Protection practices

One question is a classic when it comes to magical discussions – someone is concerned that someone else has been doing unwanted magic to affect them, and wants it to stop. This essay summarises a number of possible responses to this as well as talking about general protection practices.

Doing: spiral on a golden background

1) Look clearly at the situation

The reality is that most people are not actually going to be competent at negative magic. Lasting, sustained, negative magic usually requires both skill (built over time) and ongoing desire. Most people who have put the time and energy into developing the skill to do much are going to have better things to do than waste it on a petty quarrel or squabble. .

On the other hand, there are a lot of people out there who bluster or threaten or imply – but who can’t actually back that up. You might get a blip of something that feels weird (strong emotion can boost some things) but in many cases, a little basic attention to cleansing and your own life can solve that quickly. A lot of people have an immediate urgent desire to lash out, but can’t sustain it for more than a few days at best

So, to start, ask yourself some questions if you’re concerned about someone doing negative magic that might affect you.

Check the basics

It can be very hard to tell if some of our experiences are coming from a physical issue, a mental health issue, or something magical, energetic, or more nebulous. Figuring out what’s going on is key, because different issues are going to have different effective answers. (And fairly often, more than one factor may be involved, so understanding what’s coming from where is key in resolving the situation.)

Have you had a check-up recently? Talked to your doctor about specific physical symptoms you’re having? How are your sleep and food habits? Have you made any changes in medication or other things that might affect your body and mind recently?

Vitamin deficiencies or medication side-effects can cause a wide range of subtle and more obvious symptoms, for example. Lack of sleep can make a lot of things feel worse. Looking at the patterns in your life in detail will also help you figure out if there are times of day you feel worse or better, or situations that do (i.e. you’re better at home and worse in another location, or vice versa.)

Mental health
These days we know that a number of things people in earlier generations listed as signs of psychic attack (anxiety, doubt, depression, etc.) have at least some roots in our ongoing mental health, as well as our physical health. Take a good hard look at yours. Ideally do that with the help of a trained professional.

If you don’t have access to one, try talking to a mental health support line or crisis line (especially if you’re having trouble managing basic needs in your day to day life – sleep, food, employment, etc.) For many people, your employment or health insurance may offer a couple of sessions of crisis support as part of benefits you’re already signed up for.

Once you’ve checked both of these out (and if they don’t give you some options to pursue), you can look at other possible issues.

Useful questions:

If you think a specific person might be making things difficult for you (even if you aren’t sure who or what might be going on), here are some questions to start with.

Does this person have a sustained and ongoing magical practice?
Or do they just talk a big game, and they’ve never actually had much to show for it?

Is this person part of a culture or magical practice where doing workings that affect other people is common?
This can be workings that are positive or negative. There are some – hoodoo, for example. It takes different skills to do magic that directly affects someone else than it does to affect yourself.

Does this person have access to items, places, or other methods that might affect you magically?
This is a lot trickier in the modern age, when photographs online are a common thing. But someone who has regular access to your home, place of work, neighborhood, items closely associated with you, etc. is going to have more options for affecting you magically than someone who lives several states away.

Do you have reason to think that someone might be directly affecting you?
And specfically, reasons that cannot be explained by other logical reasons. Have you checked into any relevant medical issues, other stresses or big changes in your life, or interpersonal disagreements that don’t include magic? Is it an anniversary of an emotionally complicated or traumatic event for you?

Everyone has times in their life when everything seems to go wrong. Our bodies can react to a lot of different things. A number of medical conditions can cause changes in sleep, anxiety, or other ways our bodies and minds work that can feel like psychic or magical attack. That’s why we started by looking at those issues first.

The protective steps I mention below won’t help much if physical or biochemical issues are the real cause. You can still go ahead and try them – many are just plain good practices for other reasons – but you probably want to look at other solutions to your problem.

These might include avoiding the person you’re concerned about (and making sure they do not get more access to your or your personal information), consulting law enforcement or other services if ongoing harassment or threats are a concern, or taking physical security precautions.

2) Take a detailed look at your life

A lot of protective magics have similar concepts at the core. One of the biggest is that if you are doing things that affect other people, that can open you up for other people to affect you the same ways.

So, to begin, take a good hard look at your life.

What are you focusing your time and energy on?
Are you spending it on things that matter to you? Or are you getting caught up in gossip, dismissing or making things hard for other people, or in habits that make you feel lousy?

Do you have good boundaries about most things in your life?
Or do you let other people push you around in different ways? If they do it in non-magical things, it will probably be easier magically.

Are you currently doing things that help make your life more stable and have a good foundation?
Or are you constantly going from crisis to crisis? As I said above, most people have stretches in their life when there’s a lot going on (or going wrong) at once, but the more you can do to help support yourself, the more protection you have. More suggestions for this in the next section.

Are you currently digging yourself into a hole?
If you are trying lots of different practices (magical or spiritual) and you’re feeling a lot of chaos, back off. If you are doing things that seem to be making things worse, back off. Focus on yourself, on your basic commitments and needs for a bit. (Work, school, or another meaningful way to spend your time, taking care of yourself and focusing on family and friends who treat you well, etc.) Adding new things when there are things going wrong isn’t usually a good idea.

Do you have a current religious or spiritual practice?
What’s involved with that? Do you have relationships with deities, spirits of place, ancestors, guides or other non-physical entities that you can draw on, or ask for advice? Are there myths or stories you can look at for wisdom or advice? (And for that matter, are there modern stories you find helpful – things from fiction, movies, tv shows?)

3) Clean up your own house

By which I mean both physically and metaphorically.

Conflicts and broken promises:

Do you have significant ongoing disagreements with other people?
Take steps to mend relationships, respectfully back off and spend time elsewhere, or get other problems to a point where they are stable and not constantly affecting you (or the other person/people).

These kinds of open-ended upsets can leave a lot of psychic and emotional holes that make it easier for others to affect, manipulate, or just distract you.

(This doesn’t mean you should be a doormat or beg for forgiveness if people have hurt you. It just means you should work on getting to a point where you can step back from the things that are causing ongoing chaos, upset, distress, etc.)

Think about promises you’ve made, and ones you make going forward. If you’ve got broken promises lingering out there, do what you can to resolve them (by doing the thing you promised, renegotiating, etc.) Those things can give unwanted energy easy hooks into your psyche. (Also people who may not be very good for you.)

You don’t, in my experience, need to actually fix everything to see the benefit here, just be making progress toward it.

For example, if you have outstanding money debts, a debt where you haven’t sorted out payment arrangements, etc. feels very different, energetically, from one where you have sorted out an agreement you can work with, and especially after you’ve had a month or two of making payments. Even if they’re tiny and it’s going to take a long time.

Do you share too much?

Someone who is out to make things difficult for you can use information you post online. Take a good hard look at how much someone can find out about you from things you’ve said.

(Even in non-public posts! It’s not uncommon for someone to mention something to a mutual acquaintance, or for settings to slip or be changed by online sites without much warning. Someone who’s actively looking for information to use against you may spot things you don’t realise are available to them.)

I have an extended page about online privacy and Pagans elsewhere on the site, which I encourage you to read as well. If you are concerned about online harassment, Crash Override has some great resources and also a guide to walk you through options.

Your body:

Do your best to eat food that works well for your body and avoid things that make you feel lousy. If you’re on medication, or under medical treatment, or seeing a therapist, keep doing that (or look for options that help you, if a specific practitioner isn’t working out for you.) All those things will help your subtle body, not just your physical one.

Look at traditional foods people eat when they’re sick: they’re often good for this kind of thing. (Chicken soup, for example, is tasty but also has a bunch of things in it that are protective and healing physically and energetically)

A protective practice:

Basically, you’re looking to identify and reinforce what is you versus what is not you. The centering, grounding, and shielding articles here outline some practices I use, but there are many others. Some people use the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, some people use moving meditation, some people like to work with stones.

The goal here is to have an increasingly strong sense of what is you and what is outside of you (which will help you identify if there are things that you need to do more about) as well as reducing harm. Think of it like locking your doors, or taking other basic safety and security measures: you don’t want to panic or be anxious all the time, but taking some simple steps can do a lot and become habitual.

A regular energetic cleansing routine:

Centering and grounding will do a lot, but I like to use some physical tools. I put sea salt (and essential oils associated with cleansing or protection – I like a few drops of rosemary, lavender, juniper, or hyssop) in the bathtub when I do this. If you don’t have oils on hand, lavender or tea tree are available in a lot of places other things aren’t, including some grocery stores, and lavender is a good general purpose oil for a lot of uses. (Make sure to dilute thoroughly!)

If you’re able to buy beer, there’s a beer bath that I really like for cleansing. (Which, basically, is ‘pour bottle of beer in tub, immerse self and soak for 20 minutes, duck head under water three times, say suitable prayer / affirmation / etc.’)

If you’re really limited in resources, see if you can find a salt scrub or a soap bar with salt in it, or one with lavender or rosemary, and use that instead, visualising any energetic ick getting washed down the drain.

Cleaning your living space:

Ideally the entire house, and both physically and energetically.

If you can’t do your whole space, focus on the space where you sleep, the bathroom you use most often, and other spaces you spend lots of time are the most important. Using a salt-water wash (again with a few drops of essential oils) is great, but just plain regular cleaning tools will work if that’s what you have.

Energetic cleansing can use salt, sound (a sharp-sounding chime, clapping loudly or if you don’t live with people who will be startled, running around banging something like a pot with a spoon, anything that makes noise and yelling), sweeping motions, incense or other sacred smoke.

Make sure you get into the corners, and under furniture and in closets. I always mix up a little salt water to go down every drain and toilet, too. You can also draw protective symbols on the windows and doors (note that on windows, they can reflect if you leave the water to dry.)

You may need to repeat regularly (every couple of weeks) for a bit, especially if you live with other people who drag energetic ick home with them. You may also want to consider cutting old energetic ties that no longer serve you. 

Reinforce your values, and sense of self:

Use music, computer or phone backgrounds, passwords, other things you look at/see a lot to help focus your goals and intentions.

Pick things that reinforce the you you want to be (a happy, safe, whole, healed person.)

Avoid stuff that makes you feel torn down, not good enough, etc. This may mean that it might be good to take a break from TV or music or reading material that is heavily ad driven: a lot of ads are designed to make people feel lousy so they buy things.

When I’m doing this kind of work, I set up a playlist on my phone and computer with at least 4-6 hours of music that makes me feel good, and listen pretty exclusively to that until I make progress on the thing.

Watching TV shows that are fundamentally hopeful also helps me out a lot when I hit that ‘I can’t do anything’.

(I don’t mean ‘everything is happy’ here, I mean ‘makes me feel like there’s a point to being a creative and caring human in the world I live in’. Leverage, Doctor Who, and The West Wing all fit that category for me, as examples, and a lot of ensemble cast ‘chosen family’ type shows do in general.)

If you have a password you type regularly, change it to something that reinforces your current magical goal. (Writing a sentence with the goal, picking the first letter of each word, turning some of them to numbers or characters works pretty well for making an actual password.)

4) Consider other techniques.

This one is the hardest to write about, since the specifics are going to depend heavily on your own background, practices, history, skills, living situation, other commitments, and on the thing you feel might be a threat or a reason for needing protection. Things you might consider, depending on your situation:

A regular practice of prayer

Focus on prayer and/or consultation with deities or other beings that are associated with protection, or have a particular interest in your well-being. This could include local spirits of place, ancestors, etc.

Divination and meditation:

Consider doing some significant meditation, divination, or similar work to make sure you are dealing with all the pieces you need to. For example, a run of unusually bad luck is sometimes because you made a promise to a deity or other being and then broke it without trying to make up for it when you realised. If you leave this hanging, it’s probably going to continue to be a problem for you.

Protective magics, such as warding.

Warding is basically an ongoing shield around a place. You can ward individual rooms, a home, etc. depending on how much of the space is yours to control. It is polite and ethical to make sure everyone else in the space is okay with what you’re doing. Some people anchor wards to specific objects, some people renew them regularly (each new moon, for example), there are many different methods.

Consider other protective items.

Again, which one you pick will depend on the specifics of what you know, are comfortable with, and that fit with your needs. Some people use witchbottles for protection especially if there are specific people they’re concerned about. (I’ve done this in the past with good results). Some people use protection eggs (eggs blown out, filled with protective herbs, decorate with protective runes, symbols, or sigils) hung by doors, or tie together little bundles of protective woods, herbs, or symbols.

Briana Saussy has a great description of making a salt jar, which you can do with materials from your grocery store.

If these are not sufficient, seek out someone with experience in your particular spiritual tradition, magical practice, or something that’s close enough for you to feel comfortable.

What I don’t suggest:

You’ll notice that my suggestions here don’t focus on getting the person you think is trying to hurt you. Certainly, if that person breaks the law, threatens your physical safety, or engages in ongoing harassment you can explain to law enforcement or other relevant people, do what is appropriate in those situations to stay safe. (Many people find Gavin Becker’s book The Gift of Fear helpful in harassment and related cases.)

However, in magical cases, it’s often the case that a cause of problems, bad luck, or everything going wrong isn’t the fault of a single identifiable person. There may be things going on that make it hard to identify the person, or that might lead you to identify the wrong person.

Because all of those can have unexpected consequences, and because they can be a waste of time and energy if you get the target wrong, I think it’s better to focus on improving your own self (where you have a lot more control) and keeping unwanted things away from you, no matter where they’re coming from.

Title card: protection practices

Last edited December 24, 2016. Reformatted November 2020. Minor additions in March 2022.

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