Becoming a witch in the modern age can be so overwhelming. You’ve got about a million sources of information available to you, half of which contradict each other. You’ve got people telling you what to think, how to do magic, and what makes a “real” witch. It’s a lot to sift through even if you’re experienced!
As with everything in the craft, my guiding principle is this: If it works, it works.
If the information you’re using is getting you the results you want, great! If it’s not though, then you need to be reconsidering your sources. One of the greatest pitfalls of the information age is that anyone can present themselves as an expert whether they have 30 years of experience or if they did a 20-minute google search. You have to learn to tell the difference and sort the good from the bad. Today, we’re going to look at some information that is widely spread but may not be quite as watertight as some people would have you believe. If you’re ready to learn how to tell the difference between a good source of information and a bad one, then read on.
Intention Is Everything
Or Is It?
One big giveaway that a source on magic is a little questionable is the idea that the ONLY thing you need to make magic work is intention and that everything else is expendable. Now, don’t get me wrong, intention is important and if you’ve got your intention mixed up you’re not likely to get far but it’s not the only part of magic that’s important. If that was the case, we wouldn’t have the other parts of magic!
There are some forms of magic that seem very “low tech” (tech, in this case, refers to both technique and technology, i.e. ingredients and tools). Sigils are one such form of magic. You take an intention, make a squiggle out of it, and BAM! Magic. It’s not quite so simple though. A sigil doesn’t require that you just have the intention, you also have to deconstruct it, codify it, form it into a symbol, and then activate it. This is a technique!
The thing is, while you might be able to make intention-only magic work, it’s SO much more effort than is truly necessary. That’s doing things the hard way AND the less effective way. The tools, ingredients, methods, and techniques that we use exist for a reason, they make our job infinitely easier and our results infinitely better.
There’s also this idea floating around that our intention is what makes our tools and ingredients work and this simply is not the case. We use specific herbs, specific tools, and specific techniques for a reason. One big reason is that these ingredients and tools have their own spiritual essence and that essence has its own qualities, talents, abilities, and preferences. We work in collaboration with them in our magic. These things have their own power, it’s not all on us!
Treating our witchcraft as though it’s all on us, as though we’re the source of every bit of power and magic in our craft is inherently hobbling. It cuts us off from the vast wealth of power that this world holds because we’re trying to be an island. It’s not necessary! We don’t have to do it all alone. As with most things in life, it’s a lot easier to accomplish your goals when you get outside help, work collaboratively, and accept the interconnected nature of our reality. If your intention was all that mattered, you wouldn’t have the amazing resources that are available to you and we wouldn’t have hundreds of years of magical tradition informing our practices.
Magic Is Not About “Feeling” In Control
One thing that drives me up the wall is that the same sources that are spouting this “intention is everything” mantra are also the ones who will say that magic is about “feeling in control”.
I don’t know about you but I’m not in this for some measly feelings.
I would rather have actual control, thank you very much! A warm, fuzzy feeling doesn’t cut it when you need to pay your bills or deal with a stalker. If all you’re getting out of your craft is a feeling of control, then you are NOT doing magic. Period. Your magic should be getting you real, tangible results. You should have the ability to make money show up when you need it, make people leave you alone, hurt those who have hurt you, speak to the dead, and know things that you have no real way of knowing. This is not hyperbole! These are real, actual results that your magic should be giving you!
If your magic is NOT giving you these kinds of results, then why are you even doing it? I’m not saying that you necessarily want to do all of these things but you should know that if needed, your magic would get the job done. If you aren’t confident that your magic could do this for you, or you think I’m wildly over-exaggerating the results you can get, you need to take a hard look at your magic. In all likelihood, it’s not that you’re doing anything wrong or that you aren’t a good witch. The root cause is probably that you’re working on bad information! If you’ve been told that you can’t get these results, that your magic has “reasonable limits” that keep you from getting tangible results, of course you’re not going to get results! The people you’re learning from don’t even know how to get results!
Always, always, always use the results of your magic as a measurement of how good the information you’re working with is. A spell that makes you feel abundant but doesn’t get you the extra $400 that you need to cover your rent isn’t a spell, it’s an exercise in feel good self-delusion.
Modern Ideas Don’t Always Make For Good Magic
One big tell that these ideas don’t hold water is that they are quite young in the grand scheme of things. Many of these ideas are born out of new-age concepts and have existed in this form for 50 years or less. If you trace the source of an idea and find that it was basically cherry-picked from a culture, stripped of relevant cultural context, and repackaged to sound magical sometime in the ’70s, it’s probably not going to be of much use to you.
Meditation is a big example of this, originally it was part of Buddhist culture but in its journey to the West, it was stripped of all of its cultural context and now resembles nothing like what it once was. Meditation in Buddhism is a practice of self-awareness that fit snuggly into a framework of ethics, moral behavior, and self-awareness. Without ethics, morals, and self-awareness though, what is meditation? It’s one of the most potent spiritual bypassing techniques out there!
For those of you who have never heard the term before, spiritual bypassing is using spiritual practices and tenets to go around or ignore personal problems. You can see this in the way that modern Western meditation practices will advise you to “observe your emotions” without engaging with them at all. Rather than using meditation as a tool for emotional growth, it’s used to teach people how to ignore their feelings and problems and essentially numb themselves to their pain. Rather than helping people grow and self actualize, they become stuck, unable to acknowledge their own struggles all the while thinking that everything is just fine.
Removing cultural context irreparably damages spiritual concepts and techniques. No spiritual practice, no magic, is designed to be used like that! It’s part of a system for a reason and removing it from that system is butchery that renders is worthless.
The idea that intention is the only part of magic that you need or that magic is just about feeling good is not native to witchcraft. We have grimoires and oral traditions that stretch back hundreds of years, these practices were tested, tweaked, and perfected over centuries of use. We refer back to these sources for a reason. They work! People have spent centuries making sure they work, trying things and keeping very careful records of what did and did not get results. It would be insane for us to throw out centuries of established, effective magic in favor of a few new-age ideas that have not only not been proven to work, but have openly admitted to the fact that they don’t work! Again, if your spell is making you feel good rather than putting money in your pocket then it’s not a spell.
There Is A Rhyme & A Reason For Everything
Our traditions, whichever tradition it is that you pull from, are valuable for a reason. They work! We don’t use violets for heartache spells because we feel like it, we use them because there’s a tradition of using them and successfully getting results from them stretching back hundreds of years. When we use them, we can be fairly certain that we will get the results we want because people have been using them and getting those results for generations. This is what you should be using to judge the quality of your sources.
Take any witchcraft book off your shelf and flip to the bibliography. Chances are that if it even has a bibliography, it only references other recent publications of the same sort. You won’t find references to history books, early modern grimoires, philosophy, psychology, etc. You’ll find other authors who write about neo-Wicca or modern goddess worship. And if you check those books? They will ALSO reference only other modern pagan and witchcraft authors. On and on and on in a never-ending loop. You have to wonder where any of this information even came from in the first place! The answer is that it was either made up or stolen from some other culture and watered down beyond recognition. There aren’t any valid sources listed because they don’t exist!
So what is a witch to do? Seek out authors who DO have bibliographies filled with varied, factual sources. Read the source material. Don’t be afraid to do your research outside of the Pagan and New Age section of the bookstore. Read about history, read about philosophy, read 18th-century grimoires, read the first-hand accounts of folk magicians from centuries past. Ask the experienced witches and magicians you know which authors they really love and respect and read that. And then get out there and do magic that doesn’t just make you feel good, but that actually makes your life good.