Saturday, November 1, 2014

101 Series: Three Frameworks of Practice

Folks that are just coming to the path of Paganism, Wicca, or Goddess-worship often ask “what do I DO? How do you practice this religion?” It’s an important question, but one that is not always easy to answer. For one, the question comes out of a culture steeped in the practice of religion, not spirituality. Whether we come from an Abrahamic background or not, we are influenced by the belief that religion must be done correctly, that there is a right and a wrong way to be religious.

One of the beautiful things about the Pagan path is that there is no dogma (or very little, depending on who you ask). Your connection with the Divine is your own. You create your practice and way of connecting. Because that is truly what we are all seeking – connection with the Divine, whether it be God, a Goddess, the Earth, the Universe, our Self.

There are of course nuances, and some practices do require a very specific set of instructions. There are also many traditions and flavors underneath the umbrella of “Paganism.” However, those are not the purpose of this post. Here I want to offer a short set of guidelines and explanation for those questioning how to create their practice of spirituality.

In the majority of Pagan practice, you will find three frameworks for practicing spirituality. There are many others, but we’ll start with the basic three: Daily practice, spellwork, ritual.

Daily Practice

This the foundation, the bedrock, of every spiritual practice. It is also the most challenging. Daily practice requires your commitment and dedication. There will be no one watching you, no one to provide feedback, no one to cheer you on. At first, it will likely be just you, and the struggle to establish and commit to a practice that may not offer any immediate rewards.

I encourage you to do it anyway.

If you are searching for personal transformation and revelation, this is the path to it. It is the path to a deep river, a flow of consciousness and understanding that would be very difficult to achieve if you were only engaging in ritual or spellwork. A daily practice will support your continued work and added layers to your practice. It will support a deep and abiding connection with deity and the divine. The struggle of it is part of the process. You will come face to face with your inner voice, the one that plays the tape of negative self-talk. You will face your fear. You will face the frustration of monkey mind, the part of your mind that will not stop thinking. You will face your attachments and judgments. There will be moments of bliss, but it will not be easy.

I encourage you to do it anyway.

Because eventually, the self-talk will shift to encouragement. Your fear will be comforted and embraced. You will surf the waves of monkey mind. Your attachments will fall away. Your heart will open, you will be able to remain centered and calm, and you will know a connection with the divinity within and all around you. You will know it was all worth it.
Now, I say all this knowing full well just how damn difficult it is, how nearly impossible it feels some days. I stumble and let go of the practice regularly, even after years. And that is ok. Keep your sense of dedication, forgive yourself if you falter, and get back to it when you can.

Ok, so, how exactly do you do a daily practice? That is actually pretty simple. However you want to! A daily practice is just dedicating a few minutes every day to yourself and your spirit. The key is to be as regular as you can, and to find one or two things that really work for you and stay with them. A few examples:

  • Silent sitting/meditating. Start with 5-10 minutes of sitting silently. Allow thoughts to arise and pass by. Focus on the breath. This will train you to center and focus for more intensive work. It can also be the most important step in tuning in and getting to know yourself, paving the way for personal transformation.
  • Candle gazing. This is really just meditation with a focus point. It can also help to awaken intuition and divination skills. Sit for 5-10 minutes gazing at a candle flame. You can look at the center of the flame, the edges, the space around it; just focus on the flame and your breathing. Don’t try to interpret anything about the candle or any experience you may have. Just go with it.
  • Chanting/Singing/Toning. This is a fun option for people that may have difficulty focusing on one object for several minutes. Sound can be very healing, and this practice can also help awaken the ability to enter trance. You can sit or stand or dance if you choose. Find a chant or a song you like and practice it daily. You could chant one of the many Goddess chants, or a mantra, or write your own. You can also tone, which is chanting sounds as opposed to words. Start with vowel sounds and let it flow. Chanting OM or MA are also good starting points.
  • Going for a walk or other activity in nature. Our spirituality is based in reverence for the earth, and so not all of our practices should take place within four walls. Find a park, a path, or a trail that you like, and go there regularly. Notice the plants and animals around you, the way the place changes with the seasons. Feel the earth beneath your feet and the wind on your skin. Practice feeling at peace and one with nature.
  • Altar-tending and Devotion. You don’t have to have an altar to start a daily practice. I’ll write more about building altars at another time, but for now just know that an altar can be anything that holds symbols or objects that are personally meaningful to you. Shrines are similar to altars, except that they are specifically a place for a representation of a deity to “live” and is respected as such.  Both can serve as a focal point for your practice. Giving devotion to deity can be an important part of daily practice, but you don’t have to start there. If there is a deity you are interested in getting to know, you can start with an object or symbol that is relevant to their myth and worship. Meditate on that object, chant their name, and see what comes to you.

Finally, keeping a journal or record of your daily practice and what comes up for you can be very helpful. Knowing that you will be writing down what happens can put your mind at ease to fully participate in the practice. You will also be able to keep track of your progress and note any meaningful events.


Spellwork, or Magic(k), is often what newcomers have the most questions and concerns about. Is it good, is it bad, how do I do it correctly? This is one practice in which there are some specific tools, techniques, and “ingredients” used to be effective. But, for those who practice it, spellwork is really a method of prayer. As Christians pray for something to happen in their lives or for divine intervention, spellwork is a similar plea but with a bit more action behind it. The practice of magic is the use of action with intent combined with the power of symbolism. People that practice spellwork feel it is a direct connection with the divine and/or the forces of the universe. It is the use of energy to effect change. Rather than passively asking for divine assistance, a practitioner takes an active role in creating the change they want. It is ultimately a self-empowering practice that builds trust in one’s ability to have control in their own life. As such, it can be an important aspect of a Pagan or Wiccan spiritual practice.

By itself, spellwork is at best ineffective and at worst will have unintended effects. It will not, in my opinion and experience, lead to any deep connection with or understanding of the greater forces of the universe and the Divine. But it can help strengthen that connection. Spellwork shouldn’t be feared, but it does need to be understood. There are also important ethical considerations that basically come down to DO NOTHING TO INFLUENCE ANOTHER PERSON’S FREE WILL.

There are many resources available on doing magic, and I am not going to go into great detail here. But I will offer a few suggestions as a place to start:

Candle Magic
Basic candle magic uses only a candle and your own will and focus, but can be very effective. Different colors have different associations (green for abundance, red for passion, blue for healing, etc) but you can always just use a white candle. Take the candle and focus on your intention, the purpose of the magic and the intended outcome. You can carve a word or symbols into the candle, cleanse and bless it with water and salt, anoint it with oil. Light the candle and gaze at it, speaking and holding the focus of your intention. You can let the candle burn down completely or do this for a number of days depending upon your intent. Of course, you should always use something fireproof if you are going to let the candle burn unattended.

Natural Magic
Natural and Elemental magic uses the magic, power, and symbolism inherent in the natural world. Think about the associations you personally make to earth, air, fire, water. What does a seed symbolize? The sun? The ocean? You can use the energy of this symbolism in your magic to create change. A natural spell can be whatever you choose, as long as it is meaningful to you. It can be as simple as holding a stone and speaking your intention, or sprinkling water to cleanse yourself, or putting salt and sand in a bottle to trap negative energy.

A lovely, classic book on natural magic that I highly recommend is Scott Cunningham’s Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.


Ritual is a structure that is used to define sacred space and do some kind of spiritual work, either solitary or with a group of people. Ritual can be a place to honor Deity, do spellwork, honor the dead, or engage in transformational work; oftentimes more than one of these will be done in a ritual.

Rituals often mark a significant event, such as a Full or Dark Moon, one of the 8 holydays on the Wheel of the Year, or a feast day for a Goddess. They can also be a Rite of Passage, such as an initiation, or a first blood rite, or a marriage ceremony. What makes a ritual a ritual is the general structure it follows. A ritual is more “in depth” than your daily practice or spellwork. The structure can change but generally will include some form of the following in this order:

  • Cleansing and Grounding. To prepare the space, body, and spirit for the work, we will cleanse with salt, water and/or smoke. We then center our awareness and ground our energy into the circle.
  • Casting a circle. This defines the sacred space we are working in and creates a magical boundary. The act of defining the sacred space is said to place us “between the worlds” where we are no longer fully in physical reality and have the ability to reach the Divine and affect change on the world.
  • Calling the Directions. We invite the four cardinal directions: North, East, South, West and the Four Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Depending upon tradition you will start in the North or East and move clockwise, calling upon the direction and its associated element to join the circle and be honored. We then call Center – Spirit. This varies for different traditions, and sometimes this is combined with casting the circle.
  • Invocation. We invoke deity to the circle, to join us and be honored, to hear our prayers, and lend Her aid. The deity invoked will depend upon the type of ritual and who you are comfortable working with. I discourage invoking more than one deity into circle, unless you are very skilled and comfortable working with each of them.
  • Magical working, meditation, devotion. This is the “meat” of the ritual and is the essential purpose and intent. You should always have an intent for ritual; I discourage conducting a full ritual without a solid intent or work to do.
  • Sharing Food and Drink/Cakes and Ale. The sharing of blessed food builds community, and also does the important work of helping to ground us back into our bodies following ritual. You should always offer some to the deity and any other beings who lent their presence to your circle.
  • Devoking and Opening. Work in reverse to release the deity, release the directions (moving counter clockwise this time) and open the circle. I prefer to do this before food and drink.

Ritual can be an opportunity to begin deep transformational work and is an important aspect of practice. However to build the capacity and the foundation for good ritual, and to continue that work, it is very important to continue with a regular spiritual practice. It is also important to have someone to process with – engaging in spiritual work and transformation alone can be challenging when that transformation begins to happen. Having a trusted person to talk to will help you process the experiences.

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