undying --I'll kill you if you touch them--love) that you have for what is Yours, what you are Protecting, and use that to power the ward. You could also add more power by drawing from the Earth, or from your spirit helpers if they're willing. Wards can be combined with wooden property markers (you can write a spell or protective runes on them, or wood-burn them in) set at the four corners of the property or around the house to mark the boundary and give you points of reference for your ward.
Witch Bottles + Spirit Traps
Witch bottles are a folk magic practice that we have a physical, archaeological record of. Though 'witch' is in the name, it wasn't typically crafted by actual witches, but by lay folk as protection against witches (read: black magic, curses, evil eye, malevolent spirits, etc.). Witch bottles were folk magic charms made as a protection spell with ingredients that tied the spell to the person it was to protect (ie. pieces of their Self, discussed in Part I)-- in this case used as a 'bait' to trick spirits looking for you; items to protect against/shield from/'catch' or trap bad energy or malevolent magic/spirits; and sometimes something to reflect it back to the sender.
Crafting a Witch Bottle: You Will Need...
A bottle with a screw on lid or cork stopper
Sharp objects, such as needles, nails (rusty iron nails are traditional), bent pins, broken glass shards, thorns from plants such as bramble/blackberry, hawthorn, blackthorn, etc.
Traditionally the charm-crafter would put stale urine in the bottle as well as nail clippings or hair, and occasionally blood. This is to both tie the spell to you, and (in the case of blood) act as a kind of battery for the spell.
You can also add broken pieces of mirror, as a means of reflecting the malevolent energy/spells etc. back to the sender.
Once you've gathered your items, you can choose to cast a circle if you want, otherwise just center and set your intention, call on any spirit helpers you have to help give more power to the charm, etc. You can also choose to write down a protection charm or spell, and either place it folded up in the bottle, or burn it and place the ashes within. Add your items to the bottle, and close it up either with a lid or cork. For additional protection for the bottle and weather-proofing, you should also seal the top with wax. Red is a color traditionally used for protection, as is blue.
Traditionally, witch bottles were buried at the property line, at a particular corner of the house outside, under the front door, or under the mantle in the home (such as while being built). You can do any of these or place it wherever you're called to, such as under your bed away from small hands (though this is controversial, as it may actual allow the spirit/energy into the home) or in a potted plant on your front porch. These tend to be a one-off charm. They are thought to either act as an alarm system, a spirit decoy/trap (more below), or to reflect energy. If a bottle breaks, a spirit/energy that meant you harm tried to get through to you and was stopped and/or 'caught' by the charm. The bottle and its contents should be burned and the ashes given to running water and the whole thing replaced.
Spirit Traps are a similar form of charm / spell often hung up outside in trees or in the home such as over doorways, in windows, or over the bed or baby's cradle. They are thought to 'catch' and 'trap' malevolent energy or spirits, the evil eye, bad dreams, etc. Some examples include Eye of God, Dreamcatcher, Scottish Rowan Crosses, and Witch Bottles. In some practices they are held until the morning sun burns them away, or until the magical practitioner can cleanse the charm and "reset" the trap, or burn it and remake it. They tend to "fall" or things will get weird when it is time to do so. Spirit traps combined with binding the caught spirit in a spirit vessel is also another way to get rid of malignant entities that is too strong to handle or for which a banishing didn't work. Sarah Anne Lawless goes into detail on working with spirit traps in >> THIS ARTICLE <<.
Spelled Weapons & Other Protective Talismans
Spelled weapons and talismans are another way to protect yourself magically that many modern magical practitioners don't talk about, or maybe even know about. They tend to be scoffed at, as a fictional creation of fantasy novels/movies. But they are a real way of having something that is able to be present both in this realm/plane and the astral plane/Otherworld(s), something that can be taken with you, kept on your person, and used in the case of an emergency or energetic/entity attack. This can include spelled blades, rings or necklaces charmed with dormant shields that can be activated or talismans blessed by a spirit/god that you can draw from for extra strength or energy to use, or even a cloak that is spelled for invisibility, or has a map of a world (such as Vanaheim) you may travel in your journeys so you don't get lost embroidered into it (and/or symbols of protection such as runestaves against magical attack or getting lost).
Though carrying cold iron is itself considered protection enough against many denizens of the spiritworld (namely the Fae, who fled to Underhill with the coming of cold iron and Christianity), though this is not always the case. And though steel itself isn't particularly good at holding magic (perhaps because steel, made from iron, is anathema to many magical beings), there are many stories with accounts of magical swords such as blades spelled to be able to cut through any armor, or that would cause death even from the most insignificant cut. Our theory is that steel can hold magic, if it is being spelled to enhance its own natural abilities. Steel comes from iron, which is the last element that a star creates as it dies. Steel forms blades which are used for cutting, slicing, stabbing, and killing. So, it works that bladed weapons can be spelled for anything along those lines-- such as not only being able to cut physically, but also energetically, and so on. My husband is particularly well versed in crafting ritual blades and spelling them in this way and has used them on multiple occasions.
However, you could choose to work with something, as we both have, as a weapon not made of steel (which would also go over better with any friendly spirits you may encounter in your journeywork and spellcraft) such as bronze, copper, bone, or wood. You may use a certain wood from a protective tree or tree you have an affinity with for a blade handle as well, and it is most common to find spelled weapons to be adorned with runes or sigils of some kind (either on the blade directly, on the handle, or both) which may just be protective in their own nature and/or are made specifically for what the blade is spelled for (this is especially potent). Have intention and ritual around the entire crafting (or if you are buying a pre-made blade to use, the cleansing and then charming) of the blade. It is best to have one that, unlike most athames, is functional in this world as well. You carry it and use it in your everyday life. I also am particularly am fond of using either copper or bone for harvesting plants instead of steel, which I feel and have also heard others say affects the plant spirit medicine negatively. Same with the cloak, or the jewelry. It is functional, beautiful, but also magical.
Banishing & Cleansing
Banishing is a good way to deal with not so powerful entities, hauntings or ghosts, and similar ilk. You can use spoken charms (I know a handful of witches who aren't afraid to use a Psalm or two when need be), salt, banishing/protective herbs, holy water... Stake your claim, set boundaries, kick that shit out. Be assertive, yell if need be. Use your will. Recall my experience in Part II of dealing with a spirit in my current house, when I tried to banish it by claiming my domain, and it basically laughed in my face (or it would have, if it had had any sort of way to do so) because in my heart that really wasn't my domain, my home. So my husband devoured that shit.
Ritual Cleansing is something else that I highly recommend in practice. It's a good idea to do a ritual cleansing (smudging-- there are other 'smudge' herbs besides white sage, palo santo, and sweetgrass by the way y'all, like mugwort and juniper and blackberry branches; a bath or sweat/sauna; saining with holy waters, etc.) before doing a Working to protect said Working and the ritual space -- and any others who might be working with you -- from any baggage you may be carrying around. It's an even better idea to do one (I particularly like bathing) after a Working, after going to a Graveyard or a Crossroads, after working a Healing on someone, and so on. That last one is huge-- I have known quite a few witches and healers to work with a client, have their client's condition improve, but the witch/healer accidentally, and in some cases unknowingly for some time, took on whatever was troubling the client. This could be a residual energy vibration, sickness (physical or energetic), or even an outright spirit possession. There have also been many incidences of people seeking healing, and trying every which way, but finding no relief until they underwent a spiritual cleansing.
Though this isn't per se a preventative or offensive magical protection technique for going into a situation, it is a major thing to have in your magical toolbox for your ongoing spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical wellness / health / safety if you are a magical practitioner. It could mean the difference between bringing a Boogy into your home trailing you from a ritual, or following you back from the Sabbat Hill. It could mean avoiding fighting a spirit-induced depression for years not realizing the culprit. Also, this can go beyond yourself and can absolutely apply to cleansing your ritual space, home, etc. using smudges, washes, holy water, and so on as well. You could do this monthly coinciding with a moon phase, weekly, and/or after every major magical working. If you'd like a more in-depth reading on ritual / spiritual cleansing, I highly recommend Sarah Anne Lawless' post on the subject which you can read >> HERE <<.
This article series is by no means the end-all, be-all of magical protection, nor was I able to go as in-depth as one could in longer articles dedicated to each section or a whole book, which some others have done before me (some resources linked below), some of which I am myself just discovering after writing these articles and realizing how similar our own practices and experiences / personal gnosis / experiments have been to others out there. I highly suggest doing more research on your own and seeing what works for you and what doesn't. Research your own traditions, lineages, or ancestral folk traditions around spiritual - magical protection as well-- we all have them, no matter how buried or seemingly forgotten. Read folk stories and fairy tales. Say your prayers, take your baths, carry salt and a blade with you.
Keep an eye out for some magical books (such as an expanded version of this magical protection series and another on Shapeshifting) + classes my husband and I have been crafting over the last year or two that are finally beginning to materialize. We're hoping to make it back to Central NC Pagan Pride as well as to the new Southeast NC Pagan Pride this year to teach as well!
Be well beloveds, be magical, be safe.
Resources & Further Reading
I recommend the following for doing more self-research into the Defense Against the Dark Arts...
This is the last article of my series on Magical Protection.
PART I is "Pieces of Yourself: What NOT to Give Spirits"
PART II is "Witches: Baddest Thing in the Woods, or Not" (ie. why witches are actually badass-- we basically have spirit gangs)
PART III is "Practical Magic: Tools for Magical Protection" (ie. how to keep yourself safe, and/or get out alive when magical shit hits the fan...)