The trouble with magical thinking is that it can look distinctly irrational. Why would a few whispered words, a candle or a sprinkling of herbs change the outcome? And if there’s reason to think it did, there’s no way to prove it did. However, to write magic off as irrational, is also to hold a set of assumptions about what reality is and how it works.
Cause and effect are not simple, mechanical procedures and we know this because the future is not predictable. Intention – human and other – is part of the mix. How we feel about things informs how we experience them. There are elements of unpredictability – weather systems being a fine case in point. It’s the uncertainty that creates the feeling that other forces beyond our knowing could be involved, and with it the sense that we could take control.
We can take control of the insides of our heads, although most people don’t. Knowing what we want rather than being buffeted about by repressed desires and unconscious urges gives us a shot at being deliberate co-creators of our lives. We are shaped by our environments – to the degree of switching on and off genes. The person who deliberately shapes an environment has control of themselves and a significant influence on others. We become our choices. The more knowing and deliberate the choice is, the more control we have over who we become, how we feel, and how we experience life. Obviously the less control you have over a dreadful environment, and the less scope you have to escape it, the less true this becomes.
Intention shapes action. The clearer our intentions, the more able we are to deliberately follow through on them. The more open we’ll be to the things that take us in the right direction because we’re better placed to recognise them.
There is every reason to think that a spell operates inside the head of the caster – shaping, affirming, defining intent, clarifying, focusing, making way for possibilities. There’s nothing irrational about thinking we can use our thinking to change our lives – the conventional mental health intervention – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – is no different from this.
If we start from the belief that physical matter is the essence of reality, then the application of willpower is only relevant in so far as it lets us direct our bodies to interact with physical things. If you think about the nature and behaviour of atoms, the way forms of energy move, there’s certainly an argument for saying that energy and not matter, is the primary thing. Does matter lead to consciousness, or does conscious lead to matter? We can’t prove it either way, at the moment. Matter is certainly influenced by consciousness – you only have to look at what placebo effects (belief) and depression do to the body.
Of course if you do a spell, there are no guarantees, but that’s just as true of launching a marketing campaign or propositioning someone you fancy. Ours is never the only intention in the mix. Other intentions, other energies, other balances of probability are involved. If your magic aligns with a lot of other intentions and probabilities, your odds are better. The more unrealistic your magic, the less likely your chances. Again, this is just as true for the marketing pitch and the chat-up line.
Perhaps sometimes magic is better understood not as forcing your will upon the world, but being able to fit in with the world well enough to get what you want out of it. Akin to creating a product people may want to buy – always the easier sell, and chatting up the person who was already interested in you.