I was working on a project with my son the other day and he had to define the word "intent" and give examples of how sometimes what one intends to do is not what they accomplish. We came across the following definition:
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions is a proverb or aphorism. An alternative form is "Hell is full of good meanings, but Heaven is full of good works".
This sparked some deep thought about the subject as it applied to the craft. The biggest component to any spell is the practitioners intention, your desire, wish, what you want to accomplish. That intention is the first thought that set you on your path to create your recipe to achieve your goal. If you decide on a long spell or one that involves a ritual, your intention is a constant in your mind while you gather your ingredients or create your incantation. Your intention actually begins the magic that you will eventually create. Your intention is everything!
But........are you sure you really know your intention? Intent can be a wild animal and just when you think you know it well and are set on a path to see it through, there is a little voice in the back of your subconscious mind that may be saying something different then you intend. A conflict of sorts.
What do I mean? Well lets say that someone you care about has been injured or wronged by someone else. You decide the wrong doer needs to be taught a lesson. You have now developed an intent to cause harm or at least a consequence to wrong doer. Admirable? Perhaps. Deserving? Good possibility. Do you want to kill them? No, just a lesson.
So now armed with intention you set out to create your spell with good intention to teach a lesson. But as you are gathering your things, making your plans, you keep the victim in your mind also. In the back of your mind you are remembering a time when they angered you, or they themselves did you wrong and you are still a little miffed about that. You move past it and back to your task. There is already a problem.
What you choose or consciously decide to think about (the original wrong doer who needs a lesson) is not nearly as powerful as what your subconscious mind hears/thinks. I compare it to your conscious mind playing at volume 6 while your subconscious mind is playing at 10 and has a video to go with it.
Your plan is complete, your ingredients added, candles selected (if you use these to begin with) and you are set to go. If you have called spirits, they are listening. You state your intention, in or in addition to any incantation. You continue your work until you feel it complete and you basically hit "send". It is off.
Then you remember that little thought that had popped into your head earlier and you realize that it had popped into your head a couple times while working. That little voice that was introduced by a louder and more powerful part of your mind has just hijacked your spell. You did not mean to get even with your friend, you meant to help them. You did not intend to cast at them or teach them a lesson, I mean come on...that was years ago and you have forgiven them, right?. You were helping them, you were enacting justice, you were defending them. Weren't you?
I promise that the spell you just did is going to have an equal or greater effect upon the person you thought you were helping. The seeds of doubt grow fast, don't water them. If you think you can or can't, you are right. (nice cliche) I never enter into any spell with even the smallest particle of doubt or with questionable intention. You can not afford to.
This situation that I have used as an analogy and is a simple one but think about other big things. And it can go both ways.
What if you are doing a love spell (ick) but deep down your are angry that you have to use magic to attract this person? Anger is a more powerful emotion than most. Anger is what is going to power your love spell, not love. Both because anger holds power and because it is your subconscious in stereo saying anger while your quieter mind is singing acapella.
What if you yourself have been harmed and you want revenge. But you are not a dark and angry person and you are not comfortable with black (no such thing but have to put a word there to make a point) magic and you do not want to really hurt anyone. So you decide on a lessor of the evils type spell just for a little jab at the person. Depending how angry and how hurt you really are.......that spell is going to go wild and little jab will become something you never saw coming.
My point is that what you think you intend and what is really deep seated in the back of your mind, often time do not match. Thus the phrase "the road to hell is paved with good intentions".
This is also and especially true of doubt. What I see in the craft all too often , are people just starting out and on the path of learning. They read a book, think they got it and immediately jump to "canned" spells either from a book or a forum or the internet. They have not developed their confidence because they lack all of the foundational knowledge they need to be completely confident in the task. If you are doing a spell and thinking "I hope this works" or "this feels silly", it is not going to work. After a few spells not working the person begins to doubt even more. Any element of doubt in yourself is going to damage or completely dissolve your effort.
Doubt is the killer of a rock hard intention. You can everything perfect, have your intention totally in alignment and just preformed a ritual fit for Hollywood........it will be a dud because of that doubt.
How do you fix this? If your intention is splitting, deal with it before you add magic to the mix. If it is doubt that killed your spell it is a clear sign that you are not ready for spell work. You need to find yourself on your path, figure out who and what you are and what you want from "magic". For most Trads the answer is a way of life, not just spell work. It is in our household, our kitchen, our cooking, our bathing...everything we do. The way we treat a cold or celebrate a holiday or birthday. It is everything. When your life is in line with what you seek from the craft....doubt will be gone and your spells with be magical.
(who is heading off to wash dishes with my hand crafted dish soap because even the mundane in life has to be part of your craft)