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Personal Alchemy and the Value of Failed Magick

Author: Once Schooled, Now Solo Mage
Posted: March 21st. 2010
Times Viewed: 4,098

The other day I was speaking to a friend regarding the result of ritual work. We had both been encountering some radical results in response to our individual practices and we noted with a wry sense of irony that sometimes we get what we don’t really need but think we want. Further, what we often want is presented to us in such a way as to demonstrate that this not something that we really need. I think we were on the verge of laughing had it not been so utterly depressing in the moment. (In retrospect, it’s terribly funny and I’m smiling as I type!)

For any ritual worker, be they ceremonial magician or Wiccan, the distinction between “want” and “need”ť is always present in magical work. Unfortunately most human beings confuse the two. Strong desire for something we want is often perceived as a necessity, often because we feel that we genuinely need what want. In the case of something that we haven’t had for a while (e.g. sex, companionship, affection, etc.) that desire seems maddening; needing it seems justified by our belief that our agony must be abated.

But consider the case of someone who truly desires a thing in the belief that not getting it is worse than having it. If this is a change in the status quo then how could he have survived for so long without the object of his desire? The question posed is present in the subconscious of the worker during the casting of the spell; he thwarts his own goal by the reality of his existence, as it were.

Yet magick is effective. Anyone who has studied and practiced for even a short time will readily realize and agree with this statement. If I do a ritual to have a sexual encounter even though I really don’t need sex, the power of my ritual is not abated or derailed; it permeates my reality and attempts to sate my carnal longings. But the fact that I am merely seeking to change the status quo, to obtain something that I can obviously do without, is present in my work and the result is often less satisfying than what was sought.

Ritual has a strange way of giving us exactly what we seek, whether we really want it or not. If am merely seeking sex for the sake of sex, or money for the sake of money, and I perform a ritual to obtain my desire then I can be assured that an offer will emerge in a short amount of time.

But if I am prone to making bad relationship choices, or I am wont to blow my cash in a frivolous manner, then my ritual will not change these facts; what comes my way will often reflect that there is a need for greater personal work. If I cannot or will not change myself for the better, why should I expect to receive anything better than that to which I am accustomed?

Introspection is never easy. The late Israel Regardie once advocated that every person who attempts to begin the path of ceremonial magick should spend at least a hundred hours in psychoanalysis. Some have argued that this was advocated so that the ceremonial magician would become accustomed to the reality of the subconscious mind; I would politely and respectfully disagree. Regardie doubtless knew that desire and need were two separate things. Through psychoanalysis the would-be ritualist is confronted with his own bad habits, his personal demons that need to be banished. It is far easier and safer to expose these demons for what they truly are while reclining on the couch than it is to encounter them as a result of ritual.

The difficulty in discovering our personal demons through ritual tends to be that we aren’t good judges of ourselves. It is hard to be critical of oneself, even when confronted with the evidence. The mind has numerous defense mechanisms at its disposal, all ready to spring into action when we begin analyzing our lives. When our ritual to obtain $1, 000 results in a fender-bender and a check for the desired sum to cover the cost of repairs, we never really stop and consider that this is actually a better use of the money than what we had in mind. But the ritual worked, we got our $1, 000 check and, more importantly, we gained an opportunity to learn something about ourselves.

So there 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.

Finding a confidant, someone in whom you can place a high level of trust, is a good way to create a sounding board for your work. This, as most other sage pieces of advice, is easier said than done. It requires that you know someone inclined towards magick and that this person is capable of listening without judging. Often the best advice comes from ourselves when we tell other people what’s wrong; just venting our frustration can be therapeutic and revealing.

If one is part of a coven, circle, grove, lodge, etc. then one has many options to choose from when it comes to finding someone who can help with personal growth. The person selected should be sufficiently advanced in magick so that they know when to say “whoa!”ť and can listen without taking on our personal burdens. If the person selected has experience in dealing with people on a professional level (e.g. as a counselor, therapist, minister, analyst, physician, nurse, etc.) then so much the better!

But before we all run to the phone to call our high priestesses and rant about how our love spell produced the same run-of-the-mill experiences and poor selections it might be best to introspect. A personal effort to look within, even if unfruitful at first, will produce greater results when we seek help from without.

So when a spell or ritual fails to produce the desired result and what we end up with seems like a cruel joke or some form of cosmic irony, consider what is being offered. Often we are being presented a treasure of greater value than that which we sought; all we have to do is open the chest to reveal the gold within.

The Golden Dawn, Israel Regardie, Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN. 1989


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