Features Vs Bugs: Why Magic Working Doesn’t Guarantee Success

Features Vs Bugs: Why Magic Working Doesn’t Guarantee Success April 5, 2018
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One of the biggest flaws in portraying magic realistically in television in media is that while magic may do things, they may not always have the intended effects or work as efficiently as you had intended. Expecting to just do a spell and have it instantly be able to do the thing as a newbie occultist is essentially the equivalent of walking into a gym, doing a few bicep curls, and expecting to walk out with guns of steel.

So why is this and where can you go wrong? A number of reasons could be the cause, including some, most, or all of these:

  1. You are inexperienced with the type of magic you’re trying to work with, or with magic in general. Magic is like a muscle or like any other skill; it requires study and practice. Even if you’re a natural, you still need to work at it. Even Mozart had to practice. It took me a long time to not just troubleshoot but become good at working with finances and jobs and as a result, I have a lot of stories of backfired spells and frustrations trying to get it going.
  2. The spirits, daemons, or deities you’re working with either didn’t fully understand or misinterpreted what you wanted. What is obvious or intuitive to you isn’t necessarily the same for them. You need to spell everything out in black and white and assume that the absolute most literal interpretation or an entirely different interpretation will be had. Don’t ask for nebulous things like “I want to be healthy” and expect them to know what that means. Be as specific as possible, provide examples, be exact.
  3. The spirits, daemons, or deities you’re working with decided to have different ideas. They aren’t vending machines where you stick in coins and snacks come out. You need to either have a good rapport or working relationship with them, or have convinced them due to whatever you’ve brought to the table that aiding you with your efforts is something that they care about. If they aren’t convinced, they won’t help you.
  4. You have spirits, daemons, or deities who are opposed to your cause, or potentially have another occultist making their own magic that’s working in contrary to your goals. Spirits, like people, have their own agendas. It could be as simple as you attracted a spirit who was bored and they’re messing with you. It could also be as simple as accidentally having pissed off or rubbed someone the wrong way, and now they’re acting as an interference. I’d recommend checking out my post on hexes, curses, and attacks to find out whether or not this is the case if you suspect it to be such.
  5. You are flat out using the wrong methods or tools to accomplish your goals or using them incorrectly. Make sure you’re familiar with the methods you’re using, that they’re not overly elaborate, and that you’ve done the appropriate research on them. When in doubt, consult another occultist who has had more experience with those tools or traditions to see where you might have made a misstep.
  6. You are calling on the wrong spirits, daemons, or deities. This can especially happen if you don’t have an established working relationship, have not done sufficient research, or have the wrong idea on what the particular daemon can help you with. There is a lot of misinformation on the internet and a lot of ignorant people who try to sidestep doing work in lieu of good vibes and “anything goes”. This goes for traditions involving magic as well. Don’t be sloppy; be respectful and know who and what you’re calling on for the best results, and do your best to fully understand the tools you’re working with before you work with them.
  7. You are, for whatever reason, not operating at an optimal level for doing magic. In short, you could have something going on with you personally that’s interfering with what you’re attempting to conjure. In that case, I would recommend brushing up on your spiritual and magical hygiene and do what personal work is needed to uncover what the underlying issue(s) are. We can all be our own worst enemies, and when it comes down to it we can have our good days and our bad. If you’re not feeling it, there could be good reasons why. Take care of yourself first, and know when you’re potentially overreaching or ignoring personal problems and issues. If you’re undergoing a lot of stress and/or dealing with trauma, maybe it’s best to sit this one out for a bit.

All of the above reasons are why mere intent isn’t enough in magic. A lot of things could go wrong, and while magic may work it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s successful. And yes, there’s a difference!

Remember that while magic does indeed have effects, what some spirits may feel to be a feature you will see as a bug. Part of being able to debug your magic spells is knowing what to troubleshoot, where something can go wrong, and acknowledging your own limitations in the work.

Like writing software code, sure, your spell did exactly what it was written to do–you just wrote it incorrectly for what you wanted it to do. And I really feel that grasping this perspective will help others to understand how to be successful as an occultist.


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  • Jay

    You know, that’s one of the weird things that Charmed kind of got right. Their magic may do something every time they cast, but it rarely worked as intended, especially when the sisters were first starting out and discovering their powers. Sometimes that was tied in with what the ‘powers that be’ wanted or needed the magic to go, but just as often it was to do with their inexperience and understanding of magic. They really had to study and practice their Craft before they were able to be really accomplished at what they do. That, and they had some strong ancestors guiding them on their path, which helped a lot.