When people start asking for reasons that their spell hasn’t worked as intended it is important to get them to breakdown their magical operation to help in the diagnostic process. More often than not (assuming an explanation is forthcoming at least) the seeker relays a process which kind of goes;
“I lit a candle with the intent that x would occur”
That’s it. That is all they have really done. If you’re really lucky that will say they invoked a deity but usually find it is an unnamed concept i.e The Goddess.
“I lit it with intent…”
This kind of thing sets me howling to the wind and cursing whichever idiot decided publishing The Secret (TM) was a good idea. Put it out there and if you’re worthy will happen.
That isn’t Witchcraft, not even slightly.
Don’t get me wrong, intent is an important element of the Craft. Intent provides purpose, a sense of outcome and direction, but in of itself, it does not constitute a magical act.
In the Mundane
Let’s break it down with an example from the mundane world. You might “intend” to lose weight or get in shape yet to do so requires a degree of real-world activities such as dieting or going to the gym. You can’t just go to the gym with the intention that you are going to get fit but all you do is sit in the cafe drink a smoothie. That isn’t going to achieve the desired results. Such things take time and energy. In this mundane activity, it is the energy you expand on the treadmill or torture device of your choice and magical operations are not as different as you may think because intent should propel you into action which in turn will bring about results
Energy and Intent
Our intent must be paired up with energy for a magical operation to be a success. We want to effect a change in the world around us so we need to provide some energy as part of our work to get things started.
Where that energy comes from is up to you. You can raise it through ecstatic methods such as movement and song or draw it from the up from the earth itself. Pre-prepared crystals and amulets can also be used to empower spells if properly empowered. You can even request energy and support from a patron deity or one suitable to your purpose, an option I will go into a little more detail about in a moment.
Just as magical operations only containing intent will not work those that lack clear intent but have an abundance of energy are also likely to go awry. The intent we bring gives the energy directionality otherwise the energy we bring is either goalless and will dissipate. This is why it is also important to ensure that intent is effective directing energy and it is always best to go keep spells simple, with single goals. Energy sent out with a complex or not clearly stated intent will become confused leading to results which are indirect, diffused or unintended. More complex situations can be broken into individual workings but a single spell with a series of “and then…” requests tacked on will lead to a defused result.
Prayer and Intent
People often equate spell-casting with a prayer because the widest understanding of prayer is as a form of a petition for something on behalf of yourself. In the hierarchy of prayer, this is sometime referred to as the lowest form that prayer because it is focuses on the self. Higher levels of prayer include intercession on behalf of others and the highest being adoration or worship if the divine, both of which are possible in the context of pagan practice.
Prayer in the form of petition and intercession are, at their core, passive acts of surrender rather than an active forms of magic. The act of prayer places the manifestation of the desired outcome into the hands of the divine and there are always issues associated with this.
Firstly it is important to be clear as to who you are beseeching for aid. Clearly calling deity by name and title is necessary to ensure that the petition or intersession is heard by the intended deity. Requests to broad concepts such as the “god” or “goddess” can either be ignored by all or are open to any entity that may see fit to respond. That could be anything from a deity with no association with the subject at hand, a trickster deity or some other form of entity neither divine or mortal in origin (depending on the relationships you may have already purposely, or accidentally, developed).
The fact that by offering an issue to the divine to resolve is a passive act of surrender leads to the second issue with prayer; comprehension. You are not dealing with human minds, with the mortal ability to judge what lies between the lines of our words and know what is best for the mortal condition; mind, body and soul. Equally, the will look at the whole of the request and if they feel they wish to fulfil it in a particular way they will do so without much regard for what you may have actually had in mind. Which is why it is important to…
… Be specific
For example, you may petition Hermes “bring me a new car”, intending that it be a full-sized car to get you to work and back but you fail to actually state that important fact. Don’t be surprised in the next day you don’t find a find a matchbox car in the street. You asked for a car so you got one. Hermes’ job is done, remember to say thank you for his good works. It might not have been as you intended but that isn’t because Hermes doesn’t like you, you just weren’t specific enough but decided it was a good idea to surrender the matter up to him.
This goes for requests for non-corporal effects and healing. If you are requesting that healing be effected or an entity drawn to or driven from your presence be sure to be specific about what you want to happen. For example, if you request healing of a physical pain ensure that you specify that the pain be removed from the household as well as the person afflicted otherwise you are likely to bounce the affection from one person to another.
As well as being specific it is also a good idea for Pagans to present such requests as a quid pro quo arrangement by either making offerings of incense, food, drink etc at the time of ritual, upon delivery of results or at an agreed time regardless of the outcome. These things get the attention of the ancient Gods and are practices that they are familiar with and are often willing to respond to. That being said there is no substitute for building an active relationship with a deity and directing offerings to them on a regular basis in addition to as a response to particular requests.
I took my main points and posted them to Tumblr and they have been getting a good response. Unfortunately, I know know how to make my posts “pretty” when using Tumblr so I’ve them into an info-graphic to help capture my individual points.