The New Year often comes with resolutions, promises, renewed dreams, and interest into the unfolding of the future. It is the time of year when mainstream society tells us to invest in the concept of a healthier self and a healthier world.
New Year’s resolutions range from weight loss to spiritual rededication; some people approach it with a belief of possibilities previously not available. It is a magic fueled by individual and collective belief, cast forward for the year.
I find this subject very interesting, and find that I was quite curious about other’s New Year’s beliefs, practices, and resolution magic. The roots of New Year’s resolutions can be traced back to the Pagan practices of the Babylonians, making offerings to the Gods in exchange for the fulfillment of wishes for the coming year. Some researchers say that the Romans changed this practice to January 1st, to honor the God Janus, and thus the association with New Year’s itself. Janus, the two-headed God, often is revered as a God of beginnings and endings, with one head facing the past and one facing the future. Suitable for a practice of resolutions for the coming year, right?
Offerings to the Gods are nothing new, and exist in many cultures. The beliefs of reciprocal relationships often dictate an offering or sacrifice to solidify and strengthen the relationship between human and the Divine. In A World Full of Gods, An Inquiry into Polytheism, John Michael Greer (2005) talks about reciprocity and sacrifice as a part of the interpersonal exchange that happens in relationships with deities. “For the core of Pagan sacrifice is participation and celebration, not appeasement or renunciation. Making offerings to the Gods is central to Pagan religious practice because it allows human beings to respond to the generosity of the Gods with gifts of their own. Prayers are accompanied with offerings, or with promises of offerings to come, to reaffirm that Gods and humans both participate in the web of reciprocity, celebrating their friendship with an exchange of gifts” (p. 122).
This practice of resolutions at the turn of the calendar year has continued to transform with the times, becoming a part of mainstream culture and yet strangely continues to hold a potentially spiritual element that is reflected through its magical past. In the article New Year’s Resolutions: The History and Psychology Behind Them, author Sinpetru noted the transformative changes throughout the years simply by stating, “So all in all, the idea of promising to do this or do that at the end of each year is nothing new. The only thing that has changed is that, rather than making promises to gods, we make promises to ourselves.” And while this does not apply to everyone, I tend to agree overall.
I imagine that the New Year’s resolutions of fellow Pagans are as diverse and broad as our practices. Whether by making personal sacrifices, promises to the Gods, or commitments to others, there are no clear rules for how one comes to resolutions, nor that everyone has to set them either. As multifaceted human beings, we associate importance on tasks and practices differently – which you can see in the diversity of responses below.
“I believe that tapping into certain collective energies is beneficial to magickal and spiritual growth. New Year’s is a time when many folks around the globe are closing down energy of one cycle and making plans to manifest goals during the next cycle. I use that global energy to put power into my own goals for the coming year. Long ago I gave up on what people first think of when they think of New Year’s Resolutions ( lose weight, stop smoking, etc) and instead make my goals more spiritually based. For example in 2014 I asked my Spirits to guide me to those things I need to make my body more healthy. I see New Year’s resolutions as commitments or contracts and because everything I do is from a spiritual place, then these commitments/contracts are made with my Spirits. This past New Year was around a New Moon, so the energy of new beginnings was very strong.” – Oseaana December – owner of Pumpkin Cottage Conjure
“Yes I do practice this cultural celebration as part of our family traditions of creating prosperity and good health for the new year coming in. I have made a resolution to travel more. Also, to prioritize things better in this coming year. And to maintain a workout routine. Yes I do this in conjunction with my spiritual path because my Tradition focuses on bettering one’s self and by doing so our reality becomes better…I look at the cultural group mind and intent as giving my resolutions extra “umph” in the coming year!” – Rev. Melissa Murry – Priestess, activist.
“I do not practice New Year’s resolutions because it feels like a lot of pressure. For those of us who struggle with feelings of inadequacy I think that setting New Year’s resolutions is a recipe for a further breaking down of esteem. I believe they are limiting as well. I try to remember that every day is as fresh and new as New Year’s Day. Therefore, ANY day is a good day to set myself into new behaviors that permit me to make changes in my life. New habits can begin on any day. My spiritual practice is part of this thinking. With the New Moon, Full Moon, Samhein and even the forth coming Imbolg, all can be seen in that lens of life, death, rebirth cycle that I find so pivotal to my practice as a pagan, witch and Wiccan. Given this view, limiting myself to one day in a year negates the very cornerstone of my belief system. I can have a New Year start on any number of days coming to me. Further if one resolution or chosen course of action does not succeed, the very next day is a New Year day that I can start a different resolution or course of action.” - Lydia M N Crabtree – author, priestess.
“As I have grown older, I find that resolutions like losing weight are not as important as “being happy” or “being positive” or “feeling good about myself.” I could be thin, but would it matter if I was blind to my blessings or feel miserable? No, it would not. Therefore each New Year’s Day I reflect on what I am grateful for. Throughout the previous year I have written down things I am thankful for – sometimes many things in one day and maybe one thing in an entire month. But at the closing of the Julian Calendar, I read these love notes to myself, “I am grateful I still have a job. I am grateful for the smell of a puppy’s head when it first awakens from a nap. I am grateful for my loving husband. I am grateful for tea. I am grateful to be alive.” These things bolster me and I not only see the beauty in my every day existence, but I have taken a moment to remember to slow down and feel and love and admire my year and plan for all of the wonders the next year may hold. That is what New Year’s means to me.” – Jelen - author, priestess
“I don’t create nor make resolutions. I find them to be filled with failure and are a waste of time in general. I do clean my house including all of my eight altars. I eat the traditional meals as well but no resolutions.” - Lady Amber Dawn – priestess.
This type of practice, adopted by the overculture, becomes a powerful spell of magic that has the potential to ride the collective excitement and focus of the many. The combination of old magic, new magic, hope, dreams, and a snapshot of the future can give a powerful push to individual and collective casting.
For me? I have set some simple manifestations of health, love, and service. Be well within myself, well within my space, well within community, well within mission and in love with the world. How about you?
Nadirah Adeye, writer with Daughter’s of Eve blog on Patheos Pagan, wrote a clear welcome and some sound support in her post The Sacred Sensualist’s Guide to New Year Resolutions. “Welcome to 2014! Happy New Year and New Moon and Super Moon and the BEST YEAR EVER that EVER happened in the history of ever before!”
Happy New Year’s magic to those who choose to employ it.