You walk through your home one day and notice with some guilt that the beautiful shrine you erected to your gods has a thick layer of dust on it. When was the last time you prayed, made an offering, cast a bit of magic? Can you even remember when you performed the simplest of spells between work emails and trips to the grocery store? Or do you sit, stagnant, throughout the year and only really start to notice when “witchy season” hits? Maybe you even feel guilty that the pandemic “came and went” according to some while your practice sat there, dead in the water.
Don’t be embarrassed, and don’t give up. The reason for your “failure” as a witch or a Pagan is simple and correctable. You see, you may have started out with the best of intentions, but odds are you never turned your personal practice into a habit.
Some of the most grounded, holy people in communities throughout the world owe a daily, personal practice to their relationship with the spirits and their ancestors. This didn’t happen overnight, and it’s not as a result of immense willpower (which will let you down EVERY. TIME.). Instead, it comes from having an established habit that they can fall back on, over and over, without much thought or effort. If you want to deepen your own practice in a similar manner, or start one at all, habit building is essential.
So how long does it take to build a habit? There’s a popular myth that suggests 21 days is the key, but the folks at Psych Central (https://psychcentral.com/health/suggestions-for-setting-realistic-expectations-with-yourself#recap) think that idea probably came from a 1960s study on how long it took amputees to adjust to the loss of a limb. I think we can all agree that’s hardly the same as taking up eating kale or making regular offerings to the gods. Instead, mentally prepare yourself for a process that’s going to take at least 66 days, possibly longer.
- Make things as easy on yourself as possible. When do you have a bit of free time each day that you tend to fill up with scrolling through social media or TikToks? Snatch those periods and keep some incense handy to make quick offerings to your spirits. The period of time just before you go to bed is great for this, and if you keep your religious items handy in your bedside table things will be even easier.
- Plan for worst case scenarios. What will you do when you’re sick, depressed, or just “not in the mood”? Starting off with an easy practice that requires minimal time and energy isn’t disrespectful to the gods and spirits, they’re just happy to be interacting with you. Consider making a “pocket shrine” for yourself out of an old Altoid tin to carry in your purse or bag so that you always have a quick connection to the divine.
- Keep track of your streak on a calendar. There’s some evidence that says that your brain hates breaking the streak of little marks it sees each day. Whether you’re putting marks on a physical calendar or just your Google one, take pride in how long you can keep a devotional streak going. The higher your count, the keener you’ll be to keep it up.
- Link your new practice to something you find pleasurable. Are you a chocolate fiend? Consider making part of your daily practice the act of sharing a meal with your god by laying out fancy chocolate. Consider this act a sacrament, sharing nourishment with your spirits while also psychologically reinforcing that good things come from your practice.
- Understand that it’s not a matter of if you’ll falter, but when. We all need (or are forced) to break pattern sometimes, and that’s okay. It’s doesn’t make you a failure, and it doesn’t mean you should shelve the whole practice. Spend a moment of reflection considering what “went wrong” and make a plan to implement in case the same thing happens again. Then dust yourself off and get back to it!
- Challenge your comfort levels. This doesn’t mean you should rub shoulders with Nazis or start collecting Chick Tracts, but rather that if you feel your practice is starting to “bore” you, it may be time to look at ways to expand it. When was the last time you created and tended a “wild shrine” out in the world to your god? Have you made a pilgrimage? What sacred works are you undertaking for Their glory? Complacency breeds contempt and growing careless with your practice can mean that you’re on the verge of abandoning it. When that feeling comes, it’s time to shake things up!
[Written by Ashley Nicole Hunter.]