Building A Regular Practice

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A daily spiritual practice helps center you for whatever your day may throw at you.  It also exercises your spiritual “muscles,” so that you develop a stronger connection with ancestors and deities and a calm, centered, grounded state becomes familiar to you and easy to access.

I’m going to describe a few possibilities, but you aren’t restricted to my list.  In general, a daily practice should be relatively short and simple, easy to do, and point towards a larger goal that is spiritual in nature (though practical is ok too).  You definitely don’t have to do all of these (that would contradict the “short and simple” directive) but if more than one appeals to you, you can definitely combine or rotate them.  You don’t even have to do it every day, though the repetition and rhythm of it is part of how it benefits you.  (Also if you’re like me, if you let too much time pass you’ll forget about it entirely.  I aim for every day and wind up doing it most days).  Altars generally don’t need tending more than once a week, though you can do devotions any time.

1. Meditation    There are many, many different types of meditation out there, and a few are specific to Pagan practices.  Here’s a basic grounding meditation that is similar to the one in The Spiral Dance by Starhawk.  Alternatives including the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, and the Middle Pillar (both part of ceremonial magic and found in Modern Magick by Donald Michael Kraig) and the Three Souls meditation from Faery (I will do that one for an upcoming post).  You can always do a basic “mindfulness breath” where you  focus on your breath, breathing slowly in and out to the count of seven, or a “box breath” where you breathe in four counts, hold four counts, breathe out four counts, and hold four counts, then repeat.  Meditation has proven health benefits as well as spiritual ones, and it is useful for calming, centering, better integration of the self, increased awareness, and many other beneficial effects.

An important form of meditation for Pagans could just be described as “sitting in nature,” though you actually don’t have to sit.  But spending time outdoors and in contact with the earth, paying attention to what the trees and wild creatures are doing, is an important spiritual practice in and of itself.

2. Keep a dream diary   I have mentioned this before; it’s an important but often-neglected step in fostering integration and communication between different layers of the self.  Keep a notebook by your bed and write down whatever you remember of your dreams; if you can’t remember anything, write down how you feel.  Dream diaries help you process your feelings and sharpen your intuition.

3. Set up an altar   An altar isn’t just a “tool” or a place to hold your stuff so you can perform a ritual; creating and maintaining one is a spiritual practice in and of itself.  You can have multiple altars; I typically have a boveda, a separate ancestor altar, and a household altar on the mantel above our fireplace that holds deity figures and “work in progress” spells (including one to bolster my health).  At some points I have had a ritual room with elemental altars as well as a main altar, where the entire room was the same kind of constructed semi-permanent sacred space.   Altars for different purposes are set up differently, but a typical altar might have a pretty cloth, water in a bowl or glass, flowers, a candle, incense or perfume, a bell, stones or other relevant items, candles, images of either ancestors or deities, and/or your magical tools if you have them.  An offering bowl or plate is nice, which brings me to…

4. Offerings.   The purpose of an offering is a kind of gesture of “sharing” with ancestors or deities, to strengthen your connection with them.  In most cases and certainly in this context they are devotional, not transactional.   I frequently put food offerings on my ancestor altar, and incense, clean water, and flowers on my other altars.  You can also go outside and pour offerings onto the ground, or leave them in a specific spot:  at the crossroads for Hecate, for example.  It’s important to realize that the offering isn’t a precursor or prerequisite for a spiritual practice, but a spiritual practice in and of itself, although offerings frequently do go with other practices.

Both altars and offerings help you connect with the divine with all of your senses, by using things you can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.  They are a grounding alternative to some other forms of spiritual practice which can be a little “heady” and abstract.

5. Devotional prayers, chants, blessings   Most of us who were raised in mainstream religions are familiar with the form of spoken devotional practice known as “prayer,” which can be either spontaneous or formulaic.  A chant is basically a prayer on repeat, like singing a round by yourself (you can always, definitely, sing a song!).  You can take a page from Jewish traditions and find a blessing to say while washing your hands (make sure it takes at least 20 seconds to say and then it’s multi-purpose!).  I frequently combine these with my meditations, in that I have written prayers/charms/chants to be said as I’m doing them; one advantage of this approach is that when I’m particularly scattered or freaked out and can’t focus on the meditation very well, just saying the words gets me into the right frame of mind.  I could (and probably should) literally write a book on this topic so I will at least make a post or two with specific blessings you can use.

A way to combine these could look like this:   Choose a day when you have a little more time, set up your altar and regularly tend it on that day (replacing flowers and other offerings, refreshing any water, etc).  Burn incense, meditate, and say a prayer or blessing every day in front of your altar, or alternate with going outside, pouring an offering and meditating.  My advice is to try everything, and let the things that speak to you most or that you get the most out of become the core of your practice.

Your regular practice could look like something else entirely, but I chose these because they are commonly done, easy, and not time-consuming.  If nothing else, I want you to walk away with the conviction that the power to find the strength and resilience you need is right there, like Dorothy’s ruby slippers.  You can find your own way home.

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