I’d been meaning to write about the role of intention in magic for some time, and it seems that two blog posts on the subject by well-respected magical authors has provided the fodder and motivation I needed.
Christopher Penczak writes that while there is more to magic than intention, intention is important and necessary to successful magic. His approach is that intention must be augmented with technique in order to achieve results.
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 magick doesn’t seem to work, either in terms of tangible results or the more nebulous, but arguably more important, self development that can come from it. On any of the magickal paths, will is a requirement. In fact, when teaching about the basics of a spell, I teach that you must have three things: Clear Intention, Strength of Will, and a Method to Direct the Energy of the Spell. Will without clarity usually ends up backfiring, intention with no desire behind it is lackluster at best, and you can have both, but if you cannot direct the energy into the proper channels, through ritual technique and/or real world action, you will still lack results. You can even cause harm.
I disagree with Penczak’s three components of magic, but I’ll get into that more later. I am going to take the time to pick at Penczak’s use of terms here.
Clear Intention: I agree that of you are stating an intent, it should be as clear as possible. The idea is not so much that it will “backfire” but that if it is unclear, you will get results you did not plan for. (I actually consider this an argument against “Intention” as being primary to magic.)
Strength of Will: Penczak here conflates Will with desire. Will is not willpower. willpower and desire are from the self and the ego. Magical Will is from your divine Higher Self. This is why when Crowley tells us to do as we Will, he is not telling us to do what we want but what is in alignment with our divinely ordained purpose.
Method to Direct the Energy of the Spell: I can work with an energy-based model, so I don’t have a problem with this. The key here is that you must employ a technique that alters your consciousness enough so that your intent can be processed and made manifest.
I am kind of curious as to how if you do this process wrong, as Penczak says, you will not acheive results, but yet you can cause harm. Harm is a result. It is an unintended result, but still a result. The very possibility for unintended results (see my comment above) implies that there must be something other than pure intent behind magic.
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. As long as I have the proper intention, all is well. 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 will definitely support this observation. Any time someone talks to me about The Secret I want to vomit. You need quite a bit more than wishful thinking to achieve magic, no matter how positive your attitude is. (And don’t get me started at the victim-blaming inherent to whole positive affirmation movement.)
Donald Michael Kraig picks up where Penzcak leaves off, and is a bit harsher on the Law of Attraction crowd.
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.
I would argue that this depends upon what else accompanies this act and the state of consciousness of the actor. In most cases, yes, writing an intent on a paper and burning it is simply an exercise in feeling good. But if that act is paired with more technique (even hidden technique) it can be effective. I once had great success with a spell I did by whispering into a balloon.
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!
I really like that Kraig has recast “intention” as “magickal goal” here. One of my problems with “Intention” is that it is an emotional word; “magickal goal” is a bit more objective. I’ll take it a bit farther in just a minute.
But they key point that Kraig hammer home here is that magic requires action. Magic is about doing: it is a process. You can’t just talk about it or think about it or wish about it. You must take action.
Borrowing from Mike Sententia’s model, it is like moving a muscle. You can think about moving your arm all you want. You can wish your arm would move. You can tell yourself that you will move your arm. But nothing is going to happen until you actually engage your muscles and take action.
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.
Were I in California, I would hug this man for writing this.
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 would argue that a trigger to action is a motivation, not an affirmation. And I think this is an important point where our language is sticking. Your intention is what you want, and is expressed as an affirmation of what you want. It is a desire. A motivation, however, moves to action. This is why I liked Kraig’s use of magickal goal instead of intention. It’s a step in the right direction: a magical statement of instruction. And this is a view I took away from Kraig’s book: that your magical goal is actually a written instruction on the results the spell will produce.
This is different from an intention. Consider Phil Hine’s anecdote of doing a spell intending to fulfill sexual fantasies. His actual instructions of “I wish to experience new and unusual forms of pleasure” instead manifested as a new computer game, which indeed was pleasurable, but not in the way he had hoped. The spell followed the instructions, not the intention behind those instructions. And sure, you could argue that the intention was not clear, but that isn’t the case. For Hine, the intention, the desired result was clear. The instructions were off. (I’d consider the spell a success — he got just what he asked for.)
And this is how we get into unintended results. Our intention is pushing us in one direction, but the actual instructions call for something else. And the spell follows the instructions.
And conflating intent for instructions, I think, it where I’m having an issue with all of this. Any computer programmer will tell you that what you want a program to do is irrelevant: it will do what you tell it to do. And if you tell it to do something it can’t do, or doesn’t know how to do, or that you didn’t specify enough for it to do properly, it will do what it is told. Which may frustrate you if you get results other than what you want.
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.
I like this analogy. If we can clear up that conflation of intention and instruction (which Kraig floats around but doesn’t quite land on) I’d agree with this 1000 percent.
But while Kraig and Penczak have both influenced my approach to magic, so has Phil Hine. Ready to do some math?
In Liber Kaos, Carroll establishes 3 algebraic equations for magic. We’ll look at the first one, Hine’s equation for calculating magical power.
(Note: All values are between 1 and 0)
The factors Carroll identifies are as follows:
- Gnosis (G). Carroll defines gnosis as “an extremely hysterical focusing of the mind by ecstatic or meditative techniques, if only momentarily or intermittently.” I use the term “gnosis” interchangeably with “focus.” Essentially, this is the intense focusing of consciousness.
- Magical Link (L): The magical connection between the event/object/target being aimed for/acted upon and the consciousness of the magician.
- Conscious Awareness (A): The conscious awareness of the instructions or desired result. The smaller this number the better.
- Subconscious Resistance (R): Beliefs in the subconscious that magic doesn’t work and that what you’re trying to do isn’t possible. Again, the smaller this number the better.
- Magical Power (M): How much effort your act was able to exert on the probability you were working to change.
And so we get the equation:
Ritual or technique serves to increase magical link, intensify gnosis, and reduce conscious awareness of the instructions. For example, the sigil techniques I use reduce a carefully worded set of instructions to a symbol that the subconscious mind recognizes but the conscious mind does not. This allows the subconscious mind to activate the instructions free from interference from the rationalizations, lust of result, and other interference from the conscious mind.
One thing that should be very apparent is the lack of a factor for “intent,” “desire,” or “will.”
Chaos Magic often uses cybernetic models, and I have employed algorithmic and flow-chart designs in spells to great success, especially for servitors. I’ve also had to de-bug servitors due to errors in programming. I’ve had enough similar failures in spells cast using other models to believe that this is not an artifact of the model employed, but an indication that the specificity of instructions matter far more than the intent or desire that inspired them.
Saying what you want a spell to do is obviously important. But the intent behind the spell will ultimately fall to the wayside in favor of the instructions that the spell is given to carry out. The semantic difference may seem to small to matter, but I believe that stressing the subtle difference between the two can neaten up your instructions so that they are more in line with your original intent, and you get results closer to what you want.