What to do when your magic doesn’t turn out how you expected, or why didn’t that spell work?

Updated: Oct 24, 2020

Magic hasn’t really been considered a science since the Middle Ages. When we study the Grimoire tradition, it’s clear to see that the lines between science and magic were blurred then. Cornelius Agrippa, that young genius behind the Three Books of Occult Philosophy, was considered an astronomer, an astrologer, a physician, and a magical practitioner. But these days if you confess to people in the outside world that you’re practising magic, they either assume that you must be a stage magician and you’re about to pull a rabbit out of a hat, or they think you’re mad.

However when we start to look at the most often quoted definitions of magic, we can see where things have gone astray. Aleister Crowley, writing in the late 1800s, defined magic as the ‘art and science of causing change to occur’. That definition is often quoted in magical books, but what is often forgotten is the caveat Crowley added - that the object has to have within it the capability of being the thing you want it to be. In other words, there is no point in trying to turn a frog into a prince, or vice versa.


In my observations, and having practised magic for the last 30 years (sometimes inadvertently) there are a few things that can make all the difference when creating effective magical outcomes. If I sound like I’m using business coach language, that’s because I am. In my mind the line between spell working, goalsetting, and prayer are very blurred. Using the SMART principles to approach your spell crafting can increase the effectiveness. Additionally, losing the 21st Century sense of entitlement also helps. The stronger your relationship with that being we refer to as the Divine (in whatever form you believe it to be) the more effective your workings, as you enter a state of flow and allow the communication to glide freely between you. And there are times when you might find it easier to surrender it all over to the Universe.


The other often quoted line that comes out at this point is ‘you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you’ll get what you need’. (Read that without singing along!)

Sometimes, when we perform magic, the result is not what we expected. I often elicit a laugh from my students when I tell them that at the end of 2019, I did a spell to teach internationally in 2020. Of course, in the spring of 2020, we were all sent to our bedrooms to think about what we had done when most of the world went into COVID-19 lockdown. My teaching very quickly moved online. Within a couple of weeks of lockdown, I was teaching my classes on Zoom, and at each class check in, I began to realise that people were joining me from all over the world - the United States, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa. I was indeed teaching internationally, but I was doing it from the desk in my kitchen. The Universe has a sense of humour, and it loves giving us surprises.


Another spell working which went awry also happened in 2019. This time I was trying to get a career change, moving from the voluntary sector (where I’ve been working for 20 years) into academia, as I approached the final stages of my PhD. Each time a lecturing position was advertised whatever the distance from London, I would be applying. I spent ages working on the applications, and preparing for interviews that never happened. To say that it’s hard to break into academia is an understatement. Again, the global pandemic began to shed some light on what went wrong. Within a few weeks of lockdown, I realised, that after living in London for 25 years, my life there had come to an end. What I really needed to do was move outside of London, to where property was affordable, and living spaces were larger than a shoebox. It’s no wonder none of my previous spell workings had worked. I’m now doing my voluntary sector job remotely, and loving it. Living in an area I adore, where I’m close to nature every day, and can walk in any direction to reach the green.

There is a reason magical practitioners often encourage the use of divinatory tools before a particular working. There is an element to which we can’t see into the future, and we don’t really know what we need, so it can feel a bit like driving through the fog with your headlights dipped, which is where the element of surrender comes in. I wonder sometimes if magic would be more effective if we knowingly allow the universe to bring us what we need rather than the things we yearn for.

So if in all of this you feel a bit like Mildred Hubble, don’t be dismayed. We all do. And when the universe brings you just what you asked for, but in a completely different context, don’t be surprised. It doesn’t mean that you’re bad at this stuff, it just means that you don’t have the all seeing eye, which is exactly where you’re meant to be. You aren’t the omniscient narrator in your own story, you’re one of the characters. Just allow for the fact that there will always be the element of surprise.



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