The observation that rituals work better if their energy is focused by intention is in accord with experience in everyday life: any change involving other people, no matter how small or insignificant, tends to meet with opposition. If you want to change the brand of coffee in the coffee machine, or if you want to rearrange the furniture in the office, someone will object. If you want to drive a new road through the countryside, local people object. If you want to raise taxes, everyone objects. The more people you involve in a change, the more opposition you encounter, and in magic the same principle holds, because from a magical point of view the whole fabric of the universe is held in place by an act of collective intention involving everything from God downwards. When you perform a ritual you are setting yourself up against a collective will to keep most things the way they are, and your ritual will succeed only if certain things are true:
1. you are a being of awesome will.
2. you have allies. The universe is changing, there is always a potential for change, and if your intention coincides with an existing will to bring about that change, your ritual can act as a catalyst.
3. you limit your intention to minimise opposition; the analogy is the diamond cutter who exploits natural lines of cleavage to split a diamond.
Suppose you want to bring peace to the world. This is an admirable intention, but the average person would have no more effect (with or without magic) on the peacefulness of the world than they would if they attempted to smash Mount Everest with a rubber hammer. Rather than worry about the peacefulness of the whole world, why not use your ritual to create a better relationship with your spouse, or your boss, or someone who really annoys you? And why not work on the specific issues which are the main source of friction. And try to improve things within a specified period of time. And do it in a way which respects the other person's right to continue being a pain in the arse if they so wish? This is the idea behind focussing or limiting an intention. Having said all this, there are a lot of people in the world who would appreciate some peace, and perhaps your grand intention to bring peace might catch a wave and help a few, so don't let me put you off, but as a general principle it is sensible to avoid unnecessary opposition by making the intention as precise as possible. Think about sources of opposition, and about ways of circumventing that opposition - there may be a simple way which avoids making waves, and that is when magic works best. Minimising opposition also reduces the amount of backlash you can expect - quite often the simplest path to earth for any intention is through the magician, and if there is a lot of opposition that is what happens. [The very act of invoking power creates a resonance and a natural channel through the magician.]
I try to analyse the possible outcomes and consequences of my intentions. There is a popular view that "if it harms none, do what you will". I can think of many worse moral principles, and it is better than most, but it is still naive. It pretends that it is theoretically possible to live without treading on another person's toes, it leaves me to make unilateral decisions about what is or is not harmful to others, and it is so wildly unrealistic, even in the context of everyday life, that it only seems to make sense if I intend to live in seclusion in a wilderness living off naturally occuring nuts and berries (having asked the squirrels for permission). If it is used as a moral principle in magic, then it draws an artificial distinction between magical work and the "push me, push you/if it moves, shoot it, if it doesn't, cut it down" style of contemporary life. It completely emasculates free-will. I prefer to believe that just about anything I do is going to have an impact on someone or something, and there are no cute moral guidelines; there are actions and there are outcomes. The aim is not to live according to guidelines, but to understand as fully as possible the consequences of the things we do, and to decide, in the light of our understanding (which has hopefully kept pace with our power), whether we are prepared to live with the outcomes.
And so to sacrifice. There is a problem here. The problem arises from the perception that in magic you don't get something for nothing, and if you want to bring about change through magic you have to pay for it in some way. So far so good. The question is: what can you give in return? There is a widespread belief that you can sacrifice a living creature, and while most magicians (self included) abhor the idea, the perpetuation of this idea is still being used as a stick to beat the magical and pagan community about the head. The issue is further complicated by the fact that if one looks at surviving shamanistic practices worldwide, or looks at the origins of most religions, ritual animal sacrifice is endemic. That doesn't make it right, and I have an unshakeable prejudice that it isn't an acceptable thing to do, but I am only too aware of my hypocrisy when I order a chicken curry, so I'm not going to stand on a soapbox and rant on about it.
What I prefer to do is to examine what the notion of sacrifice means. What can one legitimately sacrifice? You can't legitimately sacrifice anything which is not yours to give, and so the answer to the question "what can I sacrifice" lies in the answer to the question "what am I, and what have I got to give?". You certainly aren't any other living being, and if you don't make the mistake of identifying yourself with your possessions you will see that the only sacrifice you can make is yourself, because that is all you have to give. Every ritual intention requires that you sacrifice some part of yourself, and if you don't make the sacrifice willingly then either the ritual will fail, or the price will be exacted anyway. I don't have a rational justification for this statement, and it certainly isn't based on "karma" or a paranoid feeling that accountants are everywhere; the belief was handed on to me as part of my magical training, and having observed the way in which "magical energy" is utilised to carry out intentions, it makes sense. Each person has a certain amount of what I will call "life energy" at their disposal - some people call it "personal power", and you can sacrifice some of that energy to power the ritual. Sacrifice does not mean turning the knife on yourself (and there are plenty of people who do that). What it means in ordinary down-to-earth terms is that you promise to do something in return for your intention, and you link the sacrifice to the intention in such a way that the sacrifice focuses energy along the direction of your intention. For example, my cat was ill and hadn't eaten for three weeks, so, as a last resort, fearing she was about to die of starvation, I carried out a ritual to restore her appetite, and as a sacrifice I ate nothing for 24 hours. I used my (real) hunger to drive the intention, and she began eating the following day.
Any personal sacrifice which hurts enough engages a deep impulse to make the hurt go away, and the magician can use that impulse to bring about magical change by linking the removal of the pain to the accomplishment of the intention. And I don't mean magical masochism. We are (subject to all caveats on generalisations) creatures of habit who find comfort and security by living our lives in a particular way, and a change to that habit and routine causes some discomfort and an opposing desire to return to the original state: that desire can be used. Just as a ritual intends to change the world in some way, so a sacrifice forces us to change ourselves in some way, and that liberates magical energy. If you want to heal someone, don't just do a ritual and leave it at that; become involved in caring for them in some way, and that *active* caring can act as a channel for whatever power you have invoked. If you want to use magic to help someone out of a mess, provide them with active, material help as well; conversely, if you can't be bothered to provide material help, your ritual will be infected with that same inertia and apathy - true will, will out, and in many cases our true will is to flatter the ego and do nothing substantive. I speak from experience.
From a magical perspective each one of us is a magical being with a vast potential of power, but that is denied to us by an innate, fanatical, and unbelievably deep-rooted desire to keep the world in a regular orbit serving our own needs. Self- sacrifice disturbs this equilibrium and lets out some of that energy, and that is why egoless devotion and self-sacrifice has a reputation for working miracles.
Suggested free e-books to read:Gerald Elmore - Mantle Of Initiation Or Al Khirqah
Frater Fp - Sigils In Theory And Practice
Howard Phillips Lovecraft - The Statement Of Randolph Carter