Intention, Attention, and Magic

Posted on January 24, 2011
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Intention is another vital aspect of the magical process. Your intention can be thought of as your attitude and beliefs, but it is also more than that. It is volitional attention. In other words it is focused attention that is dedicated toward a particular task or activity a person is doing. Thus intention is focused attention directed toward accomplishing a specific goal, activity, or task. A magical working can be one such task.

Not all forms of attention fit intention. Paying attention to TV or multi-tasking is a very different form of attention as compared to focused attention. When you are watching a TV show, your attention can be focused, but rarely is it focused on achieving an outcome. Instead it is a passive form of attention, with the person being more or less receptive to what s/he is watching. Multi-tasking, on the other hand, is a kind of attention that is focused on doing multiple activities at the same time. However, it is not focused attention, because you are having to split and shift your attention to different tasks and activities. It’s also not as productive as people make it out to be. While a person may seem to be doing a lot, s/he doesn’t get as much done precisely because s/he is having to shift back and forth between one activity or another.

Intention, as it relates to the magical process, can also be thought of as focusing the will of the magician. In fact, I would argue that setting intention is the first step in the magical process. You’ve defined your result and now you need to set your intention to actually get that result. If you’ve answered the questions in the previous chapter, you should have a good idea of any blockages or beliefs that might compromise your ability to set your intention. If you do discover such blockages, it’s important to either assess whether you really need the result, or do internal work to undo the blockages. If, however, you find that all of you is completely in agreement with the result you want to manifest, then it’s time to set intention.

How to Set Intention

Intention is volitional or directed attention. Setting intention involves picking an action that can be used to embody and express your intention in your magical process. That activity can and usually does involve creating an altered state of consciousness that is representative of your focus. In fact, for magic to be effective, the magician needs to enter a state of mind where all possible distractions are ignored or removed, where what the magician is focused on is the process for manifesting the desired result s/he wants to obtain. In one sense, your intention is an obsession for the duration of the magical working, because it demands that your attention be completely focused on the process, ignoring all else. As such, an altered state of consciousness is ideal because any such state typically creates a hyper awareness of your process, while excluding anything else.

There are two basic types of action a magician can take, both of which can produce an altered state of consciousness. The first type of action is inhibitory. It involves inhibiting sensory awareness in order to enter an altered state of consciousness. The second type of action is excitatory. It involves entering into an excited, hyper state of activity in order to enter into an altered state of mind. Both types of actions are equally effective for setting intention, though some people may find it easier to use one type of action over another.

Some people think that setting intention is as simple as stating in a verbal or written format what your intention is, but that is new age thinking at its worst. An intention isn’t set through a statement alone, but through directed and focused attention. If you can enter into an altered state of mind when writing or saying your statement of intent, then you have set your intention, but for the majority of people, it usually requires more effort and activity than just stating your intent. A person who can enter an altered state of mind by just making a statement is someone who has learned to discipline and focus the mind through years of daily practice. For the rest of us, however, it’s important to use specific activities as part of the process of harnessing the attention effectively. This is why rituals, which can involve repetitive actions, are so effective. The repetition of the actions creates a rhythm that focuses the attention of the person on the magical process.

Not all magical activity is repetitious. Drawing a sigil isn’t repetitious, but it can still be used to set the intention of the magician. What’s really crucial about any activity you use for magical work is that it is an activity that focuses you completely and utterly on what you are trying to accomplish. Thus writing can be a magical activity (as Mr. Burroughs displayed time and again), and likewise painting can be a magical activity. The successful setting of intention is the creation of an altered state of mind where all that exists is the activity the magician is doing. Below are some questions to consider as you determine how you’ll set intention.

What activities do I already do that create an altered state of mind for me?

What activity will best express my intention, and focus my attention?

What activity is challenging for me to do, but will also focus my attention?