Step 1: Set your goal.
What is the goal of your spell? Write it down. Be specific! If you ask for something in the presence of the Creator or the gods and aren't specific, chances are the powers-that-be are going to see to it that you reach your magical goal the hard way. It's not malicious; it's just the way life works. Be as specific as possible. Don't set a vague and huge magical goal like "world peace." Noble as this sounds, it's too big a topic with too many variables for one lone practitioner to achieve. When you're starting out, it's best to choose smaller, more concrete objectives. Also, make sure your goal is something that is within the realm of possibility. Being obsessed with fantasy is not magically healthy.
Step 2: Examine your will.
Is the magic you are contemplating aligned with your higher purpose? If you don't know, don't do the magic until you have meditated on this question or asked deity or your inner self for guidance. You may also want to use divination, like tarot cards or astrology, to help you determine if this spell is right for you.
Step 3: Consider your ethics and the possible consequences.
Think about possible outcomes of your actions and their impact before proceeding. Will what you are contemplating hurt you or others? Remember that you do not want to bring harm to anyone or go against anyone's own free will, and that whatever you do will come back to you, and act for the highest good. But it's also important not to kneecap yourself in trying to avoid harm by creating a wimpy spell. A wimpy spell won't help you and may impede your true will rather than help you align with it. This is another area where divination can help you make a decision.
Step 4: Work toward your goal on the mundane plane.
Magic is much more effective if in addition to doing a spell you also try to achieve your goal the "everyday" way. After all, you can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket, and it's hard to get a new job if you don't send out any resumes, no matter how amazing your spell is.
Step 5: Choose the best time to perform your magic.
When is the most appropriate time to do the working? There are lots of factors to consider in choosing the right time. The first is simply: When do you have time to do it? You don't want to be rushed. You also want to choose a time when you are rested and alert. As with examining your will and possible consequences, you might want to do divination to determine the best time to work your spell. Another factor, and one that's easy to determine, is the phase of the moon. People do magic to enhance things or draw things to them-such as health, money, and love magic-while the moon is waxing, or getting bigger in the sky. They do magic to banish things or make things smaller-such as magic to reduce debt, lose weight, or break bad habits-when the moon is waning, or getting smaller in the sky. Magic to bring things to fruition is often done at the full moon. You can also plan spell work based on the day of the week. Each day is associated with a planet, and the planets in turn have their own correspondences. Sunday is associated with the Sun, and is good for magic that has to do with energy and the life force, money, and prosperity in general. Monday is associated with the Moon, and is a good time to do magic for conception and anything having to do with mothers, emotional work, and nurture. Tuesday is associated with Mars, the warrior planet, and is good for any kind of protective or aggressive magic, and especially for magic to muster up the guts to stand up for yourself. Wednesday is associated with the planet Mercury, named after the Roman messenger of the gods, so magic having to do with communication and travel works well on this day. Thursday is associated with the planet Jupiter, Roman king of the gods, and magic for things like money, luck, and fortune is enhanced. Friday is associated with Venus, planet of love, so magic to draw love, send love, or heal relationships works well on Friday, provided all involved parties consent to the working. Saturday is associated with Saturn, the planet of work, boundaries, and restrictions, so protection magic, magic to eliminate debt, or magic to find employment work well on Saturday. This list of associations with the days of the week is not exhaustive. There is a lot more to magical timing, but the previous factors are a good start. Entire books have been written on magical timing.
Step 6: Involve other people (or not).
Who will be involved in your ritual? If you are planning to do it alone, this is an easy question to answer. However, you may wish to include others. Who is likely to share your goal and be willing and able to help you? If you are planning to do magic that involves another person who won't be present-like doing healing work for your grandmother, for example-you should contact the person if possible and ask his or her permission before proceeding. Sometimes it is impossible to get permission, like if your grandmother is on a respirator or unconscious. In those cases, meditate on whether the spell is appropriate, and use your knowledge of your grandmother to help you decide.
Step 7: Involve otherworldly beings (or not).
As I said earlier, magic is different than praying because you are the primary force behind making it work. However, you may wish to ask for help from the God and Goddess, your personal deities, animal "familiars," ancestors, or elemental beings. Before you begin, do some research to determine whom it would be most appropriate to ask. As long as the magic is positive, the God and Goddess are good choices for just about anything, but the God is particularly helpful in work that has to do with protection, fertility, nature, death, raw energy, and animals, and the Goddess is particularly helpful in magic about birth, fertility, plants, the earth, and manifesting things into your life. Your personal deities will have characteristics associated with them that could help you too. For example, the Celtic goddess Cerridwen is linked to wisdom, and the Greek god Hermes is related to travel. There are two types of animal familiars: discarnate (spirits in animal form) and incarnate (living pets or other animals). Discarnate animal familiars or spirits serve as guides and helpers. Many work with animal spirits, but some do not. They are positive energy spirits or thoughtforms that take animal shapes in the mind of the practitioner. Some choose the familiar they would like to work with based on its qualities. For example, they might choose a raven for its intelligence or a wolf for its strength. Sometimes an animal familiar chooses the person. Many pets are drawn to energy. If you have a pet that really seems to want to join you in circle, consider letting him or her in, as long as it's safe (no open flame, no incense if your pet is a bird or reptile because they have delicate lungs, no poisonous oils or plants to ingest by accident, and so on). Watch them around your plate of cakes. My cats have been known to run off with ritual food. You can always call on your ancestors to help in magic. They are linked to you both in blood and spirit, and they can be powerful allies. Some ancestors will not come when you call, and some will not approve of you doing spells, especially if they followed a different religion when they were alive. Never ask an ancestor whom you think might be offended. If you think they're okay with magic, however, call on them to strengthen your work. Last but not least, you can call on the spirits of the elements. If you are doing a spell that involves bravery, for example, you might call fire spirits (keep that fire extinguisher handy), or if you are doing one that requires intellect, you might call on air spirits.
Step 8: Choose the location.
There are many places where you could do your spell: inside versus outside being the first consideration, followed by whether or not you will be able to work without interruption. You will want to choose a place that is easy to get to and where you have access to whatever you need for the spell. The nature of your spell will be a determining factor too. If you're working with fire or nature spirits, you might want to do it outside, but if you're doing a quiet working that requires a lot of concentration or meditation, it might be better to be inside. You'll also need to consider whether you want to do your spell in sacred space. Casting a circle is not at all required for magic, but it's a good idea if you are calling the gods.
Step 9: Choose your correspondences.
Magic works well when your spell includes items that are aligned with your goal. These items help focus your intent and add energy to the working. When you are thinking about what items to include in your spell, consider things whose color, sound, scent, taste, or texture somehow suits your goals. Consider food, candles, oils, incense, magical tools, clothing, herbs, and rocks and crystals that are associated with the purpose of your spell.
Step 10: Write or acquire the spell.
Do you want to write your own spell, or have you found one in a book? If you've found one, do you want to modify it to suit you better? Do you want to go into your spell with a carefully determined script, or do you want to have a general idea of what you'd like to do and make the words up on the fly? If you choose to write your spell, first think of your goal. Find a way to state your goal clearly in words, either with rhyme or without. Then build the ritual around this center statement of intent. Incorporate the correspondences you've chosen, either directly into the words or into the greater ritual. For example: A. Clean and prepare your space. Set up the altar and draw a circle. B. Call the quarters, if desired. C. Call the deity(s), if desired. D. Declare your intent, speak the words of your spell, and focus on your goal. E. Raise energy to direct toward your goal using any one of many methods, including breath work, dance and other physical movement, chant, tai chi, or visualization. If you'd like, see the energy as a rising cone of power in the center of your space. F. Focus and direct the energy. Visualize your goal, and mentally direct the energy to it. G. Ground and release excess energy. H. Thank all participating beings, human and otherwise. I. Say farewell to the deity(s), release the quarters, take up the circle, and clear the space. J. Reinforce the spell by repeating it later if necessary. Sometimes it takes more than one shot. Remember, you do not have to build a circle, call the quarters, or call the gods. I have included those steps in case you want to do them. It might be best to use them during your first few tries.
Step 11: Prepare.
Sometimes people will do preparatory work that helps them begin to align with their purpose before they ever start the actual spell. This may include taking a ritual bath with herbs or oils associated with their goal (for example, basil for a money spell), fasting for a day, eating foods that are aligned with the goal, and charging/blessing/consecrating tools and materials prior to the ritual.
Step 12: Work your magic and know that it will succeed.
Step 13: Keep silent!
This is so very important. If you talk about it or think about it a lot it draws the energy from its intended goal. It also focuses your energy on worry, and sets up a mental belief that the spell will not work. This can be detrimental to your spell work.