What is a spell?
In Spirit of the Witch; Religion and Spirituality in Contemporary Witchcraft, Raven Grimassi writes that “the essential formula for magic is that three things are needed in order for manifestation to take place: time, space, and energy.” A spell is, broadly speaking, the framework in which energy is directed to cause the will of the practitioner to manifest. A spell can be as simple as tapping the roof of your car as you pass under a yellow light and as complex as the creation of the Talismans of the Sage of the Pyramids.
Short vs Long Term Spells
When you set out to create a spell, or to use a spell someone else has written, you’ll find that spells can generally be categorized a number of ways. One split is between short term spells, and long term spells. A short term spell is a spell that does what it’s going to do, and then dissipates. The work is done, the spell does not continue, and thus does not need to be fed continual energy to keep doing its job. A long term spell is much longer lasting, often across months or years, and does need an outside energy source, or to be replenished periodically.
A short term spell could be a short luck spell, or a quick moment to re-center and bring calm. Anti-anxiety spells, cantrips and fast cast works meant to act right now, quickly, and then need no further reinforcement. A “find me a parking spot” spell, for example, does not need to be continually in effect, because you only need it to work when you’re looking for a parking spot.
Long term spells are the sorts of work that you want and expect to keep on going for a span of time. Your wards and shields, for example, are long term spells. Protective spells, long lasting health and wellness workings, productivity at school or work… think in terms of things you don’t want to be a “one and done” type spell. When creating a long term work or spell, you will need to either make arrangements to recharge the spell from time to time, or you’ll want to find a willing and agreeable outside energy source to tap into. We’ll go into those energy sources further in the next lesson, but allies are important for long term autonomous spellwork.
High Magick and Low Magick
We do love our arbitrary divisions into categories, and if you’ve looked into spells and rituals and anything occult at all, you’ve probably run into the High Magick and Low Magick dichotomy. I call it an arbitrary division, because beneath all the splitting into categories and the implied value judgments that come along with that, all magick, high and low, has the same basic structures, uses, and procedures.
Here at UC, we have an entire course on Kitchen Magick. I highly recommend you take that course! Kitchen Magick is all about “low” magick, simple magicks, and is a strong paradigm for doing short term or fast magick. Kitchen and low magick doesn’t require a whole lot of preparation, tools, and doesn’t have a lot of multi-step complicated ritual structure. You can have special tools, and you can add as much complexity and steps as you want, of course. You can build a multi-layered complex spell baked into something super complicated and tricky. I’m picturing mystical macaroons, or a Baked Alaska for wealth… yummy, complex, and magickal! However, Kitchen and Low Magick is great for chanting a cantrip as you stir your coffee, and being done just that fast.
High Ceremonial Magick tends to be fantastic for long term works and spells. It can take months in a high ceremonial framework just to build the mystical tool that you’re then going to use in the actual ritual. Think of High Magick as being very slow, but incredibly powerful. Where Kitchen work is speedy, High can take a while to get where you want to go. Like the layers of an onion, or the layers of nacre that build a pearl, Ceremonial works are painstaking and deep. You can use High Ceremonial works quickly: a completed talisman, for example, once activated tends to do its job very fast. Completing the thing can take months of effort, but then you have a tool you can use again and again, with fast results that are consistent each time.
Chaos Magick is a hybrid modern offshoot path stemming from the 1970’s that takes aspects from both high and low magicks, and squishes them together. Practitioners are encouraged to build their own systems and beliefs. Chaos can take the best from many paradigms and create something powerful, deep, and fast. Based in quantum physics plus Theosophy, with a side of postmodernism and the scientific method, chaos magick suits those who aren’t afraid of potentially frying bits of their spiritual fingers. The thing that Chaos Magick tends to leave behind from it’s High and Low roots are the bits that act as brakes, safeguards, and limits. If you want to explore chaos, it’s a lot of fun, just make sure to keep your eye on your own safety a bit more closely (and maybe know what you’re doing before you try it out.)
There are tradeoffs for all the various ‘types’ of magickal frameworks. Speed and ease, versus power and longevity, versus fast and powerful (with a tendency to explode slightly, metaphorically speaking). When Ceremonial works go awry, things do get a bit singed, but it’s harder to blow up a work that you’ve spent months researching and then working on exhaustively. And low magick can blow up, but usually not in such extravagant ways.
Remember: all spells are energy work, and as such, have the capacity to be dangerous to you, your world, and the people around you. Even a fully ‘positive’ spell can be utilized in a non-moral or unethical way, just as a ‘negative’ spell can be turned to righteous purposes. Treat this work as if it were real, powerful, and with respect, and you’ll get more out of your efforts.
Lastly: before and after every spell Ground, Center, and Shield.
While you are casting a spell, or doing any work, you must at least thin your shield enough to allow your energy to move beyond yourself. Therefore, before you begin your energy work, make sure that you are centered in yourself, ground so that your energy is replenished, and double check that you are not harboring pockets of stagnant or otherwise unsuitable energies. After you have completed your work, whether for the day or in total, ground, center, and re-shield yourself. This will ensure that you do not remain attached to your work energetically; if you are still attached to the spell, it defacto becomes a long term work and will drain your energies. In the next lesson, we’ll discuss ways to set up systems to power long term spells that don’t rely on using yourself as a battery.
Don’t forget, I’m selling tarot and oracle readings via my Etsy, and just listed two tarot decks as well. An out of print rare and hard to find deck: The Winged Spirit by David Sexton. And The Tarot of the Witches by Fergus Hall, that was created for the James Bond movie Live and Let Die.