Just like a good joke, it’s all in the… (wait for it)… timing. Pagans put a lot of importance on timing and for good reason. We pride ourselves on being more than clever about getting stuff done. After all, that’s what magic is all about: getting stuff done. And to get it done, you have to do it at the right time. You can’t hit a moving target if you don’t pull the trigger at the right time. You can’t put the cart before the horse. And you can’t catch the right train unless you’re standing on the platform at the right time. In magic, where you are making small changes to get big results, timing is always a critical factor.
Knowing when it is the right time to do something is important in any operation, but it’s not always obvious. Part of the problem is there are thousands of unknown factors that happen without warning and we can’t know exactly when or where they might come into play and mess with our best-laid plans. Magicians of all sorts have attempted to figure out some way to lessen the effect of these factors but haven’t come up with any sure-fire method that helps. Magical hours of the day, where certain influences seem higher than others (thus making particular operations more likely to succeed) are not consistently reliable. Astrological influences can be predicted but there too we find mitigating circumstances constantly popping up. Time is problematic no matter how much we try to avoid the negative factors inherent in its passing.
Probably the most noticeable time problem in Pagan work is what has come to be known as PST – Pagan Standard Time. The term is code for a litany of problems that inevitably crop up at any planned event and put the schedule further and further behind. It’s the ‘excuse’ as to why the ritual is late by a half hour and the lunch that was scheduled to be right after the ritual is later still by another forty-five minutes. Nothing seems to be on time at many Pagan events and it’s all passed off as being PST. Of course, this problem isn’t unique to Pagan events; most large events have the same problems. It usually stems from poor planning. To be more precise, it comes from not understanding how long it will take to do something.
If it takes fifteen seconds to wash one dish, how long will it take to wash four? You say a minute? Wrong; it’ll take probably closer to a minute and half. That’s because once you’ve washed the first dish, it will take a few seconds to get back to the beginning step for washing the next dish. Now, let’s say it takes one person five minutes to wash a dozen dishes. How long will it take for two people to wash a thousand? About forty-five minutes? Wrong again. It will take better than an hour because of the time ‘wasted’ by the two people trying to interact in the same space. How do I know this? Well, I’ve been the guy planning events enough times to know some of the pitfalls that happen because of not allocating enough time for things to get done. It’s called experience.
So, to get the dishes done in time, we need to get the dishwashers in the scullery an hour ahead of time, right? Wrong again. They’ve got to show up on time, (good luck!), get on their gear so they don’t end up soaked to the bone, and then set up that stack of dishes so they can get them washed. That adds at least another fifteen to twenty minutes. Then add another ten because one of the crew forgot something back at the tent and had to run and get it. Or maybe somebody had to use the bathroom. Or the alarm clock didn’t work (well, it might have worked, but the person didn’t get up). Okay, the dishes will take about two hours.
Better add another twenty to that for cleaning up the scullery afterwards and putting the dishes away. Okay: two and a half hours, tops, right?
We can only hope.
You see? This is the sort of time problem that happens at gatherings of all kinds. And, like I said, it isn’t confined to only Pagan events. But it’s a good example of how we can misjudge the timing of things and end up with real problems. This same brand of misjudgment can wreck havoc with our spells and other kinds of magic. Experienced magic workers have an edge because they’ve been there, done that, and have the scars to prove it. But even experience won’t always help you to figure out when to start something or when to send the energy on its way. Whatever is a witch to do?
Use your gut. That sounds pretty uncertain but sometimes it’s the only way. Sure, you’ll be wrong sometimes, but you’ll probably be surprised at how often you’ll be right. Our rituals and training are designed to make us into beings that are in greater harmony with our surroundings. And that has the effect of making us better able to go with our feelings, our hunches, our gut, and have things turn out right.
Highly skilled martial artists seem to have an ‘instinct’ for knowing where and when the next strike will come from or how their opponent will move. It isn’t something a novice is able to do; it takes considerable training. To someone watching a match, it seems ‘almost like magic’. And, in a certain sense, it is. But it is magic that (like all magics) requires a great deal of training and experience. After years of training, the martial artist learns to use his or her skills in timing and their level of ability takes a leap forward. Another way of say that would be: the martial artist learns to trust their gut.
But even the most skilled among us can be wrong. We mistake a bit of indigestion for another signal and we make the wrong move or select the wrong moment to do something. Being able to know the ‘real’ gut feeling from the ‘false’ one is difficult at best and sometimes simply impossible. But often the gut is the only thing to go on. In one way or another, nearly every bit of magic requires us to make time-critical decisions. Using good timing is part of the art of magic. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to improve your sense of timing.
Nearly every faith has its holidays. Pagans have what is commonly called the Wheel of the Year – the series of solstices, equinoxes, and quarterly seasonal celebrations used to highlight points in the timeline that help us learn the lessons of Nature and the seasons of our lives. Most of us also celebrate one or more phases of the moon each month. Our calendar is full throughout the year. Those who follow it consistently find that their lives begin to smooth out, that there are fewer problems that get in their way.
This is no accident. By putting ourselves on this schedule, we begin to attune our lives to the processes of Nature, the forces that are constantly flowing in, through, and around us. The story that weaves the holidays together for Pagans provides a model for understanding the energies that predominate and empower our world. When we mark these days through worship and celebration, we force our bodies and minds to align more perfectly with those forces and make us move with their flow rather than against it.
It’s not brain surgery; it’s magic.
Similarly, if we keep our days on a consistent schedule we will find that we have fewer disruptions and are able to get more done. Simply being consistent about when we go to sleep and wake up helps enormously to put our lives in order and we are healthier and more energized because of it. Scheduling our day so that we give ourselves plenty of time to get things done, even when it might seem we aren’t cramming enough into each day, will actually allow us to produce more, enjoy more, and experience more than if we were to run around willy-nilly and try to accomplish more than we could do well. But remember that a schedule alone isn’t going to do this for us; we have to maintain that schedule by staying on time. Actually, to be on time, you will need to be early. Very few people can be on time to the very second, so getting into the habit of being early means that you are allowing for the unexpected. When you plan on being early, you can take care of the unexpected bumps and potholes with greater confidence and still accomplish what is planned. If you don’t have to take care of anything unexpected and you actually arrive early for your next scheduled event, you will be more relaxed and better able to accomplish what you’ve set out to do. And you’ll enjoy life much more. No more frantic, last moment scurrying. No more slapdash results. No more having to make excuses or feeling that you haven’t given life your best. Although there are instances of seemingly being able to warp time with magic, in the long run you’ll do well to figure on the clock running pretty consistently and each moment to be filled with what we call life… your life.
You can’t control the flow of time, but you can exercise some control over the events and energies that it brings. You can use time as an ally by respecting its power and not fighting the direction of its flow; keep looking forward. Your magic will function better when you keep all of your energies attuned to this inexorable force. When you stay aware of time and the role that it plays in all your endeavors, when you respect its power and learn to use it in your magic, you will benefit on every level.
You’ll have a good time.