There’s magic in them thar resolutions!

A month into the new year and I haven’t come up with much in the way of resolutions. Making any New Year’s resolutions at all is kind of new to me. I’ve dodged making them for years. New Year’s resolutions have always had a sort of artificial feel to me. You’re committing yourself to change something in your life, not necessarily because you’re ready to make that change or because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s January 1 and everyone says you’re supposed to improve yourself in some way. This is hardly a solid foundation for lasting change.

Last year, however, I made a few resolutions. I didn’t set out to do so, but they crept up on me. I bought a calendar/journal that happened to have a section at the front dedicated to yearly goals and I filled in a few, in great part because all those blank spaces just cried out to be written in. I don’t think I achieved more than one or two of them, but having them actually visible in a book that I was using on a daily basis kept them somewhat near the surface of my mind. And since they weren’t “real” resolutions and I hadn’t made any all-out commitments to any of them, I didn’t beat myself up too badly for not having kept them perfectly.

Which brings us to this year. With another copy of that same calendar/journal in hand, I’m eyeing that yearly goal section and thinking that I’d better deal with it a little more consciously this time around. Now some resolutions—and let’s be honest and just call them that—can be repeated from last year. Deciding to journal more frequently in 2011 was an ongoing process, not something that needed to end in December; it’ll do perfectly well as a resolution in 2012. With others, I’m not sure if they’re resolutions or not. I’ve taken on a reading challenge, but is a challenge the same thing as a resolution? Is it that I’m resolving to read more books in 2012? And looming behind them all are the resolutions that are scary to make because they’ll involve genuine change: if I bring them about, life won’t be the same afterwards. (You’ll note the lack of specific examples here. For what I’m thinking about, I’m not ready to commit even the idea of them to written form yet.)

So, okay, say New Year’s resolutions are a socially acceptable form of magic. You state your purpose and turn your will towards accomplishing it. I figure this alone explains a good part of my reluctance to make these resolutions: in all my years of being Pagan, I’ve never been all that interested in using magic, and calling it “resolutions” isn’t going to suddenly change that. But finally seeing the similarities between magic and resolutions got me thinking more about both of them. For one thing, the common wisdom of New Year’s resolutions is that most of them will be broken. I’m guessing that anyone who’s still keeping their New Year’s resolutions by the following fall is being quiet about it (which, come to think of it, fits the “keep silent” part of the Witches’ Pyramid nicely). But expecting resolutions to fail is hardly a good mindset for successful magic. If you consciously link New Year’s resolutions and magic and you then fail to keep your resolutions, will that affect your ability to work magic not directly linked to your resolutions? My understanding is that magic relies on belief that it will work, and wouldn’t a trail of broken resolutions impair that?

Turning it around, though, magical skills could help you keep your resolutions. Changing verb tenses is the easy one: make your resolutions in the present tense, just like affirmations. After all, saying “I will do [whatever]” gives you up to a year of wiggle room, which isn’t likely to strengthen your resolve. Also, I’ve noticed that magic is most likely to be effective if you can put a real emotional charge into it. So it makes sense to make resolutions that you really care about and not ones that you think you should make. And like magic, back your resolution up with real-world action, not just good intentions. Mind you, every January, I think various columnists, writers, psychologists, and anyone else with an opinion on resolutions says all this stuff in a non-Pagan fashion, but maybe it helps to make resolutions sound more like magic than like homework assignments.

And in the interests of making it clear that not all resolutions fail, I’ll just mention here that yes, I did journal more—lots more—in 2011, as I decided to do. Some resolutions not only succeed, they exceed expectations. On to 2012!

New years

Today we head into a new year by a quasi-secular calendar. One of the fun things about the multicultural world we’re living in is that there are lots and lots of new years to celebrate, and unlike some religious beliefs and practices, new year celebrations seem to be able to get along with each other relatively peacefully. You don’t have to think of someone else’s new year as your new year to be able to enjoy it. As they spread themselves across the calendar, there’s usually a stretch of time in which someone’s new year celebration is likely to come up. Just off the top of my head, the following occurred to me (2011 dates):

  • New Year’s Day: January 1
  • Chinese New Year: February 3
  • Hmong New Year: date unknown
  • beginning of the astrological year: March 20
  • beginning of the U.S. school year: early September
  • Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year): September 29
  • Samhain: October 31
  • Muharram (Islamic New Year): November 26

And on a personal level:

  • Your birthday

The human race looks quite willing to start a new year at any time of the year, although high summer in the northern hemisphere doesn’t seem to be as popular. (As the lunar Islamic calendar moves backward against the solar Gregorian calendar, its first day passes through the summer months for a number of years.) There are all sorts of reasons for starting a new year at a particular time. The Gregorian year begins on January 1 because it inherited that date from the Julian calendar, which in turn began a new year based on a date when Roman consuls took up office. The Chinese New Year is determined astronomically: usually on the second new moon after the winter solstice. The astrological year begins when the Sun moves into Aries, and Samhain more or less falls on the halfway point between the fall equinox and the winter solstice.

For all that many witches consider Samhain our New Year’s Day, I’ve never been able to see it that way. The days are getting shorter, the temperature is dropping along with the few remaining leaves—none of this says “new” to me. But putting that together along with Samhain’s general death theme, I can see Samhain as a sort of New Year’s Eve. I’m more of a Yule-as-New-Year’s-Day person. If one must begin somewhere, the start of the return of sunlight works for me. Where I live, December 22 was two seconds longer than December 21. I treasured each of those seconds.

While we say we celebrate New Year’s Day and January 1 is the official date for government holidays, we put most of our energy into New Year’s Eve celebrations. After the clock strikes 12:00 AM, there’s not much left to do but make a few toasts, find your coat, and head home. New Year’s Day itself tends to be a quiet day. By now, many people are probably partied out. It makes for a fine day for changing calendars, listing out resolutions, and catching up on our blogging.

And on that note, Happy New Year!