Understanding Magick

Understanding Magick

How does magick work?

Simply put, the world around us is filled with energy. Magick is putting that energy in motion, directed by your intentions, to accomplish a goal.

Sometimes people ask, does magick really work? Or does it only work because we think it works? For example, let's say I perform a spell to attract a job, and a week later I get hired. Did the spell work because I sent out energy which attracted the job, or did the act of performing the spell give me the added confidence I needed in my interview? In other words, does magick work empirically or psychologically?

Well... the jury's still out. This is a big philosophical debate, and I know many witches on both sides of this fence. I personally tend to believe it is a combination of those forces. However, you can practice magick no matter which one you believe to be true. In the example given above, what matters to me is the fact that I got the job. The spell worked.

It is true that your beliefs may influence what kind of magick you practice. We'll come back to this point later.

I am frequently asked by non-Witches, "Isn't magick just another form of prayer?" I do know Witches who believe that it is. However, in my opinion, although magick and prayer share some features, the essential meaning of the act is different. Praying is asking a deity to change something. Although a Witch may ask for assistance from a deity, ultimately the Witch is the one whose will is causing change.

This doesn't mean that Witches never pray; many Witches do pray. However, prayer is not the same as magick.

Does magick work?

Short answer: Yes.

Longer answer:
Magick can be a useful tool to help you create change in your life. As with any other tool, you may not always get what you wanted when you use it. People often misunderstand the nature of magick, so let's explore some of the factors affecting whether or not magick works:
1. Magick works better with practice.
Like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get.
2. Sometimes it doesn't work the way you expected.
You do a spell for an affordable apartment. The next week, you get two affordable offers - one from a friend who hasn't done her dishes in six months, and the other from a friend whose sleazy boyfriend puts the moves on you every time she's out of the room. "But that wasn't what I meant!" you cry despairingly.
Yes, it's true - sometimes spells don't work the way you expected. It might be that you forgot to specify what you meant. Or sometimes the universe is working on a slower timetable than yours.
3. Sometimes it doesn't work because you didn't really want it to work.
You cast a spell to get you a job as an accountant, because your parents want you to be an accountant, when actually your dream is to be a folk singer. Not surprisingly, you couldn't muster up a lot of energy to send toward that goal.
4. Magick is not the only energy which causes things to happen.
Some other forces which operate in the world include: natural laws (like gravity, conservation of mass, etc), social pressures, political power, money, other people's wills. All of these things affect your magic - it's foolish to insist otherwise.
If you cast a spell for a parking place in downtown Manhattan at 8:45 am, the combined wills of all the other drivers trolling for spots are working against you, as is the natural law which says there are a limited number of parking spaces in downtown Manhattan. If you do magick for a job as a lawyer, when you don't have a law degree, the social belief that a lawyer must have a law degree will be pretty difficult to overcome.

How do you know magick works?

Short answer: I don't.

Longer answer: Mostly this depends on what you are trying to prove magick can accomplish. When most people ask this question, what they want to know is, "Can you get an apartment or a job? Can you make someone fall in love with you?" They want to know about the tangible effects of magick in gaining material objects or causing things to happen. People very rarely ask about the psychological effectiveness of magick - and yet, to me, this is a crucial aspect of magick's benefits.

Those of us who practice magick say that it helps us improve our psychological health by allowing us to cope with grief, let go of addictions, or change our patterns of relating to others. The more scientifically-minded folks may wish to design experiments to test this, but ultimately this is an individual claim which must be tested individually: does magick work for you?

As far as the tangible effects of magick - it's my understanding that magick has helped me to achieve tangible goals. Personally, I'm not really all that interested in finding out whether or not it can be scientifically proven to "work." But I also am not sure it's possible to prove this one way or the other. If I do a spell for safe travel and I get home safely, is that because I was lucky and/or cautious when travelling, or is it because of the spell? We'll never know. In theory a large-scale experiment could be designed to compare travel safety records between those who perform spells for safe travel and those who don't. However, there are a lot of intervening variables which would complicate any attempt to establish causality.

My personal belief is something like this: Magick doesn't necessarily Make Things Happen. It sets things in motion, gives you a jump-start or an extra push, encourages things in a certain direction. It's not an all-powerful force that will do everything for you.

In addition, as I explained above, magick is not the only energy in the world. Money is energy; political power is energy; other people's strongly held intentions are energy. If I do a spell for world peace, it's probably not going to work. Why? An awful lot of money, political power, other people's intentions, and (of course) inertia are working against me.

In general, I find that working magick can help to open a window of opportunity. But you have to perform the actions necessary to take advantage of that window.

What can I do with magick?

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of magick. Some practitioners like to call them thaumaturgy and theurgy.

Thaumaturgy is a fancy word for magick that is used to help you achieve concrete, mundane goals like an apartment, a relationship, or protection against danger.

Theurgy is a fancy word for magick that is used to deepen your spiritual and religious understanding, to help you become more fully who you are, or to accomplish therapeutic goals. Some examples might be: magickal workings to help you overcome an alcohol addiction; magick designed to increase your self-confidence and self-esteem; or magick to move into deeper communion with a Goddess or God to whom you have devoted yourself.

In practice these two goals are not always so separate. For example, overcoming your addiction may increase your ability to join in healthy relationships. Or you may do a spell for greater self-confidence, which will in turn enable you to attract a job.

As I mentioned earlier, your beliefs about how magick works may influence the type of magick you tend to prefer. If you believe magick only works on a psychological level, you are likely to focus on theurgical workings.

It's also important to remember that sometimes, magick isn't the best approach. Generally, the time to use magick is when you have already exhausted all possible non-magickal ways of accomplishing your goal. For example, if you and a friend had an argument, doing a spell to create harmony between you is not the first thing you should try. The best approach would be to sit down with your friend when you are both feeling calmer, and try to talk it through.

Now, if this is a huge ongoing argument that you just can't seem to resolve after sitting down together numerous times, a spell for clarity may be in order. But there's no need to fly to your bell, book, and candle as soon as something goes wrong.

The most difficult - and most important - thing to learn about magick is when NOT to use it.

What are the ethics of magick?

I'm so glad you asked. The basic rule is: Do as you will, as long as it harms no one.

Sound simple? Not entirely. There are certainly self-centered reasons to go along with "harm none" - as witches, we believe that our actions will come back to us. If you put a curse on someone, you are likely to face some negative consequences down the road. Beyond the effects of individual karma, we also believe in the interconnectedness of all beings, in which harm done to one is harm done to all.

At the same time, it is impossible to live without harming anyone. For one thing, we all eat beings (plants or animals) that had to die in order to feed us. For another, sometimes doing magick to help yourself (e.g. get a job) will inadvertently harm someone else (who therefore doesn't get the job). We cannot avoid these contradictions; we have to face them squarely and accept the consequences of our actions.

Essentially, magickal ethics are no different than regular ethics. Would you beat someone up if they made you angry? No? Then don't curse them to make them suffer pain. Would you try to bribe a prospective employer to get a job? No? Then don't work magick on someone else to make them hire you. Would you try to make yourself look more attractive to an employer by wearing appropriate clothing to the interview and acting the way you think they want to see you? Sure you would. So there's no reason not to work magick on yourself to attract a job.

Here are some ethical gray areas to consider:

- Someone sexually assaulted your best friend. The police haven't had any luck finding the attacker. Should you do a spell to bring the guilty person to justice? MY OPINION: You could. But you should be very careful how you do it. As I mentioned above, it's just not a good idea to curse someone, no matter what an asshole they are. One option some witches have considered is to do a "binding" spell, to prevent the person from doing any further harm. Many people consider this a gray area as well. Another option here is to do a general spell for bringing justice - but only if you are not worried about the consequences of your own actions coming back to you.

- You are very much in love with a friend of yours, who doesn't know about your feelings. Your friend is single, and you just know that the two of you would be perfect together. Should you do a love spell to increase your friend's romantic feelings toward you?
MY OPINION: Definitely not. It is ok to do a spell to bring love into your life, but to do a "love spell" on a specific person is unethical, because it intentionally violates their free will. It's hard to be in unrequited love, but it's just not okay to make someone else do what you want. Now, frankly, I'm not sure a love spell would work on someone who is totally uninterested in you. As I have mentioned a couple of times, magick is not All Powerful. But the point here is that it's not respectful to try to force something on someone, magickally or otherwise. Instead, try telling your friend how you feel, and see what response you get.

- Your devoutly Christian Aunt Maria, who doesn't know about your pagan practices and probably wouldn't approve, is very ill. Should you do healing magick for her?
MY OPINION: No. Granted, you have the best of intentions - you love your Aunt Maria very much and don't want her to suffer. But you are still violating her free will - and doing something about which she might be very upset if she knew. In theory, you could solve this dilemma by telling your Aunt Maria you would like her permission to pray for her. I still think this would be fundamentally dishonest, unless you are genuinely planning to pray to your own gods instead of doing a spell.

These are all gray areas which are being debated by witches everywhere. Ultimately, of course, it is up to you to make your own decisions, and to take responsibility for your own actions.

How do I get ready to perform magick?

Another excellent question! Before you start buying cinnamon-scented candles and consulting astrological charts to find out when the moon is in Mars, make sure you understand what you are doing. Keeping in mind the guidelines given above, ask yourself these questions:

1. What is my goal?
What changes am I hoping to see as a result of this magickal working?
How will my life be different?
    (Be specific. Picture the day-to-day impact of what you hope to achieve.)
2. Do I truly want what I am asking for?
Do I understand what I am asking for?
Will this goal solve the problem I think it will solve?
3. Is magick the best way to achieve this goal?
Are there other steps I could try first to achieve these changes?
What other actions will I need to take alongside this spell?
4. Will this magickal working be ethical?
Will it cause harm to someone else?
Will it violate anyone's free will?

You need to be able to answer these questions to your own satisfaction before engaging in any major magickal working.

After you have been practicing magick for a while, you may not necessarily need to do this kind of extensive preparation for every spell you perform. For example, a daily protection spell for someone who lives in a dangerous urban area may become a part of your daily routine. A quick parking-spot spell when you're rushing to an important meeting in a busy street may not require deep soul-searching. But when you are beginning magickal practice, it is important to get into the habit of going through these questions before each magickal working.

Why should I do all that work before using magick?

Well, for one thing, when you use magick you are using a lot of energy - your own energy and the earth's energy - and you are also affecting existing energy patterns in your life and maybe in other people's lives. And when you use magick, you can never be sure what all the consequences will be (short-term or long-term). So you'd better be sure that it's for a good reason and that you're willing to accept the consequences.

Also, on a more psychological level, planning the working - deciding what you want to do, why you want to do it, and how you want to do it - is part of the working. The process of change starts when you decide you want to make the change. Sometimes, when you are planning a magickal act, you may uncover your own resistance to the change you are trying to create. This doesn't mean you shouldn't perform the spell, but it may bring up some more questions for you to answer about what you are hoping to get out of this working.

Further Resources

Basics of Energy Management - If you want to practice magick, start by learning the basics of energy work.

Only If None Be Harmed: Getting Specific About Magical Ethics, by Judy Harrow.

Tree of Life, Visualization, Elemental Meditations

Meditation:: suggestions for those who (like myself) find it difficult.

Advanced Grounding Techniques: Coping with Adverse Responses to Ritual, by Ivo Dominguez Jr.

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