It is easy to fall into the thought trap of needing everything to be perfect before acting, whether that action is magical or mundane. It is certainly true that some things must happen before other things can happen, or it may be best practice to wait for certain circumstances. However, you can never be absolutely certain that everything will go perfectly, so if you wait until perfection is assured, this can easily result in never acting at all.
You Must do X Before You Can do Y…
There are circumstances where one thing must come before another thing. You cannot use a candle for a spell if you do not obtain a candle, have it available in a way that is safe to burn, and something to light it with. You cannot use incense if you do not have incense available and a way to light it. You cannot do a magically potent full moon ritual when the moon is not full.
The thing is, all of those circumstances are logistical. That is, they are logical step one leads to step two type situations. It is physically impossible to do one without the other.
This is a very different situation from a perfectionist mindset where you must have every little detail perfectly planned out and executed, including as many correspondences and sympathetic links as you can think of. The problem with this kind of approach is that it treats everything as critical, even when it is not technically necessary. Unless you are practicing a tradition with a lot of strict rules, most things that we include in our magic and ritual are optional. They can and do add to the potency of the working, but they can be left out or be less than “perfect” and still arrive at a successful result.
These optional perfections are things like waiting for the “perfect” astrological alignment of all the planets. They include insisting on having a particular color or shape of candle. They include requiring a particular herb which was harvested under a particular phase of the moon while speaking a particular incantation. They include making sure your entire home is perfectly spotless top to bottom and freshly cleansed before doing your working. They include needing every item you use to be hand made specifically for the purpose of working magic. They include forcing yourself to memorize an entire host of correspondences and incantations before working with any of those items in any capacity.
Those things are all fantastic, and usually do help, but if you are requiring yourself to do things that are not practical for you, or are requiring too many of them for the working to ever happen, you are guaranteeing that you will never accomplish anything at all.
A spell and a ritual can never accomplish anything if you never do it. At some point you have to say, “Good enough,” and just go for it. Even if it does not work perfectly, you will get closer to your goals than you were before.
A Closer Look at Astrological Alignments
If you are doing a ritual specifically in honor of the full moon, you need to do the ritual on the full moon. If you are doing a spell for manifestation, doing it on the full moon can give it an added boost, but it is not going to kill the effort for you to do it at another time of the month. If you want to include the moon as a sympathetic link at other times of the month, change how you focus the intent of your spell so that it makes sense for the phase of the moon. Manifesting during the waxing moon is as straightforward as doing it during the full moon. Manifesting during the waxing or new moon can involve rephrasing the intent to banish the circumstance you want to change, like banishing unemployment if you want a job.
The solar cycle can be used in an extremely similar way, but most spells ignore or do not take the season into account unless it is specifically about a sabbat. Winter is when things are dying or silently renewing. Spring is when things are coming forth with gusto. Summer is when things are idle in their maturity or steady growth. Fall is when the last of summer’s fruit comes to maturity, and things begin the decline into winter. You can use these energies as a sympathetic link for your spells, or you can ignore them and go about your business.
As for other astrological alignments, retrogrades, and conjunctions, that can get wicked complicated and is a study in and of itself. That means most of us mostly ignore them, but enthusiasts can utilize their energies to tremendous benefit. If it makes sense to you to look at what is coming down the line and plan out your workings to make use of those energies, that is wonderful! But, do not feel like you must do this. There are plenty of very skilled witches who rarely or never worry about such things.
A Closer Look at Magical Tools
When you are looking at a spell written by someone else, it will usually provide a list of things that you need in order to do the spell. If it is particularly well written, it will also often give some suggestions for how to make substitutions if some of the tools and ingredients are not easily available to you. Sometimes the tools or ingredients are absolutely pivotal to the spell, but not always, and making substitutions so the spell better fits your personal practice, tradition, and symbology, is entirely reasonable, because magic is highly personal and no two of us work in exactly the same way.
I have written about unconventional tools and altar supplies before, because a tool that has tremendous personal meaning will always be more effective than the one that someone else says you “should” use. If the spell says to use an athame, but your wand would make more sense in your practice, use your wand instead. If you cannot safely have live flames in your home, use an LED candle instead. If you do not have access to a particular herb or are allergic to it, research substitutes that have similar meanings (there is almost always multiple options), use a symbolic representation (like a photo or drawing of the herb), or leave it out entirely. If you cannot afford all the bells and whistles, you can do magic with repurposed supplies or no supplies at all. Classism has no legitimate place in witchcraft.
A Closer Look at Memorization and Over-Planning
It is important to have a plan for how you are going to start, conduct, and complete any ritual or spell. If you are following the plan someone else has written out, it is likely to include a lot of specific details, including incantations and other spoken pieces. Those details are needed to accurately convey the working to an outside person, but it can give the impression that those details must be followed verbatim, and that your own self-created workings should be planned in as great of detail.
Precisely following every single detail can be fantastic, if those details all make sense to you and you are able to remember and follow those details without stumbling over them or being distracted from the purpose of the working. In other words, it does not matter how beautiful a working is laid out, or how elegant the words, if you become so caught up in the performance of it that you loose sight of the purpose of it. Performance should be an additive, not the focus, and if it distracts from the magic, let it go.
It is important to allow the magic to flow, and stopping to double-check that you are precisely following a plan can easily disrupt that flow. If you forget exactly what was supposed to come next, just follow your intuition and allow the magic to speak through you instead. If you love those words and cannot be absolutely certain of perfect memorization, print them out and read them instead. Honestly, given the overwhelming prevalence of fictional magic users and real life religious leaders reading out of books, it boggles my mind how many people in pagan and witchy circles think they are doing it wrong if they cannot go into ritual and recite verbatim a 20-page poem with obtuse wording. Go ahead and read it.
Once you are in a working, what is most important is to be in the working, focused on the purpose of that working. If that means deviating from your perfectly laid out plan, then that is what you need to do. Move with the magic, and let the magic move with you. You will arrive at a better result than rigidly adhering to some pre-devised plan in defiance of the magic.
A Closer Look at Cleaning
I do not know how many times I have seen people giving magical advice insist that the first step is to make sure your space is perfectly clean. If I waited until my home was perfectly clean before doing magic, I would never do any magic at all. I am disabled in a way that means I am always behind on cleaning, sometimes woefully so. It bothers me, but there is nothing I can do to change that state of affairs at this time, so I have to work around it as best as I can.
Having a perfectly clean environment is definitely something I would put on a list of best practices. When your environment is physically clean, that is usually reflected on energetic and spiritual levels as well. This leads to a less cluttered energetic environment which is easier to work with and redirect in desired ways, and is more supportive of intuitive communication.
That said, for most workings it is not critical to be perfectly clean. Do what cleaning you can, and then get to work. If the state of your environment is interfering with the magic, or distracting you, it can be taken into account as part of the magical process. I usually do this by acknowledging that my environment is less than ideal, and make that a reflection of the difficulties that must be overcome to achieve the purpose of the working.
This is not a permanent correspondence, where the cleanliness of my home is a magically linked proxy for the difficulties that must be overcome. Instead, it is a soft correspondence, where the difficulties of my home and my illness can represent, in the moment of the working, the difficulties that need to be overcome to achieve the purpose of the spell. The state of my home is something that I am overcoming in order to work magic, and so too can the magic overcome the difficulties necessary to achieve my intent.
Mistakes are a Natural Part of Any Process
Mistakes, missteps, and accidents happen. Period. It is a natural part of life, no matter what you are doing, and especially with anything that is best described as a practice, an art, or a creative endeavor, because those things are never perfect. If they become perfect, they are a technical achievement that is lacking soul, and you cannot do magic without soul.
No matter how perfectly planned out and practiced a working is, things can go sideways. It might be your fault, or it might be a mishap in the environment, or the sometimes unpredictable contributions of deities or spirits, or something else altogether. Which is the case does not matter. What matters is what you learn from the mistake, and how you adapt to it. If you are rigidly adhering to a specific detailed plan, even the slightest oopsy or unexpected event can completely derail the working. If you are relaxed and engaged in your working like a dance, you can adapt to include the mistake and keep the magic moving.
In the case of a genuine error or misstep, I am particularly fond of including that error as an important part of the working. This happens to me now and again when doing solo workings. It has also happened many, many times when leading a group ritual, because I believe in participation, and the more people you have actively involved, the more likely it is that something will go sideways.
When that happens, I acknowledge that the mistake happened, and usually say something along the lines of, “Setbacks and obstacles are a natural part of any process or path, and no journey is ever completely straightforward. Sometimes it may even seem like you are moving backwards, and yet that is part of the process. As long as we keep moving and keep working, we will see our efforts come to fruition.”
To the Novice Witches Looking for Perfection
A lot of novice witches are nervous about doing it less that perfect, in part because of cautions that magic is dangerous and needs to be approached with care. While it is true that magic is dangerous, so is driving a car, or even riding in one! Most worthwhile things in life are dangerous, but there is only so much we can learn by reading about or listening to the experiences of others. Sooner or later, we must get our hands dirty and bring our own personal experience into it, especially with a skill that is as subjective and personal as working magic.
Novices at any new skill are always going to make a lot of mistakes. That is a natural part of the process. By being thoughtful about it, you can probably avoid the most egregious mistakes, but mistakes will happen. They even happen for experienced people. One of the greatest skills experience can teach is how to deal with those mistakes and still turn out something that seems like it was entirely error-free, or maybe is even more amazing than it would have been if everything had gone according to plan.
Everyone has to start somewhere. If you want to make magic, start making magic. Keep reading and studying, and also playing. If you never start doing it, you are never going to be able to accomplish the things you really want to. If you never stumble your way through the novice stage, you are never going to gain the experience necessary to be a skilled practitioner who seems to do things perfectly every time.
Take that leap and make magic happen.