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How Does Magic Work?

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

If you’re a witch, a wizard, a magician or however you may term yourself, part of your path involves doing magic. Ever wondered how it worked? Why it worked? What’s the mechanism? That’s a very good question we’re going to take a look at here.

First, we need to define magic, if only so we know we are all talking about the same thing.

Wikipedia defines magic as “Magic, sometimes spelled magick, is an ancient practice rooted in rituals, spiritual divinations, and/or cultural lineage—with an intention to invoke, manipulate, or otherwise manifest supernatural forces, beings, or entities in the natural world. It is a categorical yet often ambiguous term which has been used to refer to a wide variety of beliefs and practices, frequently considered separate from both religion and science.”

Others have defined it as “The art and science of making reality conform with Will.”

So, we are performing some sort of action intended to make some sort of change in our reality that we desire.

Sir James Frazer (in The Golden Bough" 1890) put forward what was perhaps the first concrete overviews of magic in modern thought, primarily the idea of a sympathetic basis for magic. The Principle of Sympathy states “Like Produces Like.” It proposes that there is a hidden link between things, most particularly between physical things and symbols of them – they are both seen as sharing in a singular unity in the magical universe. And therefore by manipulating the symbol the correspondent object may be similarly manipulated. As we’ll see, this is a great simplification of things.

Now there are two different outlooks on the theory of magic. One is the dynamistic and the other is the animistic. The dynamistic viewpoint is that magical power which is gathered, manipulated and directed is a natural force of the universe, much as electricity is. This force has many names in different cultures: mana, orendo, numen, hamingja and many others. The important basic concept is that this force is completely impersonal.

On the other hand, animism holds the belief that these energies are personified as deities, spirits, angels, daimons and others. Each of these have their own identities and personalities. A river has a spirit, a rock or tree has a spirit with a will and a self. These spirits and entities can be manipulated or cajoled to one’s will, or even compelled in some cases. And it is always possible that these spirits may resist one’s requests, or even to communicate at all. This is simply not possible working within the dynamistic model. Interestingly enough, these very different outlooks often exist together and many feel they can complement each other.

The other principle we need to consider is the Principle of Contagion – Once Together, Always Together. This is the idea that a piece of something is always connected to that something on a magical level. Together, these two principles cover the vast majority of spellwork that most people consider doing, Together, they are the ruling principles of the magical field of Thaumaturgy.

Taking these together we must now add to the mix the idea that a spell, ritual or any magical working is basically a way of communication. We are telling the universe what we will to occur, by our symbols, scents, colors, inscriptions, vocalizations or whatever else we are bringing into play.

Jan van Baal (“Symbols of Communication” 1971) put it this way:

“The formula takes its origin from the discourse between man and his universe, in the case of a particular formula a discourse concerning a certain object and the fulfillment of a desire. In this discourse man feels addressed or singled out by his universe, and he endeavors to address it in turn, trying to discover the kind of address to which his universe will be willing to answer, that is, willing to show itself communicable. The formula he finally discovers in answer to his quest is not really man’s discovery but a gift, a revelation bestowed upon him by his universe. The formula is the outcome of an act of communication in which man’s universe reveals to him the secret of how it should be addressed in this or that circumstance, a secret which is at the same time a revelation of its hidden essences in that particular field.”

Therefore a well-constructed working is a communication with the universe, created in a manner that the universe finds suitable, in which everything, every part, of the working reinforces the communication, or refines it. The incense, the colors, everything fits, is in its proper place and is in a proper “syntax.” If you compose a sentence but put the words in the wrong order, for instance the noun where an adverb should be, communication suffers and may fail altogether. Even worse if you use the wrong word.

So how do you know what the right things to use might be for your particular working? That’s a long subject, too long for this one post although we’ll go into it in future posts, but it all starts with what are known broadly as “correspondences.” These are listings of what corresponds with a certain thing, say, a planet. In the “Articles” section of this blog you’ll find some useful lists of correspondences, that are free to download. For better, more complete references, it’d recommend two books:

Both are invaluable as reference works and you will use them forever. They’re pure reference books, no teachings or anything like that. 777 takes a little getting used to the way it's organized but the information is golden. The Rulership Book is very straightforward. It will give you the planetary correspondent for more things then you can shake a stick at. And from there you can look up most everything there is on the free downloadable Tables.

As we have said, the Principle of Sympathy states that “Like Attracts Like” and that is true, on the spiritual plane. We, however, live on the material plane where “Opposite Attract” is the rule. This means that if we did a spell wholly on the material plane, to make it work we would need to be working for the opposite of our desired result in many cases. Needless to say, this makes spell work very confusing and unnecessarily difficult.

Gladly, there is a way around this and it’s quite simple: do you working inside a magic circle. Now a full empowered circle, depending on your working, can be a bit involved and it’s not needed for most typical spellwork. All you need is to do is, with your athame, wand or index finger, draw a circle around your working area in a clockwise direction and recite a Statement of Intent as you do so. Something like this,

"I conjure thee, O Circle of Power,

that you be a boundary between the realms of Man and the realms of the Mighty Ones,

A rampart and protection that will preserve and contain the power raised within.

So Mote It Be"

This will create a sacred space BETWEEN the material and spiritual planes, and allow us to perform our working and send it out into the spirit plane. In this way, we will be operating on the “Like Attracts Like” principal and our construction of spells and workings becomes vastly easier.

OK, that’s a lot of theory and it’s needed theory, but how about we look at a general example of writing a spell? The two most common types of spells I’m asked about are love and money. Let’s take a look at a spell to bring some money into our lives. Probably everyone can get behind that. So let’s look at our altar. Any table will do.

You'll need six candles, either taper candles or jumbo candles, three green and three white with candle holders. At least the Sentinel candles should be jumbo candles as your sentinels should always be the tallest thing on your altar.

Review the Three Keys of Spellcasting, to prepare for this working.

Anoint the Sentinels Candle with Altar oil, rubbing on enough to coat the candles as you say:

“Be thou good and faithful sentinels to guard and bless my workings, so mote it be.”

Use an awl or something like one to carve your name on candle 3, then anoint it with Easy Life oil while saying:

“I name thee (your name) as a symbol and a link to me, that I may receive all blessings directed to you. So mote it be.”

Use the awl to draw dollar signs on the green candles, 7 on each and then anoint then with Money Draw oil while saying:

“Thou art money, prosperity, good fortune and luck. To me shall you flow easily and freely. So mote it be.”

Set the candles up on the altar as in the diagram, making sure that they are safely in a candle holder or other safe receptacle.

Cast your circle as we spoke of earlier in this post and light the sentinel candles, repeating the candle incantation as you do. Then do the same with your named candle, again repeating the candle incantation you used to anoint it. Next do the same with the green candles.

Now perform the First Key of Spellcasting and relax and empty your mind of everything except your working. Now apply the Second Key of Spellcasting and fill your mind with your working, how it is performed, how it will respond. Now recite the following incantation three times:

"Fortune rises, fortune flows, fortune comes and fortune grows

Money manifests and prosperity surrounds

Increase finds me and Luck abounds

Fortune rises, fortune flows, fortune comes and fortune grows"

Visualize money and fortune finding you in as many ways as possible. As you do, move each green candle towards your name candle a small amount. Make visualization as solid as possible. After the last recitation, state:


And visualize the spell’s energy flying out into the Universe to work your will (the Third Key of Spellcasting). Snuff the candle in the reverse order that you lit them. Do this each day until the green and named candles are used up.

Note that we’ve designed a working with colors and oils that will clearly communicate our desire to the Universe. Can this spell be refined and more exactly targeted? Of course! We could, for instance, add incense that is in tune with our working, wear the colors of the working, add items on the altar that would add more focus or power to the spell. This sort of thing can also make the working very muddled, as each element added also carries several meanings and influences, but that is a subject for another time.

The links for the spell components are to an occult store that I am well acquainted with, whose hand-made products I have used and trust, so I have no qualm recommending them. The owner, Rhapsody, is a very talented spell-crafter who can help you create a spell for your particular situation as well as supply you with everything you will need to cast it. Her website is:

Well, that‘s it for now, I hope this was informative, useful and thought-provoking. Please feel free to leave a comment on your ideas of how magic works or anything else you’d like to talk about. What subjects would you like to see covered here? Would you like to contribute an article on a subject?

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Blessed Be

Sterling Knight



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