One question that comes up a lot is “How do I know when I’m ready to start doing X?” Here’s my answer.
This article will help you sort out whether you’re ready for the thing you want to do.
A little context
Specific paths and traditions and other groupings within those paths have their own limits. Sometimes these are practical: you can’t do certain rituals in my tradition, for example, until you’ve got the appropriate preparation and introductions to the relevant entities involved. And some are common practice, or good precautions to keep people getting in over their heads in ways that are hard to recover from – just like learning some basic food safety is important for people learning how to cook.
In other cases, you may just need to have relevant skills and a willingness to try. The only limits involved may be your own confidence or comfort level.
What’s your reason?
Does it have a purpose beyond “This is cool and I want to play with it?” Play can do a lot of good, but it’s also a really easy way to get in over your head without realising it. Having a very clear reason for doing something, and taking a lot of time to plan through it tends to help avoid that problem.
(Don’t just ask “what do I want to do?” but also “How am I going to make that happen” and “Why is this the right time for this thing”. In detail, step by step, and looking carefully at anything you couldn’t explain in simple words to a friendly person who had no idea what you were doing. Being able to explain it helps us understand stuff better.)
As you do more of it, the planning gets easier.
Do you have the right skills and tools?
I’m grouping them together because, like cooking, there’s a lot of mixing things up here. You can often substitute some skills for less ideal tools – or use better tools to prop up your skills.
(For example, I still haven’t mastered poaching an egg without using a little floating poaching cup. That’s ok: the tool substitutes for my lack of skill. There are times this doesn’t work, however: if you don’t know how to tell chicken is cooked safely, you’re going to be stuck if you cook it no matter how good your tools are.)
However, you still need to have enough of both to actually accomplish what you want. A ritual to welcome the new season is an entirely different sort of task than a complex ritual to address several specific needs with the help and assistance of other entities: there’s a lot more pieces involved in the latter.
(To go back to our cooking metaphor: the first one is like making a pleasant simple meal for yourself and the latter is like making a formal dinner for some people you want to impress who have very clear opinions about what they like and don’t like. You have a lot more choices and options for what ‘success’ looks like in the first one, usually, even though the second one may have a bunch of possible ways to go about it too.)
What skills do you need, anyway?
There are a number of ways to approach this, but here are some core skills that are widely applicable.
Care of yourself:
Can you start from and return to a healthy state for yourself, without unduly draining yourself of energy, will, or other useful things? Centering, grounding, and self-awareness are common skills here.
Definition of space:
In Wiccan-based practice, this is casting a circle, but that’s not the only possible means of defining a ritual space. This obviously has a bunch of smaller steps and it may take time to learn and practice the basics of each one before you can put them together. Again, like cooking a meal, you may need to learn how to chop things, cook them appropriately individually, and season them, etc. before you combine them into one meal.
A good space (and method of stepping into ritual) will not only help you step into the ritual’s center – but it’ll help you step out and return to your daily life, too.
Whatever it is you want to do.
Candle magic is not precisely the same as knot magic is not the same as creating a magical artwork is not the same as using chanting or dancing or breath or meditation or whatever to focus your intention. Do you have appropriate skills, tools, and necessary knowledge and safety precautions for what you’re doing?
(The latter is especially important for anything you’re planning on eating, drinking, burning as incense, or applying to your skin. Check any substance you’re using these ways in multiple recent sources.)
A reasonable plan in case something goes wrong.
This is where reading and asking can help a lot. There are the practical things (a candle or glass getting knocked over, for example). There are the magical things (feeling jittery or drained after you’re done, for example, but there can be many more) There are some general things (figuring out how much time and preparation you need, finding a suitable space).
Some of these, you can plan ahead for, at least somewhat, based on reading and listening to others. Some will probably be things you learn about yourself as you go along.
(Good things to plan for include anything possible to get knocked over, for candles to blow in unpredictable directions and possibly go out.)
You might want to check out my page on safety for more ideas.
Can you get specific?
Specific makes for better and more effective ritual. So, for example, you say cleansing – do you want to cleanse yourself of a particular influence? The space you’re living in? Make good on something you’ve handled badly so you can move ahead?
All of those will have some similarities, but also some differences in how you approach them in spell and ritual work, and the more you’re clear about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, the easier it’ll be to come up with something effective but within your likely capabilities.
[last edited December 23, 2016]