Introduction to the Sphere of Protection

***page needs review — needs images from SoP chapter in NMG***

About the Sphere of Protection Ritual

The Sphere of Protection (SOP) is one of the key daily practices of the AODA, and in many ways, forms not only the core of our work but also the connection to some of the AODA’s deepest mysteries. The SOP is the oldest part of our tradition. Common in various esoteric circles and religious philosophy is the idea that a daily protective and energetic working is an important part of one’s spiritual development. The SOP is also used in both the AODA’s solitary grove opening and standard grove opening rituals.

The SOP was created in the 1970s by Archdruid Dr. John Gilbert, using material drawn from several older AODA rituals. The Sphere has three phases: an opening, a closing, and a middle section in which the core work is done. The opening is called the Elemental Cross, the middle section is the Calling of the Elements, and the closing is the Sphere of Light. The process of learning the Sphere of Protection involves a certain degree of complexity, because each person who learns and practices it is expected to enrich it with personally relevant symbolism.

There are many reasons to perform the SOP, and some you will discover for yourself as you go along, and some of which will be revealed to you in higher degrees. What this practice is, and what it does for you, can be framed in a number of ways (and as a non-dogmatic order, we encourage you to choose a theory of this practice that fits your own path):

  • As an energetic practice for invoking and banishing energy
  • As a practice aligning with the universal archetypes, energies, or deity
  • As a daily balancing ritual
  • An energizing practice
  • As a focus and movement practice
  • As a daily ritual
  • A way to protect or empower ritual or creative working space

In the most basic sense, as we go through life each day, we pick up a lot of etheric crud—think about when you’ve witnessed something you didn’t want to see, when you have experienced a trauma, when you are really stressed about work, and so on—this crud gets on us and weighs us down. This obscures the light of our souls, our gifts to the world, our ability to create and engage in the bardic arts, and to be whole and actualized people. What the daily Sphere Of Protection helps do, each day, is clear us and protect us from the worst of the crud. Consider it like your energetic buffer for the day.

With all of this said, however, right now, how you conceive of this ritual isn’t important at this stage in your path in Druidry. What is important is that you learn this ritual well and practice it daily.

Brief Overview of the SOP

In order to discuss the ritual and introduce it to you, the following is a very brief overview (before going into the detailed instructions and images). The SOP ritual has three main parts: the Elemental Cross, the Invocation of the Gates, and the Circulation of Light. The SOP also includes four kinds of actions: visualization, energetic work, verbal phrases, and physical movement. First, the Druid begins by invoking the elements or deity and physically and energetically forming an Elemental Cross. Second, the Druid invokes the four elemental gateways by invoking positive qualities of the four elemental energies (Air, Fire, Water, Earth) and banishing the negative qualities of those elements. The positive aspects are those which nourish and enrich the Druid and others while the negative aspects are those which are considered to be harmful to the Druid or others. For example, for the element of air, positive qualities include focus, clarity, justice, reason, learning, and clear articulation of ideas, while negative qualities might be pride, aloofness, anger, or detachment. The element of fire might include the positive qualities of passion, determination, inspiration, and creativity, while negative qualities might involve intensity, ego, or rashness. The element of water might include the positive qualities of intuition, compassion, empathy, and being in tune with one’s own heart, while the negative qualities might involve emotional volatility, irritability, and oversensitivity. The positive qualities of earth might include steadfastness, never giving in, and staying the course, while the negative qualities might include stubbornness and not letting go. These examples are only some, of many, qualities of the elements that you can work with as you practice and learn the SOP.

The Druid then invokes the remaining three gateways: the telluric current (Spirit Below), the solar current (Spirit Above), and the lunar current (Spirit Within) using language, action, and visualization. The final part of the SOP draws upon these seven energies and circulates light in a protective sphere. This protective sphere is most typically placed around a person or a sacred grove in order to do ritual work, but it can have many other uses, some of which will be revealed to you in later degrees.

While this seems like a lot, the SOP is a ritual of repeated patterns and can be performed with effect in less than five minutes once it is learned. The key is in learning it and making it a natural part of your path.

The SOP as a Template

The important thing to understand about how the AODA teaches the Sphere of Protection ritual is that we teach a template of the ritual that can then be adapted to each individual druid’s circumstances and practices. In this guide, we present the full version of the ritual as well as the basic instructions for learning the ritual and symbolism. To learn the ritual, we suggest reading through the full sample and then the full set of learning instructions (see Appendix A for Full Sample Ritual). Then, begin by doing each step of the ritual (taking a week on each of the steps) until you put the full ritual together. We recommend that you start by learning the full version of the ritual presented here, in The Druidry Handbook, The Druid Magic Handbook, or the AODA Grove Manual, and then adapt it after you’ve learned it.

Learning the Sphere of Protection

Although the SOP can appear simple enough to perform once learned, it is a powerful practice that requires time and practice to master. Part of this is because the sphere of protection works with four distinct types of activities:

Movement: Movement of the physcial body during the ritual.

Visualization: Visualization in your mind’s eye aspects of this ritual, specifically, symbols, light, and the sphere of energy. Visualization is a skill that takes time and practice to perfect, like any other skill.

Auditory: Parts of the ritual spoken aloud, said in a firm voice.

Energetic: Ultimately, you are working with the subtle flows of the energies of the earth (telluric) and heavens (solar) and elements (earth, air, fire, and water) when you perform this ritual. Sensing these, and working with them, are part of the longterm and benefit of the SOP.

Two Ways to Learn the SOP

There are two ways you can learn the SOP. One way, which has been covered extensively by Grand Archdruid Emeritus John Michael Greer in The Druidry Handbook and in The Druid Magic Handbook, is to learn the SOP piece by piece, spending time first learning the elemental cross, then adding in the invocation and banishing of the four elements and spirit above, below, and within, finally circulating the sphere of light. The pieces are learned together (with visualization, auditory elements, movement) one at a time before moving on. This method works for most people who learn it, and we would strongly suggest that you begin by reading the sections in The Druidry Handbook and The Druid Magic Handbook and using that to learn the SOP.

The second method of learning the SOP is not sequential but based on breaking it down by the four distinct activities that the SOP includes. It is this method that is presented here as an alternative to material presented in The Druidry Handbook and The Druid Magic Handbook.

Using this Guide

Learning the Sphere of Protection based on activity begins with the set of movements. Movements can eventually be part of our muscle memory.

To use this method of learning the SOP, we suggest the following order: Learn the movements first, until they flow with good effect. Once you have mastered the movements and have practiced them daily for a few weeks, add in the auditory elements for each of the movements. Again, practice them for a few weeks, and commit them to memory. Finally, once you feel confident in the movements and the auditory elements, add in the visualizations. Eventually, you will do all of the steps in a cohesive movement approach (typically tracing the symbol while saying the words, then addingvisualizations). Note that some people have difficulty with visualizations; we provide alternatives to visualization later in this chapter. The SOP is used both as a daily practice and as part of our AODA grove opening. This guide is designed to help you learn the SOP as a daily practice (with some notes for how to slightly adapt it for grove practice).

The Sphere Of Protection Step by Step

Part I: The Elemental Cross, Step 1

Movement: First, the Druid begins by standing with her arms out at her sides, facing east (as a daily practice). In a grove ritual, the Druid would instead stand in the north facing south.

Visualization: Imagine the Sun standing at zenith high above your head, and an equivalent sphere of silver-green fire, which the heart of the Earth, far below your feet. Be aware of yourself standing between these two spheres.

The Elemental Cross, Step 2

Movement: Druid brings both arms up from the sides in an arc, palms join above the head before drawing them down together to touch the point between the eyebrows.

Auditory: “By the sky above me.”

Visualization: Druid imagines a ray of light descending from the Sun with the movement to form a sphere of golden light within his/her head.

The Elemental Cross, Step 3

Movement: Druid draws the joined palms down to touch the point of the solar plexus.

Auditory: “By the earth beneath me.”

Visualization: Imagine the ray of light descending from the head to forming a second sphere of golden light at the solar plexus, then continuing through and beyond him/her until it reaches the sphere of green-gold fire in the heart of the Earth.

The Elemental Cross, Step 4

Movement: Druid leaves left hand where it is and pivots right arm outwards at the elbow, so that the right arm ends up angling down and outwards in a straight line from the shoulder, turning the head and facing right.

Auditory: “By the fire at my right hand”

Visualization: Imagine a ray of light shooting out from the sphere of light at your solar plexus into infinite distance to the right.

The Elemental Cross, Step 5

Movement: Druid repeats the same gesture with the left hand, so that both arms now slope down and outward from the shoulders, turning the head and facing left.

Auditory: “By waters at my left hand”

Visualization: Imagine a ray of light shooting out from the sphere of light at the solar plexus into infinite distance to the left.

The Elemental Cross, Step 6

Movement: Druid crosses arms across chest, right over left, turning the head and facing forward.

Auditory: “May the powers of Nature bless and protect me/this grove, this day and always.”

Visualization: Imagine twin rays of light shooting out from the sphere of light at the solar plexus, in front and behind him/her, into infinite distance (for all of the rays, see graphic below).

The Elemental Cross, Step 7

Movement: Druid lowers both arms while chanting.

Auditory: “Ah-Oh-En.”

Visualization: None.

Pause before beginning the calling of the elements

Part II: The Calling of the Elements

Please note, that each of these calls has multiple steps. You will notice, however, that the patterns replicate and are quite similar for each of the four elements. Once you have learned the first pattern, the remaining elements are more simple to enact.

We have provided visualizations, however, for calling of the elements, you may choose instead to simply observe the elements around you (which is particularly useful if you are near a window and/or in a natural setting). This is highly encouraged as part of your regular Druid practice.

In all of the symbols below, the symbol is typically traced with visualization and then the words are spoken.

Calling of Air

First Movement: Druid faces East or goes to the eastern quarter of the Grove. Druid traces the symbol of the element of Air in front of him/her.

First Visualization: Imagine the air symbol drawn in bright yellow light and the circle filled with a paler and transparent yellow.

First Auditory: “By the yellow gate of the rushing winds, the birch of new beginnings, and the hawk of May in the heights of morning, I call upon the Air.

(Pause) May I receive the blessings of Air this day.”

Second Visualization: Imagine a scene beyond the symbol corresponding to the symbolism of the east—for example, a spring meadow at daybreak with the Sun rising, a fresh wind blowing toward you with the scent of grass and flowers, great billowing clouds in the distance with their edges turned golden by the Sun’s rays, etc.

Second Auditory: “I thank the Air for its gifts.”

Banishing of Air

Movement: Druid traces the air symbol again, but the circle now counterclockwise from the uppermost point, then draws the line upwards.

Auditory: “And with the help of the powers of Air, I banish from within and around me all harmful and disturbing influences and every imbalance of the nature of Air. I banish these things far from this place.”

Visualization: Druid imagines all unbalanced manifestations and influences blowing with the wind and dissolving like mist on the vastness of Air.

Calling of Fire

First Movement: Druid faces South or goes to the southern quarter of the Grove. Druid traces the symbol of the element of Fire in front of him/her.

First Visualization: Druid imagines the symbol drawn in bright red light and filled with a paler and transparent red.

First Auditory: By the red gate of the bright flames, the fire of the cedar, and the white stag of the summer greenwood, I call upon the fire. (Pause) May I receive the blessings of fire this day.”

Second Visualization: Imagine a scene beyond the symbol corresponding to the symbolism of the south—for example, a desert like those in the American southwest at noon on a summer’s day, with red rock mesas in the middle distance and reddish sand close by, the sun blazing down overhead, the heat making the air shimmer and radiating toward you; a sweltering summer day, and so on.

Second Auditory: “I thank the Fire for its gifts”

Banishing of Fire

Movement: Druid traces the same symbol again, but the triangle now faces counterclockwise from the uppermost point.

Auditory: “And with the help of the powers of Fire, I banish from within and around me all harmful and disturbing influences and every imbalance of the nature of Fire. I banish these things far from this place.”

Visualization: Druid imagines all unbalanced manifestations and influences burning in the bonfire and turning into fine ash.

Calling of Water

First Movement: Druid faces West or goes to the western quarter of the Grove. Druid traces the symbol of the element of water in front of him/ her.

First Visualization: Druid imagines the symbol drawn in blue light with a paler and transparent blue.

First Auditory: “By the blue gate of the of the mighty waters, the hawthorn that stands between the worlds, and the salmon of wisdom in the sacred pool, I call upon the Water.

(Pause) May I receive the blessings of Water this day.”

Second Visualization: Imagine a scene beyond the symbol corresponding to the symbolism of the west—for example, an ocean beach at sunset on an autumn day, with great waves rolling toward you from out of the distance, rain falling from clouds overhead, the setting sun just visible on the horizon through a gap in the clouds and its rays making the clouds and sea glow, and so on.

Second Auditory: “I thank the Water for its gifts.”

Banishing of Water

Movement: Druid traces the same symbol again, but the triangle now counterclockwise from the uppermost point.

Auditory: “And with the help of the powers of water, I banish from within and around me all harmful and disturbing influences and every imbalance of the nature of water. I banish these things far from this place.”

Visualization: While saying these words, Druid imagines all unbalanced manifestations being washed away by rain or waves of water.

Calling of Earth

First Movement: Druid faces North or goes to the northern quarter of the Grove. Druid traces the symbol of the element of earth in front of him/her.

First Visualization: Druid imagines the earth symbol drawn in green light and the circle filled with a paler and transparent green.

First Auditory: “By the green gate of the of the tall stones, the fruit of the apple tree, and the great bear of the starry heavens, I call upon the Earth.

(Pause) May I receive the blessings of Earth this day.”

Second Visualization: Imagine a scene beyond the symbol corresponding to the symbolism of the north—for example, a forest scene at midnight in winter, with snow on the ground and the trees, the moon and stars shining brilliantly in a clear night sky, distant mountains beyond them with their peaks illuminated by the moonlight, and so on.

Second Auditory: “I thank the Earth for its gifts.”

Banishing of Earth

Movement: Druid traces the same symbol again, but the circle now is traced counterclockwise from the lowest point.

Auditory: “And with the help of the powers of Earth, I banish from within and around me all harmful and disturbing influences and every imbalance of the nature of Earth. I banish these things far from this place.”

Visualization: While saying these words, Druid imagines all unbalanced manifestations dissolving and percolating down through the soil, absorbed by earth and stone.

Second Auditory: “I thank the Earth for its gifts.”

Calling the Telluric, Solar, and Lunar Currents

Calling the Telluric Current/Spirit Below

Movement: Druid faces East or goes to the north side of the altar facing South. Druid traces the symbol of Spirit Below down and in front of him/her as if over an altar, a circle clockwise from the lowermost point.

First Visualization: Imagine the symbol drawn in bright orange light filled with a paler and transparent orange.

First Auditory: “By the orange gate of the land beneath this grove, the deep-rooted oak tree, and the great soil web of life, I call upon Spirit Below.” (Pause). “May the telluric current rise and bless me/this grove with the blessing and power of the Earth.”

Second Visualization: Imagine the soil and stone beneath you, reaching down all the way to the green fire at the Earth’s heart. Feel its stability, its richness, its immense power, and so on.

Second Auditory: “I thank the Spirit Below for its gifts.”

Calling the Solar Current/Spirit Above

Movement: Druid traces the symbol of Spirit Above, a circle clockwise from the uppermost point.

First Visual: Imagine the symbol drawn in bright violet light and filled with a paler and transparent violet.

First Auditory: “By the purple gate of the skies above, the hemlock [or other tall, dominant tree], and the Sun in its glory, I call upon Spirit Above. (Pause). May the solar current descend and bless me/this grove with the blessing and power of the earth.”

Second Visual: Imagine the heavens above you, luminous with stars and galaxies, extending up beyond the reach of your mind’s eye. The Sun shines in the midst of all, directly above your head. Feel the beauty, silence, and vastness of the cosmos, and so on.

Second Auditory: “I thank the Spirit Above for its gifts.

Invoking the Lunar Current

First visualization: Druid becomes aware of the six powers already invoked, in the six directions surrounding him/her.

Auditory: “By the six powers here invoked and here present, and by the grand word by which the worlds were made — AWEN (chanting this word Ah-Oh-En, stretching out the vowels) — I invoke Spirit Within. May a ray of the lunar current bless and protect this Grove, and further its work. (If there is an altar, touch it with your right hand.) May it establish a sphere of protection around this Grove and all within it.”

Creating the Sphere of Light

The final phase of the ritual uses words and gestures only at its conclusion. The rest of the work is done solely by the imagination (visualization). Please note that this visualization will take some practice for some to achieve.

First Visualization: Imagine the solar and telluric currents coming into contact in front of you (or on top of the grove altar) and forming a sphere of brilliant white light.

Second Visualization: See the colored light from each of the six directions radiating into the larger sphere of white light, so that it shimmers with rainbow colors.

Third Visualization: Next, imagine the sphere of light expanding outward until it surrounds you (or your sacred grove). Take your time at this visualization, and build up the image as strongly and solidly as you are able. Concentrate on the idea that the sphere forms a barrier impenetrable to any hostile or harmful influence, a protective wall.

Movement: When you have established the sphere as firmly as you can, cross your arms across your chest.

Auditory: “I thank the powers for their blessings.”

Then proceed to the ceremony, or if the Sphere of Protection is being practiced by itself, pause for a few minutes, feeling the energies you have invoked, and then release the imagery from your mind.

Adapting the SOP

We encourage each AODA Candidate to adapt the Sphere of Protection to his or her own personal cosmology and druid practice. The above Sphere of Protection, with its emphasis on the animals traditional to the Druid revival and the trees of North America, offers only one of countless possibilities. Members of our order have used the SOP in ways befitting of their own diverse practices—once you’ve learned the basic pattern, feel free to experiment and adapt as you grow as a Druid.

While it is possible for an individual Druid to changing the directions of the SOP to align with another directional system, please note that changing these directions may also require changes to other aspects of AODA ritual and ceremony, so this decision should be made purposefully and carefully. The invocation of the telluric, solar, and lunar currents should not be changed. The three currents are the main sources of power in AODA grove ritual, and the Sphere of Protection ritual is the way these powers are called into the grove and linked to its symbolism and core practices.

You may find that certain parts of this ritual may not work for you due to a disability or different way of working or seeing the world. We encourage you to adapt this ritual as needed, given your unique circumstances. For example, if you are not able to stand or move arms easily, remove or modify the movements of the ritual. If you are not able to easily visualize, go perform the ritual outside and observe the air, fire, water, and earth as you perform it (this is an excellent practice for all Druids). If you have dyslexia and /or find difficulty in keeping the directions straight, create small signs to place where you do the ritual so that you will remember the directions.