Wicca is primarily a religion. It is the worship of the Old Gods and the attunement with nature through the eight festivals of the Wheel of the year. But what of the practical side of the Craft, the working of Sacred Magic?
To put things in perspective, magic is very much a secondary function of the Craft. Any Coven worth its salt should put the worship of the Gods and spiritual development of the Coven members first, otherwise we have no wicca. Nevertheless there are working evenings of the Coven or Esbats to give them their correct Craft name. These usually occur on or before the full moon of each month although special working meetings may be convened at any time in an emergency.
There are many different types of Magical working ranging from long and highly ritualised Golden Dawn style invocations of God forms to simple candle magic workings, all are valid and may work equally well as the complex ritual.
The point to keep in mind is that magic is a natural phenomenon not a supernatural phenomenon and as such it conforms to natural laws and therefore logically it has its natural limitations. Magic is not a miraculous panacea for every difficulty that life throws at you, despite what some books on the subject tell us. How on earth are we supposed to learn the lessons and gain experience of life if we "run to mummy" and reach for the spell book every time we have a problem to negotiate? This is a mistake that many operators make.
The spell is best likely to succeed when you have a realistic chance of achieving it by your own efforts to begin with. Let us remember that magic is an ally - it is not our servant. Anyone attempting to use magic as their slave is working to the Left Hand Path and will end up in deep trouble. For example, if you are caught red handed throwing a brick through a jeweller's window, you are going to prison, it is as simple as that. True, you could do a working for the judge to be lenient with you, but that would be all you could do. No amount of rituals could keep you out of court.
These days do-it-yourself books of spells are easily available and although there are a few good ones, many contain much nonsense - the commonest mistake that they print is that belief is all you need to perform a successful spell. Belief is in reality nothing more than a positive state of mind - that's all it is.
Belief is certainly vital, after all there would be little point in attempting the spell if you had no faith in it. Half hearted attitudes will lead to half hearted results. But it is a special kind of belief that matters, and much more important is personal effort on the part of the operator. I can believe that I can jump off a building and fly. It doesn't believe matter how strongly I believe it, as soon as I jump off the building I am sure to hit the pavement! Magic is a natural phenomenon not a supernatural one and therefore it must conform to natural laws. Consider this equation:
POSITIVE THOUGHTS + POSITIVE ACTIONS + POSITIVE VISUALISATIONS = POSITIVE RESULTS
For a spell to succeed I look t owhat I call the "magic triangle" ; ie the idea, the visualisation and the will to bring it about; if any of these three aspects are missing the "triangle" will collapse and the spell will fail. What is the difference between the idea and the visualisation? The idea is simply the notion of what you want to achieve, the visualisation is the actual mental image of the end result.
The problem with performing spells from a book is that they are somebody else's spells and although effective for the author they may not work so well for you. It is far better to compose your own spell or ritual especially considering what we have said earlier about making a personal effort. Just as a magical tool will have more power if it is hand crafted by the Magician, so a self composed spell is sure to be more effective for the same magical reasons.
You must also be very precise in the working of your spells. You must be clear beyond doubt as to what you are trying to accomplish. A London Wiccan I know petitioned for £500. He stepped out into the street and found a £500 monopoly note. Yet he got what he asked for! The lesson here is, for example you want a new car, visualise yourself in it and driving it. Work for the car direct, not for the money with which to purchase it. After all How would you feel if you petitioned for say £10,000 and then somebody close was involved in an accident and you received the money from an insurance company?
This brings us to another important point - visualisation. This, like belief and personal effort is essential to the successful magical working. Mental discipline is therefore very important. When I first joined the Craft, part of my early training in the First Degree involved a gruelling programme of some 60 exercises involving visualisation and concentration, and working with the four elements. Although tough, and not everyone can hack it, I have never regretted working through it and to this day I always pass them onto anyone that I teach the Craft to. The exercises provide an excellent primer to serious ritual work and I believe that no Wiccan however experienced could fail to benefit from the course. Mental discipline then, is of paramount importance. A daily practice will improve results and provide the all important discipline needed in magical work.....furthermore visulaisation can be practiced virtually anywhere - if for example you are listening to the Archers - close your eyes and see if you can see the scenes ..........close your eyes whilst watching television and see if you can do the same........if you are sat on a bus close your eyes and talke a mental trip to a favourite place......the possibilities are endless.
The use of the appropriate words is also important - as is their delvery. If you go to call a dog and you simply mumble his name he is not going to come - he may not even hear you. The use of sound in magic is known as sonics - let every, letter, every syllable, every sentence count - let every word - be clear and let it VIBRATE as you send it into the astral realms - as above so below - invoke the forces you are seeking to work with with utter respect.
If you are going to invoke a god or goddess - learn as much as you can about them - research their personalities, functions and legends. Step into the circle and assume their god/dess form - unite with them! The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn well knew the value if this practice, indeed it formed part of their training in the Outer Order grades.
The would-be spell worker should define their goals within a special framework of ethics. Traditionally Wicca teaches that whatever magical forces you transmit through your rituals will return threefold. Most serious Covens will not attempt psychic attack for this reason. The consequences for even attempting this kind of working can be dire indeed.
Similarly money and love spells are a dubious area. Rituals to win the pools or lottery are quite wrong in my view. The Wiccan Crede is "Eight words the Wiccan rede fulfil - an' it harm none do what you will". If you perform a spell to win the lottery you are basically working to give yourself an unfair advantage over everyone else who has bought a ticket. You are not physically harming them, but you are certainly harming them in another way. Such a working is therefore against Wiccan law.
Love spells are another grey area. I personally prefer to leave them alone although I acknowledge that they can be justified in some circumstances. Casting spells to win the love of the attractive girl in the office are a blatant attempt to interfere with the free will of another especially if the target is in a relationship that you are trying to break up. Such a spell is pure Left Hand Path and would in any case almost certainly fail. To give another scenario if for example you knew of two painfully shy people who were attracted to each other but neither was willing to make the first move - you could be justified in working to bring them together; although of course in this instance you could fall foul of the old argument on interfering with free willl.....much can sometimes depend on the discretion and judgement of the operator.
So can money and love spells be justified at all? In some cases I would say yes. In my own instance I just work for more overtime; but if say a brother and sister were starving or the bailiffs were at their door, then I can't see that a working to improve their financial situation by fair effort would be out of order. Clearly a degree of discretion is called for when assessing rituals for financial gain. I feel that as long as one sticks to the maxim "need not greed" you will not go far wrong. As for love spells, I have no problems with a single person performing a spell to attract a new partner without naming a specific individual. Similarly if a Coven knew of two people who were attracted to one another but both were painfully shy, I think that few people would say the group were wrong to work a spell to bring them together.
On the subject of Covens, working spells with a group and as a solitary both have their pros and cons. Working with a group it is easier to raise the power and more of it, but the goal worked for is more or less at the discretion of the High Priestess. Furthermore only one member of the group needs to be a little tired or depressed or lose concentration for the whole working to be short circuited. Once again we can see the need for first class concentration and visualisation skills.
Working alone, it is harder to raise the power, but the lone worker is "the boss" as it were, and is in complete control of the ritual. He/she can work for whatever he/she wants; one is not bound by the rules and wishes of a particular Coven and he/she can work whenever is convenient for them, not specifically designated Coven nights. In twenty-six years as a Wiccan initiate, I have only been a Coven member for about five of those years. Personally I have a marked tendency to prefer working alone.
Just how do we know when a ritual has succeeded? This is a difficult question to answer. There is a sort of feeling, a gut feeling or flash of intuition which may tell you that petition has been answered, or some set of circumstances may bring it about that which are so remote or unlikely to have happened without unseen aid. This is the true religious miracle. Similarly when we perform a ritual that works only partially or not at all we often receive signs why it is inappropriate for the wish to be granted at that time. But before writing a ritual off as a failure, always remember that some spells may require several repetitions before any results are observed. in magic, persistence pays. Here again a magical diary can be invaluable if only to carry out a sort of Magical "post-mortem" as it were - where we may be able to pinpoint any errors or where we may have gone wrong - years later a properly kept and updated magical diary can provide an invaluable tool for our own research.
Magic can be found in virtually every religion there is. Christians pray to God or to Jesus for favours, Roman Catholics go one step further by petitioning saints for aid. Nichires Shoshu Buddhists chant a special formula to bring about changes on a material plane...etc, etc. The Roman Catholic Mass seeks to unite the worshipper with God through the sacrament of communion. Is not union with God the true Great Work, the ultimate magic ritual? The working of magic is a true sacred and special gift/privilege of the Gods. Clearly care must be taken not to abuse it and to use the art ethically, discreetly and with respect. Abusing the power is very dangerous indeed - it's a bit like taking heroin - you will have your fun at first but in the end the master will become the mastered! And Just as the Gods have given us the gift of spell working, they can just as easily revoke it and take it away. They also have a knack of teaching those who abuse the Craft a sharp and unpleasant lesson if need be!
Lecture to the old Cardiff coven c.1986