Starting practices

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If you start out reading books, many of them make you think you need to dive straight into complex rituals. And really, no, you don’t. You may want (or need) those eventually, for specific goals, or as part of a particular path, but there are plenty of things you can start doing that are simple, require few tools (and nothing you probably don’t have some sort of access to already)

Start with five basic areas, and you’ll build skills that will both serve your magical and ritual goals, and help you in other areas of your life.

1) Be aware of yourself

One of the basic principles of magic and ritual is that you can’t know what’s changed (or what you might need to fix) if you don’t know what you started with.

Practices that you can use to be more aware of your own self on a regular basis include:

  • Several times a day, take stock of how you feel (mood, body, mind).
  • Simple breathing exercises (like taking 3-5 deep breaths multiple times during the day)
  • Grounding or centering exercises.
  • Journaling.
  • Using smartphone apps or other tools to keep track of symptoms, moods, or general notes on your day. (Index cards work well if you prefer paper.)

2) Be aware of the world around you

Along with being aware of what’s going on with you, be aware of what’s going on around you. Lots of things can affect how we feel, so it can be handy to keep an eye out. These might include:

  • Changes in the seasons: what plants or foods are growing? Pick a place you can visit regularly (at least every week) and observe it over the course of a year. Watch how the moon changes, day to day, or how the stars change in the sky.
  • Find a way of keeping up with the news. While being glued to watching disaster after crisis after horror story isn’t good for any of us, keeping up with the basics is good. I prefer National Public Radio and a combination of online news sources to other mainstream media.
  • Pay attention to things that affect your own immediate environment. When I worked in a high school, the time around exams made me stressed (because so many people around me were stressed.) I made sure to do extra shielding and self-care at those times.

You may notice that some things change for you at different times of year, or different times of day, or with different things going on in the patterns of your work life or school life. It can take quite a while to sort these patterns out, so keeping a simple journal can be a very useful tool.

3) Do something more days than not

You’ll see a lot of books out there say that you must have a daily practice, and often that it should include specific prayers or meditation time or lighting incense, or whatever. And if those things work for you, great!

But there can be a lot of (quite good) reasons that a formal daily practice (say this prayer in the morning, for example, and do this thing in the evening) may not work for you. Maybe, like me, you’ve got chronic health issues, and some days go much easier than others. Maybe you’ve got young kids, so you’re never quite sure when you’re going to get 10 minutes on your own. Maybe you’ve got a partner whose schedule changes a lot, or a bunch of other commitments.

My advice is to instead find a couple of different practices (at least 2-3 of which take very little time to set up or do) and do *something* more days than not, but don’t push doing the same thing every day unless and until you feel it would be useful to you or is being requested as a particular part of training or devotion to a specific deity.

Things that I do include:

  • Painting my toenails as a devotional act, and so every time I see them, I’m reminded of that devotion.
  • Setting up music playlists for particular magical and ritual purposes (long-term magical workings, playlists for each Sabbat and element etc.)
  • Picking desktop background images and computer passwords that remind me of spiritual goals or things I’m focusing on.
  • Wearing jewelry that’s meaningful to me but not obviously religious that I put on depending on my mood and focus.
  • Using perfume as another way of giving myself a little bit of conscious focus on the day (I pick the scent based on my mood and needs.)

Other things you can try include using seasonal foods in your meals regularly, getting outside for a few minutes a day, reading books that relate to a particular spiritual interest or goal (not just obviously Pagan ones – they might be about a nearby place, a particular food or item, all sorts of things.)

4) Build your brain

Many magical and Pagan religious systems put a big focus on learning meditation. The real thing many of them are looking for you to learn is how to focus your brain and keep it focused for a longer period of time.

Modern media culture can definitely encourage a short attention span, and the many things most of us are juggling in our lives don’t help! Some good practices to help you learn how to focus your mind for longer:

  • Meditation is certainly not a bad place to start. Start by focusing on something like breathing (especially counted breathing), move into visualisation, and from there into longer meditations.
  • Spend some time each week in a longer period of focused study on some topic (an hour or so at least). This will help you keep the skills that go into longer focus sharp.
  • Read and consume a variety of kinds of sources – don’t spend all your time reading blog posts and short pieces. Spend some time reading longer, more in-depth things, whether that’s books about Paganism, in-depth pieces (I love longform.org which curates longform journalism articles on a wide range of topics), podcasts that spend an hour on the same topic, documentaries.
  • Consider declaring one evening a week a no-technology zone, when you spend time making art or music, having great conversations, cooking interesting new meals, putting together a complex puzzle, sharing a hobby, or anything else that keeps you engaged and

5) Feed your connections

Finally, spend time feeding connections – to any deities you honour, but also to the spirits of your local place, to your local community, to your friendships and relationships. Relationships need time and attention, and the not-human ones aren’t any different from the human ones that way.

Some ideas:

  • Besides formal ritual (if and when you start doing that), simple daily or weekly practices like having a shrine, making a small occasional offering, wearing a piece of jewelry you dedicate to a deity, or whatever else can be meaningful practices.
  • Include in your ongoing reading things that matter to a given deity or entity – this doesn’t have to be an official Pagan book – for example, if you particularly honour a deity associated with water, you might spend time reading about lakes, oceans, weather, and all sorts of other related topics.
  • Get familiar (if you’re not already) with where you live. This can involve local history, geography, where the water comes from and flows to, what plants are native, and many other things.
  • Consider volunteering your time somewhere in your local community – whether that’s your Pagan community or your general one. Volunteering can range from helping with one-day events to helping all year to plan something, to helping with something once a month, and from things you can do at home on your own time to things you do with other people somewhere else. You’ll get to know more about your local community, and you’ll do something that supports it.

[last edited December 23, 2016]

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