This article is part of a sporadic series on Building Competency in Witchcraft that aims to bridge the gap between beginner and intermediate information to better prepare you to do advanced witchcraft. The aim of this series is to also encourage you to consider why you do the things you do, and why you do them the way you do them, in order to develop clarity of thought and action -all of this to help you be as effective with your witchcraft as possible. The first post in this series, Creating Your Spiritual Calendar, discussed the need for consistent practice and the benefit it provides in enabling one to be able to do advanced witchcraft in the first place. The second post, Mastering the Basics of Witchcraft, focused on foundational skills of witchcraft -regardless of whether you are a religious or secular witch- because you cannot effectively do the advanced work if you haven’t mastered the basics. This, the third post, focuses on some of the basic mechanics of magick -and the science that supports this results-focused approach- so you can more effectively create lasting change within your life.
The power of intention has become a rampant buzz topic within the magickal community. In setting an intention, the idea is to formulate a word or statement, much like an affirmation, that represents a change that you want to make in your life. Perhaps you want to view yourself more positively and be less self-critical, or perhaps you want to finally conquer that spending problem and foster greater financial prosperity and wealth in your life. This intention is then held firm in the mind, activated by filling it with “positive energy”* which then causes your intention to attract that which you desire toward you because like attracts like.**
However, there is a lot about this entire process that is fundamentally at odds with the way that magick operates, as well as aspects of the world view that becomes common amongst witches regardless of religious prescription (or lack thereof.) Setting an intention, lighting a million glitter-crusted candles, and thinking happy thoughts throughout your waking hours is all well and good*** but when it comes to witchcraft and working magick, setting an intention alone just doesn’t work. It’s only part of the equation. Effective magick is a process.
Why Setting and Intention Alone is Useless to the Witch
So much of the information currently presented on magick focuses upon simple and quick ways to get what you want. Often times, these methods are being promoted by individuals who have literally made fortunes through their feel good spiritual messages that promise that you, too, can have anything you desire -and often solely through the power of your thoughts alone. No action required, just think your thoughts and good things will come your way.
There are many reasons why this short cut method is problematic.
When we set an intention, we prime our minds to see the things that relate to that intention. This does not mean that holding that intention brought those things to you, rather, it means that you tuned your mind to see that which was already there waiting for you to see in the first place. This is similar to how you cannot go looking for an omen and actually receive one -that’s not how omens work. You don’t find omens, omens find you. But if you go out looking for “a sign” that confirms you’re on the right path, that you’ve made the right changes, that what you’re planning is the right thing to do, (et cetera,) you will often find it because you’ve primed your mind to find it.
But that doesn’t mean that creating an intention isn’t without its purpose. The true power of intention comes in that performs as a filter for energy that we direct as part of our magickal workings. This tightens the energy, focusing it further upon the target, and increasing the efficacy. Your intention improves your aim.
But witchcraft is not for the meek nor the perpetually unmotivated. Getting the full value of intention requires action. There are no short cuts. Setting an intention and then funneling your thoughts into it each day -without taking direct action to get what you want- does not work. This is not how magick works. The Universe will not reward you because your aura sparkles more than the glitter on your candles. Your Gods and spirits will not shift things in your favor because your namaste game is on point today. If you want change in your life, you do the work to get it -magickal and mundane- and then you enjoy the results. No action, no results.
Change Your Behavior:
Your Thoughts Will Follow and so Will the Energy
The latest clinical studies in the field of psychology -with supporting evidence reaching back to the ‘70’s- shows us that taking action, and making changes in our behavior not our thoughts, is far more effective in making desired changes in our lives. This stands in direct opposition to the highly marketed new age idea that you can change your life by setting an intention (i.e. changing your thoughts) alone. The reasons for this are multifold.
First, in changing your behavior to comply with the results you want, every attainment of those results serves to reinforce your new behavior (i.e. actions) by presenting concrete proof that indirectly modifies thoughts and emotions. In other words, successful actions provide proof to your mind that this is an effective way to get what you want, so you become more inclined to repeat those actions.
Second, in deliberately changing your behavior, you can shape your actions to be in better alignment with your values -whether they’re spiritual, religious, or just tied to a worldview you want to adopt. This impresses upon your mind the importance of those values, enabling you to adopt them more thoroughly, more quickly, and more effectively (you start living those values right away instead of thinking about how awesome it would be if you could live like that.)
Third, in focusing on changing your actions rather than your thoughts, you automatically bypass adverse thoughts and maladaptive thought patterns (i.e. the thoughts you think that you know aren’t true or that gets in your way yet always creep up and hold you back.) These negative thoughts don’t have a chance to ruin your plans, to kickstart your anxiety, or to make you doubt yourself because they’re not given a chance to do so in the first place.
Thus, you can change your worldview and perspective on a matter merely by acting in a way that is agreement with the worldview and perspective you wish to adopt. Taking further action to support the changes in your behavior, such as making changes to your lifestyle and habits that make it easier for you to maintain these behavior changes that support the mental/emotional changes you want to make, will also increase not just the efficacy of your actions, but also how quickly you attain your overall goal.
From a more magickally focused perspective, changing your behavior to correspond to that which you want to achieve (i.e. taking mundane action and practicing follow through on your spell work) will work to better seat that intention within your mind, direct the energy in the appropriate directions, and help you to achieve what you want not only more quickly, but in a more lasting way.
Get Your Hands Dirty
Getting out of your head and finding ways to support the magick you’re working (or want to be working) can be tricky at times. But, the more you do to accomplish your goals and the more energy you channel into (especially long-term) spells only serves to encourage stronger results. This is where remembering that magick is a spiritual process, much the way that running is a physical process, helps in finding ways to take action to create that change in your thoughts and, thus, in your circumstances.+
This holds true regardless of the focus of the changes you want to create. Anchoring your intention setting, spell craft, energy work, (et cetera) within concrete actions taken in your everyday life will not just increase the efficacy of your magick but will also help you develop a stronger understanding of how magick works. This is because you will be more invested in the process of creating this change and more alert to any possible early manifestations, as well as being more alert to the subtle energy fluctuations set in place by your total efforts, magickal and mundane.++ That deeper understanding of what magick is, how it works, and how you can most effectively use it toward your goals will help you to become a more effective witch. And that’s when the real fun of witchcraft begins.
*Energy is neither positive nor negative in the good or bad sense that the word positive and negative have been misconstrued. However, it can be positively or negatively charged, similar to electricity. Metaphysically, it is the negative charge that is seen as being receptive/attractive, whereas the positive charge is projective/repelling (and whereas with electricity two positive charges or two negative charges will repel each other -like repels like- while a positive and negative charge will attract each other -opposites attract.) This is why feminine energy, which is intrinsically receptive, is viewed as being negatively charged.
**Rather than “like attracts like,” we can see this more accurately as a micro/macrocosm scenario, as you are filling your inner world with one thing in order to cause a corresponding change within your outer world. As mentioned in the previous footnote, like charges do not attract each other, opposite charges do. You draw prosperous energy to you because there is a lack of such in your life, not because it is in abundance (and once you have attained that prosperity, your magick naturally shifts to maintaining that prosperity not to still attract it. Yes, subtle differences in wording and focus but witchcraft is found within and dependent upon subtlety -making sense of and learning to trust that subtlety is part of why witchcraft takes continuous effort. You cannot be effective by ignoring the subtle.
*** Or is it? Witchcraft arises from the land, a crooked wisdom that winds itself up and out of rock and leaf, branch and pool, and twists itself deep within our core where it whispers, taps, nudges, and inspires. That connection cannot be severed -and it cannot be done without. There is no witchcraft without the land. So, when you deliberately introduce materials that are created to exist solely as garbage (i.e. glitter -it doesn’t break down, it sits on the earth, whole and unrotting, a mark of human folly and arrogance) how well are you holding to that connection? How well are you serving the source of your craft? Or are you merely buying into yet another spiritual trend that is rooted solely in aesthetics and consumerism? </soapboxrant>
+Yes, magick can absolutely be worked reflexively and become second nature. In those instances, you often don’t fully realize you’ve even done anything until afterwards. But the signs are there, nonetheless, to indicate whether that thing that happened is the result of a) your low key magickal badassery, b) your Gods and spirits maintaining kharis, or c) random bout of good fortune (because this exists just as much as dumb luck.) But, the vast majority of the magick you work will be through deliberate action and it is that deliberateness to which is referred here.
++The only separation between the magickal and the mundane exists solely within our minds. This lack of separation is crucial to the working of magick; without that interconnection, we couldn’t do the magick. Of course, the implications of this lack of separation extend much farther...
For a more in-depth look at the science behind this (i.e. that changing your mental/emotional state -and, thus, outlook on life and reaction to various stimuli and situations- is more effective through changing your actions,) the following paper does an excellent job detailing the numerous studies that have been conducted since the ‘70’s supporting this position. Note that the information and most of the studies are framed in the context of a treatment for depression, however, this fact does not negate the wider applicability of this idea. Also note that this paper details the rise (and push) of cognitive therapy as superior -which corresponds to the same time period in which feel good “spirituality” rose in popularity and why you will see this idea (change actions to change mind) prevalent in witchcraft books of the ‘70’s but then replaced by happy-thoughts-make-the-world- go-round-nonsense in witchcraft books published in the ‘90’s.
Hopko, D. R., Ryba, M. M., McIndoo, C., & File, A. (2015). 14 Behavioral Activation. The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies, 229
Although published as chapter 14 in The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies, this paper is available for download as a free word doc from The Society of Clinical Psychology, Division 12 of the American Psychological Association here.
For a faster and more accessible read (unless you enjoy academic psychology research, as I do) this article presents a good overview and basic run down (apologies for the lack of any citation within this article):
Shpancer, N. (2010). Action Creates Emotion. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/insight-therapy/201010/action-creates-emotion
tl;dr -just because it’s magick doesn’t mean that common sense and evidence based science don’t still hold true. There are rules, even in magick (...the first rule of magick is this shit is real and demands respect -especially if you want results.)
Want More No-Nonsense, Results-Focused Witchery?
You can choose a topic for me to write about each month and support my writing, too! For less than the cost of a cup of coffee, you can also get early access to articles and free copies of all my books.
Throwing the Bones
Whether you're struggling with something spiritually or in everyday life, bone divination can highlight areas where focus is needed and identify alternative ways forward.