Or, more accurately, all of energy manipulation and metaphysical manifestation is will vs will.
Acts of magic are often described as the application of will. If you will it correctly, with enough focus and strength, then you can manifest your intent.
But what about all those times when we put our all into something, and nothing happens? What went wrong? Sometimes there is nothing wrong as far as the practitioner can tell, and yet it didn’t work. When you view magic as an expression of your will alone, you can be left to wonder if your will was not strong enough, focused enough, sufficient enough to accomplish the task at hand.
Having magic fail when you view magic purely as an extension of your own will is like a punch in the gut. It can be baffling, and it can make it seem like you’re not the magic worker you thought you were. Maybe you’re not as skilled or as talented as you thought you were. It can leave you wondering if you’re just an imposter.
Your Will is Never the Only Will at Play
Energy overlaps. It is not constrained by the physical boundaries which we experience as corporeal beings. Your personal energy extends past your body and into the space and the objects around you. By the same token, the energies of other people, other animals, objects, and spaces all overlap. Our intents, and energy we deliberately send out into the world, extends even further.
As I sit here typing, my personal energy is overlapped with that of the couch, that of my computer, that of my living room, that of my home, that of the property I live on, the street, the town, the region, the state, the country, the continent, this planet, this solar system, this galaxy, and so on.
On the small scale it is relatively easy to manipulate energy and work magic, because there are fewer wills at play. I can influence my personal energy with practiced ease, because I have conscious ownership of it. I can influence the energies of my home because I have cultivated a relationship with those energies and there are very few others who influence it. It is more difficult to influence the property because it is not mine, and there are many other people who have just as much, or more, influence on it than myself.
The larger the scale of energy you are looking at, the more wills are at play, whether conscious or subconscious.
Most people do not consciously manipulate energy or work magic. They simply don’t, even if they are aware of and believe in such things. Everyone manipulates energy without realizing it, simply by their expectations. This creates a kind of inertia that keeps most things moving along somewhat predictable paths and resistant to the influences of magic.
The most dramatic example I can give of subconscious will is when a person is on the spot to demonstrate metaphysical or psychic abilities in front of a group of skeptics. The presence of the skeptics and their disbelief can dramatically interfere with the abilities of the individual attempting to use metaphysical or psychic abilities. That’s why it is tremendously more likely that psychic stage performers are using cold reading and other charlatan techniques. Even if they have magical or psychic abilities, physical methodology and psychology are far more reliable in that setting.
Subconscious will also plays into the idea that what you believe is what will be, and that like attracts like. It’s not so much that negative energy attracts negative energy, but that when your mind is fully focused on negativity and expectations of bad outcomes, you are more likely to notice negativity, and subconsciously influence the energies in your life to manifest as negativity and bad luck. Focused expectation influences reality, even when no conscious energetic effort is put into achieving a specific outcome.
Toxic positivity is just as bad, because it is a form of denial. It is an approach whereby a person is hypervigilant against anything “negative”, so while they are “only allowing positivity”, their intent is more focused on the “negativity” they hope to avoid by complete denial. It easily leads to paranoid behavior and antagonistic responses to the inevitable “negative” encounters that are a natural part of life, even when times are good.
In an ideal situation, we would each always have full control of our personal energy, but that’s not the case. We all influence each other’s personal energy through our interactions, both in person and remotely. Shielding and warding help to reduce that influence, but nothing can entirely prevent it. We have all experienced this, both to our benefit and to our detriment.
When a person is miserable, and wants everyone else around them to be miserable too, they impose that will on others, whether or not they consciously realize that is what they are doing. When I was in my late teens, and very depressed and directionless, for some time l lived in a bubble of misery. I didn’t specifically want everyone else to be miserable too, but I was so miserable that I couldn’t see any way for happiness to exist in my vicinity. Since I had already cultivated the ability to manipulate energy, I existed with a large bubble of misery around my person, and most people avoided entering it, or left it as quickly as possible, lest my misery alter their personal energy.
There are also trolls who derive joy from making others miserable, loving souls who brighten everyone around them, loving friends and family who provide safety and support, toxic individuals who leave us feeling violated, and so on. We have all encountered innumerable individuals who affected our personal energies in myriad ways, big and small, for better or worse.
But at the end of the day, it is up to each of us to curate our personal energy and keep it ours, for it is easy to become confused, lost, and directionless if our personal energy becomes overwhelmed with the needs and wants and wills of others. That is why you can find no end of spells, rituals, meditations, and general advice for cleansing and centering and shielding ourselves. Such meditations give us a conscious means of clearing out that which is unneeded or not ours, and restore our personal peace and wellbeing.
Solitary work is primarily the arena of personal will. The practitioner might ask particular deities, ancestors, entities, archetypes, and energies for their aid, but ultimately the ability to ask for that help, and to do the work, is on the personal will of the practitioner.
Many solitary practitioners do not bother with formal circles, and instead create focus through pure will. Whether that space they create bears more similarity to closed or open circles depends entirely upon the worldview and intent of the practitioner.
You can work any kind of magic intent you wish as a solitary practitioner, but there are some kinds of magic which are easier to work solo or in very intimate groups, vs larger coven and group workings. This is particularly true for personal magic which is intended to directly affect the practitioner and the world immediately affecting them.
Large groups may certainly want to help a member with a personal working, but it is likely that the will of different members will not focus on exactly the path the individual wants or needs, potentially muddying the intent and its resulting magic. This kind of varied interpretation of the intent is a natural result of varying perspectives on the problem. For example, we each have a different idea of an ideal job, so unless your large group working includes very specific details about the ideal job wanted by the group member, the resulting magic may not have the focus needed to achieve manifestation.
The push of the spellwork for getting an ideal job needs to overcome the wills of everyone else who might also be looking for that one job, and the will of the person who is choosing the new employee. That means a large group can be very helpful when you’ve done multiple interviews and are waiting on a final decision, but possibly not so helpful when you’re looking for opportunities (unless the group focuses on bringing you opportunities which specifically match your needs).
If you want to work magic to stop a bully, it needs to overcome the will of the bully and the energies of the systems which perpetuate bullying in general.
If you want to work magic to find something, you just need to overcome the inertia of the thing being lost, unless someone else hid it. Then you are also working against the will of the act of deliberately hiding it.
The Closed Circle
One of the biggest benefits to casting a closed circle is the removal of as much outside will as possible. It sets a barrier that says in here we are working our will, and everything out there needs to but out.
That separated and specially prepared area of energy becomes extremely potent, and capable of freely being directed towards its purpose. This adds focus, strength, and power to your intent, to help it carry through and accomplish its goals once the energy is sent forth towards its intent.
I think of using a closed circle as being the classic Welsh longbow of ritual workings. If you have the skill and ability to use it properly, you can send a very focused and potent arrow heading straight towards your goal. Once it is set loose, the outside world might knock it down, or it might fail to hit a particularly far target, but in skilled hands it is frighteningly effective. Then, there are also those times when you embed your arrow in an oak door, knowing it won’t hit the target hiding within, but also knowing you are making your point.
The Open Circle
I have commonly seen open circles used by Heathens and Druids, and it’s the kind of format I most often use when leading group ritual, but I’m sure there are more traditions and individuals that make use of it.
When you create an open circle, you are setting a soft boundary. Within that space the energies are more focused, as with the closed circle. It is also warded against any energies that would be detrimental to the working, but explicitly remains fully connected to the flows of energy that exist beyond the circle.
It’s like the difference between a dress rehearsal with an empty auditorium, vs opening night with a packed house. The meat of the performance is the same, both in action and in purpose, but in one case (closed circle) you don’t have the influence of an audience. In the other (open circle), if you don’t properly ward and maintain your focus throughout the ritual, it is easy to be distracted by outside influences.
If your intent involves the world at large, then leaving your circle tapped into that energy can aid in the potency of the working by providing an explicit sympathetic link. A dress rehearsal for a play can be a beautiful thing, but the audience gives a play true life beyond the one evening when it happens. Those who witness become part of the experience, and take it with them when they leave. In the case of an open circle, instead of your audience being paying patrons, it is outside energies and unspecified deities, spirits, beings, and entities who take an interest.
When you use an open circle, you are remaining intrinsically connected to that which is outside your working. You give beneficial energies and beings you may not even be aware of the opportunity to add to the experience and power of the working. You also give yourself a sympathetic connection to directly influence the energies which exist outside your working.
Instead of creating an arrow of tremendous strength and focus and accuracy, you are creating a movement which can gather strength as it works its way towards its target, not unlike a parade, protest march, or angry mob. It may not always have the ability to fully affect the changes it wants, but everyone along the path feels the change in energy, and can choose to keep the working going long after the initial effort.
Go Forth and Exercise Your Will
Everyone has will, including you, and you have just as much right to exercise your will as anyone else. As long as you do so with a strong moral compass and thoughtful consideration of potential effects, good, bad, and unexpected, I believe we are fully justified in applying our wills to magic to help affect changes that we want.
There will be those times when you do a working, and it just falls flat, for whatever reason. You know, viscerally, that the magic didn’t work, so examine where it failed (concept, focus, timing, intent, sympathetic aids, etc.) and if you want to, try again.
There will be those times when you do a working, and it feels great, and yet you don’t see the outcome you were hoping for. It’s easy to become discouraged, but there are many reasons that can happen. If you still want the result you were initially after, you can examine other factors that affect the outcome, do whatever you can to mitigate those, continue taking real world steps to make it happen (you’re not going to get a job if you don’t apply and follow through), and try again.
When structuring the intent of your spell, especially if it is proving difficult, it can be helpful to examine what other wills and influences are working against your success. If you include intents to ward against or counter those influences, it can help a great deal in mitigating their impacts.
Common reasons spells fail, in no particular order:
- Real-world barriers
- Real-world action needs to be taken
- Unfocused intent
- Unclear intent
- Conflicting intent
- Wrong or insufficient timing/situation/tools/sympathetic aids
- Giving your working too much or not enough deliberate attention
- Working against energetic inertia or established will
Often failed spellwork has more than one thing working against it, but the great thing about most of those factors is that they can be changed. Even energetic inertia and established will can be changed over time with enough effort (real world and magical). 100 years ago it was illegal to be in a queer relationship in the USA, but now same-sex marriage is legal throughout the country. There is still a lot of push-back from established will to reverse marriage laws, but now inertia is on the side of same-sex marriage equality.
The larger the scale, and the more people involved, the harder it is to see changes when we work magic. Any practitioners and working groups who regularly work magic on behalf of social justice understand this well. Sometimes you get one particularly confident cat who can chase off a young bear, but most of the time it takes a lot of work and a lot of time and a lot of wills to change the course of history.
So, when you don’t see results from magic that involves the wills of others, give yourself a break. You’re not always going to win that tug-o-war. Dust yourself off, and give it another go. Keep it up long enough, and you can bring down a wall with a hammer.