The Elements of Spellcrafting: 21 Keys to Successful Sorcery, by Jason Miller
New Page Books, 9781632651204, 224 pp., 2018
Jason Miler’s latest book, The Elements of Spellcrafting: 21 Keys to Successful Sorcery, is hugely valuable, and even necessary, for any occultist who intends to do spellwork. It’s sort of a deceptive book — it purports to be about spellcrafting, but the ideas presented also speak to a broad and encompassing philosophy of magical practice. Any occultist or practicing magician will find a lot of think about here. It’s basically a toolkit that can help develop and create a practical application of magick, that can be used to manifest whatever the magician is seeking.1
Jason Miller is a long time magical practitioner and teacher of Strategic Sorcery — his own school of magick that incorporates and amalgamates elements of witchcraft, Hermeticism, ceremonial magick and even hoodoo and Thai Buddhism. He writes in an engaging, accessible manner, and leads the reader easily through an enormous amount of complex material. Miller has written four other books on magick (all are now on my to-be-read list!) and he’s created a couple of online courses that look interesting — one concerning his Strategic Sorcery, and another about Hekate. The Elements of Spellcrafting is my first direct exposure to his work, and I’m now a big fan. This is the type of book in which you begin to highlight passages, or dogear pages, and before long realize you’ve highlighted and folded more pages than not.
In this volume, Miller is presenting 21 keys to make magick more effective. He’s divided the book into three parts. The first is “Setting Up the Spell,” which concern strategies (or “keys”) for developing spells with the most potential to succeed. The second is “Execution,” which focuses on practices that will impact your spells. This second section goes way beyond the lists of correspondences that lots of other witchcraft or spellcrafting books seem to get stuck on. Of course, correspondences are important in developing spells; using herbs, candles, essential oils, colours, moon phases or astrological correspondences, for example, are crucial parts of ritual work for most occultists. At the same time, I think beginners to spellcraft can get stuck in the weeds of correspondences, and use them as a sort of spell recipe book. That’s a totally legitimate and valuable way to start creating spells, but in this book Miller pulls the reader down some more interesting and complex avenues. The third and final section, “Advancing Your Craft,” discusses optimizing your craft to optimize your life.2
Each key is a short chapter. The book incorporates illustrations on the title page for each chapter, which provide a comedic encapsulation of the key within. To be honest, when I started the book I was dismayed to see the illustrations. Call me a dour occultist (no, please don’t!), but I figured these comics were silly at best and, at worst, annoying. Given my affection for this book, it should come as no surprise that I came to enjoy the comics, which are drawn by Matthew Brawnily, a Philadelphia occultist, illustrator and tattoo artist. He’s created some clever pictorials that actually help elucidate the themes of the chapters. There were times I flipped back to the comic to appreciate it after I finished reading the chapter.
So, what’s so awesome about The Elements of Spellcrafting? It’s a fun read, but also a dense read. Like many occultists, I’ve read a lot of magick books by now, and “fun” and “dense” usually don’t describe the same volume. I would urge anyone to pick this one up for their magical library. I’ll dip into some of the keys to give you some ideas about what I thought was so cool about Miller’s approach.
In key 2, “Stop Making Crappy Goals,” Miller describes at length what makes a good goal to target with magick. He concludes the chapter with three steps to goal design that look a lot like the steps to creating what many readers familiar with self-help, management theory or even motivational interviewing will recognize as SMART goals. That is, Miller advises the sorcerer find a Specific target, seek Measurable results which are Realistic, and Time-related. (The “A” sometimes refers to “Assignable,” but for the sorcerer’s purpose, it could either be themselves or the target of their working.) The focus of this key — making good goals — speaks to a foundational and transferable skill that has application in both magical and mundane contexts. Failure to achieve goals is a common problem for many people, whether pertaining to professional or personal ones. The same principle of beginning with a good goal also applies to magick!
Miller further develops the idea of what might be considered “realistic” for a sorcerer, as he guides the reader not towards what’s “realistic,” but rather what’s “possible,” using this third key, “Make Sure Your Life is Enchantable.” It’s still a basically a SMART goal, but the magician needs to make sure their life can accommodate their goals. Here, Miller advises the reader to keep mundane and magical efforts trained in the same direction to essentially expand your life and perspective to accommodate whatever you’re enchanting for. He’s using an interesting way to discuss the idea of working with the universe to achieve your end — the classic example being a sorcerer enchanting for a financial windfall, but failing to apply for a new job or engage in a training program that might yield a more enchantable employment opportunity.
In key 5, he presents the idea that “‘Matters’ Does Not Mean Necessary.” Here, he discusses the spellcaster’s dilemma of substituting one spell component for another. Does it matter? I like that he challenges the conventional idea that substitutions don’t really matter, assuming the will and intent of the sorcerer are in alignment with the spell. Modern spellcasters are probably familiar with this idea that intention matters more than following a spell to the letter.
I found Miller’s take on this refreshing. He argues that it absolutely does matter, and that there may be material consequences to switching out ingredients within a spell. He gives the example of a vegan swapping out eggs for dandelions in an offering to Hekate, noting that the resultant working may appeal more to Hekate’s necromantic aspect since dandelions have more affinity with necromancy than eggs do. Here, Miller is encouraging the practitioner towards knowledge; to seek knowledge and understanding and gain foundational skills in learning about elements of spells — things like herbs, plants, spirits, astrology or planetary alignments. Having read a lot of books on witchcraft, this was an interesting perspective for me — the idea that a magical practitioner requires discipline, and that spellcasting and creating aren’t best served by a laissez faire approach.
I have dozens of other pages in this volume marked, with lots of other keys in which Miller lead me to reconsider what I had previously assumed about spellcasting. The cookbook approach is probably where lots of witches or sorcerers enter spellwork, and Miller validates that approach. But notably, he gently and firmly encourages spellworkers to go beyond that, to achieve mastery over their spellcasting. In this regard, it’s an affirming, encouraging, and even challenging book.
His approach to working with spirits also inspired me. A foundation of the sorcerer’s practice he advocates lies in developing relationships with spirits, and cultivating those relationships regularly, rather than solely when the querent is seeking some kind of magical assistance. He makes the analogy between asking a stranger for a loan versus asking a friend, which is an apt metaphor here. I confess, I hadn’t given much thought to relationship with spirit. I’m familiar with the idea of seeking one’s holy guardian angel (via western hermetic esotericism), but I hadn’t spent much time considering the value of working specifically with ancestor spirits, or with specific spirits who might help me develop my magical skills. But Miller takes this further in promoting these relationships as reciprocal; in Miller’s view, you need not only to worship, but also to make material offerings at regular intervals.
In key 11, he offers us the idea that we ourselves are spirits, a wonderfully simple and yet radical idea. In his words, “Many of the people who have been called Witches or healers throughout the years do not necessarily have spirit familiars, ceremonial systems, or anything that they study as Magic. They are just people whose inner life was able to spill out into their outer life — because they are spirits.”3
In “Work Outside the Columns,” Miller advocates that magicians purposely limit themselves to one deity, saint or spiritual tradition, for a proscribed period of time, to force themselves to develop deep knowledge and skill in a specific practice. He’s advocating depth here, rather than breadth, which is advice that runs counter to that found in many other magical books which advocate the cultivation of a diverse skillset that a practitioner can bring to bear on any magical working. Of course, it’s up to the individual witch, sorcerer or magician to develop their own knowledge and skills, but Miller’s advice is interesting.
Obviously, I liked The Elements of Spellcrafting a lot. It provides tips and perspectives that occultists won’t find elsewhere. It’s also deceptively simple in that he presents a lot of information in a condensed format, and if you’re anything like me, you will want to learn more. I can see myself rereading this, probably pretty soon.
- A note on language: Miller spells “magick” without the “k,” and calls the magical practitioner a “sorcerer.” He explains the rationale for his preferred lexicon in the text. For my purposes in this review, I’ve used the term ‘magick” and interchangeably used the terms “practitioner,” “occultist,” “witch,” and “sorcerer.” Not because they are equivalent, but rather for the sake of brevity and inclusion. [↩]
- This is probably where I should confess that I’m a lifelong fan of self-help books… and the more occult literature I read, the more I realize that the occult and self-help have a lot in common. I know, this is probably a contentious assertion, but in many instances, the maligned self-help genre speaks directly to the sort of personal development that occultists tend to love! Lots of books about creating effective spells also talk about the need for the practitioner to engage not only in magical work, but to equally engage in practical work, such as applying for the job you’re trying to get, doing the networking, or taking a class in the topic you’re seeking mastery in. Self-help is all about doing the work on the material plane. [↩]
- p. 112 [↩]