Beginning any new year with a plan to improve yourself can be a daunting task. Where to begin? How to begin? If you’re approaching this list, you’ve already narrowed it down somewhat: you’d like to have a magically productive year. We’re here to help!
This is by no means a list that must be strictly adhered to, a total road map towards enhancing your personal practice, or even a list of things that everyone will be able to do. It is perfectly okay to take a handful of suggestions from this list and discard the rest as not being right for you. As we enter our third year of a global pandemic, now more than ever remember to be gentle with yourself, value steady progress over leaps forward, and don’t be ashamed if something takes you several tries before it catches on and becomes a positive habit. Good luck and good health in the new year!
- Establish a place of power.
You may be familiar with the “mind palace” popularized by Hannibal or Sherlock Holmes, or maybe you’ve heard more about wizard towers and chicken-like witch huts in the middle of woods. What all these places have in common is that they represent a central place of power for their inhabitant, someplace they can collect themselves and recharge.
What is a place of privacy you can establish, either in your own mind or in the actual world? What can you do to establish this place more firmly as yours, either through decoration or upkeep?
- Start a journal.
Sometimes the hardest part of getting through a year is thinking that we haven’t made any significant progress and letting ourselves believe we’re stagnating. The mind can play tricks on us, though, and odds are good that if you could only look back at your year with a bit of evidence to aid you, you’d see how far you’ve really come.
Think of a journal as a way of keeping track of your personal progress through life. You can be as detailed as you want, or as minimal as you want (bullet journaling is one way to do this). Maybe your journal will be made up of lists, or maybe it will be a collection of separate thoughts and experiences. Whatever method you prefer, journaling can help us take a long look at ourselves without being blinded by whatever emotions/fears we’re sitting with now.
- Deep clean your space.
Although it seems counter-intuitive, when we become cooped up inside our homes (as so many of us have been), often we let our cleaning slip. Maybe it’s from depression, or perhaps we just become desensitized to our own clutter, but in no time at all we can look around one day and see dishes piled high, cobwebs dangling from corners, and a thin layer of dust over everything. Not only is this bad for our respiratory health, but it can induce deeper levels of depression in us and make us feel disconnected from our passions.
Begin to take the time to develop a cleaning habit each day, even if it’s as small as always taking something with you when you leave one room and enter another. Remember to pace yourself: you didn’t make a mess in one day (unless you had some help from your pets/loved ones) and don’t need to clean it all in one day, either. But having a clean space can free up our minds to tackle other projects or allow us to turn our thoughts towards more creative matters, so view this as a sort of daily liberation.
- Learn how to give yourself a massage.
If you’ve been practicing isolation during the pandemic, it’s quite likely you’re a bit touch-starved right now, and possibly even a bit tense. While this won’t replace the gentle touch of another person, learning to give yourself light massages can bring a wonderful sense of relief.
Using lotion or a warm cloth, practice gently massaging the sides and back of your neck, your hands, your lower and upper arms, and your legs. Invest in yourself by purchasing a personal massager for those hard-to-reach places, if you’re able to, or perhaps a pulsing shower head. Giving your body little treats like this can be an amazing way to unwind and lose some of the tension so many of us are carrying around these days.
- Pick a thing and begin to care for it.
I don’t care if the thing is your late mother’s enameled earrings, a flock of pigeons that roosts on your apartment building, your dog Mr. Pibbles, or a pothos you pick up at Walmart. Learn what it needs to be the best, happiest, most IT thing it can be, and work on tending to it over the course of the year. There is something special in placing thought and attention into something outside of yourself and allowing yourself to care.
There is value in everything and every life. It’s up to us to see it and help however we can.
- Begin a meditation practice.
If closing your eyes and clearing your mind doesn’t work for you, don’t worry. The point is to be present in the moment and to be still. Try sitting with one item and focusing your attention on it, studying it, memorizing it. This item, used day after day, can become a way of learning focus. From time to time, sit without the item. Can you picture it perfectly in your mind? Can you see every curve or angle? Can you perfectly imagine the weight of it? Sit with the item again. How much did you remember? What did you overlook?
- Mythologize your life.
It’s a sad fact of life that anything we tend to view as common or ordinary, we write off as uninteresting and unworthy of effort. This can be especially true for ourselves, and so often we fail to strive for better in our lives because deep down we imagine ourselves to be boring. The first step in overcoming this is to rework our view of ourselves.
Sit down and write out your life so far as an epic tale. What themes stand out? Are you just beginning your story, or maybe you are on your Great Quest?
- Learn a new language.
Old Latin is a favorite when it comes to spells for books and television. Maybe it’s because the language is “new” to so many of us, and there seems to be limitless potential when uttering words that you’re just discovering.
Whether it’s a handful of words or conversational Dutch, take up a new language and let yourself sit with the words and the way they feel in your mouth and mind. What can you learn about another people by experiencing their language?
- Practice creation.
Sketch out a new character, imagine a completely new person, or use popsicle sticks to build the forgotten city of M’Alach. There is a wild and wonderful power in bringing something new into the world, and whether its life is long and storied or short and intense, there is something to be learned about yourself through the act of creation.
- Curate your magical books.
There is something to be learned from everything, but you are under no obligation to learn everything (nor can you). Odds are good that whether you’re just beginning your magical journey or have been at it for a few years, you’ve picked up a few books/pamplets/bookmarked websites that simply don’t provide the personal growth you wanted them to. There is no shame in letting something go so that someone else in the world may have a chance to work with it.
Free yourself of clutter and fill your space with words that will enrich your practice.
- Learn to do one thing very well.
Don’t worry about becoming the most talented witch or the most accomplish priest. Instead, focus on one thing this year and devote time to making sure you’re able to do it really, really well. Is there a certain incense blend your gods were offered in times past? Learn how to make it and work on becoming so adept at blending it you could do it in your sleep. Always loved the stars? Learn how to make star charts and read the signs.
It is impossible to be and do all the things, but the good news is you don’t have to be! Focus on the tasks and crafts that have deep meaning to you, and trust that you will be able to reach out to others in the community who have turned their attention to the things you couldn’t.
- View everything as inspiration for magic.
Yes, even video games. Almost definitely your fiction books. Especially your Skillshare classes. Mammals learn a great deal from playing, and people are no exception. Most of us became inspired to follow the paths we’re on because of play, so don’t feel ashamed to turn to those lighthearted roots and start experimenting and pushing the bounds of your magic.
Don’t worry if you don’t see bigger, more established witches, Pagans, and polytheists doing what you’re doing. Maybe you’ll discover something new, and even if you don’t, you’ll have a better idea of what does and doesn’t work for you.
- Create your ideal self on paper the same way you would a D&D or video game character.
So often in life we’re paralyzed by all the options of who we could be and what we could accomplish. Like that old story of starving under an apple tree because you spent so long fretting over getting the perfect apple that all apples in reach rotted away, you can let opportunities slip by because of indecisiveness.
Imagine your ideal self and what that self is like and has accomplished. Break it down into a list of key components and spend some time further breaking down each list item into the steps it might take to get there from where you are now. Break it down as far as you need to in order to see a clear path towards your victory.
- Improve your sleeping area.
You spend so much of your time asleep, and whether you enjoy dream work or just need to be rested so you can focus on singing the glory of your gods, it’s important to get a good night’s sleep. Start by performing a deep clean on your bed and bedding, and then take note of what areas you can improve on. Has it been years since you got a new pillow? Will a light spray improve the scent of your mattress to help you unwind?
Remember that while an easy fix is to spend lots of money on a new mattress, you can make plenty of worthwhile improvements with small adjustments to your bed and where it is in your room.
- Revisit the fundamentals.
Oftentimes we’re so eager to ascend to the highest peaks of magic or religious practice that we skip past some of the beginning steps. Even if we took our time and proceeded at a slow, scholarly place, how much do you remember about the fundamental components of your personal practice, the things most people would disregard as being for “newbies”?
Finally, exactly how “fundamental” are these practices to your own practice? Do you have a reason to call the quarters, or do you simply do it at the start of rituals because that’s what you were told to do? You don’t need to try to reinvent the wheel, but you should have some understanding of why something is part of your practice, and a willingness to let it go if it doesn’t actually serve a purpose for you.
- Start an online study group.
In the early days of the internet, online covens or study groups were a big deal, especially as the closet Pagan or witch to you might be over a hundred miles away! These days there are more of us than there have been in many, many centuries, but during times such as a pandemic (or even if you simply have a very busy life), it can be tiring and troublesome to seek out other practitioners face-to-face.
All old things are, inevitably, new again. Using social media, Discord, or whatever access points you have, build an online group for yourself to discuss your gods and practices with. It can often be much easier to reschedule or fit in a short online meetup than it is to gas up the car, travel, make small talk, and get home again!
- Create a “wild shrine”.
If you were to go out walking around your home area right now, how many symbols of other religions would you see? Would you see any roadside shrines, crosses, or stacks of stones?
Create a small symbol of your faith or spirituality, making sure that it is made from nothing that would harm nature or pain you to lose. Take this symbol and find some hidden away place, whether that’s in an alley, under an old tree, or on the side of a dirt road. Lay out the shrine, make an offering, and leave it for the world.
- Invent a local holiday.
If you’re like most modern witches or Pagans, you probably follow the Wheel of the Year, but likely don’t live in the UK, upon which this seasonal calendar was based. Has it ever struck you as odd to be celebrating a harvest when no harvest is happening in your local area?
Explore your home area’s traditions and agricultural cycles. Is there a time when local orchards invite people in to pick apples? Do turtles and frogs become especially abundant during a particular month? Invent a holy day that revolves around this aspect of your area. Try to make it as particular to your home as possible and think of how you might mark this time each year in a special way. If you feel moved to, invite others to celebrate alongside you.
- Establish a daily practice.
There’s something beautiful about a complex ritual that requires a lot of thought and planning (especially when it goes off without a hitch), but when things become messy in your life the odds are that you won’t have time for complexities. When you go a long time without worship or practice, you can start to feel guilty, which can make you avoid it even more, and before you know it a year has come and gone without you doing anything.
What’s a simple devotional practice you could do in five minutes, even if you’re late for work or trying to get dinner on the table?
- Learn one method of divination.
Whether it’s divining by smoke, tarot cards, or even D&D dice, there are as many styles of divination as there are styles of practice, and they need not all be methods of learning the future. For many of them, they are simply styles of communication with gods or spirits to puzzle out current events or discern hidden knowledge.
Remember: the gods and spirits are there, all around you, eager to talk to Their child. You are no more or less than any other of Their creation, and communication with that which made you is your birthright.
- Learn to prepare one healthy meal.
What do we mean by healthy? Anything that offers you nutrients, does not harm you upon ingestion, and fills you with joy.
You know your own budget and tastes. If you are stuck, trying to search your cabinets and fridge for one of your favorite meal components, then researching all the myriad ways different peoples make use of it in their food. Now make the food, sit quietly with it, and present it as an offering to yourself.
- Undertake a Quest.
What wrongs need righting? What things are still to be explored? By channeling our energy on one problem at a time (though there are many, many in the world that need righting), we are better able to put our time and energy into it, and so, more effectively arrive at a solution.
[Written by Ashley Nicole Hunter.]