If you’ve been wandering down the Pagan path for very long, you’ve likely heard the terms “grounding,” “cleansing,” and “shielding” on more than one occasion. These practices are recognized as important across many traditions, but frequently the explanation as to exactly why they are important gets lost. Grounding, cleansing, and shielding are found in many beginning books on Paganism and magick, but it wasn’t until I really started doing ritual and magick regularly that I understood their importance. Opening up as an empath only served to highlight these practices as essential and helped me to understand their necessary differences.
At its most basic, grounding connects you back to the Earth, to yourself, and back to this time and place. Grounding draws you back into your body and can stabilize your energy. This can be accomplished in different ways in different contexts.
One method you will see frequently in ritual is the inclusion of Cakes and Ale. Consuming food and drink necessitates a connection to your physical body. The properties of the food and drink contribute to this as well, since all the ingredients came from the Earth.
Physical activity or gestures is another common way to ground, such as touching the Earth or stamping your feet after a meditation. You can also ground through visualization – One I see used frequently is that of a tree sinking its roots into the soil. I’ve also heard of people imagining becoming a mountain.
You can use tools to help you ground, such as a crystal (like black tourmaline) with grounding properties. Bringing consciousness to your physical body helps as well. Feeling a smooth stone in your hand, becoming aware of the sensation of the the breeze caressing your face, feeling the Earth beneath your feet, smelling an earthy fragrance, or tasting salt can all bring you back to your physical body.
Grounding is absolutely essential after journeying, trance, or any sort of spiritual travel. (I highly recommend reading Trance-Portation by Diana Paxson if you are interested in any of these things.) The purpose of journeying is to allow us to go somewhere else on the spiritual plane, and it is vital that you completely come back to your body and this time and place when you are done. After journeying, I do a full scan of my body, to make sure I’m entirely back.
I also do a mental check of what I’m thinking, feeling, and sensing to make sure it is mine, and that it matches where I am in the mundane world.
For me, a combination of grounding techniques works the best.
I’m a fan of Cakes and Ale for rituals, though I recommend not using actual alcohol for the Ale part if you need some serious grounding. Hugging a friend is also very grounding in group ritual, and a technique I use quite often (as I’m sure my friends would tell you.) I will also touch a tree or handle a black tourmaline, if those are around. I’m typically very aware of my body (comes with the territory of being a dancer, I suppose), so bodily awareness exercises don’t really do much for me. Somewhat counter-intuitively, I will sometimes dance in order to ground. Dancing quiets my mind and brings me into harmony with my physical body, so it is a very grounding thing for me (though it can also be energizing).
In addition to magickal and ritual applications, there are many mundane applications for grounding. Grounding can help with stress or anxiety – It can help with anything that takes you away from awareness of yourself and the present moment. I love my black tourmaline crystals for this. I always carry one around with me, and if I get mentally stuck on something, I can hold it for a little while and the anxiety will melt away.
Grounding can also help with intense emotions, like anger and fear. When you are overwhelmed with these emotions, touch the Earth, take a deep breath, drink some water, or hold a crystal in your hand. Taking time to come back to the present moment gives you space from your intense emotion, and can help to calm your energy.
I didn’t really understand the importance of energetic cleansing until my empathic abilities started to kick in this past year. As someone with OCD, I understood all too well about physical cleansing of all sorts of different things, but energetic hygiene was alien to me. Sure, I had read about it, but since I didn’t feel it, it never mattered too much to me. Now, I know better.
Energy affects you whether you think you can feel it or not! You don’t have to be an empath or a psychic to benefit from energy cleansing. You can cleanse yourself, your space, your tools, and other objects. See my Elemental Cleansing Ritual for some different ideas on how to accomplish this.
Just like we want to breathe clean, fresh air, we also want to surround ourselves with clean, fresh, positive, and uplifting energy because that is what we will take in. Our energy fields are naturally permeable. We can sense what is around us, positive or negative. And, just like we change our air filters and clean our homes, we also want to do the same with our energy.
Personal energetic cleansing is particularly important. Think of it as a shower for the spirit! You’ll want to clear out your energetic field every so often. I recommend at least daily, but if you are around particularly stressful people or situations, it may need to be more frequent. At my previous job (where I was interacting with a lot of people, a substantial fraction of which were troubled or angry), I needed to cleanse at least twice during the work day, and then again when I got home. Now, my job is significantly less stressful, and once a day usually does it for me.
I personally like to do my cleansing right before bed, as it helps me with more restful sleep. I will also do it on an “as-needed” basis. If I have been stressed out or have encountered people feeling big emotions, I can mentally cleanse right there, or once I am done dealing with the situation.
I do like the framework of using the four Elements for tangible cleansing, though you certainly don’t have to use all four every time! That would be exhausting after a while, and making it too complicated means that you won’t do it as often. Selenite and black tourmaline are favorites for Earth, incense or a singing bowl for Air, a candle or visualized flames for Fire, and rosewater or saltwater for, well, Water.
Of course, sometimes tools aren’t available when you need cleansing (or it’s just too much trouble to go rifling through your ritual bag to find where you stuck the palo santo). In this case, I find that visualized and sensate cleansings work just as well.
My favorite cleansing visualization is a cylinder of fire, burning away all the ick. Sometimes it is pink for Aphrodite, sometimes orange for the Firebird, and sometimes purple for transformation. After you burn away all the negative energy, you’ll want to visualize positive energy filling that space, in whatever form feels natural for you. I personally like sparkles, but that may not be your thing!
A sensate cleansing involves feeling the cleansing taking place. This works well if you have trouble visualizing, or if you want to add another layer to your visualization. For the cleansing fire above, feel the heat of the flames as they burn away the shit. Feel a strong wind whisking away your stress. Feel the caress of water on your skin as you stand underneath a waterfall. I rarely ever just “visualize” something – It is almost always accompanied by a corresponding sensation. This comes very naturally to me, but I know this can be a challenge depending on how you experience the world. I straddle the line between the tactile realm of feelings and the intellectual realm of visualization, between Fire and Air. This works for me. Find what works best for you.
Personal shielding is something I never did until I became an empath (or rediscovered my empathic nature, it turns out). I had tried it, and never really felt like it did anything. So I didn’t do it for years.
Walking around unshielded as an empath is like being a lint roller in a house with a long-haired cat. You pick up everything and you get used up very quickly. Your energy gets gunky and depleted. You feel fatigued, and it can start to take a toll on your health. These energetic dynamics affect us all – not just empaths! Empaths are more likely to sense it and feel drained by it, but negative energy impacts everyone on some level.
Of these topics, shielding is the one I had the most trouble with and took me the longest to figure out. For the longest time, I tuned out the energy dynamics around me and projected my own energy out as far as it would go as an unconscious shield. Even when I finally realized that shielding was maybe a thing I should think about doing, it took me months to find what worked best for me. I hope your journey is much smoother than mine (and hopefully the following tips help some!)
One of the things that made figuring out my ideal shielding so difficult was that the situation at my job was always changing. Some days would be better, and others would be downright awful. It was impossible to have a controlled environment in which to experiment with my different shield techniques. Ever the scientist, I tried my best to control the confounding variables, but it still took me a while. If you find yourself in a similar situation, just have patience and be kind to yourself. You’ll get there eventually.
I have different levels of shielding that I use.
Some days, I don’t use a shield at all. If I am home all day, or hanging out with friends I know well, I am unlikely to shield. Part of this is out of laziness and old habit (of not shielding), but sometimes shielding can make me feel too cut off from what’s going on. In safe and nonstressful situations, I personally don’t need it.
My next level up is a shield of golden white light. I use this if I need a little boost, like at gatherings for my Pagan community (where I know most everyone, but we occasionally get new people), for trips out and about to the grocery store, or for social gatherings with more than ten people. I also use it before I fall asleep at night. I like Tess Whitehurst’s phrasing of a shield in which “only love remains, and through which only love may enter.” I envision the golden white light surrounding me in a sphere. I will call on Aphrodite to surround me in this protective shield of love, and I will infuse it with my own energy as well.
Like I mentioned before, it took me a while to find my best moderate shield, for everyday use. What finally worked for me was something more permeable than I thought I needed, and something that didn’t take so much energy to maintain.
My moderate shield is two-fold. First, I call on Aphrodite to surround me with a crystalline sphere of pink light. I envision this as a shimmering pink lattice-work around me, that contains only love and permits only love to enter. I envision this crystalline sphere as rotating slowly clockwise. Then, I call on the Firebird to surround me with a net of protective orange fire, draped over me in a sphere moving slowly widdershins. The holes in the net are fairly big diamonds – about six inches from tip to tip. I ask that this fire to purify all energy within my field, and all energy entering my field. With a shield of love moving clockwise, and a net of fire moving counter-clockwise, I feel pretty well covered, but it doesn’t take nearly as much energy to maintain as my earlier version – which is now what I call my fortress shield.
For my strongest shielding, I don’t actually envision a fortress – Walls feel too confining to be on the inside. Instead, I envision a clockwise spinning vortex of striped pink and orange fire, with no space between them. It’s a cyclone of pink and orange flame – a brilliant sight! I call on Aphrodite first, to surround me with protective pink fire, and then I call on the Firebird for the orange fire to protect me from any and all harm. I ask for the fire to purify all energy entering my field, and all energy within my field.
This is a very cleansing and very protective shield, but it does take a lot of energy to maintain. Even calling on the Divine for help, it takes too much out of me to hold for an entire day (which I discovered via trial and error and lots of days coming home exhausted from work). Now, I only use this shield if I know I’m going to be in an intense or emotionally stressful situation, or as a reactive protection if I unexpectedly find myself in one of those situations.
There are many other methods of shielding. Some people envision a mirrored sphere, reflecting all energy back to its source. As an extrovert, I thrive on reciprocal energy exchange too much for this method to work for me. Plus, I never liked the idea of sending negative energy back to someone, even if they were the one that put it out.
You can also go through the elements for inspiration for shields.
I’ve used intertwining vines and branches before – coming up from the ground to form a natural canopy around me. If I am particularly working with Earth, I will use this kind of shield, but otherwise it feels too dark on the inside of the thicket for daily use (and I like to be able to see out of my shields).
I know people who use physical buildings as a model for their shields – a true fortress made of wood, metal, or stone. Some people use iron in their shields. This material is unfriendly to the Fae, so I don’t use it.
An Air shield could be a spinning cyclone, whisking away all the negative energy. You can use sigils or runes to add to your Air shield, or envision the source of the air (saltwater breeze from near the ocean is effective).
I’ve mentioned how I use Fire shields. Fire is good for cleansing and burning away the shit. I’ve tried a wall of fire (as opposed to the cyclone or net of fire that I usually use), and for me this can only be used in specific reactionary situations where a strong and immediate block is required. Some use purple fire to transform and transmute negative energy into positive energy. I’ve used this a few times, and it seemed to work well, but for whatever reason this method didn’t stick with me.
For Water, you can envision yourself in a giant bubble, or surrounded by a waterfall. Water has a very healing energy to it, so this is good if you need to ease tensions for a particular situation. I personally don’t use water shields much, but try it and see if it works for you!
Some Final Thoughts
Grounding, Cleansing, and Shielding are all very personal magickal skills. What works for me may not work for you, and that’s normal. The way I do all of these is different (sometimes very different) than the way my magickal friends do it. It’s different than what I learned in books or on the internet. You’ll need to experiment and find what works for you.
Brightest blessings on your journey!