Learning from Magical Mistakes

Phil Hine’s old website features an archival transcript of a wonderful speech he once gave on magical failures. Entitled “Rites that Go Wrong,” it has always been my one of my favorites, as it highlighted the fact that magical success is always extolled,showing the mage’s supreme magical skillz, but failures are always explained away somehow as not being the mage’s fault.

Hine goes on to offer some possible explanations for why magic might not work, covering the gamut from improper attitude to faulty group dynamics. If you get the chance, look the speech over — it’s well worth it.

But I’m interested in something else.

A recent essay on the Witches’ Voice addresses the issue of magical mistakes and failure as well. The author takes a bit of a different approach to Hine, but comes to a very interesting point. After talking about Israel Regardie’s admonition for magicians to undergo psychotherapy, the essay dips into the psychological and subconscious desires that can emerge through magical action:

[T]here is value in rituals and spells that seem to go awry. Finding the value in these magical flops, however, is often a chore in and of itself. Being honest with ourselves about our personal flaws is an alien and seemingly self-destructive course to take. Yet the value in recognizing how we repeat mistakes out of habit is a key to our personal evolution. Unsatisfying results are a sign that we are unsatisfied with some deeper aspect of ourselves.

Now Hine spoke about sometimes thinking a ritual is a failure, but then having it turn out to be a success, albeit in an unexpected way. Hine also devotes much of his work to ego-magic and analyzing habits, patterns,faults,  and modes of thought. But for some reason examining a reason for a magical failure to discern these faults never really occurred to me. What can my magical failures tell me about not just what I’m doing wrong, but why?

Since I first began my magical practice, I’ve been impressed with the importance of keeping a ritual journal. I had always assumed it was to keep track of things that might affect magical performance, such as astrological alignments, moods, physical condition, time, weather, etc. And thanks in part to Hine’s writings, I had been accustomed to looking through these journals to examine patterns and habits that may rise up and create limitations for myself.

I just find it amazing that I never considered to factor in what my reasons for doing magic were.

Mindset and technique are very significant to magical work and personal growth, but desires and goals are just as significant. Perhaps my old journals need a good looking-over.


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