If you’ve spent any time in a Christian environment, you’ve heard someone say “God answers all our prayers, but sometimes the answer is ‘no’.” The implication is that what we asked for wasn’t in our best interests, so our Divine Parent wouldn’t let us ride our tricycle on the freeway.
You see the same thing in magical environments. A spell or working fails and someone says “it wasn’t your karma to have that.” As Phil Hind pointed out in Condensed Chaos, that’s a weak answer. How about “you didn’t do the magic right” instead?! Take responsibility for your results instead of blaming God or the Goddess or the Universe because you didn’t get what you wanted.
There are several reasons why magic can fail.
You didn’t do the working correctly. As Isaac Bonewits likes to say, fuzzy targets yield fuzzy results. If you don’t specify exactly what you want, you can’t be sure exactly what you’re going to get. Or maybe your correspondences weren’t aligned. If the symbols you used (colors, herbs, stones, tools, etc.) don’t tie directly to your goals, they aren’t likely to generate results. Or maybe you sleepwalked through the working and didn’t raise enough energy to power it. In any case, this is the first thing to check if the results are disappointing.
You aren’t strong enough to do what you want to do. If a hurricane is bearing down on your house, work protective magic – then evacuate. Do you really think you’re doing to redirect the most powerful force on Earth? I imagine there was a lot of major league Voodoo directed at Katrina – it wasn’t anywhere near enough to protect New Orleans. Practice magic for long enough and you develop a good sense of humility about where individuals stand in the grand scheme of power in the Universe.
Someone is working against you. True “psychic attacks” are extremely rare – most of the people who are capable of magically attacking you have better things to do with their time. But if you’re working for a cause or a political movement there probably are people who are working for opposite ends, even if they’d be horrified if you called their work “magic.” If you have big goals, you’re going to need lots of help.
You’re working against yourself. Maybe your true will isn’t clear: you don’t know what you really want. Or maybe you want the ends but not the means. Many of us would like to be rich, but few of us have the single-minded dedication to making money that requires.
Or maybe you tried to get yourself to do something that goes against your nature. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – maybe your nature is to be violent, to allow others to manipulate you, or to abuse drugs or alcohol. Changing that nature – breaking those patterns of thought and behavior – would be a very good thing. But it would not be easy, and your first efforts – both magical and mundane – would most likely fail. Only through consistent, persistent effort would you succeed.
There are things in my life that are causing problems and distracting me from my spiritual journey. I feel like I should transcend them – I should “not let it bother me.” But they do bother me. My nature, my pattern of thoughts and behaviors, is to work through them: sometimes skillfully, sometimes with brute force. Do I work magic to help me plow through these difficulties, or do I work magic to change my nature and learn to transcend them?
In any case, we all need to learn from our failures, magical or otherwise. Sometimes the lesson is to try something different, and sometimes the lesson is to just keep working. The real challenge is to figure out which approach is ultimately best.