Why Are Some Prayers More Effective?

by Mike Sententia on May 22, 2012

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Ona, who you’ll recognize from my comments, has a great post on her blog, where she’s wrestling with her model of prayer-based magick. Her style is very different than mine, so I don’t comment on her work much, but I found this post fascinating.

She was asked to pray for a friend of a friend to win a research grant. Here’s her question:

What about her own intention, her boyfriend’s intention and his magick? Is God thinking, “Oh, finally Ona asked, so now I’ll take care of that!” Is it like a vote? “Oh,” says God, “three people have asked for that now? Well, let me get right to it!” That’s absurd.

This has always struck me as absurd in the prayer-to-god model of magick, too. That’s always where I stopped questioning — I solved the absurdity by discarding the model. But that’s the easy way out, and I really enjoyed watching Ona wrestle with this problem.

She starts by asking a Buddhist abbot, who makes a distinction between doing something for someone vs doing something with someone — that you’re not causing the change, but rather, you’re helping the person find the change they want for themselves. The distinction, I think, is that helping a person find their own change wouldn’t cause changes that the person doesn’t want, or that aren’t good for them. Which brings me to my first question: What if your goal is to cause changes that aren’t good for someone? Especially because every change is going to be bad for someone — if I help myself get a job, that’s bad for the other people who applied, after all.

She also asks a Buddhist lama, who basically says that a realized master with pure intent will get better results than a beginner. This seems kind of circular to me: Of course a master will get better results, that’s why we call him a master. But what is it about the master that causes the better results? And if the deity you pray to will do it when the master asks, why won’t it just do it when the person asked in the first place?

The lama also talked about faith and belief resulting in more powerful manifesting, but I don’t buy it. Sure, doubt can mess up your magick, but there’s a limit to what belief can do. Just believing really hard doesn’t make you a powerful mage. If it did, schizophrenics would be the best mages out there.

Ona gets another idea from both the lama and a Christian blog: Maybe masters are more successful because they intuitively know what to manifest for, either manifesting for things that are possible, or simply manifesting for what’s already going to happen (that is, the manifesting is really a psychic intuition). This is an interesting possibility, particularly because asking for the right thing is important when you do manifesting. But it feels incomplete. In particular, I’d expect a master to get better results than a novice even if they ask for the same things. Wouldn’t you? And doesn’t that mean there’s something deeper going on that simply knowing what to ask for?

At the end, Ona returns to her discomfort at doing manifesting for a friend of a friend:

In a situation like my friend’s girlfriend, I also wonder if part of the discomfort was that I felt intuitively that she was not supposed to go or would not go on that program, and thus asking for her to get into the program felt like swimming upstream.

On this one, I know what she means. How do you know you’re helping your friend? And how do you know that it’s good to help your friend? I mostly write about technical skills, not ethics, but it would be lovely to know that your manifesting was strong enough to cause serious change, but also gentle enough to do no harm. At the end of the day, I think you have to choose one or the other, but I totally sympathize with Ona’s desire for both.

Thoughts?

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Ona May 22, 2012 at 3:31 PM

Hey Mike – thanks for taking up the conversation. Do check the update to the post, at the end, where I add yet another point of view, from a Christian contemplative, which fits in nicely.

I do think there is a misunderstanding of “faith” and “belief” as the lama was intending them. That is, she said a beginner first has doubt, but then develops faith (meaning a sort of blind conviction that things probably will work as described if they just do the ritual), and then a student develops belief (meaning they see results and start to really trust that things work as they are described)…

And in regards to your question: “But what is it about the master that causes the better results? And if the deity you pray to will do it when the master asks, why won’t it just do it when the person asked in the first place?” Both the lama and the Christian contemplative return to the same point: because the more wise/realized/enlightened/holy/pure a person is, the less their own egoic attachments/desires get in the way of pure intention. And the more pure (unencumbered/not tangled) the intention, the less muddled the signal, so to speak.

Anyway, I look forward to other perspectives. It’s always interesting! Cheers, Ona

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Mike Sententia May 22, 2012 at 3:48 PM

Thanks for replying, Ona. I hadn’t gotten that distinction between faith and belief, but it makes sense from your post.

And thanks for explaining the model where eliminating the ego attachments makes communication clearer. That makes sense now. But it leads me to another question: Are there other ways to make the communication clearer? Either instead of eliminating ego attachments, or in connection with them? And are we talking about the clarity of what I should ask (that is, picking the right question), or clarity in transmitting the message (that is, the difference between a clear phone line vs cell phone static)?

On the edit to your post (about the prayers being for the benefit of the person praying, to bring them closer to god, rather than to actually influence events), that seems like the psychological model of magick: We’re just influencing our own thoughts and growth, not the external world. Is that your feel, too?

Thanks!

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Ona May 22, 2012 at 4:07 PM

“On the edit to your post (about the prayers being for the benefit of the person praying, to bring them closer to god, rather than to actually influence events), that seems like the psychological model of magick: We’re just influencing our own thoughts and growth, not the external world. Is that your feel, too?”

Yes and no. The two aren’t distinct, from a certain perspective. That is, the practice gradually aligns “my will” with “divine will” so the distinction between internal and external becomes not so separate. Then what one wants becomes less different from what already is/will be.

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Ona May 22, 2012 at 4:09 PM

“But it leads me to another question: Are there other ways to make the communication clearer? Either instead of eliminating ego attachments, or in connection with them? And are we talking about the clarity of what I should ask (that is, picking the right question), or clarity in transmitting the message (that is, the difference between a clear phone line vs cell phone static)?”

I don’t know if there are other methods besides eliminating ego attachments. Certainly there are tricks (such as the Chaos Magick of avoiding lust of results by charging sigils in a trance state) that are intended to help.

As to the latter question: both, I think.

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Ona May 22, 2012 at 4:30 PM

One thing you said I think is intriguing to pursue is this, too: “Which brings me to my first question: What if your goal is to cause changes that aren’t good for someone?”

What if you take that to the extreme, of wanting to do something harmful to someone? Or, as you said, the scenario where many things you may want might have as a side-effect something someone else doesn’t want. What are your thoughts on this, or how do you consider it in your own work?

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Mike Sententia June 5, 2012 at 11:04 AM

Asking my own questions back to me? That hardly seems fair :)

I try to have simple answers to these things, because the more complex ethics get, the easier it is to miss a problem or find a loophole.

On doing something harmful: I consider intentional magickal harm to be like physical harm. If I’m threatened to the point where I’d punch someone, I’d use magick to protect myself. If I’m upset but would consider it petty to punch them, I won’t curse them either. I find it’s much easier to just connect magick to something we already have ethical intuitions about, rather than to try and create a whole new ethics.

On someone asking for something, but it turns out they don’t really want it: I’ve run into this idea before from healers, talking about “What if the disease is their soul selecting a learning experience for them?” My take is, as long as they’re a sane adult, if they say they want X, I’ll trust them. Not because I think they’re necessarily right about what will make them happy or fulfilled, but because I don’t see any other option that’s not patronizing. Who am I to correct another adult on what they want?

I would do manifesting to make sure that this X that they want will turn out well, and warn them if it comes back negative. But in the end, a manifesting that says, “Path Y will turn out badly” usually means “Most outcomes of path Y are negative.” In my experience, manifesting simply doesn’t have the computing power to examine every minute decision you might make on a path, so it won’t know the definitive answer. And I’d tell the person that, too, and ask them what they’d like to do. If, knowing what I know, they still want X, I’d do the manifesting.

(I’m assuming that manifesting for X leads to something unfortunate for them personally, not some global catastrophe or something.)

I also wrote a post today exploring some related ideas about selling magick services:

https://magickofthought.com/2012/06/why-im-resistant-to-selling-magick/

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wsa May 23, 2012 at 8:43 AM

Please excuse the stream of consciousness below, it got longer than I expected; as Pascal said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Mike, you asked: “What if your goal is to cause changes that aren’t good for someone? Especially because every change is going to be bad for someone — if I help myself get a job, that’s bad for the other people who applied, after all.”

I think that is not necessarily the case, witness my desire for a particular office. I asked that the current occupant be given an even better position more in line with their goals so that the office would be vacated for (hopefully) me. Therefore we both got what we wanted, the occupant got a new unexpected beneficial offer and so vacated that office; I got a chance to acquire the office to benefit my own Path. Nobody left that situation harmed in anyway we both benefitted, in fact.

To try to use Ona’s advisor’s Christian languaging, we might be able to say that I asked that the occupant come more fully into the understanding of and alignment with God’s Will and if that caused a shift from that office, if it were in align with God’s Will, I would like to become the new caretaker occupant for a time. Not my way of seeing the forces of the Universe, but seems to me it could be a valid way of seeing the same situation if one were Christian.

What about more overt practices intent on causing harm to a person? For instance, a practitioner praying/working magick for a coworker to be fired? Well, again, that’s not the way I would approach a difficult relationship with a coworker at this point in my journey, but that too, even if successful, might be viewed as not necessarily harmful: What if the coworker is so difficult because they are so miserable in their job situation? I have heard, and I am sure you have too, of people resisting changing job situations to the last moment… being fired…. and then saying after a time that it was the best thing that ever happened to them because if they had not been fired then, they would have never (fill in the blank)… and now their life is so much better. So who was hurt and who caused harm?

As Ona has said and has been counseled, I think it’s more the attitude and alignment of the practitioner, not so much the event being promoted by prayer/magick. Non-attachment is said to bring clarity. If one is in the position of clarity because of non-attachment, one may be better positioned to act in the perfect way (perfect timing, perfect force, perfect direction, etc.) to accomplish an act. Think of a diamond cutter cleaving a diamond. I know that that metaphor may seem to imply that the diamond cutter is in some sort of control, but remember the diamond could not be cleaved if a fault (opportunity) did not exist there in the diamond in the first place. Is the fault in the diamond the Will of God… well, that’s not my own view of the Universe, but I can see how a Christian might believe it so.

And now we have waded a fair bit into the philosophical pool. It’s here that things start to get a bit murky for me. On one hand I believe the foregoing is a correct observation, and yet I also question if all outcomes are beneficial (aligned with the Will of God) in the end? My training in the Daoist fundamental philosophy that undergirds all Chinese Medicine, as well as my observation and practice experience, informs me that if there is Yin there is perforce Yang; so if there is benefit there must also be harm? Or is the only problem the language “benefit” vs “harm” and the perspective of the prejudicial definition we apply to each of those words? Yin and Yang are said to exist only in relation to each other (think Buddhist philosophy of interdependence) so can we think of this interplay as only “expansion” and “contraction” without the judgment implied in the most often used terms? And if we can change our perspective to the totally non-judgmental, how does that affect our alignment with the Universe, or if you prefer, Karma or the Will of God?

If Ona and her advisors are correct that it’s all about aligning with the direction of Universe (Will of God?) then physics would tell us that it takes less of a force to simply direct/affect a body in motion already or at least with the potential for motion. So is this idea that an experienced, or non-attached, or aligned with the Will of God, practitioner can achieve better results… is it simply that the practitioner who is better able, through experience or innate facility, to perceive the energy/motion of the body/event involved (aka The Will of God?) will be better able to take advantage of that observed motion to achieve a particular end; which is simply a change (expansion/contraction without judgment) whose potential existed there to be acted upon under the perfect circumstances? I certainly don’t know, but it’s something to think about.

And now my thinker hurts and I am late getting into my day besides.

As always Mike, and Ona, thanks for the thought-provoking posts.

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f3n1x_hvn732 May 23, 2012 at 11:48 AM

I don’t believe in the Will of God. Well, not as a will on the human sense of the word. Leibniz said we live in the best of all possible worlds, because God will not create anything that is inferior if it can be better. I think in it like a “force of coherence” in reality (is possible that God have a intelligent mind, but is incomprehensible to simple mortal minds like ours, so is better thinking in its actions as if were a “force of nature).

In the magick reality the systems that abound on this world are almost alive (they auto regulate) so must mages can’t make great changes in the world, except if the conditions of the system permits it. Is all about how systems are made and the consequences of modifying (or at least trying to modify) the movement of the system, and almost always there would be unexpected consequences if you try to make great changes.

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Mike Sententia May 24, 2012 at 7:48 AM

On “I don’t believe in the will of god.” OK. But in this post, we’re discussing Ona’s magick, and since she does believe in the will of god, if we want to explore her magick, we have to accept it for the moment. You can’t really explore someone’s model of magick while constantly thinking to yourself about how you disagree with their basic tenants.

On self-correcting systems: In my model of manifesting, the manifesting affects your decisions, and possibly the decisions of other people, depending on the command you use and how the software is configured. Since all those decisions are already possible within whatever self-correcting social system or physical system or whatever system we’re talking about, I don’t see the problem. But this sounds like a great idea to explore somewhere that you can write a few thousand words, and leave me a pointer to it.

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f3n1x_hvn732 May 24, 2012 at 9:08 AM

Sorry, about the will of God stuff, but I was trying to explain is that in a metaphysical theory of the Will of God, it is not understandable to mortal minds and no matter what you do it always lead to the best in the end, that if you believe in “the best of all possible worlds” hypothesis.

So even if we have free will, the things that are outside our control will make the reality move in the direction of the will of God independently. So in that model you would have that everything you do will end manifesting the will of God, but you can make the best decision (the one that benefit you the most) if you know the plan of God at large (that is making the world the best of all possible worlds).

About the self regulating systems, well I need to study more of Systems Theory, Nonlinear Sciences and Chaos theory. But maybe when I feel ready I will make an essay on that issue.

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Mike Sententia May 24, 2012 at 12:19 PM

That makes sense. What I’d recommend is, when talking to someone who uses a concept like “Will of God,” try to interpret that as something that makes sense. For me, I interpret it as “the events that would happen without any magick.” So, attuning yourself to the will of god becomes “psychic intuitions about what will already happen,” and perhaps “psychic intuitions about how manifesting for certain things will turn out in the long run.” And now it makes sense that, the better you are in tune with the will of god, the better you can do manifesting. I find those discussions much more productive than if I get caught up in their choice of terms.

Hope it helps.

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Mike Sententia May 23, 2012 at 9:15 AM

Thanks guys. Ona: Those replies make it much clearer, and I really liked seeing how you think about this. I’m going to do a followup post in a few days.

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Ona May 23, 2012 at 11:26 AM

@wsa, I think the Taoist approach fits right in with very similar perspectives, yes. I think the examples you offer are good examples.

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Ona May 24, 2012 at 12:30 PM

Re: the will of god stuff, I’m not hung up on the terminology. It happens to be the wording that works best for me right now. I would say (referencing Mike’s “that which would happen without magick”) that perhaps better would be “that which is happening (regardless)”. That which manifests out of the infinite causes and conditions of all of time, at every moment. Magick ‘works’ (from our view) when it happens to align our seeing with that which already is. In that sense I am finding the last part of my post the most resonant at the moment, where the Benedictine guy says “prayer doesn’t change God, it changes us to be more in alignment with God” (not an exact quote). Or, as my former teacher said “Magick is the art and science of experiencing Truth.” Fun discussion…

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f3n1x_hvn732 May 25, 2012 at 8:47 AM

I disagree with only one point of what you said. Magick is only a way to do things (using your will and other rules of magick to make things manifest, including telepathy and intuition). The important thing is that no matter how powerful you are as a “magician”, if there is a “will of God” then you can’t go against it. You simply can’t, but you can make the prayer (or other kind of magick) and its even possible that you succeed, but if is according the “will of God” it will bring you more benefits that if isn’t.

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Ona May 25, 2012 at 6:19 PM

Hi f3n – I think magick tends to be thought of as a technique for making stuff happen and developing special powers, but it can also be a practice for self-transformation, so to speak (a practice that moves one to be more in line with the movement of the universe, rather than changing the universe to be more in line with ones personal desires). It’s not the common use of the term but I’ve been finding it a more useful way to think of it lately. I suppose it depends on ones intentions and goals, whether it can or will function like that.

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