Experimental Magic: The Evolution of Magic

Experiment with your magical practice by learning how to apply art, pop culture, neuroscience, psychology, and other disciplines to your magical work, as well as exploring fundamental underlying principles of what makes magic work. You'll never look at magic in the same way!

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What Happens when your magic fails?

What happens when your magic fails?

This is a question most magicians and pagans never want to ask or answer, but I think it's a question we need to ask and answer. It's a question that likely makes you squirm just a little bit, because it raises the spectre of "What if all this is just in my head?" The thought that it's all just in your head and that perhaps what you're doing is just a deluded fantasy is hard to face. It can cause you to feel some real doubt about magic and whether its real or just make believe. I think feeling such doubt can actually be healthy, because it teaches you to question critically and carefully what you're doing and how you're doing it. It also teaches you not to take magic for granted. If you assume that your workings will always be successful, you may be shocked when a working isn't successful. By cultivating just a bit of critical awareness, you can look through your magical workings and figure out why it didn't work as well as what you can do to improve your workings.

A good place to start is to actually determine how many of your magical workings have been successful. See if you can calculate a percentage and then determine what types of workings they were. Was it practical magic to resolve a problem, or was it a working to make contact with a deity or inner contact?  Was it some other type of magical working? So for example, perhaps you calculate that 90% of your magical workings in the last year have been successful and you realize that a quarter of the workings were practical magic and the rest were devotional, theurgic workings. Once you have estimated the successful number of magical workings, then you can look at the remaining magical workings, the ones that didn't work and determine what type they were. You might discover that 75% of the workings that weren't successful were practical magic workings. What this will tell you then is what you need to work in your magical practice. It shouldn't be hard to determine these figures if you are keeping a magical record of some type and diligently updating it.

Now it's time to take a closer look at the magical workings that failed. You want to determine exactly what didn't work and why. There can be a variety of reasons why magic didn't work, so it's important to take your magical working apart and really understand why it did or didn't work. Let's go over a few of the possible reasons for why the magic didn't work.

1. You didn't clear define the desired outcome. If you don't have a clearly defined outcome, you don't have a destination or result for your magic to get to. A poorly defined result is vague and unclear and as such it's much harder to achieve. While there is a phrase in magic that is often thrown around that you shouldn't lust for results, it doesn't mean you shouldn't define your result (I'll explain the difference in more depth below). A defined result is the specific outcome you are doing magic for, and it provides you the necessary focus to direct your magical work toward achieving that result.

2. You lusted for the result. Have you ever gotten obsessively fixated on a particular result you wanted? You've probably noticed that when this occurs, the result seems to be just out of reach and unattainable. The reason for that is because you are still putting energy, effort, belief, emotion, thought, etc., into achieving the result. You haven't stepped back and let the magic work, and so the magical work hasn't actually happened. At some point, for magic to work, you've got to actually let it work (I'll explain this in more detail below).

3. You get fixated on how everything will happen. When you map out how something is supposed to happen, you aren't leaving any room for it to actually happen. As I mentioned above you need t let magic work and that means releasing expectations about the result, but also about how the magic will manifest. Sometimes magic will manifest in very subtle ways and sometimes it will be over the top flashy. But regardless of how something manifests, its important to allow it to occur without trying to map out how it will occur. Do your magical working and then let the magic go out into the universe and set everything up so that it happens.

4. You focused on other possible outcomes. Sometimes you'll get caught up in what if scenarios, especially if you're dealing with stressful situations. When you focus on other outcomes, you are losing focus on the outcome you want to achieve and essentially signaling that perhaps you don't want it after all. As such it's important that if you start to focus on other possible outcomes, you find a way to refocus and/or banish those other outcomes. Remember that when you are doing magic, you want to achieve a specific outcome, and you need to stay focused on that outcome. 

5. You didn't pick the right technique for the working. Not all techniques are equal or right for a given situation. If you are too close to a situation, for example, then you might need to use a technique that provides some distance. On the other hand sometimes you need to be more directly involved. Knowing what techniques for different situations is important for effectively implementing magic as a solution in your life. 

6. You put too much magic into the working. There is such a thing as putting too much magic into a working. If you feel the need to do multiple workings for a situation, you might consider that you're ding an overkill and that one working might interfere with the other. While it can sometimes be useful to do multiple magical workings, they should be well timed to work off of each other.

7. You haven't honored your end of the agreement. When you're working with entities, deities, spirits, etc., its important to honor your end of the agreements you make. If you aren't honoring your end of the agreement, why should they honor their end of the agreement? Any agreement you make is one you need to honor by following through on what you've promised you would do. 

Sometimes your magic will fail. When it does, understanding why it failed will help you make adjustments in future workings and teach you about how magic works. If you've had a magic working fail, was it for one of the reasons above, or a different reason. Share your experiences in the comments.


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Taylor Ellwood is the author of Pop Culture Magic Systems, Space/Time Magic, Magical Identity and a number of other occult books. He posts about his latest projects at Magical Experiments.


  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Tuesday, 17 September 2013

    Very nice, Taylor. Reminds me of the end of Little Big Man, when Chief Dan George says to Dustin Hoffman, "Sometimes the magic works; sometimes it doesn't." There was also a very wise Yoga teacher, from whom I took a workshop, who observed "Everything works until it stops working."

  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood Wednesday, 18 September 2013

    Thank you Ted. I think it's worthwhile to explore why it didn't work. A failure can teach you a lot, if you are pen to learning from it.

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Wednesday, 18 September 2013

    Point well taken, Taylor; I think you are right. At various times in my life I have been guilty of all 7 of the mistakes you have listed.

  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood Thursday, 19 September 2013

    As have I...

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