“What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”

She was going to summon Jehovah to give Him a stern bollocking. She would point out His mistakes and provide corrections and warn Him that we’d be watching and He’d better get it right in future. What could go wrong?

No, I’m not making this up. Some really stupid shit gets done in the name of chaos magic. And no, it didn’t end well. Don’t ask.

There’s an unavoidable element of risk in magic. This is first of all because our ignorance is vast. There’s no agreement even on how magic works, which is why we operate with models of magic. Secondly, it’s not make-believe. There really are consequences. If it didn’t work it wouldn’t matter. But it does.

What a great combination. Ignorance and consequences. Bit like life, eh? So what do we do? Well, if you’re reading this you probably aren’t running away. You’re prepared to deal with risk, although you’d rather deal like a mountaineer planning a climb than like someone preparing to smack the arse of a fiery old desert god. One of the marks of the magician is that we Dare. The cauldron of the Otherworld does not boil the meat of a coward.

However, the risk of what you do is not the same as the risk of what you may become. Here’s a fun list including a bit of both. It’s of course incomplete due to my own ignorance and laziness, so you feel free to add your own cock-ups to it.


1) Nothing happens. Zilch. Nada. Bugger all. Like you hadn’t done anything. And if that’s not bad enough, you may not even know what the problem is. Ignorance, yes?

Most people give up there. Some try again. And again. And again. And as you rack up the failures, your confidence goes down. You doubt your magical system. You doubt your abilities. You doubt your sources. You doubt whether magic even works. You suspect this makes future failure even more likely. You’re right. We need to believe in what we’re doing.

What to do about this: relax. Avoid blaming karma, timing, True Will or any other bullshit excuses. You failed. That’s all. Adjust your sights with the best information you can get and practice the needed skills.

However, if your magic isn’t working you won’t be doing much harm. While some magicians try to frighten novices with phrases like “magic is like a loaded gun: you don’t give it to children,” such patronising bullshit reflects some guru’s desire to control others rather than the sober facts. Instead, get some clarity on what you’re doing and why.

2) Something does happen. And you get what I call that “There is something out there and it’s in here!” moment. Whether you’ve glimpsed that dark figure in the room or your spell got a result overnight, suddenly you’re faced with the fact that what you’re doing has consequences and you hardly begin to understand how. And you’re bricking it.

What to do about this: breathe. Well done, you have some skills. Now Dare to live outside the old comfort zone. And yes, sometimes it hurts. Like life, eh? If you’re dealing with spirits that aren’t just in your imagination, you will from time to time get a sharp lesson from even your bestest spirit friend. And as Stuart Wilde said after a messy experiment in turning his aura inside out: “Ya learn as ya go.”

“Parsons was a wanker. Watch this!”


1) Delusions of specialness. “Despite the fact that I live with my mum and dad, have no job and no partner and only a few friends who hang out and waste time, I become blest with secret knowledge, and only I can bring this to the world. Of course, the Dark Ones (insert bogeyman of the month) are trying to stop me, and are influencing people to turn against me so I have to constantly fight magical battles of cosmos-shaking wrath! I talk about these momentous magical truths and nothing else. People I know start avoiding me, which proves they’re in the power of the Dark Ones.”

What to do about this: get a life. Ditch the losers in it. Live alone if necessary. Find a paying occupation and a hobby or two to talk about besides bloody magic.

2) The armchair magician. “Over time I have realised that all life is magical. My will extends to the simplest act of movement or thought, and all that surrounds me is there because I willed it so. I don’t need to actually get off my ass and do spells: such primitive efforts are beneath me now. When I emerge from my bedroom into the real world I find it odd that I live in a shithole and everybody calls me a pretentious twat, but that must be some higher initiation which comes with experience on the Path.”

What to do about this: get up and do some real magic. Spells and stuff. You ain’t doin’ it by reading about it or by posting on the internet. Also check your Great Realisations against some of the older, streetwise magicians you can find. You’ll grow mad in isolation. Finally, get a life, ditch the losers in it blah blah blah as above.

3) Burnout. Very simple: you’ve been overdoing it.

Overdoing the thinking results in headaches, restlessness, insomnia, inability to concentrate, depression and delusions of specialness. So you end up talking a lot of shit.

What to do about this: stop thinking so much, go do something non-magical and very sweaty and physical. Yes, exercise.

Overdoing the actual practice of magic is rather more rare. Huh. However, it creates similar symptoms to those of overthinking, and you feel totally exhausted and run-down to boot. After all, magical ritual can get strenuous and often involves extended concentration and intense emotions. Some of us refer to this by Phil Hine’s useful phrase ‘gnostic burnout.’

What to do about this: rest, treat it like a bit of a cold, lay off the magic until you’ve recovered. It passes, like most things.

4) The magical cripple. “I’ve become pretty good at magic. I use it to get up in the mornings, to walk the dog, for everything. I ask the spirits before leaving the house, and I’ll rip off a sigil to catch the bus.” Using magic instead of perfectly feasible mundane methods fairly screams of a lack of confidence in oneself. Magic seems to amplify our personal traits. If you lack self-confidence without magic, you’ll really screw yourself into the ground at some point. A failure in life will become a spectacular smoking wreck with the aid of magic.

What to do about this: get off the magic and learn to stand on your own two feet. Get professional help if you think you need it.

5) The Sith Lord. “Now I can kick ass, it’s time to get even. My enemies had better look out. Do as I say or get out of my way.” Even disregarding dotty beliefs like karma or 3-fold Law, you should have noticed that aggressive people seem to attract trouble to themselves.

What to do about this: Before smiting your enemies, decide whether you really need to. List the possible consequences and choose carefully what you’re preparing yourself to live with. Seek alternatives. And consider the possibility that ‘Sith’ is an anagram.

6) The one-trick pony. We’ve been doing our stuff the same old way for far too long and we’re stuck in a rut. One day, what we left out of our worldview and magical view comes around and hits us on the back of the head, leaving us wondering what the fuck hit us.

What to do about this: reduce that ignorance. Study widely, practice lots. Go play with models of magic and unstick yourself. What could possibly go wrong?

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