Embarking on a spiritual path is similar to starting an exercise program, or attempting to hone any craft. It takes practice, and lots of it. Regular, and ideally daily, practice. We are often envious of those who seem to effortlessly pull off any task, be it casting a spell or performing an Olympic feat. What we forget to acknowledge is that, in addition to whatever innate talents those individuals may have, they have also usually put in their fair share of study and practice. Whether you are a runner, a writer, or a Witch, there is truth in the old adage, "practice makes perfect," although we might rather say "practice makes mastery." Perfection is after all rather dull, not to mention hard to come by.
Waiting for the Right Time
On the subject of perfection, it seems part of human nature to wait for the "perfect" time before beginning anything, particularly a regular spiritual practice. But while you are waiting for Samhain to fall on a Monday when the new moon is rising in Pisces and you have acquired all of your magickal tools by appropriately mystical means, you are also wasting valuable time. If you hold out for the "perfect" conditions before you begin, you will likely be waiting a very long time. The reality is that the best time to start is always right now. Auspicious alignments come and go, but right now is always there, waiting for you to embrace the challenge it continually presents.
A regular daily practice is key to spiritual development. Ritual is extremely underrated in our contemporary society. We find it difficult to do more by way of ritual than get out of bed and brush our teeth each day (and sometimes even that is hard!). In light of this, how do we manage to do something for our spiritual selves each day? Start simple. Take a few moments each morning, evening, or right after work and do something that helps you feel closer to the realm of spirit. Say a prayer, light a candle, meditate, keep a spiritual journal, or whatever works best for you. The best practice is the one you do.
Recipe for Prayer
Prayer is one of the most time-honored and widely practiced methods of daily practice and devotion. As such, it is a perfect place to start. In Book of Hours: Prayers to the Goddess and its natural companion, Book of Hours: Prayers to the God, author Galen Gillotte asserts that "in every culture, in every time, we have spoken with the gods." Gillotte's books take all the guesswork out of how to approach daily practice, providing a morning, evening, and nighttime prayer for each day of the week. Gillotte reinvents the traditional "Book of Common Prayer" to fit the pagan world-view, and in doing so presents a tool that is both comforting in its familiarity and innovative in its approach.
If you prefer to craft your own prayers, Raven Grimassi presents a formula by which to do so in The Witches' Craft: The Roots of Witchcraft & Magical Transformation, asserting that "prayer, like all things in a serious magical system, has a structure and is based upon metaphysical concepts." The formula includes five basic stages: greet, identify, praise, request, and thank. You greet the gods or goddesses by name, identify them by their specific qualities, praise them for their good deeds, make your request, and thank them for all they do. You can tailor this formula to access any deity for any purpose.
Meditation and Dreamwork
Where prayer develops your relationship to deity, meditation develops another important skill for the witch, the ability to shift states of consciousness. "Meditation is one of the most wonderful paths to gnosis because it leads to many other skills," states Christopher Penczak, our featured author in this issue. In his book The Inner Temple of Witchcraft, Penczak presents a simple yet effective method of candle meditation that would make an excellent before bedtime ritual that instills peace and hones your mental powers.
Start by lighting a white candle on your altar. Dim all other lights. Sit in a meditative state and progressively relax your body from head to toe, inside and outside.
Direct your gaze to the burning candle. Do not stare intently, but face the candle with your eyes open. Let your focus soften.
Do not strain your eyes. If they are tired, close them, but visualize the candle in your mind. If visualization is difficult, alternate between opening your eyes and studying the candle, and then closing your eyes and re-creating the picture in your mind. This will help build your visualization skills. Do not worry if you have difficulty holding the image. Hold the idea of the candle in your mind.
Do this meditation for a few minutes at first and build to longer intervals. When done, extinguish the candle, close your eyes, rest, and relax.
Journal keeping is another simple way in which to bring the spiritual into the everyday. Penczak also advocates such "magickal record keeping." He argues that your spiritual work is "facilitated if you have a record to look back on, to see where you were, where you are, and where you hope to be." When faced with the prospect of keeping a daily journal, many people wonder what on earth in their life is interesting enough to fill pages. If this is something you worry about, why not start by keeping a dream journal? Keep a notebook and pen by your bed and write down all that you can remember of your dreams upon awakening. You may think to yourself that you rarely remember anything about your dreams, in fact, you may wonder if you even have them every night. You do. Just getting into the habit of writing down a little something each morning and trying to remember will improve your ability to recall your dreams with greater clarity.
Keeping a dream journal has the added benefit of developing your relationship with your subconscious and helping you to understand your own personal symbols. Kristin Madden, in The Book of Shamanic Healing, suggests that you "make an attempt to recall as many aspects of the dream as possible. Try to be very specific about how you felt, what you were wearing, what colors you saw, and any associated smells, sounds, colors, and so on. Include those beings or objects that you experienced, the time of day or night, the location, any activity that occurred." When you regularly keep track of this information, you may start to notice significant patterns, or discover particularly meaningful symbols that you wish to incorporate in your other rituals.
Keep it Going
The most difficult part of daily spiritual practice is the discipline to keep it going. The best advice is to keep it simple, keep it enjoyable, and keep in mind Penczak's words of wisdom: "if you skip a day, don't beat yourself up, but start again and reaffirm your commitment to continue."
I stated earlier that right now is the best time to begin a regular spiritual practice, regardless of when "now" is. If you are desperately in need of some symbolic outer circumstances for beginning your spiritual practice, right now is an especially good time. Any moment offers a new chance to make your real life a little closer to that ideal life you live in your head. Make your spiritual life a priority. Take as little as fifteen minutes each day and incorporate one of the practices above, or do some research of your own and find another that works for you.