I don't think we've had a lot of beginners around here lately, but I know a lot of people without accounts read TW, so I want to share some of my thoughts.
I recently got myself in to a steaming heap of trouble because I thought that as a newbie witch, I lacked the power or capability to get myself in to "real" trouble. I bought in to a watered-down version of witchcraft because the real thing was just a little too big and scary for comfort, and by sticking my head in the sand I caused myself a lot of grief.
I think that there is a general idea that young, inexperienced, or new witches shouldn't worry about getting in to hot water because we don't have the ability to stir up real trouble. And I think that a lot of folks like me hold the idea that if you don't intend certain things to happen, they simply won't be a problem. I especially have a bone to pick with the idea that only real witches have the ability to cause problems, as if everyone else shouldn't be concerned about safety or responsibility at all.
Suppose you have recently decided to take up hiking, but in your area there are only unmarked trails. It doesn't matter if you are a real hiker, once you start wandering those crooked paths you are going to find yourself in the forest. And there is no reason to assume that only real, experienced hikers can find the dangerous, unsafe trails.
It is impossible to avoid every pitfall. And in fact, messing up is how we learn. But it is especially dangerous to approach witchcraft with the idea of "I'm a beginner so there is no harm where I tread." Or even more stupidly, "I'm probably not a real witch so I don't need to worry about all that dangerous stuff."
The problem with the idea that only real witches (as opposed to frivolous witches, I suppose) can cause trouble is not only is it obviously false, but that there are probably plenty of people who don't know they are 'real' until they have already gotten themselves in to trouble. Take me, for example - up until a few months ago I identified myself as a mundane person who used petty magic tricks to supplement my normal, mundane life. And I was kind of happy about this, because real witchcraft is dangerous and scary. I carried on doing whatever frivolous magic I liked with no concern for danger until I woke up one morning in a nasty situation that I needed a heck of a lot of help to fix. And if some people hadn't shown up and spent a few weeks helping me, I could have caused some actual lasting damage in my life.
Witches are not the only people who use magic or who can work with unseen worlds. It doesn't matter if you are a witch or not, if you start to flip switches things are going to happen. It doesn't matter if you believe you are a real witch or not, or if you believe you don't have very much power, or if you are just dabbling and don't want to be a witch at all. You should treat magic with respect and with the understanding that you can cause disasters without meaning to, no matter your level of experience.
Do you know how they say that a gun is always loaded? Maybe we should say every witch is dangerous. The idea that a new witch doesn't need to be concerned with magical responsibility and safety is as ridiculous as saying someone doesn't need to learn gun safety until they become a perfect shot.
Witchcraft is wonderful, but it is also pretty scary. And it is very easy for people like me to say, "only big bad witches need to worry about that", or, "if I don't mess with X, Y, and Z then nothing bad will happen." Because facing the truth - that everyone needs to worry about that, or that bad things can happen no matter what you do - is upsetting and frightening. And if someone directly told me "you don't need to worry about that, you're just a new witch" then I would have said "thank God" and put those worries out of my head entirely, until they came to bite me in the ass.
Everyone makes mistakes and gets in to really bad situations. That is the nature of the crooked path. But there are things that can be done to help ensure you find your way back to civilization in one piece. In my opinion:
Metaphorically speaking, don't get really excited about your new hiking boots and rush off to a new, unknown trail. If you go too quickly you may find yourself in the middle of a dangerous path. And you may be trapped there for some time until you can feel your way out - especially if you forgot how you got there in the first place.
Go carefully and with purpose. Put thought in to what you do. You will never be able to avoid every mistake, but if you know why you went somewhere you will have an easier time finding your way out again.
Make note of every step you take. It may seem irrelevant now, but sooner or later you may need to map out your path. A problem you find yourself in now may have started weeks or even months ago with a single sloppy spell or unwise promise. If you can't see the entire problem, you can't fix the entire problem. In witchcraft, nothing is irrelevant and the things you do in your mundane life matter.
And lastly, intent is not the highest law of the universe. If you throw a bucket of water at your friend, you can intend whatever the heck you want but he's still going to get wet. Intent can easily be misdirected or misguided in the context of a spell or magical working. For example, I accidentally got in to some trouble with a bobcat skull. I didn't intend for the bobcat spirit to be involved at all, but because I said and did things to awaken it - guess what, a bobcat spirit showed up. You can think about making pork roast all you want, but if you are following a recipe for fried chicken you will be sorely disappointed. If you are in the middle of casting a nasty and dangerous spell, whether or not you realize it is dangerous, you can't just think "and it harm none" in the back of your head and expect that nobody will get hurt. You threw the water and now people are going to get wet.
If I could say anything, it would be don't be afraid to explore. That is the adventure of witchcraft. Don't be afraid of making mistakes or causing disasters, it's going to happen. We have the power to correct the problems we make even if it is hard going, and in the end hopefully we grow from the experience. But also do not go skipping blindly in to the forest, believing that your bubble of white light will keep you totally safe. Pitfalls await us all and it's a bitch to hit the bottom still believing that nothing bad can happen to you.