Magical practitioners have drawn conclusions, similar and different, as to how magic works and what spells require. At most, we can all agree that no spell can grant you the power to defy physics. We can also agree that the foundation of a spell is a goal, also known as “intention.” Tools and ingredients are basically meant to empower it and give it direction in order to fulfill a purpose.
Let’s begin with some common theories about magic—that I’m going to dispute, of course.
- Magic is energy. Everything is said to be made up of it and so can be manipulated. This is the most popular theory, but one that’s a little too general for my liking. Technically, energy is a measurement of a thing’s capacity for work, such as light or physical activity. It covers a wide range of observable functions as to make using it to describe magical forces pretty meaningless.
- Magic is belief. Although a spell might have a better chance of working if you’re in a clear, confident state of mind (but it really depends on the spell), the way to gain real confidence is by knowing what you’re doing. If magic were as simple as believing, all spells would work without question.
- Magic is granted by the spirits and/or gods. This can be true, especially for traditional practitioners who have spirits carry out their spells. In my experience and many others’, however, it’s not the ultimate answer.
- Magic is nature. It’s plausible that raw materials have a little more oomph due to their historical usage, but this theory suggests they can be corrupted by being modified through profane, industrial means. Here’s the flaw in such a theory: everything on this planet originates from the earth, and the planet originates from, well, the universe. There’s no real reason a plastic LED candle can’t be as effective as a wax one with a wick. Personally, my results with artificial ingredients have been no less magical.
- Magic is psychological. This theory has some credibility. For example, it can be considered magical when one casts a spell to gain more financial stability and develops the power to refrain from impulse-buying. If they happen to find cash on the ground or receive a promotion out of the blue, however, they might suspect magic extends beyond the mind. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but if it can happen again, probably not.
If I had to pick one of the theories to best explain magic, I’d have to go with energy. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but it’s closer than the others. Based on what I’ve observed and experienced, I see magic as a sort of interconnected network between all things that responds to symbolism. Intricate in its design, yet simple in its operation. Much like a computer.
Yes, the universe is a simulation.
We can go on theorizing the mechanics behind magic, but at the end of the day, nobody really knows the “how.” When it comes to spell-casting, the “how” isn’t all that important. The “why” is a different story.
You don’t always have to cast by the book.
Let’s say two witches are casting a similar spell for love, both of which include candles and rose petals. Witch A’s are in red, a color associated with desire and passion, and Witch B’s are in yellow, a color that signifies friendship and fun. Taking not only magical correspondences but also intention into account, whose spell is most likely to work?
How can this be? Red is the tried-and-true color of love spells besides pink. Wouldn’t yellow just attract a new friend instead?
Colors, herbs, crystals, and whatnot have associations for a reason, but they aren’t set in stone. By reprogramming the mind and setting a specific intention, the rules can be easily bent. Plenty of practitioners are evidence of this, including me.
Not everyone wants a steamy, lusty red relationship. Some people would rather have the yellow sort and marry a best friend. Tradition has its significance and shouldn’t be underestimated, but neither should creativity. When we’re creative, coming from a place of personal meaning, we tap into something deeper than magical how-to books and even age-old wisdom.
Spells don’t have to be elaborate.
Now, let’s say Witch A’s spell is more than candles and rose petals. It’s cast during a full moon in Taurus on a Friday, and it involves an offering to Aphrodite and a note of ideal qualities in a lover that is then burned. Witch B, on the other hand, simply focuses on a candle flame and states their wish to it, casting soon before their summer vacation.
Why are these spells likely to be successful? Three things: meaning, structure, and timing.
Spell A: The moon is connected to emotions and the subconscious, and during a full phase its effects peak, emphasizing the astrological sign it occupies. Taurus likes stability and all that pleases the five senses. Taurus and the fifth day of the week, Friday, are ruled by Venus, regarded as the planet of sentiment in astrology. Witch A wants a passionate and stable relationship. Friday seals it. Aphrodite is similar to Venus, but she can help Witch A appear more attractive and feel more comfortable in their own skin. Burning the note completes the spell as the smoke carries it out into the aether, or universe, or whatever Witch A desires to call the magical network, to be manifested.
Spell B: Witch B makes it clear that they’re looking for a romantic relationship with someone akin to a best friend. They use the candle flame as a focus point to direct the spell’s manifestation into reality. Summer is a season that draws more people out and together.
Witch A connects with traditional and intricate ideas and Witch B connects with personal and simple ideas, symbols they arrange in ways that direct spells during favorable times. Timing isn’t always a necessary factor in good spell-casting, but it can certainly help.
If you can make it work, all the more power to you.
What if you prefer artificial candles and rose petals? What if you have an affinity for technology instead of nature? What if you don’t feel anything but your mind is necessary to cast spells?
If it works, it works.
For some, tools and ingredients serve to create a setting in order to influence a certain state of mind, which makes interacting with the magical world easier. For others, they’re more than just props, having a sort of “life” of their own that should be regarded.
Neither side is wrong. Those who consider ritual work to be nothing more than “psychodrama,” however, are disregarding the creative and spiritual aspects that others seek. Yes, if we had to, we could learn to use our minds alone for casting spells. We could also learn to live without technology and medicine. But that wouldn’t be good for the majority who depends on such things to make life easier, would it?
An artist doesn’t need a drawing tablet to draw. A writer doesn’t need a keyboard to write. But these things make creative endeavors more convenient and stimulate creative progress in general. That’s what tools and ingredients can do: offer convenience and improve our magical connection, whether through creating a setting or communing with them.
Furthermore, common spell ingredients, such as herbs and crystals, have a history of magical uses that would be unwise to completely disregard. Jason Miller makes a good point in The Elements of Spellcrafting:
A Theban Magician did not painstakingly preserve and hide the Greek Magical Papyri with its many formulas because intention was all that mattered. The Grimoires were not passed among a network of underground clergy and literate laity because the precise instruction did not matter. Families of African slaves did not preserve traditions of Congolese Magic in the New World at risk to their life just because your intention is all that matters! Yes, it’s true that substitutions can be made and that Magic does not work through slavishly adhering to dogmatic instructions, but it’s a bit disrespectful to suggest that the instructions do not matter.
It’s a great book for new practitioners of magic, along with Deborah Lipp’s Magical Power for Beginners. There’s an overwhelming number of books about witchcraft, as you’re probably aware. No matter what you decide to start with, it always helps to read three-star reviews and below first to save yourself from any misinformation. Not that bad books shouldn’t be read. They can be useful for learning to distinguish between sense and nonsense.
Whatever you do, don’t skimp on the research. You wouldn’t want to consume a poisonous herb, or find your beloved selenite dissolved from being submerged in water. Mistakes are bound to happen, but you should try your best to be as prepared as you can.
Although spells can be repeated successfully, external factors—things beyond your awareness and power—might deter them. Everyone is different and has to work with different circumstances. If you aren’t sure about a spell, you could try divination, such as a tarot reading, to determine its potential for success.
How many cards needed to draw depends on how many questions you have. You don’t have to get fancy with tarot spreads. One question, one card; two questions, two cards; and so on. You don’t even have to cleanse your space or center yourself prior to casting, methods that are often claimed to be fundamental steps. I don’t. But I can probably say that because I’m familiar with spell-casting. I know what works for me and what doesn’t, and you will, too, through study and practice.