I have conflicting views on spellbooks.
One one level, I think they’re fantastic. They give you a complete and simple ritual which can be powerful and effective.* On the other hand, they often imply that all you have to do is read some words, chant a spell, burn a colored candle, and Ta Da! the magick happens.
Only for most people, it doesn’t.
In my experience, most people who try various simple magicks don’t have much luck. I realize there will be some people reading this who will write in saying, “But it worked for me!” and that’s fantastic. However, that’s what’s called anecdotal evidence. Merely because it worked for you doesn’t mean it’s going to work for everyone…or even for anyone else. Spellbooks can work, but for most people today they don’t. And to explain why, I need to tell you about Ed Sullivan.
World-Telegram photo by Ed Palumbo
Sullivan (1901–1974) began his career as a newspaper sports writer and became a columnist writing on theater and gossip. Later he was on radio, in movies, and, in 1948, began a TV variety show. It ran on Sunday nights until 1971. He introduced American audiences to many dozens of performers, including crossing the color barrier by having numerous African-American acts as well as “British Invasion” music acts. If you were an up and coming act, you wanted to appear on Sullivan. It was also ideal for famous acts looking to publicize an appearance or a new album. Sullivan included bands, dancers, specialty acts, and comedians.
Comedians back then were quite different from what you most often see today. They would take a lot of time to set up a joke and then pow! hit you with the punchline. A five minute act might have only four or five jokes. Today, a comedian trying an act like that would be booed off the stage. Today we feel a need for speed. Bam! Bam! Bam! One-liner jokes right after another. This extends to so many areas of life. Instead of sitting down for a meal we drive through a restaurant and eat while we drive. Movies require fast cuts and jerky action sequences. A large number of people who watch TV can’t just watch TV, they do something else at the same time. Everything has to be fast, fast, fast.
And that’s the way many people want their magick.
I like the idea of magick happening quickly. The issue I have is that many people want the study and practice they put into magick to take place quickly, too. Just read a book and do a spell and Pow! that magick should happen. It usually doesn’t.
One of my favorite books that sounds like it supports the idea of just do the spell and the magick occurs is Instant Magick by Christopher Penczak. As he points out, candles, special ingredients and exotic symbols are important in performing many types of magick, but these items aren’t always practical, attainable or even available. After all, “You can’t always get to your altar, and many times you need magick in your car, at work or on the run.”
He goes on to explain that simple magick doesn’t mean you can do it without training. “Instant Magick is not a quick book of spells that requires no energy, effort or imagination. Instant Magick is not one quick, easy-open package designed to make your life perfect with a few herbs, crystals, or candles. Magick doesn’t work that way, though we often wish it would.” He goes on to say that there are three things you need to study, practice, and learn to do so you can access them at a moment’s notice. They are:
- Alter your consciousness
- Have a clear intention
- Know how to work with your magickal energy
Once you have such skills, you can use them, instantly—perhaps with the help of a spellbook—to create magick.
In The Magical Life of Scott Cunningham (An ebook available from the Kindle Store (LINK), Kobo (LINK), Sony (LINK), and through the iTunes store for just $1.99) I share Scott’s ideas on this, too. I quote him from The Truth About Witchcraft Today, where Scott wrote:
My latest, most refined definition [of magic] is: Magic is the projection of natural energies to produce needed effects.
here are three main sources of this energy—personal power, earth power, and divine power.
Personal power is the life force that sustains our earthly existences. It powers our bodies. We absorb energy from the moon and sun, from water and food. We release it during movement, exercise, sex, and childbirth. Even exhaling releases some power, though we recoup the loss through inhaling.
In magic, personal power is aroused, infused with a specific purpose, released, and directed toward its goal.
Earth power is that which resides within our planet and in its natural products. Stones, trees, wind, flames, water, crystals, and scents all possess unique, specific powers that can be used during a magical ritual.
A Wiccan may dip a quartz crystal in salt water to cleanse it and then press it against an ailing person’s body to send its healing energies within. Or, herbs may be sprinkled around a candle that is burned to produce a specific magical effect. Oils are rubbed onto the body to effect internal changes.
Divine power is the manifestation of personal power and earth power. This is the energy that exists within the Goddess and God—the life force, the source of universal power that created everything in existence.
Wiccans invoke the Goddess and God to bless their magic with power. During ritual they may direct personal power to the deities, asking that a specific need be met. This is truly religious magic.
And so, magic is a process in which Wiccans work in harmony with the universal power source that we envision as the Goddess and God, as well as with personal and earth energies, to improve our lives and to lend energy to Earth. Magic is a method whereby individuals under none but self-determined predestination take control of their lives.
Like most people today, I feel the need for speed. I want my magick to manifest quickly and powerfully. Most people who pick up their first spellbook want that, too. In my experience magick can occur quickly and be very effective if you understand what drives it and makes it work. That means avoiding the curse of speed and taking your time to develop your magickal skills. If you’re willing to take the time and practice, you can perform magick quickly and effectively. If not, your word mumbling and wand waving may accomplish nothing.
It’s like someone we’ve never heard of suddenly becoming famous. “Instant fame,” it’s called. Only during interviews we learn that this person spent years studying, training, practicing, and honing their craft. Spellbooks, then, are great, if you bring to them the skills necessary to work with the spells. To accomplish speedy, effective magick we usually need to have spent lots of time preparing to do that magick. I believe it’s time well spent.
*Well, some of them can. Some are based on traditions that have proven effective over time and others have been tried and proven effective by the person who writes them down. On the other hand, some spells and rituals are dreamed up by a person and because the person thinks the spell should work, he or she assumes that it will work. Too often, this is not the case. Discernment—using experience, training, and study to separate what is from what is not valid—is a valuable tool of the magician.