Have you ever heard of “SMART” goals? It’s a trite human-resources motivational speaking aphorism that gets bumped around in certain middle management corporate retreat sorts of environments. “SMART” is an acronym. SMART goals are said to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Sensitive. S-M-A-R-T.
Trite though it is, it’s damn good advice. When setting goals for oneself, these are important criteria to keep in mind.* They also happen to be excellent criteria when setting intentions for spellwork. Today, I thought I’d take a look at SMART intention-setting for magic. Just as possession is nine tenths of the law, setting the right intention is nine tenths of magical practice. There are still many other important aspects of spellcraft that I won’t cover in this post: Things like establishing a sympathetic link, visualization, raising and sending power, gathering and disposing of spell ingredients, and so on. But I don’t have room in this post to write all of that; entire books have been written on how to cast a spell. In this post, we’ll focus on the starting and ending point of any spell: The intention.
S: Be Specific
“I want money.” Good starting point, but it’s nowhere near specific enough for my taste in a spell. How much money do you need? When do you need it by? How do you want to get it? Are you applying for a particular grant, are you going to ask a family member for a loan, are you looking for an additional job, or do you just hope that a talking seagull will show up with a stolen billfold clutched between her webby little feet? A great deal of unsuccessful magic fails because of a lack of specificity. “Love” is about as vague and unhelpful a goal as anyone ever set for a spell. Likewise, if you’re doing healing magic, don’t just “send healing vibes”. It’s lovely to want to help with a medical issue, but be specific. Are you trying to shrink a tumor? Where is it? How large? Are you helping to rebuild atrophied muscles for someone in physical therapy? Which ones?
Casting a spell is, in some ways, analogous to shining a light.** The amount of power you’re able to raise is like the wattage of the bulb, and one person is only able to raise so much power. Casting a general spell for “money” without being more specific is like taking a 100-watt bulb outside and trying to light up the entire night sky. You’ll accomplish something, but you’re not going to notice much of a change. The magic (the light) has nowhere specific to go, so it gets diffused and you can’t notice its effects. At best, maybe you’ll find a quarter on the sidewalk.
However, if you bring the bulb inside to light up a more specific area, like your bedroom, you’re much more likely to see the result you want. And if you narrow the focus even further, switching from a lightbulb to a laser beam, that same 100 watts of power can accomplish a great deal. If what you actually want is $514, do a spell for $514, and moreover, if possible, try to have a sense of where it’s supposed to come from.
M: Set a Measurable Goal
This applies more specifically to “low” magic than to “high” magic. That is to say, magic done for concrete, mundane ends: Getting money, a home, a lover, a job, etc. You want to accomplish something measurable, so that you can know whether you succeeded or failed. If you do a spell to sell a house, you know you’ve succeeded if you sell the house—and you know you’ve failed if it stays on the market interminably. If you do a spell to heal someone and they don’t get better, well, you’ve failed.
This is important for two reasons. First off, as a dear friend said to me in my first ever conversation with her, it puts your ass on the line. Part of doing magic, real magic for real ends, is the risk of failure. You could cast a spell and have it simply not work. (And that does happen.) But the only way you can measure your success as a magician, and the only way to improve, is to face that possibility, see where you succeed and fail, and learn from your failures. It’s a humbling experience to cast a spell and feel like you’ve done absolutely everything right, only to see nothing whatsoever come of your work. It sucks. But the failures make you a better magician. Moreover, just as importantly, the only way to do anything concrete with your magic is to work towards goals where there’s a possibility of failure.
Secondly, it’s important to focus on setting a measurable goal because you want to avoid vagueness. “I want to do well in school” is admirable, but there are a lot of things that could mean. (This connects back into our criterion of specificity.) Crucially, what does it mean to you to do well in school? How are you going to measure that? Do you want to get straight As for the semester? Bs or better? Do you really only care about a specific class or set of classes, or maybe a specific test? Think about exactly how you’re going to measure the success of your spell. This will help to focus your intent.
A/R: Think Achievable and Realistic
I’ve never really been able to understand the distinction between “achievable” and “realistic” as criteria. Apparently the original version of the SMART acronym had A as “assignable”, meaning that you should have a clear sense of which tasks are to be delegated to whom. This works well in a management situation, but is not as helpful for magic. So I’m going to go ahead and glom these two together.
The principle here is straightforward: Ask for something you could actually get.*** Magic puts your thumb on the scales of probability; it doesn’t accomplish the impossible. Don’t expect to sprout wings and fly across the continent. Don’t try to make it snow in August. And don’t expect to win the lottery—you may be putting your thumb on the scale, but you’re only capable of pushing so hard, and the other end of the scale is really heavy. In the money-spell example given above, you’re much more liable to find success if you’re asking for a loan or applying for a grant than if you’re hoping for a gull to carry money to you from across the seas.
This is also one reason (of many) that healing magic should only ever be done with the accompaniment of medical treatment, that prosperity magic should only be done if you’re also taking steps to invest your time and money appropriately, et cetera, et cetera. Do magic for a goal only if you’re also doing everything non-magical in your power. Why? Well, sending someone’s cancer into remission is a long shot even with the best available medical treatment. Doing it without that treatment is even more so. Don’t stack the deck against yourself.
T: Consider Time
What’s the deadline on your magic? When do you need it to take effect? What’s the date that you’ll shrug your shoulders and say “Guess that was a bust” if it doesn’t work? With setting any goal, it’s important to have a timeline. This is no less true for magic.
It’s fine to do a spell for $514, but if you don’t make it clear when you need that money, you might not get it until it’s too late to do you any good. When I’m crafting a spell, I like to have a clear sense of “This is the latest I need this thing to happen.” If I’m making a talisman or something else designed to sustain an effect over an extended period of time, I’ll put an expiration date on it. Even with things that I don’t necessarily want to expire (protection spells, luck charms, what have you), I think it’s important to periodically go through and refresh them. When I’m doing the spell, I do it with an awareness of when that refreshment needs to come.
*And they’re criteria that I ignore far too often in my own professional life. What are my current goals? To finish my writing. All of it. To finish all of my writing. When do I want that done? Right away. Will that happen? Absofuckinglutely not.
**Insofar as you believe that magic works and are interested in doing spellwork at all. If you don’t believe in magic, no skin off my back; I’ve no interest in convincing you. But since you’re reading a blog post about witchcraft, written by a practicing witch, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to shift our Overton window in the direction of “magic works”.
***Think again about our analogy of a spell as a 100-watt bulb. You can only do so much with 100 watts. Don’t expect one lightbulb to illuminate a 30,000-seat football stadium.