Many spells call for meditating upon our goal, visualizing certain colors & scenes, or praying to specific deities. Some books refer to these practices interchangeably while other traditions draw firm lines between them. A traditional Buddhist would not consider meditation as part of a ritual magic spell to be ‘real’ meditation, just as a devout Catholic would be dismayed at the use of prayer in a pagan ritual.
So where do these techniques intersect and where do they differ?
Meditation is the most distinct of these practices. Although the term “meditation” is often used interchangeably with “contemplation,” they’re not the same. Contemplation is the act of reflecting on a subject in order to glean insight, wisdom or knowledge from it. When people say, “I’ll meditate on that,” they really mean that they will contemplate the problem in hopes of conjuring a solution.
But meditation is something else. Meditation begins with concentration—the deliberate use of focusing attention on an object long enough to achieve absorption. Absorption means that the boundary between the observer and the object disappears, and observer and object become one. When this absorption happens, all thinking ceases because all attention has been concentrated singularly on the object of meditation. Where contemplation is just another word for thinking, meditation is active non-thinking.
Ultimately, meditation and all meditative practices are essentially about stilling the mind. Stopping the internal dialogue is a key principle in almost all meditation practices. An effective meditation practice should quiet the inner voices of the mind. The results are increased mental clarity, a stronger and longer attention span, and deep feelings of calm, serenity and equanimity.
Prayer is totally distinct from meditation. Even though a person praying may appear identical to their meditating neighbor, the two practices are diametrically opposed. Meditation is designed to clear the mind of all thinking, whereas prayer actively engages thinking to communicate with one’s deity or higher self.
The rubric for prayer is much more flexible than meditation. Common forms of prayer include the recitation of scripture or casual dialogue with a higher power. Practices vary between denominations, and can even differ from person to person. Prayers can be elaborate or simple. Prayers can be part of a ritual or on their own.
Chanting—the hypnotic repetition of hymns and mantras—is the most ancient type of prayer. While the results of chanting may seem similar to meditation—repetitive singing will also still the mind, providing clarity & calm—the intent is fundamentally different. The purpose of chanting is to speak directly to a higher power using words or phrases that are thought to be inherently magical. These magic words are used to honor the gods, request assistance or empower oneself.
Where the words of prayer are thought to have power in and of themselves, the line between prayer and magic is blurred. While there can be a distinct line drawn between prayer and meditation—prayer is active thinking whereas meditation is active non-thinking—there can be no such demarcation between prayer and magic.
In some ways, prayer is a kind of magic. The key determinant is whether or not the person praying intends to affect a real change in the outer world. If a result is sought, then a prayer is a magical act. But if the prayer is simply an expression of gratitude or blessing with no other intended result, it’s only prayer.
Many magic spells call for meditating upon your desired outcome, or visualizing yourself enjoying your desired outcome. The use of the term ‘meditation’ in these contexts is referring more to contemplation and not really to concentrated absorption. However, some spells may call for a proper meditation session before the ceremony in order to clear the mind of improper thoughts that may negatively affect the ritual. In fact, meditating to clear your mind before any ritual work is best practice.
The visualizing you’ll do over a candle—envisioning the success of your spell—is closer to prayer than meditation, since it engages active thinking. But while visualizing shares similarities to prayer, there are differences.
Prayer is about communicating with your higher power in order to offer thanks or blessings, request assistance, or to empower oneself. When a spell asks you to pray or meditate over your candle, you’re being asked to do something slightly different than just call upon your higher power for help.
In magic, emotional energy needs to be cultivated and directed to a spell in order to charge it with sufficient power to do your bidding. When a spell asks you to meditate or pray, it’s actually telling you to generate the feeling of obtaining your desire and to dwell in that emotional space. So prayer in a magical context focuses on emotion, not thinking. Prayer here does not mean asking for help or expressing gratitude, but to project certain emotions at the spell.
So, if you are casting a love spell, you’ll want to generate feelings of love and contentment. If you’re casting a hex, you’ll want to generate feelings of anger, rage and resentment. Whatever emotion that you’re hoping to achieve as a result of your magic spell, that’s the emotion you need to conjure during the ritual itself.
Another distinction between visualization and prayer is that in spite of its name, proper visualization utilizes all of the senses. So you should not just be imagining what your intended desire looks like, but also how it smells, how it tastes, how it sounds, how it feels on your skin, and from there, an emotional reaction blossoms naturally. So during a normal prayer, you just may be using your inner mental voice to talk to a higher being, whereas in visualization for a magic spell, you’ll employ all of the senses to submerse yourself in the feeling of achieving your desire.
Meditation, prayer and visualization are not interchangeable terms, though some writers may use them as such, causing confusion.
Meditation is about concentrating your attention until you clear the mind of all thoughts. Prayer actively engages the mind’s thinking process rather than pausing it, utilizing the inner voice to speak directly to a higher power. And visualization uses all of the senses to cultivate an emotion on the spot, and does not just limit itself to internal dialogue.
Meditation should be practiced rigorously according to a daily schedule for maximum efficacy. Prayer can also be practiced according to a schedule, but it’s also flexible enough to be engaged spontaneously. And visualization is typically reserved for ritual, ceremonial or other magical work that has a specific intention to achieve a particular outcome beyond clearing the mind, expressing gratitude or requesting divine assistance. Visualization invests emotional power. Prayer invests mental power, although sometimes strong emotions arise during prayer, activating some emotional power as well, but not nearly as much as visualization. And meditation uses will power to overcome both mental and emotional power.
Know the difference between these techniques and practice them wisely. None is better or worse than the other. They are all extremely important to the magical/mystical path and require practice to master. You may be better at one than another, but remember that they are all equal tools to be used at your discretion.