I am often now described as a highly motivated person by many people, including my 11-year-old nephew (my sister and I often chant our unending mantra to him in unison: just keep failing better!). MamaFran, on the other hand, would regale you with stories of me in my twenties—with fibromyalgia, mostly unmedicated (because medication didn't really yet exist for it). I was often unable to get out of bed often due to depression and existential despair. When I could get out of bed, I was smeared in glitter and cheap tequila while dancing on tables. I had almost no conception about how money worked, a strong desire for expensive things (a trait I share with my beloved uncle) and a verrrrrrry loose work ethic.
My husband, Jow, only has a vague remembrance of this time when we were first together, as I was stepping out of that former self and into something closer to who I am now. I once, very indignantly, was telling him that I had a plan for something, and his smart reply was, "Relax. I never doubt that you have a plan, Batman."
I was never very physically active prior to the pandemic. I started to become more active because it was one of the only things that was safe to do. I was laid off; Jow was on the frontlines, fresh out of nursing school; and the PPE was far from perfect and there was no vaccine yet, so we both never knew if he would bring home a disease that could potentially kill me (I am immuno-compromised). Just a few small things to stress out about, right? It's just been the tone of life for most of us for the past few years, though your key may be slightly different (loss of a parent, loved ones facing political upheaval, your business going under, child-related heartbreak, other mental and physical health struggles). What else was there to do but go outside?
My occult aunties once told me that I would eventually come to see the wheel of the year in the land I inhibited, but I was always too busy rushing everywhere to really see it until I was forced to slow down enough for a solid turn of the year. I spent a long time being afraid of my body for so many reasons, not the least of which was that if I antagonized about it too much, I'd have a fibroflare for days, which could impact my income and there would be dramatic repercussions that went with that. I liked to dance in my younger years, sure, but past that? I didn't trust my body enough to not betray me to have anything but a very ginger relationship with it. But I was laid off, worrying about Jow and just, you know, everything, so when I wasn't walking outside I started doing workouts at home.
I took classes I had previously been too afraid to take at my gym because it was just me doing it alone virtually. Eventually, we were allowed to take classes at the gym while masked, spaced out more in the basketball court. It's how I came to love spin class enough that I bought shoes for it. There were no special effects, the music was spotty, and I had to learn to do it in a KN95 mask, but I was doing it. My body was doing things I never thought it could do: sometimes at 6am in a spin class before I tutored my nephew during virtual school, then stopping for heavy groceries on my way home from my sister's house that I would then drag in solo before starting my housework and dinner for Jow while I tried not to go crazy with anxiety about when/if he would come home. Pre-pandemic, this was unimaginable. But it was unreal to find out how much I could do when I had to—fate up against my will as the Echo and the Bunnymen song goes.
Today in my spin class, I had a new-to-me instructor. She was teaching the class after the first one I took, so I decided today was going to be the day I took two classes back-to-back. She was surprised when I wandered back in, and I shyly told her it was my first day doing double classes (so if I started dying on my bike halfway through the second class she would know why). Halfway through the second class, when I started to consider dying on my bike as a possible exit strategy, she jumped off her bike into a crouch about six feet in front of me. We were eye level and we met each other's gaze steadily. I could see the fire burning in her, that same fire that makes some people back away slowly from me. We reflected back and forth between each other until she bellowed, "Today is Deborah's first day doing doubles. What are you fighting for today? What. Are. You. Fighting. For. Today?" We stared at each other some more and I thought about that question while trying not to drop dead.
I finished the class. Eighteen miles total.
The first step in motivation magic is the hardest part. It's that question: What are you fighting for today? What is going to keep pushing you forward when you want to slither out the back door away from whatever you're doing? It could be creating, it could be asking for a raise, it could be helping patients at a clinic getting the healthcare they need while you're being screamed at, it could be the next step in potty training, it could be trying to have the same argument you've been having with a partner for the last five years with a different outcome, it could be trying something new for your mental health. If any of this is new in your day, it's scary, which makes us not want to do it. Why will you do it anyway? If it's not new and you're ground down by daily reality and want to lie in a puddle on the floor, it's less scary and more existential. Why will you do it when it feels like it doesn't matter?
Distill it down to a sentence, a mantra, an intention, a prayer, a feral cry into the abyss. This is where magic begins. Write it down if your memory is crummy, write it on your arm or your thigh in Sharpie if you need a visual. Draw it as a sigil if that speaks to you better. Sing it until it's embedded into your brain. Whatever works best for you. This is the intention-setting. This is where you declare yourself to the universe. This is where you can start to follow the thread of your intention in her tapestry and see how and where she starts to weave it.
Your breath is magic. You wouldn't be able to do magic in your physical body without it, if for no other reason than you would be departed from this world without it. It contains the essence of your life and your death. Every time you breathe, you have one less breath, a moment less of your mortal life.
Get a small clean jar with a lid. Write your intention down on a small orange piece of paper. Put it to your lips. Breathe seven breaths onto it. Put it at the bottom of the jar. Add dirt from a place that invigorates you. Add tiger's eye chips to keep you in forward momentum. Add coffee beans for energy and add cinnamon sticks to manifest your intention quickly. Add peppermint essential oil so you can be focused and creative. Add black salt to absorb negative energy from the evil eye thrown at you mostly unconsciously by others (everyone has bad days where they are upset by other people's progress). If you want to add any other components, this would be when. You are captain of your own ship; this is a recipe and you can add and subtract anything you like. Focus on your intention as you are getting ready to seal the jar. Breathe seven more breaths into the jar. Whisper your intention into the jar. Use a small piece of orange fabric over the lid and some twine to attach the fabric to the lid. If you wanted a small charm of some kind to add to the twine like a Queen bee talisman or a chicken wishbone or whatever speaks to you, you can add it here. As you seal the jar and knot the twine with three knots, say, "My vessels and my spells provide, my charms and everything beside." (That's based from a couplet from Macbeth). This would be a good opportunity to do some divination using whatever method you like best so you can better see the path of your thread that you created in the universe's tapestry by creating this magical working. Every morning, shake the jar seven times and think about your intention. When you've achieved your intention, you can thank the universe while unsealing the jar and discarding the contents. You can be traditional and bury the contents at a crossroads after dark or you can be more eco-conscious and recycle the jar, put the herbs into a compost heap or container and give the tiger's eye, fabric, twine and charms to friends (just let them know they were previously witchcraft components of yours). I know some witches are concerned about the more modern discarding process upsetting the spirits, but in my twenty-plus years of personal practice, I've never had any issue with that approach from a witchcraft perspective or a day-to-day life perspective. It's your working; you're in charge of what feels right to you and acting accordingly.
If nothing else, simply remember what I always tell my nephew when it comes to being motivated to do challenging tasks: you don't have to like it, you just have to do it.
Deborah Castellano (Bridgewater, New Jersey) is author of Glamour Magic: The Witchcraft Revolution to Get What You Want (Llewellyn, 2017) and Magic for Troubled Times: Rituals, Recipes and Real Talk for Witches (Llewellyn, ...