Intuitive Magic is More than Making Stuff Up

Intuitive Magic is More than Making Stuff Up November 28, 2021

I saw a meme going around last week that got my attention. It’s supposedly a quote from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. It says:

“Most magic is just making stuff up. And it usually works.”

I’ve never read any of the Dresden Files (though I’ve been told they’re quite good) and I couldn’t find the quote online. But if Jim Butcher or his characters didn’t say it, plenty of ordinary people have.

I’m uncomfortable with this line of thinking.

Some of my friends like it, including one whose magic I know is intuitive and strong, because I’ve seen it in practice. So I want to be clear – I’m not arguing against intuitive magic. I’m saying that magic is a lot more than making stuff up. More than that, I’m saying that for most people, a disciplined approach to magic will yield better results than flying by the seat of your pants.

It certainly has for me.

Magic is a science and an art

I still haven’t found a better definition of magic than the one proposed by Aleister Crowley: “the science and art of causing change to occur in accordance with will.” Magic is a science and an art.

While there are documented cases of intuition leading to scientific discoveries, science is practiced in a disciplined manner. We all study the basics of science. Scientists go far beyond that, and they conduct research according to the scientific method. I’m an engineer – engineering is the practical application of science to solve problems.

Artists are much the same. They learn the basics, then they study advanced techniques. And they practice – a lot. Anyone can make art, but making really good art requires study and practice. Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury famously said “everyone’s first million words are crap” – I can testify to the accuracy of that.

So if doing good science requires study and practice, and making good art requires study and practice, why would we expect that magic – which is both science and art – would be any different?

Intuitive magic requires a strong intuition

Still, intuitive magic is real. The greatest magical working of my life took place when I thought magic was nothing more than fantasy. I intuitively combined desire, will, visualization, and action to make it possible for me to go away to college instead of having to stay home.

(Could I do that today, in this era of funding cuts and exploitative student loans? Maybe, but it would be much, much harder.)

Intuition is what happens when the subconscious spots patterns of cause and effect. It’s what happens when we listen to the spirits who are trying to be helpful, even if we don’t recognize them as such. Intuition tells us to go from A to B to C to D, but it only shows us A and D.

Intuitive magic is real.

But listening to your intuition is a very different thing from “making stuff up.”

Intuition needs to be nurtured

Saying “just listen to your intuition” is like saying “just pick up that heavy box and carry it across the floor.” If you can do it, great. But if you aren’t strong enough to pick it up, or if you can’t walk, they might as well be saying “just sprout wings and fly to the moon” – it’s not going to happen.

Some people are born with great intuitive ability. Some are born with next to none. Most of us are born with some, but we have to learn how to use it. Mainly, we have to learn how to trust it.

Meditation teaches us how to listen, and how to separate the wisdom from the noise. Following our intuition in low-key, low-risk situations builds the confidence we need to follow it in more critical situations.

Good discernment helps us separate real intuition from wishful thinking.

There are many ways to do this practice. You can do it within a magical system, or you can do it in a more mix-and-match approach. However you do it, practicing your science and art will help you get better at magic.

Making stuff up won’t.

Magical talent is not evenly distributed

Good intuition can help you figure out what to do. But you still have to do it, through a combination of ability and effort. And like intuition, magical ability is not evenly distributed. Some have a little, some have a lot, and most have some.

I tend to think that most people who seriously advise people to “just use your intuition!” or “just make stuff up” don’t realize how lucky they are. Not that I blame them. If you’re born with tall genes, sooner or later you can see you’re taller than everyone else. If you’re born rich, you have to pay attention, but eventually you realize you have privileges most people don’t.

Our mainstream society officially denies the reality of magic. It tries to “educate” it out of kids, and it mostly succeeds. We don’t talk about these things, we don’t see them, so how do you know you’re in the 98th percentile for magical ability? Why can’t everyone else just do what you can do?

Because they don’t have your natural born ability.

Study and practice can turn most people into competent magicians.

“Just make stuff up” can’t.

“Making stuff up” usually means drawing from pop culture

Even intuition needs raw materials to work with. If you grow up in an environment of magic and spirituality, your intuition has a place to start. But most of us aren’t so lucky. We grow up in an environment of TV and movies, where things can happen in ways they can’t happen in the ordinary world. Or at least, in ways they rarely happen.

Pop culture and fiction can be inspiring. It’s certainly entertaining. But it’s no guide to the science and art of causing change in conformance with will.

Something for nothing rarely turns out well

I’m not fond of the trope “all magic comes with a price.” There is no “cosmic balance” that must be maintained. If you ask spirits to work magic on your behalf you may very well have to pay them, but for most magic, either you can do the spell or you can’t.

The price of magic is the study and practice needed to build the skills necessary to do what you want to do.

Some people who argue for “just make stuff up” have far more natural talent than most of us – it’s easy for them. But others just don’t want to put in the time and effort. So they tell everyone “just be intuitive.” Then when their intuition can’t produce the results they want, either they delude themselves into thinking it did and they never experience what magic can do for themselves. Or, more often, they get discouraged and move on to something else.

And someone who might have become a competent magician never does.

Intuition comes and goes – systems are always there

As best I can tell, I was born with average magical talent and slightly better than average intuition. I’ve become a good magician over the years because I’ve studied and practiced. I’ve learned from my successes and I’ve learned from my failures.

I love it when the intuition works. I love it when I just know what to do, I do it, and it works. Trouble is, it doesn’t work all the time.

If I have a need then I need a method I can rely on. I know I can draw and charge sigils and they’ll work. Doesn’t matter if I’m just not feeling it today – the sigils work. The same is true with the traditional witchcraft spells I use on occasion.

This is why I’ve become so serious about working magic of some sort at every full moon. It keeps my skills sharp, so that when I need them I don’t have to try to make stuff up – I can do something I know will work.

It’s not about what works for you – it’s about what works best for most people

If “just make stuff up” works for you, great – this post isn’t for you. If “just follow your intuition” works consistently for you, I’m envious, but I’m not telling you you’re wrong, because you aren’t.

This post is for the beginners – and some folks who aren’t so new – who are in the 50th or 60th percentile of magical ability, not the 98th. This is for those who’ve had one good success with intuitive magic, but also fifteen failures.

Becoming a good scientist requires study and practice. Becoming a good artist requires study and practice.

Becoming a good magician also requires study and practice. You have to learn for yourself.

But you don’t have to figure it all out for yourself. Draw on the work of those who came before you. There are many different magical systems – find the one that interests you. Magical experimentation is good. You’ll burn your fingers a time or three (I certainly have) but that’s also a learning experience.

Do that diligently enough for long enough and when the day comes where you’re faced with a massive problem you’ve never seen before and you have to make stuff up, your intuition will have plenty of proven techniques to work with.

Because intuitive magic is a lot more than just making stuff up.

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