Monday, 20 June 2016

Prayers and Intention Setting: Magic by another name.

"Natural Magic" by Francoise Strachan

When you live your life studying and practising magic, over time, you come to see the magical at work in many different forms not thought of or described as being magical by mundane society. You notice and probably pay more attention to the synchronicities and "coincidences" that happen all around us (I use quotation marks there because I'm personally sceptical of the concept of a coincidence, it doesn't fit into my worldview very well as I see coincidences as a mundane way of covering up or unsatisfactorily explaining away magical and divine moments in life). You also realise just how many religious practices are inherently magical. There has always been a relationship between magic, religion, spirituality and even science. All of those pursuits are concerned with being a quest for truth in the world and we all know that astronomy and chemistry wouldn't be where it is today without the input of our ancestors with their astrology and alchemy (subjects these days deemed by the modern world as magical, superstitious or otherwise not to be taken seriously). Developments in some areas of science (quantum physics being an especially good example) sound so similar to certain magical and mystical teachings of ages past that some occultists who actually have a good knowledge of the sciences (I am NOT one of these!) have told me they feel they have scientifically explained certain magical practices and how they work.

I'm not going to be talking science here, though. The examples I'm about to give are practices generally categorised as religious or spiritual. I have other examples I can think of, but I will save those for a future post. I'm not talking magical in the "Oh look, isn't that sunrise just magical!" or "The birth of every baby is a miracle" sense. I'm talking about the practical manifestation of specific intentions into the world. I'm talking hands on get-shit-done magic.

I suppose I do need to give a brief definition of how I am using the term "magic" here, as not everyone reading this blog may be a practising occultist of any kind. So, to be clear, I'm talking practical magic, and I'm talking about accomplishing goals in life through non-mundane methods. I'm talking about accomplishing goals through disciplining your mind to focus on a specific intention and bringing that intention to manifestation in the real world through performing spells and/or rituals (sets of actions, often working with physical tools or props that symbolise what you are aiming to achieve, combined with your intention and usually performed whilst experiencing altered states of consciousness, usually nothing more than a mild trance state, not necessarily anything heavier than that) working with "forces", be they spirits, deities, planetary influences, elemental energies etc Whether they are viewed as literal forms of "energy" or literal beings with their own wills, personalities and agendas, or simply very old archetypal symbols (or all of those!) is down to the practitioner.

Contrary to some who go along with the Crowleyan derived idea that magic is simply causing changes to occur in conformity with will, I feel that for magic to be magic, it HAS to involve what I might refer to as non-mundane methods, or non-mundane channels (the spells and rituals and forces, I just mentioned above, what some might describe as supernatural elements). In other words, opening a door, or making a cup of tea, is not a magical act as far as I am concerned, though according to some people's definitions they are, because they involve causing a change to occur in conformity with your will, after all!

Without further ado, here are some concrete examples of practices I have personally come to realise as being magical, despite the fact that some of them come from traditions or ways of thinking that demonise or otherwise separate magic from themselves.

Praying for Stuff

Prayer is a universal practice found within all religions. There are many different forms of prayer to be found throughout the world and many religions include all the various forms of prayer within them: 

Prayers of gratitude to the divine for the general blessings in our lives.

Prayers for the dead (whether it's praying for souls of the recently deceased to find peace, have a better afterlife, leave purgatory and enter heaven, or be reincarnated into more fortunate life circumstances) 

Prayers for guidance, asking the divine for guidance and wisdom to be bestowed upon them as a means of aiding them in navigating themselves through life and better coping with the human condition.

Prayers for big general blessings of benefit to the entire world, praying for world peace or that all sentient beings eventually attain enlightenment. 

Last, but by no means least, we have the prayers that are about asking for specific concrete stuff: prayers to help your son get into medical school, prayers to help your daughter pass her piano exam, prayers to help your sick relative get that donor, prayers to help you find a husband, etc.

It is this last form of prayer that I personally consider to be an active form of practical magic. Many "asking for stuff" prayers understand and promote powerful and effective techniques found within the realms of officially recognised magical practices. Some people will disagree with me on this one, but I consider it to be a form of practical magic because it's about making something very specific manifest in your life or the life of another. I also consider such prayers to be a form of practical magic as they often involve the following: 

The power of sound and vibration (the droning rhythmic chanting of mantras, the "magic" of other "special" languages: Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, Sanskrit, etc) 

An understanding of the power and efficacy of repetition (this is a BIG one): Saying prayers a specific number of times is a practise recognised by many traditions: Catholics place a big importance on specific prayers being recited a specific number of times, be it in the concept of performing a novena prayer to a saint every day for 9 days or more, or the Hindu and Buddhist teachings on reciting mantras so many thousand times in order for their power to come into effect (e.g using a 108 bead mala as a means of keeping count and doing so many rounds of mala so many times a day for so many days until the mantra has been recited 10,000 times, etc)

The use of candles, incense and offerings to the beings who are being petitioned (food, flowers, etc): Catholics even consecrate their candles, I mean, really! (If you haven't noticed yet, Catholicism is dripping in magic)

When we take into account the use of such tools and "spiritual technologies", praying for stuff appears to be less about passively asking the divine for help and sitting back to see what happens, and more of an active practice in which the one praying is making a concerted and disciplined effort to ensure success in their endeavour. 

Other reasons to consider these forms of prayer as especially effective forms of practical magic: 

The importance of the prayer being directed to the most appropriate being (angel, saint, god, goddess) or aspect of the one God (if we are dealing with a religion that has that particular theological standpoint) e.g using a mantra dedicated to Lord Ganesha if you need obstacles removing from you life, praying to St Joseph if you are want to sell your house (for those that don't know, you can buy St Joseph "Sell your House" kits in Catholic supply shops that come with a statuette of the saint and instructions on how to perform the novena, along with the relevant prayers) 

The teaching, found in many traditions, of physical objects becoming imbued with power that can enhance and boost your prayers. Catholics and many other religious followers place great emphasis on the power certain objects have to bring things into your life. Mala beads that have had so many thousand repetitions of certain mantras chanted over them may be considered more powerful than a fresh set bought at the local religious supply shop as they will have accumulated the power of the mantra over time. The same can be said for well used rosary beads. 

Relics, items that have some physical connection to some saint or holy person or place can be regarded as powerful: a piece of wood from the true cross, a bit of a sandal that once belonged to a saint, a piece of fabric that came into physical contact with an object that had a physical connection to a holy person, dirt from the ground of a sacred temple, etc I have heard of a group of nuns who stitched blankets for breast cancer patients. Each and every stitch had a "Hail Mary" recited over it: powerful stuff. None of this, in my opinion, is essentially  any different to a talisman or charm of a Witch or ceremonial magician. Relics are what many magical practitioners refer to as "magical links".

Does this mean that spells and prayers are the same thing?

Most Witches are familiar with that particular old chestnut of an argument. My personal take is that to say prayers and spells are the same thing is sloppy as it ignores or demonstrates an ignorance of all the other forms of prayer out there. It treats "prayers for stuff" as being the only kind of prayer, whereas in reality, for many religious people, these are a less used form. Prayers of gratitude and communing with the divine, often being regarded as far more important and used far more frequently.

One last point I would like to make about prayers: I see all prayers as beneficial in their own way. Many hardened atheists get their knickers in a twist when religious people claim to pray for people who died in a tragedy or pray for world peace, but I think there is something pretty big that I think a lot of religion haters just aren't aware of, and wouldn't be aware of. Praying changes the person praying. As an activity, it is beneficial to you, even if the prayer is not directed at yourself. Regularly reciting prayers of gratitude and making requests of love and blessings upon others will slowly but surely cultivate compassion within you as a person. This may all sound very lovely and unpractical to people who don't engage in these kinds of practices, but if you do it with regularity you will find over time that some very practical benefits come from it that enhance your experience of life. 

Studies have been done on Buddhists who perform Metta or loving kindness meditation (and many other spiritual practitioners who've adopted the practice, since many Buddhist practices have been converted into non-denominational spiritual practice as increasingly, the benefits they can have upon any of us are being scientifically proven). Regularly devoting some time each day to send loving thoughts towards people you love, people you feel indifferent about and people who you genuinely have a hard time thinking anything positive about, cultivates compassion within you, which can help you to release jealousy and other unhealthy mental conditions. Being less jealous, more loving and more able to experience inner peace can have tremendous impact on your experience of life and even your physical health. These qualities alter your thought processes, and thus your actions and behaviour, which can all filter down into some very physical and practical blessings in your life.

Focusing on accomplishing your goals and being more productive can become much easier when your mind is not being plagued by jealousy or unnecessary fears. The happiness you can begin to feel as a result of sending love to others in prayer and meditation on a regular basis can shine through you and result in other people behaving more favourably towards you. 

The trick, however, is not to let these positive benefits be your sole motivation in engaging in these practices and also to remind yourself that it is not enough to just engage in these practices once in a blue moon. They should be practised with regularity. You don't get to just do it once or twice and then live happily ever after in a perpetual state of jealousy and stress free enlightenment. It's work.

Vision Boards, "Manifesting", "Intention Setting", The Law of Attraction, making use of "The Secret", "Cosmic Ordering"

All of these often described "New Age" practices, are simply practical magic re-packaged to suit a non-denominational, largely non-religious contemporary Western audience. These techniques work for plenty of people. Addressing and being clear upon your objective and writing it down, visualising it, creating a collage of images that correspond to what you want to manifest, making a physical symbol of your intention and regularly spending some time on a daily basis to allowing yourself to believe the very real possibility of possessing that Thing. God is replaced with "The Universe" and certain prayers are replaced with stock affirmations. 

Whilst I personally dislike how certain authors have copyrighted their own terms for universal truths, and in many cases watered down more sophisticated and nuanced magical teachings on the relationship between internal goals and dreams and their physical manifestation in the life and world of the dreamer, these modern practices definitely fulfil a need for a lot of people today. People who aren't interested in being members of specific religions or thinking too deeply about theology and magical philosophy. Yes, it can be frustrating to see people up to their eyeballs in "The Secret" who think they have discovered something no one else knows about and are completely ignorant of thousands of years worth of magic and occult thought, but if it works for some people, then as far as I'm concerned, it's doing it's job. 


None of the methods I have given examples of in this post are particularly complex procedures, all of them are aimed at everyday people in need of additional options and extra help in having some control over their lives. They are simple and powerful and largely involve repetition and faith, No different to a lot of folk magic practices from around the world.

In my personal practice, I have experimented with quite a wide variety of manifesting methods, from the more typical forms of spellcasting found in Wicca and Witchcraft, through to chanting mantras with mala beads, reciting prayers to Catholic saints and writing intentions on slips of paper. I have found success in most forms and continue to explore and experiment and go about my magical work.

By Seth David Rodriguez
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