Grovedaughter Witchery

Magical Mechanics

I get a lot of questions on my blog regarding the working nature of magic. How do poppets work? Why are love spells tricky? Do curses really cause bad things to happen to the witches who cast them? I have compiled some of the answers to such questions below, as well as notes I've made and snippets of advices on the whys and hows of magic and spellcasting.

On crossroads:

A crossroads doesn't necessarily have to be a major intersection. Rather, it is anywhere that two or more roads meet. A crossroads can also be a nature trail or sidewalks or a bike path or a roundabout, providing that all the connecting paths are fairly well-traveled.

The idea behind using a crossroads in magic is that the effect of anything cast or buried there will swiftly travel down the roads and manifest itself more quickly. So it stands to reason that other intersections will also have this effect.
On poppets and sympathetic magic:

Poppets can be used anywhere that sympathetic magic is needed.

Sympathetic magic, by the way, is any magic wherein an effigy or image is used as a stand-in for the spells’ actual target, with the intent that what is done to the stand-in is meant to happen to the target.

Poppets are very useful for healing spells, and also for binding or banishing, particularly if you are trying to get someone out of your life who is toxic or dangerous in some way.

On pets vs familiars:

A pet is an animal that lives with you in a domestic setting, with whom you have a close emotional bond, and for whom you provide food, shelter, and loving care.

A familiar is a creature who helps with your magical workings. Sometimes a pet can double as a familiar; sometimes the familiar is an astral or spirit being. The familiar may run errands, carry messages, or lend energy to spellwork.

If you have a pet who you think might be familiar material (i.e. always comes around when you’re doing magic, seems to take a high interest in your magical activities), always ask first, and never do anything in your workings that would bring your pet to harm, such as exposing them to poisonous herbs or smoke.

On the dangers of "failed" spells:

A spell that fizzles or just…doesn’t work usually has a minimum of danger to the caster, like a missed shot in basketball. And then there are times when the ball bounces off the rim and smacks you in the face. Shielding yourself before you perform magic with a probability of backlash (mostly cursing or ill-wishing) and cleansing afterwards will minimize the risk of getting bashed in the teeth if the spell rebounds or goes awry.

Considering the possible outcomes is important when you’re putting the spell together. What you want to do is close as many loopholes as you can before casting, so that you don’t wind up with an unfavorable result. For instance, when I cast a money-draw spell, I put in a caveat that the influx of cash should not come from anyone being hurt or killed, i.e. inheritance, insurance settlement, etc.

For confidence and protection spells, there are less loopholes of this sort, unless you want to put in a bit about how to trigger the spell so that it’s not “on” all the time, or if you want any sort of special inclusions or exclusions, i.e. “No one may touch me…unless they have my permission.”

Cursing and love magic are the two areas where you need to be most cautious. I actually recommend staying as far away from most love magic as possible, even more so than cursing, because it’s so fickle and difficult to perform, and also because it’s so very easy to start undermining the target’s free will and that can lead to all sorts of badness. (Seriously. Don’t ever cast a spell to make a specific person fall in love with or lust after you. Not only can these backfire horribly, it’s a shitty thing to do. If you must cast a love spell, make it target-nonspecific and ask for qualities you want in a lover, rather than naming someone in particular.)
On targeted love spells:

There’s a lot of assumption in the pagan community that it’s easier to “call” one specific person to be your lover, or that that is the quintessence of any love spell. I disagree. I think that love spells are tricky, tricky things, and that calling a particular person is an infringement upon their free will and also a slippery slope that could lead to obsession if something goes haywire.

Also, the person you call might be what you THINK your ideal partner is, but what if that turns out to be wrong? What if they turn out to be the exact opposite of what you want, and only put on that pleasant face in the public eye?

In the words of The Aunts, “Be careful what you wish for.”

I find that it’s much easier just to send out a call for the qualities you want in a partner without having a specific person in mind. This allows for a lot more wiggle room, and can lead to some pleasantly surprising results. In my case, the one for me was much closer than I expected. (Of course, your results may vary.)

The important thing is that you mustn’t expect instant results, and you must follow up your spellcasting with action. You can’t just sit around and wait for the right person to fall into your lap; you gotta go out and look!

On incantations:

Rhyming is fun and makes your spells sound fancy and such, but it’s not VITAL.

I know there’s a whole thing with Neo-Wiccans about rhyming their incantations. “To bind the spell up well each time / Let the spell be said in rhyme.” But really, if you’re not big on poetry, where does that leave you?

I rhyme my incantations and I know several other witches who do, but I know a good deal of others who don’t, and I haven’t heard of it having an adverse effect one way or the other.

If you don’t feel the need to rhyme, then you certainly don’t have to.

It is absolutely fine to just say things inside your head, if you don’t feel comfortable speaking them aloud or if you’re in a position where silence is needed. (Or, to be fair, if you can’t speak aloud for some reason.)

Mental focus is the key to driving the intent home. Hold the words in your mind just as if they were sounds in the air, and push your will into that thought.

On “magical highs”:

Often, after spellwork, I feel either a surge or a sudden loss of energy. Loss is more common. The surge, if I have one, will be brief and will be followed by a sensation rather like a sugar crash. I have heard similar things from other witches, enough for me to feel safe calling this a common occurrence.

It ranges from a languid happy feeling almost like afterglow to a nice energizing feeling of accomplishment. Sometimes it’s also accompanied by a sudden pop of hunger or thirst.

The stronger the magic I’m performing, the stronger these feelings will be afterwards.

On witchcraft with and without props:

I have rather a hard time doing witchcraft without some sort of physical prop myself. I have the energy, I have the intent, but I need the object for a focus. Plus, I like my herbs and powders, as anyone who knows my craft will tell you.

The fact of the matter is that there is no single “correct” way of doing witchcraft. Some witches find that energy work comes very easy to them and never feel a need to use herbs or stones or tools. Some witches prefer the tools and trappings because they enjoy the ritual, or because it’s part of how they raise power to cast spells. And then there’s just about everything in between. Intent is very important, but it doesn’t need to be the only thing you rely upon.

There is nothing wrong with you or your practice if you decide to use tools or herbs or what have you, and there’s no requirement to be able to perform magic without them. Unless you’re being initiated into a particular tradition that has specific criteria, the process of learning your own personal craft isn’t some series of exams that you have to pass in order to call yourself a witch.
On the "right" way to practice witchcraft:

There are too many traditions and methods for there to be one “right” way to be a witch or practice witchcraft.

I do like to tell my witchlings the following as a general guide to their practice:

There is no one right way of being a witch or practicing witchcraft. There are only three hard and fast rules:

  1. Be respectful of the beliefs and practices of others, even when you don’t agree with them. (That includes not forcing your beliefs on others.)
  2. Never stop learning, always seek more knowledge and experience than you had yesterday.
  3. Don’t be an asshole.

On patron deities and non-spiritual spellcraft:

You can absolutely practice magic without a patron deity. It may require a bit of mental rewriting, since a lot of modern pagan literature will reference this or that holy personage to call upon while working a spell. The key is to draw upon your own energy or the energy provided by items (stones, herbs, talismans, etc.) in order to make the spell work.

There are witches who work their spells based solely on this energy and hold that idea very different from the intervention of any kind of spirit work. Meditation only comes into the picture if sustained effort is required over a period of time.

For instance, when I make a magical powder, let’s say for a money-draw, I imbue that powder with my will and my intent, as a means to influence probability and sway the chances of success in my favor. There’s no spirit work, meditation, or divine intervention involved.

And really, that’s what most witchcraft boils down to: the act of applying intent and willpower, whether one’s own or a group’s or an outside entity’s, in order to influence the probability of a desired outcome to a given situation.

So if you don’t feel the need to appeal to deities or helper spirits in your craft, you don’t have to. It’s not a necessity.

On "all magic has a price": 

It is definitely true that all magic has a price.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that bad things will happen to you.

Think of it this way: You’re hungry and you want a sandwich, so you buy a sandwich. The consequence is that you’re out a few bucks, but now you have food. Or, you stay up late to get a term paper done and then you’re tired the next day. Same rule applies.

Most of the “price” of magic, in my experience, is in the caster’s energy being spent to make the spell work. I’m always worn out after big castings or rituals, and I pass the hell out after my annual house warding. It’s tiring work, but still…nothing a square meal and a good night’s sleep won’t cure.

It also gets easier with practice. Picture magic like a muscle. The more you flex and exercise it, the stronger and more capable it becomes.

If you sling a curse, that’s a slightly different story, but it doesn’t mean someone’s going to drop a house on you. It’s like throwing mud: you can’t do it without getting your hands dirty, but there are ways to mitigate the mess. If you don’t want the hassle, then don’t do that particular type of magic.

On consent in healing magic:

I find that healing magics work better when the intended recipient is both aware of and willing to accept the spell or ritual.

It’s important to respect the beliefs and desires of others in these types of spellcasting. A person who is resistant to or not accepting of magical help may cause the spell to fizzle or to do more harm than good. Active consent and, if possible, participation should be sought by the caster prior to the spell being cast.

If you wish to help someone heal who you know would be resistant to accepting magical help, you can offer to say a prayer or them or send a general blessing for their good health or speedy recovery. Mind you, this isn’t a smoke screen for then going and doing the healing spell anyway. Say what you’ll do and then do what you said.

On "accidentally" summoning spirits:

Standard spellwork, even cursing, does not summon spirits unless you set out to do so.

Unless you literally put something in your spell like, “Hey evil spirits, I’m summoning you to fuck up this person’s life and completely neglecting to take any measures to protect myself,” you should be just fine.

Don’t believe everything you see on “A Haunting.” If you do a cleansing after you perform cursing magic, you should have very minimal trouble, if any. And it’s unlikely that any ghostly nasties will visit you unless you asked them to.

This is not a “whoops I summoned legions of the undead” situation.

There are no troops of spirit-goblins sitting around waiting for you to say your right words by accident so they can come and steal the baby and put a ghostly David Bowie in your bay window to do some spooky-ooky contact juggling.

Doesn’t happen.

On limit breaks for physical protection charms:

If you find that your protection charms or jars have burst or broken, particularly after you notice a lot of narrow escapes, it may be that the charm has reached the end of its’ effectiveness. It does pay to make protection charms as strong as possible, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have limits.

A recent example is that of a snowplow driver who avoided more than a dozen accidents and slips in a single snowy night, then discovered his wife’s protection charm bag had burst when he arrived home. She contacted me to ask about it.

Generally, this sounds to me like a protection spell doing exactly what it’s supposed to do. The bag bursting is also well within the realm of possibility, especially if it had a very hard-working night, as it sounds like it did. A bag that was meant to stave off accidents and trouble for weeks had a months’ worth of trouble in one shift.

When bags or jars for protection spells break, it generally means that they’ve reached their limit and will need to be remade, especially if they’re going to be doing high-capacity work.

The views expressed on this website are the Unshared Personal Gnosis of the witch known as Bree NicGarran. They are not intended to be taken as absolute truth, nor are they intended to invalidate the religious views of the reader. They are meant only as a suggestion and are limited by the knowledge of the writer. Please always be sure to double-check your sources, refer to medical texts, and read critically before using any information in your own practice.

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