Since we’ve discussed why stereotypical “love spells” are unethical and almost always a reflection of rape culture, I want to mention two kinds of spells that address the desire for a relationship in ethical ways.
One good approach might be called the wide-field love spell. Someone who wrote to me put it very well when zie said: “I asked the universe to bring me MY love, the life-altering love I was supposed to find, rather than identifying anyone in particular.” That particular spell worked smashingly well for hir, and I’ve heard other similar accounts.
It should be fairly clear that this kind of spell isn’t treating someone else as an object of manipulation. There are lots of ways to do this spell; most of the differences depend on how specific you are about what you want that person to be like. Some people advocate more specificity, possibly right down to physical details, while others place their trust in the universe and/or deities about some or all of the fine points. (See also: “And her hair shall be what colour it please God!“) I think there’s some interesting discussion to be had about why some people prefer one approach over another that gets down to how and why we think magic works, or why we use it the way we do, but either way, it’s ethical by my lights.
Yes, you can use the “specificity” approach to try to get around the uncertainty. But if you say, “Dear Universe, please bring me My One Troo Luv, whoever that might be. I want him to be somebody in my second-period algebra class who has dreamy green eyes and plays soccer and is named Travis, or somebody just like him, for the good of all and harm to none, so mote it be!” then you are missing the point of not manipulating people. Also, the universe will laugh at you and Travis’ identical twin brother who is a real dork will follow you around for the rest of tenth grade. I’m just sayin’.
Another way that we avoid ethical concerns is that instead of casting a spell on someone else, we find a way to cast something else for a similar intent on ourselves. In the area of relationships, this usually amounts to casting a spell on oneself to make oneself more lovable and/or attractive. Notice that this has the same effect of widening the field, removing the issue of manipulating an individual.
There are also plenty of ways this can go wrong, of course. You can try magic to make yourself more attractive – and I have a strong suspicion that an eyeliner pencil or a makeup brush would work just fine as a magic wand – but if you fall into the trap of superficial thinking, you may be disappointed with the results. It might attract a superficial response, or it might attract a response from someone you can’t stand for other reasons. If instead of concentrating on appearance you work to make yourself more lovable, that’s a laudable goal and possibly will help you address some of your own internal issues but no guarantee of a satisfying relationship.
These approaches both involve a lot more uncertainty than the stereotypical “love spell.” That’s not an accident. Treating other people ethically involves not trying to control every detail of every occurrence, because to treat others ethically we have to recognize that they are full human beings in their own right, with their own histories, feelings, thoughts, goals, and motivations. This is about a lot more than free will: it’s about treating someone as a person, rather than objectifying them into a thing to be controlled. Being open to the unexpected, including even pain and loss, is what makes the joy and wonder of a real relationship possible in the first place. That’s the real magic of love.