Magic: Amateurs vs. Professionals

Several times over the past few months I’ve made the statement “the best way to believe in magic is to work magic.” Magic is not powered by faith and it’s not hampered by unbelief. If you do the spell right, you’ll get results whether you expect them or not. This is likely one source of the old warning “be careful what you wish for – you just might get it.”

This doesn’t mean you’ll get the greatest results, or even the results you want. Belief is irrelevant but skill is not. And as with any other skill, magic is improved with good practice. One of the few things I remember from high school gym class was a quote from Vince Lombardi: “practice doesn’t make perfect – perfect practice makes perfect.” If you practice the wrong way or the ineffective way, you’ll get very good at wrong or ineffective things.

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Let’s shoot for more than that

Jason Miller of StrategicSorcery.net is a professional magician. I’ve never taken one of his classes, but I’ve heard him speak at a couple of Pagan conferences and what he says usually makes good sense. Last week he had a blog post titled “Whatever Works” should not equal “Whatever’s Easiest”. It’s a very short post if you want to go read it now. Here’s a key quote:

If you do magic, any magic, chances are something will happen. You will get some result …

Lets all shoot for more than that, yea?

Let’s not measure success by whether we feel a spirit or get a message or not. Let’s measure it in terms of depth of experience. Did it actually change you by being in its presence? Did it actually tell you something you didn’t already know? Did it challenge you in any way or did it just affirm you? Is what it said useful?

When we’re just starting out – whether with magic or with the religious experience of Gods and spirits – any result is a good result. Even a weak result gives us first-hand evidence that this is real and that it’s worth investing time and energy into learning how to do it effectively. Even a trivial result motivates us to dive deeper.

But then we have to make that deep dive and start getting better. We have to study, to draw on the experience of those who’ve gone before us. We have to practice, so we build our skills. We have to review our results, so we can be sure our magic is bringing what we expect it to bring. And we have to make adjustments, since we rarely get things perfect the first time.

Perfect practice makes perfect

Getting really good takes years, but how long you’ve been practicing isn’t always relevant. I used to have a boss who would ask “do you have ten years’ experience or do you have one year’s experience ten times over?” That’s as true in magic as it is in business.

When we do the right things consistently, we put ourselves on the path to becoming professional magicians.

Here I use “professional” not to mean someone who gets paid or someone who does it full time. Rather, I’m using “professional” to mean someone who’s put the necessary work into learning their craft and is really good at it.

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Every now and then I come across someone who calls themselves a “natural witch.” Like everything else in life, the capacity for magic isn’t evenly distributed across the population. I have little natural talent for baseball (and I really wanted to be a baseball player) but more than adequate natural talent for engineering, so I became an engineer. Magic comes easy for some and very hard for others.

Natural witches will get better than average initial results. If they work at developing their craft, they can reach some truly amazing levels of magic. If they don’t work at it, they’ll soon be passed by ordinary folks who are practicing more diligently.

The time to practice is before you have a need

For most of my Pagan life, I’ve worked magic on an as-needed basis. If life is going well, why bother with magic? Ordinary actions are more reliable and often they’re easier – done right, magic is a lot of work. It’s when ordinary actions aren’t yielding satisfactory results – or when the need is beyond the reach of ordinary actions – that most of us turn to magic. And then we discover that our skills aren’t up to the task, because we didn’t practice (or didn’t practice enough) during ordinary times.

In The Chaos Protocols, Gordon White recommends monthly sigil magic: create and charge five to ten sigils for specific goals every month. The purpose is straightforward – to manifest those five to ten things in your life sooner rather than later. I started doing this shortly after I read the book last year, and I can tell you that it has the additional benefit of being very good magical practice. While I’m far from an expert, now I can create sigils faster and easier. More importantly, my results are getting better.

Even in societies where magic was a part of everyday reality, ordinary people weren’t magicians. They would pray and make offerings, and they’d pay attention to signs and omens. But if they needed serious magic they went to the local witch, or in some cases the local priest. They went to the professional magician.

So either become a professional magician and get really good at it… in which case you should expect people to start coming to you for magical help. Or support your local witch, so the witch has the time and resources to dedicate to getting really good at magic.

Let’s be professional magicians

Getting results from magic is, well, magical. All your life you’ve been told magic is fantasy, it’s fiction, it’s self delusion. And yet here it is, working for you. It feels amazing.

But let’s not be satisfied with feeling magical. Let’s not be satisfied with being amateur magicians. Let’s do the work necessary to become professional magicians.

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About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.