If I could only ever give one, solid piece of advice to a budding magician it would be this: get good at divination. If there’s a more important magical skill, I really don’t know what it is.
Not even meditation ranks as high as divination, in my opinion. That’s because without divination, any other magic you might attempt is going to be unreliable at best, and disastrous at worst.
Into the woods
Think of yourself as an adventurer at the edge of a huge, ancient forest. You have a quest to complete, and in order to do so, you must travel through this forest to the lands beyond. There are many different trails in front of you, but only a few will take you where you want to go. Others loop back around on themselves, or otherwise go off in every direction but the one you seek.
Some of the trails may even be dangerous.
So how do you choose which one to follow, and how do you prevent yourself from accidentally straying off your chosen path?
A wise adventurer would carry a map and a compass at the very least. They’d probably do well to also seek out either a guide, or get some advice from folks who know the area well.
What a wise adventurer wouldn’t do is stumble blindly into the forest, with no navigational aids whatsoever, and just wing it.
Every act of practical magic can be seen as the start of journey. You know (or think you know) where you want to be, so you perform a ritual intended to get you there. But in order to get anywhere in life, you either need to be very, very lucky, or you need to know three things: where you want to be, where you are, and what lies in between.
Books and courses on magic tend to be pretty good at helping with the first and third bits. I’ve seen several well-written chapters on “setting intentions,” as well as many helpful hints on the use of positive or affirming language.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen very few books on practical enchantment which cover the second point. This is a bad thing, because not only does it leave you stumbling in the dark, it also opens the door for one of the more…unsavory forms of magical manifestation.
The monkey’s paw effect
Let’s say you’ve had a rough week at work where everything has gone wrong and you’re worried that your boss is going to fire you. Since losing your job will probably put a serious cramp in your style, you decide to do some magic to save your bacon.
How do you begin?
Some magicians will simply perform a ritual designed to keep their job. If you haven’t already guessed, I think this is the wrong approach.
The right approach is to use divination to first get a read on the overall situation, then to perform subsequent divinations as needed, either to clarify specific points, or to test solutions.
For example, maybe it’s true that “everything has gone wrong” at your job, but is that your fault?
Perhaps your boss has been dropping the ball unbeknownst to you. Maybe she’s been letting things slip because she hates her job and is about to quit to start a new career.
And if she quits, maybe you stand a decent chance of being promoted.
If you were to just dive into a “keep my job” ritual, how might that manifest? Maybe the ritual causes your boss to decide to “tough it out,” and stick around after all.
You keep the same position you’ve always had (you did ask to keep “your job,” right?), but now you have a boss who is growing increasingly frustrated, bitter, and making everyone’s lives miserable—including yours.
Say what you will, but I wouldn’t personally call that a successful application of magic. Instead, it’s what I call the “monkey’s paw effect.”
In 1902, the author W. W. Jacobs published a short story called The Monkey’s Paw. As you can probably guess from the title, the story features the hand of a monkey. This hand has been enchanted to provide its owner with three wishes. However, when you make a wish on the monkey’s paw, it is granted in a hideous, unwanted way.
There have been many retellings of this tale, but in the original story, the first wish the owner of the monkey’s paw makes is for a large sum of money to pay off his house.
The next day, his son is killed on the job in a horrific accident. To avoid litigation or other trouble, the company offers the father a settlement—the exact amount of money he wished for.
You can get into some serious monkey’s paw situations with hasty enchantments. This isn’t because the universe is punishing you or hates you, but because trying to alter a situation without actually understanding it can have unintended consequences.
The best way to avoid these consequences? To rework a phrase from carpentry: divine twice, enchant once.
Some bonus advice
Apart from “divine twice, enchant once,” there are a few other pieces of advice I’d throw out there.
First, I don’t think the specific form of divination really matters, so long as you can work it to get both a general read on a situation as a whole, as well as to dig down into specifics when you need them.
Take a tour of the divinatory options out there and use what works for you. Personally, I find astrology and tarot to be fantastically useful and accurate, and they work very well together.
Second, I’ve heard some people say that a person should never try to divine for themselves. I don’t agree with this. The only real risk with divining for yourself is that it can be hard to stay objective, which can lead to you either seeing only what you want to see, or seeing only what you fear.
This lack of objectivity can sometimes get you in trouble, but I think a skilled diviner is able to spot this out fairly quickly, given a little discipline.
Third and finally, don’t be afraid to consult another diviner when you have to. There will be times when, no matter what you do, you can’t get a read on a situation.
You might be running up against that objectivity problem, or you might just be so involved in, or upset by, the events around you that you can’t wrap your head around what the cards or stars or runes are saying.
When you don’t think you’re getting what you need from your own skills, go get a second opinion. At the very least, a reading from someone else can often kick in the door to your own intuition, and get you moving in the right direction.
(And, yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I do offer Tarot readings myself.)
So there it is, the best advice I have to offer to any aspiring magician.
If you get good at divination, or find a good diviner to work with, your practical enchantments will be much more well-targeted and much, much more successful.
If you would like a Tarot or natal astrology reading, please visit my Consultations page. I would be happy to help.