There’s energy all around us – science tells us this. But a number of traditions also teach that other kinds of things have energy: living beings, plants, crystals and rocks, all sorts of things. As witches, many of us believe that we can both sense the energies in these things – and be affected by them.
This sounds a little woo-woo, but all of us sense energy all the time. Have you ever walked into a room just after the people there have had an argument? You know that there’s tension, even before anyone says anything. Have you ever walked into a home, and felt immediately comfortable? That’s energy.
Thing is, we’re also affected by the energy around us – at work, at home, at our hobbies or other interests. If we’re not aware of how these things affect us, we can spin our wheels and end up exhausted, fragmented, or unable to focus and do the things we’re most interested in.
The same thing is true when we do magic or focus our will and energy in ritual. When we’re done with our working, we can find ourselves drained, jittery, or somewhere in between – all of which can make it harder to function in the rest of our life. That’s not a good thing.
How you sense energy will depend a little bit on which senses you are most comfortable using. Just like using your senses to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell, you use senses to perceive energy. Over time, your brain will give you cues that you can interpret.
Some people see energy flows – sometimes as something like a heat haze (a faint shimmer), sometimes with colors or even symbols. If you’ve read about looking at auras (the energy around someone’s body), you’ll have read that the different colors can be interpreted different ways – the same is true here. Some colors seem to be pretty common for everyone (murky, splotched, muddy colors tend to indicate low energy and possible illness, for example), but others may vary from person to person.
In ritual, people who see energy may see ribbons of energy moving through the circle, or collecting in places where it’s been focused (like the main altar, quarter altars, or an item being charged.) You may see a faint haze, or a hint of color, or something more clear: usually this gets easier and clearer with practice.
It’s also quite common to feel energy. One simple exercise you can do is to take your hands and put your palms together. Rub them back and forth quickly for thirty seconds or so, then pull them apart slowly to about six inches. You should feel something like two magnets pushing against each other: a very gentle layer of energy close to your skin. (This is one of the layers of your energetic body, in a lot of theories: rubbing your hands adds energy to that area and makes it easier to feel.)
If you can work with someone else, you can also experiment with feeling their aura: hold your hand (palm towards them) a couple of feet away, and slowly bring it closer to them. Somewhere between their skin and a foot or so away, you should feel that same sense of light pressure and push-back.
In ritual, people who feel energy may feel a sense of light pressure as the circle goes up. They may feel it as a sense of warmth, or as something like a light cloak around them. In other settings, people may feel different textures to something that are only partly about its physical shape, and partly about the energy: a smooth pendant belonging to someone under a lot of stress might feel like it has sharp or rough edges, for example.
People who hear energy can hear it in all sorts of ways: some people may hear a faint hum, buzzing, or whirring. I tend to hear it as a faint and undefined instrument playing: different kinds of energy sound like different instruments. (Very forceful energy sound like trumpets, mellow energy sounds a lot more like a clarinet.)
In ritual, people may hear a circle going up as a low hum or rumble, or as a set of notes building on top of each other. (Some of this depends on the person, some of this depends on the ritual structure.)
Using the energy:
We all have energy inside us, and for most witchcraft techniques, that’s mostly the energy we’re using to do things. (Just like we have physical energy, and our bodies use that to help us do things in the physical world.) However, we can do things to help us get more out of our energy, and we can regain energy from the world around us in various ways.
One way to get more out of the energy we use is to work with other people: many people over the years have discovered that doing it this way gets more energy – it’s not just 1+1=2. One way to think of it is that people fill in gaps in other people’s energy, like that old example of pouring a bunch of rocks into a jar, then a bunch of smaller pebbles, then sand, then water: each time you think there isn’t room to add more, it turns out there’s more that might fit.
There are different methods of regaining energy, as well. Some are more ethical than others. It’s considered unethical to use someone else’s energy without direct permission – after all, they might have other plans for it! On the other hand, people do sometimes choose to share energy, just the same way they might choose to help a friend out with household chores when they’re sick.
More commonly, though, people regain energy from the world around them. Since everything in our world has energy in it, and gives off energy all the time, we can soak it up, the same way we soak up energy from the sun without harming or diminishing it. Most people turn to either the earth or the sun for energy, because both of these are so large, and so bursting with energy that what we skim off the edges doesn’t affect anything. The grounding page has more details on some ways to do this.
When we go to focus and direct the energy, we’re likely to use a method that appeals to our senses. Someone who sees energy might focus on a symbol or color made of energy swirling around what they’re looking to affect, someone who feels energy might create a sensation, and someone who hears energy might use a sound or even a song to focus.
Fundamentally, many energy skills are about taking care of ourselves. That’s the grand unified theory: everything else is simply ways to do that more efficiently and more effectively.
However – just like we have different ways to take care of our physical body (eating well, sleeping enough, exercising, managing stress, taking care of our health), we have a number of ways to take care of our energetic self. If we don’t take of ourselves, on the other hand, we can feel ill, uncomfortable, have trouble focusing, or have other issues that interfere with what we want to do.
In order to talk about these, though, we should start with some terms – here’s the way I use these words.
Centering helps us find a point of internal stillness and stability within ourselves. Once we have that, many more tools and methods are easy for us to use. Centering is about knowing what’s us, and what’s not us – what’s coming from outside us.
Grounding is the term used broadly in the Pagan community to talk about getting rid of excess energy that we have picked up, and also to replenish our energy when it is low. (We’ll talk about how both of these work on the grounding page.)
While many people talk about ‘grounding and centering’, really, they go the other way around. It makes the most sense to center first, and then ground. Think of centering like creating an outlet in your body, and grounding as connecting that outlet to a source of energy or a place to put it.
One image I’ve used is that centering is like creating a little faucet in you (that you can use). Grounding is attaching a hose to that faucet, and directing the water wherever you want to send it. However, remember that it works both ways! You can also draw energy out of something if you are low.
Shielding helps us create healthy borders around our own energy when we need it. Just the same way we have personal space, or take care of our homes or loved ones, we need to take care of ourselves.
Some people hear the word ‘shielding’ and assume it’s about defending ourselves from psychic attack. Honestly, this situation is very rare. What’s far more common is for us to get knocked off balance by someone else’s emotions, desires, or interests, even though they don’t mean to harm us or even bother us.
Think of your shielding like avoiding sunburn: the sun doesn’t have any intention to harm you – but the sunburn is still no fun. So, you do some simple things to avoid the sunburn – a hat, long sleeves, sunblock, or just limiting how much time you’re out at the peak of the day. Chances are, you make different choices at different times.
Self-awareness is the single most useful skill. You need to be aware of what balanced is for you – and you also need to know what things have the most noticeable effect on you.
For example, I know that sleep is very important for me: if I don’t get enough, it’s not only easy to knock me off-center energetically, but I’m more prone to some physical issues that aren’t much fun either (migraines and greater allergy sensitivity.) It’s worth paying attention to figure out your own personal triggers.
Check in regularly with yourself.
When you’re starting out, do this several times a day, briefly, but very consciously. Take a moment to think to yourself – are you feeling happy or irritable, stressed or relaxed? Do you feel an unusual emotion for you or treating people differently than you normally would (or than you want to?) You may want to keep a brief journal entry (2-5 sentences a day) where you can outline how you felt, or if there was anything unusual.
Some people find there are cyclical patterns that they want to pay attention to. Some women do notice shifts in energy throughout the menstrual cycle that affect grounding and centering. Others don’t. (Both are normal and common). The trick is that it’s hard to notice any kind of pattern if you don’t have some data to work with. Usually 3-4 months will give you enough to see if any significant patterns occur.
Be aware of big events in both your personal life and the world around you. Both can throw you for a loop, so it’s worth paying extra attention at these times. In your personal life, these include illnesses (you or your family, loved ones, or close friends), major changes in your schedule or finances, or planning a big event (like a large wedding).
The world around us also has a huge impact: if there’s been a major crisis (like a natural disaster), a big political event, or anything else that produces strong emotions, be extra aware. Not only will you potentially be off balance because of your own focus or associations, but everyone else around you may be too.
Finally, be aware of particular situations in your workplace or other places you spend a lot of time. When I worked in a school, I knew that I need to pay extra attention at finals, prom, and other big school events because there’s a lot of energy and emotion running high in the school at those times. Those are bad weeks for me to slack off on my normal practices. Layoffs or company changes or can affect a lot of people the same way.
They really all boil down to: Pay attention. To you, and to what’s going on around you.
[last edited December 24, 2016]