There are several books and teachers who either imply or explicitly state that intention is the key to magick. The entire basis of the Law of Attraction as popularized in The Secret is that intention is everything. This concept states that if you have an intention and focus on it strongly, you attract to you the heart of your intention. One of the most popular books in history virtually says this in its title: Think and Grow Rich.
I have encountered this same, “intention is everything” attitude among Pagans and ceremonial magicians. I have attended many hundreds of rituals where we are instructed to “write our intention on a piece of paper” which is then burned or returned to us to be collected in a pile or thrown out with the trash. From what I’ve seen, there is often great joy from these “intention is everything” rituals but little magickal success.
Intention Isn’t Everything
Achieving goals magickally or non-magickally is similar to following a map. You are at point A where you lack your goal. You want to get to point B where you have your goal. Having the intention of obtaining the goal is the design of the map for getting from point A to point B. Do you see the problem with this?
Maps are not the real world. They are merely representations of the physical world. Having a map and using your fingers on it to trace your path ten million times will get you nothing other than a worn-out map. To achieve the goal you have to move from the map to the real world and do something!
There is a story of an old man. Broken by years of back-breaking work, he is impoverished, but not for lack of a good salary. He has given most of his earning to the poor and spent any spare time physically helping at centers for the homeless. Nobody knew of any man more dedicated to helping the needy than he.
But the bite of age and the decades of hard labor had taken its toll. Every move caused his joints to hurt and the cold weather would cause him massive pain. So one day, he began to pray. “God, I have spent my entire life helping the needy. I have little for myself and have never asked for anything. But now, I have to make one slight request. I can’t work much any more, and to continue helping the poor I need some money. So please, let me win the lottery.”
The lottery drawing was held and he didn’t win. Again he prayed, “It’s not for me. It’s to help me aid others. I’m not looking to take anything away from others, I just want to be able to help. Please, let me win the lottery.”
The next lottery drawing was held and he didn’t win. Again he prayed, “I don’t understand. I’m just trying to help others. Why won’t you give me even a little help?”
Suddenly, his small apartment seemed to fill with light. Thunder boomed, shaking the entire building. And then a voice that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere explodeed into his hearing, saying, “Buy a lottery ticket.”
Okay, I will grant that this is far from the best joke in the world, but its point fits what I’ve been describing. The old man has the intention of winning the lottery and using the money to help others. But there is no way he can obtain his goal unless he does something to achieve it, in this case, he has to buy a ticket.
Christopher Penczak is one of my favorite authors and I’m lucky enough to call him a friend. He recently made a posting on this subject. What he points out—correctly, in my opinion—is that intention is an important factor for the success of magick, but it is not the only factor.
I do believe in the power of intention, of aligning your will with the will of the universe to manifest your magick. Without intention, you[r] magick doesn’t seem to work…I think my evolving hesitancy to teach “Intention is Everything” is observation over the years of friends, peers and students who use that as an excuse to lack in technique… I do believe that Clear Intention, Step 1, trumps all, because it is the building block, but you need more than that to be successful.
I have to say that I agree 100% with this. The clearer and more specific your intention, your magickal goal, the more likely your success. But that is only the start. You then have to follow up and actually do something!
Coué was Cou-wrong
Émile Coué (1857–1926) was the father of the modern use of positive affirmations. His most famous affirmation was, “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better.” His idea—and it is a practice still followed by many people—was to repeat the affirmation and (by the Law of Attraction) it would bring you what you wanted.
In and of itself, this is garbage. Affirmations, by themselves, bring nothing. Affirmations, as triggers to action, can be powerful. They are verbalized intentions, and as Penczak wrote, the Clear Intention is “Step 1” in achieving your goal.
I can have the intention to shoot the basketball into the net from center court, but I really suck at basketball, so it’s not likely it’s going in with just my intention. I never practice. I have no real natural skill. It’s just not my thing, even if I had the intention…
Too real world for you? Are you thinking, well, yes that how talents and skills work, but not magick! But isn’t magick a skill to be learned and practiced? Is not magick described not only as a science, but an art? Don’t all artists, no matter their natural talent, also practice, be it graphic, writing, music, or dance based art?
On the Radio
There are two parts to the signal you get on your radio. The first, known as the “carrier,” is the energy itself. It vibrates at a certain frequency. The second, which modulates that energy, contains the words and music you actually hear on the radio. For me, this is a great analogy as to how magick work.
The words or music or analogous to the intent of your magick. If there is no intent, there are no words or music ready to be heard. And if there is no carrier—no energy for sending out the words or music—the best sound and statements are not broadcast and cannot be heard. The stronger the carrier, the farther the intent can go. Without the intent, all the energy is useless. Without the energy and action, the intent cannot be shared and is effectively meaningless, irrelevant, and non-existent. Intent is vital to magick, but intention is not everything. To say so is to look at magick in a very superficial way. At the same time magick tends not to be successful without a clear and specific intention or magickal goal.
Magick in the Witchcraft traditions is to bend and shape, both the universe and the self. We learn to flow with what is already happening and work with it, not fight against it. Intention must be allied with this flow, and the proven practices of the past, along with the effective innovations of the present in terms of technique, will guide us. We must learn to prepare ourselves beyond intention, and wield this important tool, this force, with our will, common sense, technique, and discipline to forge our future.
I would say this applies to all forms of magick, not just magick in the Witchcraft traditions. It’s why learning how to work with energy is vital to magick. It’s why discovering various rituals is important.
Today I received an email that read, “…can you tell me a chapter in your book that can tell me how to Give me and my 6 friends… the power to transform with watches/bracelets into the warriors of my [recent] dream?”
Yes, I realize this sounds like something out of the Power Rangers, however I never assume that people writing me are joking or trying to make fun of me. So I responded this way:
Thank you for your email.
Real magick is not like you see in the movies. It requires work and practice. You develop skills over time.
No single chapter in any book can give you that information. Rather you start studying a system and eventually develop the skills and knowledge to understand how to accomplish your goals.
If someone has an unclear intention and (poorly) reads a ritual out of some book while waving a wand, it is highly unlikely that he or she will achieve the goal of their intention. All they’re doing is mumbling and wand waving. Magick is more than intention, more than just repeating some poorly-understood or pronounced words.
Christopher understood this when he wrote Instant Magick. The title seems to imply that you could pick up his book and instantly perform effective magick.
In reality, it shows you how to learn the aspects of magick and be able to put them instantly into play whenever you need them, without the use of elaborate spells and paraphernalia. If you haven’t read this book yet, it’s really worth your time.