Pagan Studies

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Is Intention Everything?

When I progressed on my journey into magick, I had several teachers who said something similar to “intention is everything.” For the longest time I agreed and, on some level, I still do. Though perhaps not in the way I once did.

I do believe in the power of intention, of aligning your will with the will of the universe to manifest your magick. Without intention, you magick doesn't seem to work, either in terms of tangible results or the more nebulous, but arguably more important, self development that can come from it. On any of the magickal paths, will is a requirement. In fact, when teaching about the basics of a spell, I teach that you must have three things: Clear Intention, Strength of Will, and a Method to Direct the Energy of the Spell. Will without clarity usually ends up backfiring, intention with no desire behind it is lackluster at best, and you can have both, but if you cannot direct the energy into the proper channels, through ritual technique and/or real world action, you will still lack results. You can even cause harm.

While many teach magick as the option of last resort, I learned it as the first, as setting the intention before any endeavor. The more long-term your intention, the more time the universe has in gently bending its motions to your plans, rather than working solely on the material plane without any energetic preparation, getting frustrated when it didn't work, and then resorting to last minute spellcraft. For example, I find a long-term weather spell, say casting in March for a moderate, sunny day in July, not too hot, yet clear and dry, much easier and more gentle than seeing the forecast for rain and pouring a lot of juju into shifting it within three days, or even three hours, as some do.

I think my evolving hesitancy to teach “Intention is Everything” is observation over the years of friends, peers and students who use that as an excuse to lack in technique. As long as I have the proper intention, all is well. I do believe that Clear Intention, Step 1, trumps all, because it is the building block, but you need more than that to be successful.

I can have the intention to shoot the basketball into the net from center court, but I really suck at basketball, so it's not likely it’s going in with just my intention. I never practice. I have no real natural skill. It’s just not my thing, even if I had the intention. If I had the will to do it, I would probably practice or play on a team in order to get better.

Likewise, I have the intention of playing a Mozart piece well, but I just got a piano and haven't played in many years. Just having the intention doesn't work. I need to practice more. I'm rusty.

I can have the intention of a clean environment, but if I don't educate myself on how I can contribute to that in a meaningful way, and act upon that education, and instead don't recycle, renew, or make my home energy efficient, then my intention won't result in anything.  

Too real world for you? Are you thinking, well, yes that how talents and skills work, but not magick! But isn't magick a skill to be learned and practiced? Is not magick described not only as a science, but an art? Don't all artists, no matter their natural talent, also practice, be it graphic, writing, music, or dance based art?

Modern healing is a wonderful example. Many people send all sorts of energy, all sorts of ways, without being in tune with the recipient, without an awareness of what others are doing energetically, and without a system of safeguards to protect them and the recipient when they are not. Some very popular systems of healing, such as Reiki, have those safeguards built-in it, but you must be an initiate of the system, and actually be using the techniques of Reiki. Many simply call what they have intuitively created “Reiki” because its a safe and easy word, but their methods lack the safeguards of traditional Reiki. Many other systems do not have specific safeguards. Older occult traditions of healing made the default assumption that you (or your coven/lodge collectively) were the only ones doing magickal operations for healing. They didn't count on multiple Facebook and Twitter requests for “energy.”



b2ap3_thumbnail_Unknown.jpgPractitioners, myself included, adapted and changed the system of Reiki, but many adapt without basic metaphysical principles or occult knowledge, with the idea that intention is everything and principles don't matter. Nothing can go wrong. Yet they are using techniques that are not Reiki based, and often lack the safeguards. Reiki is based on flow and surrender, so when you use it in a very active way, you might no longer be doing Reiki. I've known a number of people to get worse, and not just simply enter a healing crisis, before they recover, due to the wide range of techniques, practitioners, and healing being “sent” their way. Some are actually feeding the illness, rather than the patient! Even if all the techniques are sound, having too many divergent techniques without safeguards going on at once would be like having ten surgeons trying to operate at the same time, without an awareness of what the others are doing. Many occultists never publicize illness or put on a mass call for energy unless they have a strategy, as they have seen both healing and harming effects of such sendings. I know when my own mother was very ill, we did a spell to guide all the healing being directed by her higher will and her own guides, for her highest and deepest healing good.

Healing is a skill. Some people are naturally better at it. Some are better educated and practiced at it. While I think everyone can do it, not everyone is great at it. Like car repair, if you don't know what you are doing and get too deep into it, you can cause some harm. Intention without proper technique, even if that technique is simply aligning with Higher Will and programming a safeguard, won't help you. Early on in my practice, the intention of everything, including every magickal thing, being “for the highest good, harming none involved” was imprinted upon me. Yet there are a lot of times in real life I might cause harm, even unintentionally, so why wouldn't that hold true in magick? The best of intentions can fail us, even when we try to imprint these programs upon our psyche. Can they help? Certainly. Are they foolproof? No.

A group I belong to did an outdoor ritual, in New Hampshire, in the evening, not far from some swamp water. The mosquitoes were out in droves. My intention, which I've used quite a bit over the years, is a protection shield to protect me from all harm on any level. Yet I am still bitten by mosquitoes. It seems to work with most other things. My intention was not enough, though at times I am not bothered by insects when others are. Was it simply critical mass? Do creatures of nature with no malice have free reign to pass through magickal barriers? Or are there certain circumstances, certain mechanisms of biology, chemistry, and physics— like a hungry mosquito—that generally trump our intentions, no matter how strong our intentions might be? Real world follow up, my will and method of directing energy might have been some Deep Woods OFF, as the natural repellent, which was used by the group also seemed to fail.

Next month, same group with an intention to do work outdoors again, planned better. Better repellant for those who needed it. Citronella torches by our host. Started earlier so we would not be in the peak wave of mosquitoes. And it appeared that no one was bit or, if so, not so much to mention it to the group. The group leader for that month, after many complaints for the previous month, also held the intention starting a month prior, for an easier night with the bugs.

Magick in the Witchcraft traditions is to bend and shape, both the universe and the self. We learn to flow with what is already happening and work with it, not fight against it. Intention must be allied with this flow, and the proven practices of the past, along with the effective innovations of the present in terms of technique, will guide us. We must learn to prepare ourselves beyond intention, and wield this important tool, this force, with our will, common sense, technique, and discipline to forge our future.  

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Christopher Penczak is the co-founder of the Temple of Witchcraft, a system, tradition and religious nonprofit organization focused on magickal education and building community. He is an award winning author of over twenty books, including The Inner Temple of Witchcraft, The Three Rays of Witchcraft and Ascension Magick and a co-owner of Copper Cauldron Publishing, a company dedicated to producing inspirational products of magick and art for the evolution of consciousness for individuals and the world. Based in New England, he travels internationally to teach magick and healing.


  • Debi K Baughman
    Debi K Baughman Friday, 16 August 2013

    Hi Christopher. I enjoyed your article, as usual. You said;
    We learn to flow with what is already happening and work with it, not fight against it.

    This is the one I will be learning to work on. Thanks.

    For some reason I have never been interested in the physical healing arts. As a child I would heal on occasion by the laying on of hands and prayer, but that stopped in my 30's. I couldn't force it, either it did or it didn't, much like with you and the mosquito's in a way. Actually, i still works on occasion, but i do not practice it. When my Mom was dying there were some in my family who wanted me to bring my mom back from the brink of death. I didn't. I wouldn't. This made them angry because they know that I had been healing all of my life. Mom wanted to die. she was ready. I sat out in my car for an hour debating in my mind the right thing to do in her case. My choose was to let her go. This made some of them upset with me. It was the right choose.

    I do not want to go around the country healing everybody who is ill; when I first started traveling around the states people would step in front of me with sick children and and/or talking about somebody that they know who is ill and then stare at me. I was not moved. This concerned me. Not that I did not care, but a part of me felt that one could be enmeshed in this for the rest of their lives and i did not have the desire. I don't know, Christopher, if this means that there is something wrong with me, or if it is truly because I believe and feel that we are not expected to heal everybody that crosses our path. Perhaps the learning to flow part will answer this question for me.

    thanks, and I have to say, that is going to be process. Not sure where to start, but that is an answer that I know I will not only find, but learn to create as well.

    When I was younger I sang, every where I went. People often told me that this healed their spirits. This was what moved me more than the physical aspects of healing. I sang with the church and in worship teams until I was called out of the church. I sang usually to touch to heal, not so much to entertain, although I tried that for awhile and it was fun, but did not seem to be my calling. I could have made it my calling…but…:) did not feel called to do this, so I just sang. I wonder sometimes, if this singing to the spirit is what is most important for me

  • Maggi Setti
    Maggi Setti Friday, 16 August 2013

    I think some of the "good will is all that matters" philosophy also comes from watered-down sources that feel that enough good intentions will heal the whole world and everything that ills it. After all, the path to hell is paved with good intentions, no? All our actions have many consequences and outcomes. We are the judge of good or bad in relation to our own perspective. I have no fondness that poison ivy, mosoquitos, and chiggers. However, just because their effects are harmful to me, that doesn't mean that they don't have their just place in the world. Deet has it place too. :) It's also naieve to think that everything in the universe means us well.

    The deeper we go into practice the more gray areas there are. Magick is both an art and science that requires our minds, hearts, will, and the right environmental influnces too. If it was as easy as the one-liner aphormisms suggest, we'd all be lottery winners and have perfect lives.

  • Christopher Penczak
    Christopher Penczak Friday, 16 August 2013

    I agree! I think initially it was to bolster's people's sense of will, but some other parts were forgotten. I also think some of it comes outside of the occult circles. I was a bit surprised to find the influence of folks like Carlos Castaneda on writers like Wayne Dyer, and how a bit of (? pseudo-)Toltec Sorcery has become self help. CC was big into intention, but if you go deeper with his philosophies, I think the average person would be a little shocked.

  • Robert Scott
    Robert Scott Friday, 16 August 2013

    I very much agree. While intention is important, and focusing it is a part of magical practices, intent without action is a bit like daydreaming or wishful thinking. To say I intended to go for a walk while sitting on the couch is lying to ourselves, for example.

  • Sable Aradia
    Sable Aradia Friday, 16 August 2013

    Excellent article! I agree with you completely, but I put it in a slightly different way. The way I see it is like this: magick alters probabilities in your favor. But it is lazy and it will take the path of least resistance; also, sometimes things are highly unlikely and the magickal work required is so great that we decide that we are simply not up to the task. I believe that absolutely anything is possible, but how bad do you want it, and how much of the Universe do you have to move to make it happen? Sometimes, we're just not up to it. Also, when the Wills of others contradict your Will, you have to swim upstream, as it were. So anything you can do to tip the odds in your favor already is a good idea. Your odds of a spell to find new work succeeding greatly increase if you actually go out and look for a job. I am far more likely to be a bestselling writer than an Olympic athlete because I'm a good writer but I'm kind of a klutz. Also, this is why one of the points of the Witch's Pyramid (or the Four Powers of the Magician) is to "keep silent"; because the moment you expose your intention to the world, you have to deal with everyone else's doubts and subconscious beliefs as well as your own, and it's hard enough to work around or against our own without adding to it! And last, often what we want will be fulfilled in ways we didn't expect (I rather liked your personal story about this on your website actually Christopher, and I refer my students to it,) and we may decide that the form it arrived in is unsuitable.

    However, I also agree that just wishing doesn't cut it, and sometimes, what we think is best may not be what is best. And, in every life a little rain must fall.

    Thanks for the food for thought!

  • Antonella
    Antonella Thursday, 22 August 2013

    Great Article Christopher! I agree on most points. I believe intention is a start, but you can have all the intention in the world, or even all the will and energy direction techniques in the world and you can keep silent but I think three more ingredients are needed in my humble opinion: a strong belief that something can be done in general or by you, in all of the three levels of the mind, and a state of mind, and of feeling if you will, in which you feel like you already have achieved the goal; you need to feel what you would feel if you had what you wanted, in the present without feeling the feeling of lack and neediness; and lastly, although this may be implied in the energy direction part, a change in consciousness, going into Alpha as you teach Christopher, and through that, reaching a frame of mind in which we are at One with the Universe and feel the malleability of the space/time. When you reach a deep enough connection, sometimes raising energy it's even redundant, as it's the change of consciousness that does the trick, when you reach the state of zero point field you are at One with the creating force or the Gods and thoughts and will if backed up by beliefs can create immediate change, after all in one cubic cm of space there is enough energy to boil all the oceans

  • Antonella
    Antonella Thursday, 22 August 2013

    I would love to hear your thoughts on this Christopher. Thank you!!
    Blessed Be!

  • Onesense
    Onesense Sunday, 02 March 2014

    Loved the article and very happy and grateful to be starting the online course. The references Wayne Dyer makes to Carlos Castenada did in part, actually pave the way, and plant the desire for me to go deeper into experiencing and learning the Magick. It opened the door for me into what I perceived as the forbidden.

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