Obviously, this is a subject near and dear to my heart, since I wrote an entire book (The Goddess is in the Details: Wisdom for the Everyday Witch, Llewellyn 2009) about integrating your spiritual and mundane lives in an easy and reward manner. [WHAT? You haven't read it? Check it out here: http://www.llewellyn.com/product.php?ean=9780738714868 ]
However, daily spiritual practice isn't just important for Pagans. It is stengthening and healing for everyone, no matter what their faith. So tell me, do you have a regular spiritual practice of some kind? What does it bring to your life? How do you fit it in with everything else?
Here is an excerpt from the chapter in The Goddess is in the Details where I talk about my own practice, and give suggestions for how to develop one your own.
Webster’s Dictionary defines “ritual” as “a system of rites, a ceremonial act or action, an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner.” For Pagans, ritual is all that and more. It can be as simple as looking up at the moon every night, or as complex as a Beltane celebration with hundreds of Witches coming from miles around. Some Witches have only formal rituals, performing magick within the confines of a circle and following particular procedures. Others lean more to the informal, and are likely to combine their rituals with everyday actions like cooking or gardening.
What are your rituals? Do you have some small act that you do on a daily basis to reconnect with the gods and the universe around you? Or are your rituals limited to Full Moons and Sabbats?
There are no rules about how or how often to perform rituals. (Rules? Don’t be silly. We’re Witches.) I usually suggest that people do some act of ritual at least once a week, and daily if possible. You may believe that you are too busy to be able to fit ceremony of any kind into an already overloaded life, but I beg to differ. Ritual and ceremony give us the strength to carry on, bring in positive energy, feed the soul, and strengthen our commitment to our own spiritual journey. Surely all that is worth a few minutes a day?
Generally, Pagan rituals tend to fall into three categories: daily, monthly and yearly. (This doesn’t include “special occasion” rites, which we will talk about in the next chapter.) Whether or not you perform any of these will depend in part on your particular path, your schedule and your own personal inclinations.
I will admit that until recently, my own "daily" rituals were a bit sporadic. There were times when I would faithfully go to my altar for a few moments before retiring for the evening, light a candle and speak a few words to the gods. Sometimes I even managed to do this for two or three weeks in a row, before the hustle and bustle of life inevitably got in the way.
Then my circle read a wonderful book by Dianne Sylvan, called The Circle Within: Creating a Wiccan Spiritual Tradition. In it, she highlights the importance of a personal spiritual practice and building a daily practice to support it. She made a daily practice seem both worthwhile and manageable, and I decided to give it another try.
My first step was to figure out what exactly I wanted to get out of the daily practice. Did I want to practice magick? Perform some specific rite? After I'd pondered the question for a while, I realized that all I really wanted out of a daily ritual was to reinforce my connection with the gods and remind myself regularly of the importance of Witchcraft to my life.
Once I’d determined what it was I wanted, I tried to figure out some routine that I could realistically expect myself to do almost every day. This meant coming up with something that wouldn't get derailed by exhaustion, stress or a busy schedule.
Eventually, I realized that I was taking the term "ritual" too literally. After all, I didn't need to light a candle in order to speak to the gods. I didn't even need to be standing at my altar; I could do it anywhere. And thus my own personal daily practice was born.
It's pretty simple. In the morning, after I wake up but before I open my eyes and get on with my day, I take a few moments to speak to the gods. What I say to them may change from day to day, but I always start with the same ritual opening words: “Great Goddess, Great God, I come to you at the start of another day and ask that you grant me the best day possible. Help me to feel my best, so that I might do my best, for myself and for others."
Depending on what lies ahead of me on any particular day, I may ask for strength, energy, wisdom, prosperity or any of the other areas where I feel the need of a helping hand. Then I finish up with a ritual closing: "Watch over me and those that I love. So mote it be."
At night, after I have put down my book and turned out the light, I close my eyes and speak again. Now, instead of asking for anything, I take the time to be grateful for all that I have been given. In the evening, I start with different ritual words: "Great Goddess, Great God, I come to you at the end of another day and thank you for all the blessings in my life."
I often give thanks for family, friends, and a job I like. Some days I express gratitude for the gift of creativity or for the strength that got me through a particularly trying experience. What is important is not so much which things I give thanks for, but that I am paying attention to the fact that there is so much things in my life to be grateful for.
This simple daily practice provides me with the connection to deity that I was looking for and has the added benefit of reminding me to say “please” and “thank you.” My mother would be so proud.
And if you think that maybe I am just lying in bed talking to myself, and not really connecting with the gods, you should know that Magic the cat—who generally tends to ignore me when I speak—always moves from whichever part of the bed she is sprawled upon when I utter those first words, and comes to sit by my head until I am done. And she purrs like mad the entire time.
Whether you choose to adopt a ritual like this one or come up with something completely different that’s all your own, I hope you will take the time to create a daily practice -- or at least a routine you are comfortable doing a few times a week. The gods are with us always, not merely on Full Moons and holidays, so it is probably a good idea to take a few moments to acknowledge their presence on a regular basis.
Here are a few suggestions for quick, easy and simple daily rituals:
• Prayer – Prayer doesn’t have to be formal or even addressed to any specific god/dess (although if you have one you follow, this is a good way to keep in touch). And if you worry about always asking for something for yourself, you can try praying for the earth. A common and simple prayer like this one, “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me,” is always good. If you want to get a little more ceremonial about it, you can light a candle on your altar, too.
• Meditation – Meditation is a way to alter your state of consciousness and let go of the issues of the day, if only for a moment. It is good practice for when you want to create a different mental environment for your magickal work and can help you learn to focus better. Sit or lie in a comfortable position and follow the movement of your breath in and out. If you want to make your meditation practice more “Pagan-centric,” try saying “goddess” with your breath out and “god” with your breath in. Or substitute other words that help you to feel more relaxed and centered, like “serenity,” “oneness,” “or “spirit.”
• Positive affirmations – It has been scientifically proven that our thoughts influence our physical being (the mind-body connection). In truth, our thoughts influence all aspects of our health: mental, physical, and spiritual. But no one can control his or her thoughts all day long. Instead, try setting aside a few minutes a day to purposely concentrate on the positive. Positive affirmations are short statements that are aimed at changing our negative physical or emotional patterns by replacing them with more beneficial ones. They are always voiced in the present tense. For instance, if you are struggling with trying to loose weight, your positive affirmation might be: “I am eating healthier and am satisfied with smaller portions”. Because I have ongoing health issues, one of my favorite affirmations is “I am strong and healthy, my body is balanced and working perfectly.” Positive affirmations can be combined with meditation, or even exercise.
• Yoga/Tai Chi/Qi Gung – These are all forms of exercise that are designed to be spiritual as well as physical. When they are done slowly and mindfully, yoga and tai chi can leave you feeling more centered and more grounded. Qi gung helps to move your energy, or qi, through your body. And these exercises also strengthen your body as they refresh your spirit. Many people who practice yoga on a regular basis like to start their day with what is called the “Sun Salutation,” a series of movements that flow smoothly from one yoga pose to another as you greet the new day. What could be more Pagan than saluting the sun?
• Aura cleansing – This is a good one to do at the end of the day before you go to bed, or when you come home from work (especially if you work in a physically or psychically toxic environment). The intention is to get rid of whatever negativity you have picked up during the course of the day. One easy way to do this is to leave a bowl of water by the front door. Whenever you come in, take a moment to focus on sending anything “icky” into the water. If you do this for a while, you will probably notice the water turning cloudy or darker, so it is a good idea to replace it periodically with a fresh bowl. Alternately, you can use incense or a sage smudge stick to clean your aura, or even just envision yourself surrounded by a glowing, positive light.
• Read – There are a number of good books available that contain one-a-day spells, rituals, meditations or Pagan-oriented readings. Try reading a page every day from one of the following: Pagan Every Day by Barbara Ardinger, The Real Witches’ Year by Kate West, or Llewellyn’s Spell-A-Day Almanac (put out yearly).