I had to postpone a ritual I had planned for Samhain. It’s a solitary ritual: a ritual that’s part magical working, part spiritual development, and part ecstatic experience. The specifics are deeply personal, but the specifics aren’t relevant to this post. What’s relevant is that I had plans to do something magical, spiritual, and religious, something very important to me, and I had to postpone it.
Those of you who know me well understand how hard it was to do this. But I’m convinced it was necessary, and so I did it.
In this post, I want to talk about why postponing a ritual or other planned working should be a hard thing to do, but once we’re convinced it’s the right thing we should do it and not feel bad about it.
It began with a very successful spell
I do magic every month at the full moon. I do magic other times too – “whenever you have need of anything” and all that. But I’ve found that when I wait until I have a need, I end up going months without working any magic. And then when a need arises, my skills are rusty and I don’t always get the results I want. Plus there’s always something going on in my life that could use a little extra push. Thus the full moon magic every month.
And also, I’ve done well on my spiritual journey by taking things one step at a time. When I ask Cernunnos or the Morrigan or anyone else about a long term plan, I’m always told “climb the hill in front of you, then you can see what come next.” I don’t like that – I want to see the whole project plan with a detailed timeline. But that’s all They ever show me.
But now I’m at a point where there’s more than one path up a particular hill, and they appear to lead in rather different directions. So for the October full moon I did a working for clarity.
I got it. Did I ever get it – it was extremely explicit. The path to take became clear, as did the urgency to take it.
A new ritual to create and do
The first major step on that path involves a ritual. Now, I love ritual. Public ritual, small group ritual, private ritual – I love it all. And I consider myself a very good ritualist – it’s a point of confidence and pride. I had 12 days to get ready for this ritual… and also to get ready for Samhain, and teach my online class, and do a virtual presentation for a retreat, and keep up with my paying job, and, well, you get the picture. It’s a big job, but I was confident I could do it. It’s a ritual, and I’m good at ritual. Samhain would be an auspicious time for this – I wanted to do it then.
I got the ritual outline done quickly. I filled in most of the outline in the first week. I planned to finish it on Friday, do a walk-through rehearsal on Saturday, and do it on Sunday night. All very doable – I’ve done more in less time on many occasions.
Running out of time
But then I had a minor crisis pop up on Thursday night. I got it under control, but I was in no frame of mind to even think about a ritual. Then my paying job was busier than expected on Friday. When that was out of the way I started writing, but the words weren’t coming. A short walk brought some of them to me, but a key segment was still just a concept. No problem – I’d finish it on Saturday morning, before I went to Denton for our public Samhain ritual.
On Saturday morning it hit me: I wasn’t going to be ready for Sunday night. It wasn’t just the writing time – a good long walk would bring the rest of the ritual to me. It was also getting my mind and my soul in the right place to do the ritual on Sunday.
I couldn’t go from paying work to public ritual to deep private ritual like closing one browser window and opening another one. I needed downtime in between them.
I could power through and do it anyway, or I could postpone it to the next auspicious date: the November Full Moon on November 18.
Keeping schedules and commitments
I have a deep concern with time and punctuality, one that often crosses the line into an unhealthy obsession. Either it’s the result of some long-forgotten childhood trauma (which I doubt – I remember all my childhood traumas, in all their gory details), or it’s just part of who I am.
On one hand, this often causes me needless stress. On the other hand, it’s helped me accomplish a lot over the years. More than that, it’s a form of keeping my word: if I say I’m going to do a certain thing by a certain time, then I want to make sure I actually do it. Yes, “life happens” but casual plans are one thing – sacred commitments are something very different. The Gods – or at least, the ones I work with and for – aren’t big on extenuating circumstances. Do or do not, there is no try.
“It will happen when it’s meant to happen”
This is a cliché designed to be a ready-made excuse for giving up when thing get hard.
It will happen when you make it happen.
On the question of fate vs. free will, I come down hard on the side of free will. Whether we have free will or not, we are far better off ordering our lives as though we do. If you believe you have free will you are more likely to take action, and if you take action you’re more likely to make your life better.
Not everything is within your control and life is often unfair and unjust – don’t blame the victim, whether that’s someone else or whether that’s you. But when something is within your control, just do it.
But some things can’t be done any faster
If my paying job gets overloaded, I can work into the evening. I don’t like doing that, but unless I go past a 12 hour day (something I almost never do, thankfully), the quality of my work isn’t going to slip. The same thing with writing blogs and books and such (I do that with some regularity). Sometimes the answer is simply “work longer.”
But some things aren’t just a question of time-on-task. They’re also a question of contemplation, incubation, draft and edit. They’re a question of spiritual preparations. All these things are measured in calendar time, not clock time.
You can plow a field faster by using a tractor instead of a horse. You can plow all day instead of plowing for a while and then cleaning the barn for a while. But once you plant the seeds, there’s nothing you can do to speed up the process. The harvest comes in its own time.
This ritual needed incubation time. And I couldn’t speed that up by working harder.
I’m not young anymore
I keep saying this – maybe someday I’ll accept it before I’m reminded of it the hard way.
When I turned 50 I said “I can still do almost anything I want, but not as fast or for as long, and recovering takes longer. Sometimes a lot longer.” Now that I’m almost 60, the recovery time is longer still. I may have time to do both X and Y, but if I do X then I’m going to need a day or two of recovery before I’m up to tackling Y. My mind still sees a scheduling problem of tasks and times – it hasn’t learned (accepted) that there has to be rest in between them.
And resting from work – even the kind of spiritual work I love to do – is rarely conducive to deep contemplation.
Could I have pulled this off when I was 40? When I was 40 I didn’t have the experience and skills to do it at all. Growing older brings trade-offs, and I’ll gladly make this one.
Rescheduling for the November Full Moon
Once reality hit me on Saturday morning, the rest followed quickly. I realized my error was in scheduling something too soon, not in a lack of effort or concentration.
The November Full Moon is 18 days after my original target. What needs to be accomplished with this ritual can wait till then. Should something go wrong, it can probably wait till the December Full Moon.
I get the strong impression that if it’s not done by the Winter Solstice on December 20 (the actual Solstice is December 21 at 9:58 AM CST – I’ll observe it the evening before) then there will be serious problems. Sometimes hard deadlines are real and either you make them or you don’t.
But this wasn’t a hard deadline. It was an aggressive goal that turned out to be too aggressive. And now the goal has been re-set for something that’s possible.
What does this mean for you?
Why am I blogging about this? Why isn’t this buried in my personal journal? Because these experiences aren’t unique to me.
On one hand, some things can’t be rushed. They take however long they take, both in time-on-task and in start-to-finish. You can work harder and faster to get the field planted, but you can’t speed up the growing time.
On the other hand, taking an attitude of “it happens when it happens” usually leads to a lot of stuff not happening. Sometimes those are trivial things that don’t matter. Other times they’re deeply important. And it’s not always clear what’s trivial and what’s critical.
When my religion and spirituality are involved, I tend to assume everything is critical. Plus there’s the matter of keeping my word.
At the end of the day, we don’t have to like reality. We just have to deal with it. And the reality is that I wasn’t able to do this ritual by Samhain.
And so I postponed it.
16 days left to get ready.