A Witchcraft Primer: Magic and Spellcasting Basics
A lot of people want to learn Witchcraft because they think it's going to be a quick and easy way to rewards. They think you follow instructions to light a candle, say a few words, and boom-- stuff happens.
It doesn't quite work that way-- spells are a little like recipes. You can try to follow along, but if you aren't familiar with the ingredients, if you don't understand the techniques, if you don't have a basic understanding of the methods or practice very much, it will be hit or miss.
In fact, the more you rely on the recipe, without really learning what makes them work, the more misses you'll have than hits.
When you get a recipe at that stage, you don't even know enough about cooking to know if it's any good, or if it's flawed. If you can't find the exact ingredients, or the right tool, you aren't really sure what to do or how it will affect the outcome of the dish. All you can do is cross your fingers and hope for the best. Even if it comes out good one time, you don't know why so you can't really repeat it.
You want to get beyond the stage of using other people's recipes-- you want to really learn how to cook. You want to learn to understand the ingredients, the tools, you want to hone those skills so that you don't have to stand there reading someone else's instructions-- you can achieve your own vision of a dish, because you have learned what to do.
Witchcraft, like any other skills, requires more than just following "recipes"-- or in this case, spells that other people write down. It's not enough to just trust it, follow instructions and hope for the best. It requires that you learn, it requires that you become familiar with the ingredients (components), the tools, the techniques.
Here, I'd like to provide you with a Witchcraft primer to give you an overview of the kinds of things involved.
Learn to Cast Spells
Great Book on Magic
For beginners seeking to learn the basic principles, this modest little Kindle book is an excellent resource. Cross breaks it all down beautifully.
Theory in Witchcraft
Practicing Witchcraft is only enhanced by also studying theory. I know a lot of people aren't all that thrilled about studying or reading in-depth explanations for things, but it really pays off big time.
As mentioned before, putting the right ingredients together gives you hit or miss results. Understanding what you are doing, and why you are doing it, increases your success rate. It helps you understand what you're doing on many levels. It's easier to spot those spells that will work, and those that are flawed; it's easier to design your own for your specific purposes. It's easier to work with your tools and components, the more you learn.
So the reading really pays off. There are a lot of schools of thought when it comes to magic and how it works, which is also why it pays to read a lot of different books that don't just offer spells, but offer explanations, theory, philosophies.
So read up; get a notebook, and a highlighter (or a colored pencil, as I prefer) for underlining key concepts, and hit the books.
Learning Witchcraft: Strengthening the Mind
The most important tool for Witchcraft is not the cauldron, nor the candle, nor is it even the spell book. It's the mind.
The stronger you can make your mind, the better a Witch you will be. It's important to learn how to:
- maintain focus for long periods
- move at will from one state of consciousness to another
- access untapped parts of the conscious and subconscious more easily
- hone your sensory perceptions
- manipulate energy (raising, holding, releasing, directing)
The way you strengthen your mind is the same way you would strengthen any other muscles-- you have to 'exercise' it.
Believe it or not, common brain teasers and puzzles are a good part of that. Reading is another really good part to strengthen your mind-- think of it as proper nourishment.
There are also psychic exercises* to help you improve your mental abilities. Many exercises teach you how to use all your senses, as well as your extra-senses. They also teach you how to sense and gain control over energy.
Probably the best way to strengthen the mind is the M-word; that's right-- meditation*. I know a lot of people don't like that word, and are not patient enough to master the process, but meditation for the mind is akin to weight training for the body.
Keep in mind, meditation is not all about sitting still, wiping the mind blank and being bored for an hour. There are many different focal points, many meditative techniques, and for those who don't like to sit still there is even moving meditations. If you're going to practice Witchcraft, you should consider at least giving it a try.
Magic Doesn't Come from Tools
Tools of the Craft
Most people think of traditional Wiccan tools when it comes to tools of the Craft; and many of these tools were inherited from ceremonial magic. They do work well, however they're not all absolutely necessary.
Ideally, you should learn about your tools, experiment with them, and decide which ones best suit you and your needs. There is no point in getting a cauldron if you don't think you're ever going to need one; however, for some of us (and I raise my own hand here) the cauldron is an indispensable tool. It all comes down to personal style and preference.
Witchcraft can be very basic; for someone with an extremely well-disciplined mind, it can be practiced without tools at all. However, most Witches will find the need to use tools for focus, symbolism, energy manipulation or to draw and borrow energies. In fact, starting out, you may find yourself relying more on your tools, and then dropping that dependency as your mind grows stronger and stronger, and you find you don't need them as much anymore.
Early on, however, is definitely the time to read up on tools and experiment with those that pique your interest.
The Love Potion
Witchcraft Ingredients and Components
If we go back to our cooking analogy, your tools of the Craft are like your kitchen tools-- your frying pot, your knife, your cutting board and whisk. Your components are your "ingredients" for your magical working.
Once again, this is a matter of preference. Some Witches prefer to work with herbs, some with crystals, some with symbols. It's fine at the beginning to follow your gut instinct; if one particularly attracts you, you will probably have better success with it than trying to work with something that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Remember that you don't have to go grabbing a lot of wild, exotic ingredients-- in ancient times, people did not have Amazon.com or the local New Age shop. They used what they had available.
What's most important is that you learn and become accustomed to (through practice) the unique properties of the various components with which you choose to work. This also makes them much easier to substitute when they're not available.
Great Magic Resource
Llewellyn's guide not only gives some great articles, but a moon sign calendar so that you can perfectly time your magical workings throughout the year.
Last but not least, it's important to understand correspondences so that you can properly plan and time your workings.
Astrological correspondences-- the moon phases, moon signs, planetary hours, etc.-- are among the most important to learn. You don't actually have to learn to read someone's full Astrological natal chart, but you need to understand how to apply these different phases to your workings. They lend a tremendous amount of power, particularly for someone new. Trying to send energy for your intent during a time when opposing energies and influences are present can just result in clashing energies-- which disperse and are rendered ineffective. They can cancel each other out. Working with the proper timing lends your spell additional energies conducive to your intent.
Other correspondences you will want to familiarize yourself with include the elements, the directions, symbols, gender, deities, tools, and of course with whatever components with which you have chosen to work.
It's a good idea to begin keeping a chart of such things, either in your Book of Shadows, your spell book or whatever record-keeping system you may employ. Keeping track really helps you repeat your successes, and it also makes spell planning a lot easier because you'll have one convenient place to look up all the information.
Of course, just like a chef may run purely on intuition sometimes, grabbing ingredients and throwing them into a pan, you can, too-- you don't always have to stick to formula. But again, to do this successfully requires a certain amount of knowledge, familiarity with the process, tools and components, and skills that you've developed over time.
But keep in mind-- they don't call it the Craft of the Wise for nothing; To earn the title, and use the Craft to your greatest benefit, takes time, study and practice. We all make mistakes along the way (I outlined some common beginner mistakes here) but that's part of the learning process; don't let them discourage you. Little by little, you'll get there.