Why love spells go pear-shaped

All right, everybody, time for your friendly local Witch to offer a February Public Service Announcement: Don’t do love spells. Just don’t.

Why? Because they go wrong. Yes, there are also issues of consent. (How would you feel if someone – not necessarily someone you liked, by the way, but anyone – did that to you? The Golden Rule applies in magic, too. Plus the physical equivalent would be very, very illegal, which is always a bad sign.) But I know, just as well as anyone, that when you’re in love, or out of love, or sort-of-but-not-quite in love, or you’re in but the other person’s out, magic seems like the perfect answer. After all, love is magical to begin with, right? Yes. And that’s exactly why love spells go wrong. Don’t do them. Beyond all the ethics, beyond anything else, don’t do it because you’ll hurt someone else and you’ll hurt yourself. Love spells go wrong.

I know, Valentine’s Day is coming up, and it’ll be during the waxing moon, getting near to full. Relationships are one of the Big Four reasons people who don’t usually work with magic either try to do magic themselves or approach Witches to do magic for them. (The others are, in approximate order, health, money, and revenge.) Trust Auntie Literata and don’t do it.

There are lots of cautionary stories out there about how love spells go wrong. (Two that come to mind are from Nancy Watson’s Practical Solitary Magic and Ellen Dugan’s Elements of Witchcraft, and both are instructive.) But I have good reason to think that love spells are inherently likely to go awry. Love is magical – and that magic doesn’t always interact well with the kind of reasoned, directed, intentional magic that Witches practice.

Love is a strong emotion, sure, and strong emotions generate a lot of energy which can be used to power a spell. But emotions alone don’t make magic (and a good thing, too!). Emotions generate energy and that energy has to be focused through intent. That focusing is usually called visualization. It’s a bit more complicated than it sounds, but the bottom line is that because of the way love makes us feel, it’s particularly difficult to redirect the energy it raises into a specific intent. Love makes us visualize all kinds of things; it overwhelms our usual ways of thinking and our self-control. Those are all amazing, wonderful, and magical things. But if you do a spell trying to use that energy, you’re likely to have all kinds of visualizations and intent going on, and the energy will either shoot off in a million different directions, not making much impact, or worse, it’s just as likely to go into one of the visualizations that you’re not very aware of. And that’s how love spells go wrong.

We’re not quite as good at controlling our minds as we like to think we are, especially in states of high emotion, like love, or blind fury. (There’s that “blindness” again – not a good metaphor for when you need to have your “visualizaton” as clear as possible.) There’s all kinds of things going on in the dark corners and in our unconscious. I personally think that a lot of the training Witches do to develop their skills at magic has to do with gaining better ability to understand oneself and direct one’s attention, focus, visualization, however you want to put it. At the same time, Witches learn to be honest with themselves and to do the kind of difficult self-examination that means I won’t be able to fool myself into thinking I’m visualizing getting my stolen property back when what I’m really desiring, underneath, is to see the thief caught and humiliated or punished. Even highly trained, experienced Witches have trouble unpacking all that when they’re in a state of high emotion, especially in love.

Why not just ask someone else, without the confusing burden of being in love, to do the spell for you? Lots of reasons: because they’re not involved, they’re less likely to be able to raise the energy and they’re less likely to be able to hold the precise visualization, but most of all, because they’re likely to tell you that they won’t do it. Rightly so: the trouble of doing love spells for ourselves teaches us the complexity involved means that doing it for others is ethically dangerous.

When my partner and I were going through a sticky period in the process of getting together (which we are, and very happily so for years now!), he asked me, half-jokingly, whether I’d put a spell on him. I said no, and before I could think about it, the truth popped out of my mouth: “Because if I had, we’d be in an even worse situation than we are now.” It was true then, and it’s true now. Love spells go wrong. Don’t do them.

What you can do, instead, are other kinds of spells. The most recommended substitute is a generic spell to draw love into your life without specifying the person. That’s fine, but it’s still prone to misfire in similar ways. I’d suggest a spell to enhance the lovable aspects of yourself – up to and including your appearance, as long as you remember that true beauty comes from the inside. Even more than that, I’d suggest a love spell on yourself, for yourself. If you don’t love yourself, you will have a hard time learning to love someone else, and you’re asking others to love you when you’re not able or willing to do so yourself. Get that straightened out, and the rest will follow. It’s not easy, but it’s the truth, and that’s one of the things Witches are for.