On Being a Beginning Witch, Doing Protection Rituals, and Guarding Against Magical Attack

Live the magical life for any length of time and you will eventually run afoul of someone who would prefer to see you six feet underground.  It’s inevitable; though, the frequency and type of magical throw-downs will vary according to the sort of work you do (and, by extension, the magical groups you frequent). 

For example, spend a lot of time with ceremonial magicians and mystics in the “linear” post-Masonic traditions (Golden Dawn, OTO, Martinists, SRIA, Theosophy, Argenteum Astrum, Aurum Solis, AMORC, etc.) and you’re probably not going to meet many people who have developed magical attack skills.  Those groups are far more interested in mystical states, pathworking, controlling the elements, and developing the “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.” 

Sometimes, the grimoire traditions are studied in those groups (at high levels and only with a great amount of preparation and care).  But mostly such magical systems emphasize self-development and attaining “harmonium.”  Ceremonial magicians typically know a lot of magical history and theory and are often more comfortable in a study or a library than in the ritual chamber.  There is nothing wrong with that.  It is just one way to lead the magical life.

Contrast this with practitioners of the African Traditional Religions (“ATRs” like Kimbanda, Santeria, Vodun, Louisania Voodoo, Curandismo, Umbanda, 21 Divisiones, Palo, and many other traditions and styles), who come from cultures where being a working sorcerer is often a serious full-time profession.  In those communities, your reputation as someone who can do effective work and who is not to be messed with is also your professional standing. 

You have clients who trust you and who often put their lives in your hands.  You can’t afford to lose face and there is a lot of pride involved in these lineages and the magical transmissions they provide to their magicians.  In those groups, magical warfare is an inescapable part of one’s practice.  The stakes are always high.  And rivals can seriously harm you with their malefica.  But such groups aren’t necessarily any more powerful or better than the European ceremonialists (power depending, as always, on the individual in question and not on the system).  They’re just different, coming out of a different cultural background, and serving different cultural needs.

Eclectic witches, magic-doing Wiccans, folk magicians, neo-pagan shamans, hedge witches, and traditionalist-craft witches fall somewhere between these extremes.  The state of the craft is always changing, has trends and popular practices that come and go, and reacts positively or negatively to whichever b-list magical celebrity authors are currently being promoted by a small group of niche publishers. 

Certain deities emerge along with these things (consider that magical energy and magical energy beings primarily follow human attention).  And the amount of depth and scholarship also changes with the times.  Goofy new age pop-magic witch books from the 1970s may seem laughable on the surface but may also really work.  The most gravely serious Scarlet Imprint trad-craft grimoire put out yesterday in black leather, full of spooky neo-Latin invocations, might look cool and be utterly useless (cf. “dark fluff”).

Facing this extremely confusing array of styles, traditions, and practices, the beginning witch can feel really turned around.  Where should one begin?  If you’re on your own, I usually recommend beginning with a simple eclectic Wicca book because that will at least give you a foundation and a way to start leading the magical life.  A great one is Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: a Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.  DJ Conway’s Wicca: the Complete Craft isn’t bad (but could be much better) and has a lot of information.  Skye Alexander’s Modern Guide to Witchcraft is solid.  And Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft is probably better than all of the above, but is harder than them, too.  If you want a graduated course in the craft, you could do worse than Timothy Roderick’s Wicca: a Year and a Day in the Path of the Wise.  I’m sure there are others, but these are the ones that come to mind as I write this.

I say read everything and develop a practice that feels right to you.  But no matter which craft book you read, you will encounter a few things which are repeated almost dogmatically.  One of them is: you must banish, ground, and center.  Banishing means dispersing negative and obsession-inducing energies (and energy beings) from your body and immediate surroundings.  Grounding means taking the excess energy in your body and sending it into the earth where it can disperse.  And centering means gaining an inner balance such that you feel in harmony inside and with what is around you.

These are all very good fundamental practices for a witch to know, because someday someone or something will want to harm you magically.  But here I want to talk about an obsession with protections themselves.  It’s like constantly washing your hands.  You do it once.  Then you feel like you got some bacteria on your hand an hour later.  So you wash your hands again, just to be sure they’re clean.  Then you start noticing that your hands are getting dirty a lot (compared to how they feel when you just wash them).  So you start washing your hands every hour, then every 30 minutes.  Then you begin to feel nervous about situations where you could get contaminated, and so on.  If this sounds crazy to you, it isn’t.  It’s just a habit of mind that people get into when they become hyper-aware of the shifting line between “clean” and “dirty.”

As with hand-washing, so with magical protections.  If you are engaging in constant banishings, you will resonate (your inner self will “vibrate”) at a very high level.  Your presence will feel very “clean” to people who can sense such things.  And certain classes of spirits, especially those who are aggressive or bound closely to the earth, will not enjoy hanging around.  That is all very good.  Unfortunately, it has a down side: miss a day and you will definitely notice.  You won’t be as lucky.  You will feel energetically unhealthy and grumpy.  You may even feel a strong need to isolate yourself and perform some cleansings because you have become so hyper-aware of the difference between walking in fully banished space and not.  Moreover, there will be some magic you just can’t do because your shields and personal wards will be so powerful that they will block everything.

If all you’re ever going to do is spiritually cleanse yourself (which is a completely legitimate way of leading the magical life), that’s fine.  Stick to your rigid cleansing routine and go about your business.  But if you want to work operative magic, if you want to be a well-rounded practitioner of the craft, you need to get a little dirty from time to time.  You need to let spirits in and take risks.  Witches are, almost by definition, risk takers.

So back to that person who wants to do you in.  Someday, you will encounter him or her and you may not realize s/he “threw on you” until things start going very wrong in your life.  You don’t want to put off learning how to protect yourself until this day comes, but you also don’t want to live in fear of it.  So here is a simple set of texts and practices to enable you to recognize and respond without having to do a hundred Lesser Banishing Rituals of the Pentagram every day.

First, get a magical wash.  I like concentrated “Chinese Wash” but you can get creoline or ammonia (I like Lucky Mojo’s “Buffalo Ammonia” for this).  You can also just use lemon-scented Pinesol and add lemongrass, chamomile, and bay leaves to it.  In any case, get that wash, mix some into water, and wipe down the walls, the floors, and the windows.

Second, make a simple “protection hand.”  Get a black flannel bag or a black bandana.  In it put 3 bay leaves, some lemongrass, and some dragon’s blood resin.  Light a paper match and throw it, lit, into the bag.  Shake it up.  Then say, “Creature of air, earth, fire, and water, I give you life that you will protect me and these premises from all threats.  Be ruled by me in this.”  Feed it with a sprinkle of whiskey once a week on Saturday. 

Third, actually learn a banishing ritual.  If the LBRP is too churchy for you, you can cast a simple shield (Google it) or use the simple banishing rituals given in the aforesaid texts.  Do this about every other or every three days unless you notice something nasty coming at you.  Then do it every day until safe.

Lastly, put a dream catcher up in your bedroom and, when you go to sleep at night (somewhere that kids and animals can’t reach), set out a glass of water close to your bed.  For extra zip, you can add a capful of Hoyt’s or Jockey cologne to the water or a splash of Florida water to it.  That will protect you all night long from being ridden when your defenses are down.

Hammer nails into the corners of your property to stake your spiritual claim.  And if you are attracted to the idea of setting wards and tasking guardian spirits, you can research those things on the internet for some basic practices.

Get and study the following four basic protection manuals: Have You Been Hexed: Recognizing and Breaking Curses by Alexandra Chauran; Protection and Reversal Magick: A Witch’s Defense Manual by Jason Miller; Magickal Protection by Damon Brand; and Angelic Protection Magick by Ben Woodcroft.  Optional: Psychic Self-Defense by Dion Fortune and The Witch’s Shield by Christopher Penczak.  By the time you finish these books, you will know a lot about how to detect magical attack and how to respond to it.  You will also know the difference between being an obsessive banisher and someone who uses protection in harmony with other forms of magical work.





Spiritual Baths vs. Banishings

Recently, someone emailed me with an interesting question, asking which I thought was better: a hoodoo-style spiritual bath or a banishing like the LBRP for taking off negative work.  My answer was that it depends on the situation.  I thought I’d expand on that here.

But first, what is a “spiritual bath”?  In hoodoo, a spiritual bath usually consists of a collection of roots, herbs, and minerals and sometimes condition oils.  These ingredients are then blended with certain salts to create a product that will absorb the unwanted condition and replace it with the virtues of the roots and herbs, etc.  According to the Doctrine of Signatures–the ancient idea that in everything there is an essential connection to spiritual energy–the various ingredients resonate with and therefore impart a new condition.

For example, the contents of one of my Wisdom baths will absorb physical and spiritual conditions that prevent insight and good judgment, while replacing those conditions with the resonance of ingredients said to impart such things.  So a spiritual bath is actually quite complex.  It removes and also replaces conditions at the same time.

Those who have studied the Golden Dawn tradition of ceremonial magic are familiar with the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram or Crowley’s updated Star Ruby.  Wiccans might build a banishing into their quarter calling, drawing down the light, or even into the act of “grounding and centering.”  Other comparable rites might be the recitation of mantras, cleansing one’s hands with hyssop, suffumigating with uncrossing and purifying incenses, and so on.  While each procedure is different, most of these aim for the same core range of results: removing negative spiritual influences and obsessing thoughts; strengthening the knowledge of and conversation with spirit; and charging the sphere of the magician with power.

And so we return to the question of which approach is better for removing negative work.  If someone consciously or unconsciously has crossed you up–if they are burning candles on your name and calling down curses or if they are merely angry to the degree that you can feel their emotions making you sick–you need to do something.  But what you do should depend on three things: (1) your resources and knowledge; (2) your physical circumstances; and (3) your comfort level with ritual.

Your resources and knowledge:  do you work with roots, herbs, and minerals?  It’s very rewarding work, but not everyone does that kind of materia-based magic.  If you don’t have the knowledge of these things, you can pay a spiritual practitioner to make you a bath.  If you don’t have the financial resources to pay others to help you out and you don’t have the knowledge, maybe you should learn something like the LBRP. There are many free resources on the internet that teach this basic (yet fundamental!) ritual.  The bottom line is that you might not be in a position to start making magical materia.  Conversely, you might not have any knowledge.  In that case, paying an expert to help is completely legitimate.

Your physical circumstances: are you able to do a ritual in the ceremonial (so-called “linear”) tradition?  Do you even have a private space available?  Most people can do covert magic in the bathroom because that is the one room in the house that locks!  But nearly everyone can do a spiritual bath (even if all one has is a shower stall).  Again, the decision is practical and comes down to your circumstances.

Your comfort level with ritual:  the classic LBRP calls down divine light using the Hebrew names of god and the names / visualizations of the Archangels of the Quarters.  I know a good number of pagans who refuse to do this–and rightly so!  You shouldn’t have to pay homage to the Christian deity if you are not a Christian.  On the other hand, you should practice spiritual hygiene.  So if you are uncomfortable with this kind of ritual, you may want to learn some of the basic “globe of white light” visualizations or protective quarter calls taught in various styles of Wicca.  Or learn to cast a gentle protective aura around you with Reiki.  There are many things you can do.  But you must do something.

This brings us to my original answer: it depends.  You need to know yourself as a practitioner–what you can realistically do and what you want to do.  Everything else proceeds from that.

When Banishing Doesn’t Work

A reader wrote to me recently for some advice:

Hi I managed to read your sorcery blog a little while ago and it seemed like you were knowledgeable in magick so decided to seek some friendly advice for a friend of mine … .  The dilemma is he is trying to get rid of a malevolent succubus that is making him suicidal. I have heard various reports that exorcisms do not work on succubus/incubus, and a few rumors that LBRP didn’t help either.

This is an interesting issue.  Thank you for looking at my blog.  The reason I created it is to offer an opportunity to discuss stuff like this.  That said, I think I understand what the problem is and why LBRPs don’t work in this particular situation.

If we’re English-speaking westerners, when we begin to study magic, we think of it from an “extrinsic” angle.  In other words, we may or may not feel something during our rituals, but we are encouraged to think of the power, the entities, the planes, and the results as being largely “out there”–external events.

As we progress, we begin to notice that most metaphysical phenomena somehow take place inside us as well as outside.  At this point, we may have begun a curriculum of some kind of internal energy work (see Jason Miller’s excellent post, which goes into a lot more detail about the subtle differences in magical energy / energy work).  And we begin to see how appropriating the spiritual technologies of eastern magical / religious systems can be useful (yoga, Reiki, prana, chi gong, etc.) not only as a practical method of empowering our work but also as a way to initiate ourselves into higher levels of becoming.

Ultimately, as we get more advanced, the distinction between outer and inner starts to break down in all but the most superficial sense.  We stop caring about whether entities are wholly objective or subjective.*  Rather, the questions become (1) what can they do for us; (2) how do we most efficiently interact with them; and (3) what do the answers to the first two questions teach us about ourselves?  Every magician’s answers will be slightly different.  But what they will all have in common is this sense of self vs. everything that is not the self.  The existence of the self is the constant, no matter if a magical condition / event exists inside that self or outside or both.  Everything other than the self is an impermanent variable.

And so if your friend is having trouble applying various external magical approaches to getting rid of a spiritual presence, the question is not which technique is more effective.  The question, at its deepest level, is what is he learning about himself?  The LBRP (and its various watered-down derivatives) only works to the degree that the practitioner is able to form a subjective synthesis with the ritual.  If there is something in him that he can’t resolve (more or less objectified as this “malevolent succubus that has been with him for a long time”), then he won’t be able to form that synthesis.  Another way of saying this is that a ritual is only effective to the degree we’re willing to allow it to be effective by letting it at least temporarily define our worldview.

And so my suggestion is that your friend stop worrying about whether this is an obsessive spirit that has attached itself to him (external, requiring a banishing ritual) or an some aspect of his imagination (internal).  Instead, start with the question: what is it about himself that he isn’t willing to face?  He should forget this “succubus” for a while and only focus on developing a more accurate sense of who he is–of his true self.**  Then, when he feels like he has some kind of idea about the kind of self work he needs to do (i.e. he is depressed as a result of a tragedy or a chemical imbalance or he is allowing this entity to remain with him for some reason he cannot face or all of the above), he can attack the problem intelligently–psychologically (therapy is very useful, especially for magicians), magically (the LBRP should work at this point because the subjective synthesis will not be as blocked), and in any other appropriate way.

In short, always begin with the Self, not by juggling various rituals or anodynes that are external to the real problem.

* Look at pages 26 – 29 in Skinner and Rankine’s Keys to the Gateway of Magic: Summoning the Solomonic Archangels and Demon Princes for a very interesting discussion of the differences between Aleister Crowley’s “wholly subjective” approach vs. a more balanced view of the nature of discarnate entities.

** cf. “True Will