Spellwork or The Road to Hel is Paved with Good Intentions

Candle Spell

Why is writing spells so hard? Why can’t there just be some magical formula that makes it easy and idiot-proof? Oh wait, there is! This formula is ancient and can be found used in the folk magic of just about every culture around the world throughout history:

Intent + Spoken Spell + Sympathetic Act = Magic

When separated, each component isn’t very effective, but when combined your spell is released into both our world and the otherworld with significant power and energy. The formula can be applied to rituals and ceremonies as well. Too many modern magical practitioners only focus on intent and a spoken, written, or “thought” spell. It’s lazy spellwork and it’s not very effective. Magic is not just psychological, it’s not all in your head and you can’t do it all in your head! Let’s break it down and make it even more idiot-proof:

Intent – Your intent is your focus and purpose for performing a spell. The danger of intent is how easy it is as anyone can think, pray, and wish, but intending to do something and thinking about doing something ARE NOT DOING ANYTHING. I can wish and pray and meditate on taking out the garbage, but the reality is that, unless I physically pick it up and take it outside, nothing is going to happen. Intent is an important part of spellwork because, without focus and direction, the formula’s other components are meaningless. Consider intent a meditation on the purpose of the magic you’ll be performing. Clear your mind of other thoughts and focus only on what you are doing and what you wish to accomplish. Intent should come first. Know what materials you will need and why and how you will use them. If you will be using plant or animal parts or spirits, make your intent clear to them before performing any spellwork or ceremonies. Be pure of heart and pure of mind and the otherworld will respond in kind.

Spoken Spell – Spoken as in OUT LOUD and NOT IN YOUR HEAD.  Spoken spells, charms, runes, phrases, chants, and songs for magic are found in all cultures, religions, and time periods. There is rarely a ceremony or action found without a corresponding phrase to repeat while performing it whether it be for healing, cursing, or blessing. Many are lost with time as they survive only via oral lore. Thanks to folklorists who painstakingly documented certain cultures’ oral lore some of these charms and runes have survived today in the works of Alexander Carmichael and Charles G. Leland. Many Greco-Roman spells are still known today thanks to the ancients’ decent literacy rate. Even though many still exist, their traditional applications are often lost so you will still need to rely upon your intuition. Don’t be afraid to make up your own! Speak your charm or sing your chant at the same time you focus on your intent and before or at the same time you perform the physical part of the spell. Speak or sing loudly and clearly. Some charms are meant to be written or inscribed, but you still need to speak them as you write them. Some charms and runes require a steady monotonous tone reminiscent of a Catholic mass in Latin. Many also require repetition anywhere from three to nine or more times even for very long charms.

Sympathetic Act – This is the oft forgotten step in magic.  Sympathetic magic is simple. Ancient cultures understood that performing a physical action or creating a physical representation of their desire would cause that desire to physically manifest. This is the part where you create a poppet, a witch bottle, prick a heart with pins, scatter dusts, rub on the magical salve, craft an amulet, draw a sigil, burn an effigy, sacrifice a chicken, put to work your ritual tools, burn down that dressed candle, or eat the bread and wine that is the flesh and blood of a god. The sympathetic action is usually performed last or at the same time as the other two components of the formula.


27 Responses to “Spellwork or The Road to Hel is Paved with Good Intentions”

  1. Scylla says:

    I think that the physical step is less forgotten, and more -murdered, brutally, in the gutter-. One of the things I tangle with, continually, in the Crafter community is that exact problem – DOING means you actually believe it’s real, and that’s just crazy-talk. DOING exposes you to discovery, which is of course embarassing (because these folk are pretending/playing, and no one wants other adults stumbling into them playing Harry Potter in their bedroom). DOING is dangerous, because it gets results – and results shatter illusion.

    It’s a symptom of a disease, Not-Doing. The disease is not taking a goddamned bit of Craft seriously. Not giving it, or believing it has, the weight it truly deserves.

  2. Elizabeth K says:

    One of the best and very concise explanations I’ve read in a good long while about spellcraft. Seems very simple, but, as you most excellently explain, there’s more to it – that all important sympathetic act, most often left out or forgotten.
    You can’t sit on your ass, wave a wand and think you’ll get what you want. Like anything else in life worth having, we must work for it – although there are folks out there who think so. There are others who just don’t want to do the work and then, still others, who actually do what is necessary.
    What are your (and anyone else who cares to chime in) thoughts about paying for that magick – call it what you will – tithe, sacrifice, offering? Do you consider this a necessary and important part of the spell? Personally, I do. I am interested to hear what others think.

    • Scylla says:

      I’m under a “taboo” to require compensation for all craftwork done for others. The reasoning the spirits gave is that any time taken away from my work for them costs them, thus the person hiring me must make amends – currency being the most assured way.

      When I, myself, do work I make offerings to the spirits – usually wine, water, beer and bread. Their time is valuable too.

    • Rhi says:

      If a practitioner is ethical, I see no problem with accepting compensation (in the form of currency or other barter). The issue becomes that there are so many people willing to sacrifice their integrity for money that the whole community shy’s away from the compensation issue.

      We have spent a lot of time & energy studying, practicing, connecting with the spirit world & also a considerable amount of $ to get where we are. I see no difference accepting payment for my skills as a witch or my skills as a teacher or nurse. They are all valuable.

      • I think I did not explain myself clearly – I meant, do YOU pay, with sacrifice, tithe, offering, for the assistance of the spirits you work with – to THEM. I was not speaking about collecting payment for doing spellwork for others – although, I too, have no issue with that, but take it on a case by case basis and the payment is not always monetary.
        So.. another words, whenever I do a working, I “make payment” or my term, paying the tithe, with offering/sacrifice (libation, food, art or needlework) or votive offering. I know of many folks who do not do this and then wonder why their work is not successful.

      • Oh, PS – I just signed up for a blog here so they’ve changed my name to the blog name – witchofstitches = Elizabeth K!

    • Every time! My gang costs me a fortune and I love them, generally speaking I figure they aren’t being generous with me because I am not being generous enough to them.

    • Nothing’s ever actually simple – that’d be too easy! This post is assuming one knows basic ritual formula as well – create your sacred protected space, call your gods and/or spirits, petition them, perform spell, leave offerings and thank them for their aid, and then take down your sacred space.

      Any time you “use” a herb, a stone, an animal skull or bone, a ritual tool, sacred waters, collected earth, etc… you are calling upon an external power. Yes, you’re the one doing the magic, but it’s all the spirits of your ingredients doing much of the hard work. They aren’t your minions or servants to be ordered around (some people do magic this way but it seldom ends well for them) and they aren’t going to do it out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s an exchange. They’re happy to help you out as long as they either get something in return, or are treated very well and taken care of by you — translation: tons of their favourite offerings and a cushy home (spirit vessel) costing you the effort and time you’re asking from them.

      The animistic side to magic is also oft forgotten. Modern witches using herb correspondences pulled from a book for a spell, but who don’t interact with the plants in any way, may wonder why their spell wasn’t effective. We forget that our spell ingredients come from living creatures like ourselves. They deserve a bit of an explanation and an offering. “Hey, I’m a witch and I need your help with this prosperity spell, here’s some tobacco, thanks” will do just fine.

      • witchofstitches says:

        Yes, exactly my point. Asking for assistance and being granted that assistance, IMO, requires an offering or sacrifice on my part. I try to avoid “use” when speaking about spirits, gods, plants, etc. – I know you agree with this – think it’s been discussed elsewhere.
        As for spell ingredients, I ask the plant, stone, etc. – many times what I’ve been told cannot be found in any book. I’ve tried to discuss this with others – some get it, as they’ve experienced it too.

      • greycatsidhe says:

        Yes yes yes. I’m always surprised when Pagans go after herbs willy nilly. They have no real understanding of them outside of a correspondence chart. Where did those herbs come from? Who harvested them? I like to know these things if I didn’t grow/find them myself. We live in such a consumer culture…

      • ~*Rhi*~ says:

        LOL…yes, when I teach herb classes, people always ask which herb for which spell. I tell them to go figure that out & we spend time talking about connecting with plant spirits, growing & wildcrafting.

      • Thank you for your wisdom, Sarah Lawless!

        I was just referencing an older incense-making book yesterday that claimed that “Magic does not come from Spirits, it comes from Within and from Earth power such as herbs, stones ect.” I shook my head in disappointment. How could such a well-known author and public leader disregard the fact that the “Earth power, herbs, stones, etc” referenced in his writings are not Spirits? I’ve been an Animist since early childhood, to me everything has a resident spirit, or perhaps more than one. To treat my little gods only as ingredients and disrespect their assistance can only hinder any work or spells I do.

        And if you haven’t yet, would you do an article on spirit-houses and vessels soon? :)

  3. Raven says:

    This is THE best article about spellwork I’ve ever read. Clear, concise, and to the point. So many people just do sort of vague, mental wishes and call them “spells,” but you’re so right in that there MUST be a physical action (spoken word, sympathetic magic, etc) to get a real, solid result. I’ve found, myself, that a combination of candle magic and words spoken in the “magical voice” gave the best results, but to each his/her own. Thanks again for another wonderful piece of writing!

  4. Rhi says:

    Great article. Very clear & concise. Because of it’s perfection, may I add your article (with reference to you, of course!) to my group’s BOS?

  5. Hagtesse says:

    I must say though that it takes talent, practise and (oh yes, that scary thing!) intelligence to write a good spell. It’s not for nothing the bards of both the Celts and us Norse (I’m Swedish) were held in such high regard – you can’t just come up with words, you have to place them just right too.

    • That’s where I have the problem at the moment. I’m using quatrains, a form of Irish poetry with polysyllabic rhyming structures and restrictions of length of syllables in each line. As I use them more and more it will get easier, but it takes me ages to craft a spell at the moment.

      However, I find the quatrains make better spells just because I have to consider each and every word I am writing.

      Anyway, to get back to the subject topic, I agree with the comments about the consumerist society and it’s reflection in the way pagans say they “use” a deity or some substance. In my ‘umble experience if a deity doesn’t want to work with you s/he won’t turn up.

  6. Sarah I have really been enjoying your blogs, I am going to throw a link up on my blog roll if thats cool.

    As an old musician I am a fan of song as well as spoken word and mantra work, it has long been my belief that anyone who can’t see the value in a bit of sympathetic ritual has forgotten the playful wonderment of childhood.

    Regarding the discussion in the comments; as a working witch-doctor I can confidently state that if I was not permitted by the community to charge for my services then I would also not be permitted to dedicate my life in its entirety to my craft. Practicalities, as was mentioned demand satisfaction. If no one can expect to sustain themselves through their craft then the art itself ends up relegated to a world of basement hobbyists. I too wish the community as a whole was more open to this.

    Especially since properly executing the first step suggested by Sarah in her blog is a thing you can never really get enough practice at!

  7. Robin Prine says:

    This is exactly the way I was taught and how I am teaching. It’s nice to see it put so plainly and, as you said, idiot proof!

  8. Riverhorse says:

    Great writing on spell work. I agree with everything you said and I have learned that using pictures and sending them out into the world is a great way to manifest dreams. State your intentions and the universe conspires to help you, but you must actually DO something other than dream about it! Enjoy your springtime!

  9. Nikkie says:

    I accept payment on the barter system. Sometimes money is not at hand and the person requesting the ‘assistance’ may be in a position to pay me with something they have that I want. A fair exchange is always happening. As for paying for my workings…for damn sure I do! I learned the ‘hard’ way that there’s no commanding the Gods and/or Spirits into doing your bidding…they have a nasty way of reminding one that you are in debt to them….ever wondered why you get tripped up for no reason breaking that precious ‘what-ever’ you have in your hands? It happened to me a few times when I forget to do the offering…I don’t forget anymore. LOL As for the Spoken Spell, practice and practice makes almost perfect. It is one of the things I really have to work hard at. Once I get it right though, I don’t care who hears what, when or how many times! After all that effort I feel it is worth making it known as loud as is required by the Gods! Lovely post as usual Sarah….you always rock!!

  10. Faidh says:

    I’ve always been told emotion is not a good thing to have when making a spell. That the mind has to be grounded and clear. I wonder if that is entirely necessary because even when I appear calm a spurt of emotional energy will fuel the intent. I’ve never yet had a problem and even found my written down spells to hold some life to them some time after the casting. Still, I wonder is it playing with fire?

  11. Melanie says:

    Ah Sarah, Thank you for this, I find the physical/sympathetic side comes naturally. But, being quite a secretive creature I find the verbalising uncomfortable.You’ve inspired me to get a grip ;) I feel that emotional energy is important to charge a spell with your own will and intent.

  12. We are such an internalized culture today – many of us mostly live in our heads. Speaking out loud and performing physical actions for magic make us uncomfortable – but sometimes breaking that discomfort comes with quite the thrill of accomplishment. People have stumbled across me in the woods burning my herbs and chanting. People have walked by in the middle of an outdoor ritual with my group in the woods… None of them were ever freaked out, just curious. Once I realized that curious questions would be the only reaction I got if caught, I stopped worrying so much.

    I don’t agree that emotion should be left out of spell and ritual work. I’ve always thought the passion of intent behind the spell is what can make it so effective. However, if you are very emotionally upset (there was a death in the family, your partner left you, you’re suffering from a bad bout of depression), then you might want to put spells and rituals on hold until you’ve had time to deal with the stress and work through all the emotions you’re feeling.

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