Experimental Magic: The Evolution of Magic

Experiment with your magical practice by learning how to apply art, pop culture, neuroscience, psychology, and other disciplines to your magical work, as well as exploring fundamental underlying principles of what makes magic work. You'll never look at magic in the same way!

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Taylor Ellwood

Taylor Ellwood

Taylor Ellwood is the author of Pop Culture Magick, Space/Time Magic, Magical Identity and a number of other occult books. He posts about his latest projects at Magical Experiments. He is also the managing non-fiction editor of Immanion Press. Taylor lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and two kids, as well as 7 cats.

The Difference between Concept and Experience

One of the issues that I notice comes up a lot in the writing I see on magic is that the conceptual aspects of magic tend to be emphasized over the experiential aspects of magic. Now part of the reason for this simple could be due to the fact that writing about a topic inevitably moves that topic toward concept. However when we leave out the experiential aspects of a practice, the concept itself is diminished because what it presents is the theory without the grounding of practice. Experience necessarily grounds concept and provides the context to turn a given concept into a reality. It's important then to make a distinction between concept and experience, in order to make sure we're utilizing both in our spiritual practices.

A concept is not, in and of itself, a theory, so much as it is an idea. A concept only becomes a theory when we bring it into an experiential level. A concept attempts to describe how something ought to work as well as what the various variables are that effect the concept. A lot of the writing we see on magic is concept focused because the writer is trying to share how something ought to work with the reader, as well as providing the necessary background information that informs the concept.

An experience is the actual application of the concept. It is the instructions that provide you information on what to do, how to do it, etc. Obviously until you choose to follow those instructions, nothing happens. But once you perform the practice, then the instructions help to provide an experience. As a reader, you can modify those instructions, which can be helpful, both for personalizing your magical practice and for discovering discrepancies between the practical instructions and the conceptual explanations.

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The Rule of 3 and how we can use it in our Community

The Pagan community is going through a period of upheaval around the issue of sexual predators in the community. It's not an easy topic and as the shock of recent events falls away, we're left with a question of, "What do we now?" In a recent discussion on Pagan Musings Podcast, I suggested that one action the community could take involves documenting situations where non-consensual sexual activities have been reported. In such cases, it can devolve into a he said, she said scenario, with neither side able to conclusively prove what happened. When this occurs, its important to have a process in place that protects everyone, while still allowing for the possibility that the offending person made a mistake, as opposed to consciously doing something offensive. By documenting such situations, it makes it easier to track what is happen and do something about it before it blows up into an even more harmful situation than it may already be. Actually, this process of documentation can apply to any type of infraction that occurs at a pagan convention or festival, but it does require that people organizing the event be willing to take on the task of documenting whatever has occurred, keeping it in a database, and also sharing it with other organizers and leaders in the community. This may seem like a lot to take on, but I think it would also help to cut down on behavior that is harming members of the community.

Recently I was reading Romancing the Brand, which is a book about marketing. However, there's an interesting rule in marketing and customer service: The rule of 3. The way the rule of 3 works is if you hear about an issue, person, problem, etc. from 3 different sources, then you take it seriously because it means there's a problem. If we were to apply this rule of 3 to our community, through documentation and through the understanding that an issue shouldn't be buried or ignored if it continues to happen, what this would allow us to do is effectively monitor situations before they got out of hand. The rule of 3 provides enough verifiable information that we can't continue to put our heads in the sand and ignore what's happening. The rule of 3 also establishes that a pattern of behavior is happening and not being changed, even though concerns have been expressed.

The rule of 3 can allow our community to proactively address problematic issues by showing a pattern of behavior that needs to be addressed in a manner that protects the community over the offender. At the same time, the rule of 3 provides a person a chance (2 actually) to change their behavior, to address the problem...which sometimes is possible to do. Sometimes a person makes a mistake or has a realization that causes them to conclusively change their lives and actions. The rule of 3 allows for that without tolerating continuing behavior that harms people.

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  • Carl Neal
    Carl Neal says #
    I agree. I work for the Judicial Department and I know that our system is far from perfect, but at this time it is the best cours
  • Carl Neal
    Carl Neal says #
    Although it is an interesting idea, and perhaps a good starting place for a conversation, I see an exceedingly sliperly slope. Wh
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    This is an article primarily focused on starting the conversation. I agree with your points in your response to it, and I think al
Some Musings on Wiccanate Privilege, Words, and Pop Culture Magic

At Pantheacon I attended a discussion about Wiccanate Privilege (See this post by Lupus for an accurate overview of the discussion). I was curious about this term because it had been applied to me in a post that Ivo Dominguez had written about the Literacy of Magic. The person who applied it, Ruadhan McElroy commented on a comment I made about how I felt the Pagan community was divorcing itself from Magic in order to achieve mainstream acceptance. He made the point that such a statement displayed a level of privilege and assumption about magic's place in a given Pagan spiritual practice. Another commenter also pointed this out in a different way and in subsequent comments I came to better understand the perspective of magic as an optional practice because its simply not central to the given spiritual practices of a particular spiritual tradition.  I'll admit that when I think of Paganism, I typically associate magic with Paganism and with anything that might fall under the rather broad umbrella of Paganism (which as I'll discuss later points to a distinct problem). I think that Ruadhan made an accurate point, though at the time it blew my mind that the practice of Magic could be perceived as a form of privilege (mainly because my own experiences in mainstream culture, but in this case Ruadahan is referring to the Pagan subculture, and in that context it makes sense).

The conversation that occurred at Pantheacon helped me further understand this aspect of privilege, and where Ruadhan is coming from. Ruadhan also wrote a post about Wiccanate Privilege and noted the following:

Within the pagan community, the “Generic Popular Wicca-based Neopaganism” (henceforth “Wiccanate paganism”; Traditional Wicca, such as BT/Gardnerian or Alexandrian, is “Wicca”) is the assumed default. During the “pagan identity crisis” that’s been cycling the pagan blogosphere every few months since 2010, I’ve seen several people comment not only as non-Wiccanates who lament this, but as Wiccanate pagans unaware of their own privilege and insisting that we’re all united because, as far as they’re concerned, “we all share a history with Wicca” (an exact quote I’ve seen from several people).

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  • Nova
    Nova says #
    Sorry but I suck at double checking my own post. Since there isn't an edit button... Hmm? So hard to ask? I've honestly had it w
  • Nova
    Nova says #
    I'v honestly had it with the idea of privilege. priv·i·lege ˈpriv(ə)lij/ noun 1. a special right, advantage, or immunity granted
  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward says #
    I have found being a member of a minority-within-a-minority very instructive. I'm a (mostly) middle-class white guy, one who has
You are a public face for Paganism at Conventions

I recently attended Convocation for the first time. I was having dinner one night at the restaurant and I talked with my waiter for a bit about the convention. She asked me if I thought that she and her co-worker would be accepted if they visited the vendor room to look around and I told her that I thought it would be fine (The vendor room was open to the public as far as I knew). I thought about that conversation later on and how in that moment I was a public face for Paganism. And how at any convention that is hosted in a space such as a hotel, all of us are public faces of Paganism, even if we don't realize we are. The public space we are in is not solely a Pagan space. It is shared space and the impressions we make on the hotel staff and other guests matter.

When I'm at an event or anywhere really, I behave the way I'd want other people to behave toward me. I'm courteous to the staff, acknowledge the work they are doing and do my best to be mindful of my behavior and how others might perceive it. Now it's true that I'm at a convention to have fun, but  I also want to make a good impression because the staff and guests will come away from those experiences with their own perceptions about Pagans. And likely they'll already have some assumptions and beliefs about us based on their own spiritual beliefs, etc. However I think that how we act in public is important.

When I spoke to that waiter, I was polite and friendly and answered her questions. I don't know what she believed or thought, but I did know she was curious and I also knew that what I said in that moment could make an impression. I think I made a positive impression because she seemed more comfortable afterwards with the idea of visiting the vendor room. Now I don't know if she and her co-worker did visit or what they thought, but I would like to think that by making a positive impression I did show her that Pagans aren't so strange or different and that we're worthy of being treated with consideration.

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  • Stifyn Emrys
    Stifyn Emrys says #
    I agree it's important to be cognizant of the impressions we make on others, whether we're representing ourselves, our beliefs or
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Having worked a number of jobs over the year where I was retail, I always remember how people treated me and make the effort in tu
  • Mariah
    Mariah says #
    Thank you. I have seen this point made many times but you made it *without stigmatizing certain groups some Pagans try to distance

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
The Esoteric Secrets of Fantasy Books

Kat and I are reading Puck of Pook's Hill by Rudyard Kipling right now. It's a classic Fantasy story, but what I find interesting is that in the first chapter, if you know what to look for, you discover a lot of esoteric and occult practices shared with the protagonists of the story, and this sharing continues throughout the rest of the book. It's a subtle way to teach magic to readers. Given when the book was written, the author needed to be subtle about it, but what fascinates me is that even to this day you can still find a number of fantasy writings where esoteric ideas and secrets are shared if you know what to look for. And if you don't know what to look for, well guess what? You're being given an education in magic and how it works so that if you get to that point where you actually start practicing you've already got some idea of how magic seems to work.

Kat and I like to discuss the books we are reading together, so we got into a long and fascinating conversation about not only Rudyard Kipling, but some of those writers who've written esoteric secrets into their fantasy. For example, if you've read any of Michael Moorcock's writings you'll find quite a lot of esoteric secrets shared. In Elric of Melnibone, he practically spells how to evoke an entity in several different instances where the character needs supernatural aide. In the Corum series, he focuses in on the magical aspects of gift giving and the connections gods have to people and vice versa. And there's a number of other series he writes in where he shares esoteric ideas and concepts, which I recognize many years later as playing a foundational role in my understanding of magic. As a young, impressionable reader the stories I read fascinated me because of the adventure, but as a magician I can see how my evocation practice has been shaped by what Moorcock wrote, as well as some of other esoteric beliefs and practices.

Raymond Feist is another author who mixes in esoteric ideas and practices in his books. For the most part his ideas are more metaphysically oriented, but there a few magical ideas I've gotten from reading his works, especially as it relates to energy work and the nature of reality and other planes of existence. Then there's the Deathgate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, where they share some useful ideas about working with probabilities via sigils and sound magic. Admittedly those aren't standard esoteric secrets, but you can get a lot from the ideas and turn them into workable magical practices if you're willing to engage the material with an eye toward applying it to magical work. William S. Burroughs also integrates magical techniques into his writing. In fact, all of his writing is essentially a magical technique in and of itself. 

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How I'm working with Bacteria: An example of non-anthropocentric magic

Some of my latest magical work has taken an interesting turn, where I'm exploring my connection to the microbial life in my body. This work is not entirely new, as I've done similar such work with connecting with the neurotransmitters in my body, but how it is different from my earlier work as that I've decided to, as best as possible, approach working with the bacteria from a non-anthropocentric approach. What this means is that instead of trying to apply my human perceptions and the perspectives to the experience, I'm trying to be consciously aware of such perspectives as well as open to engaging the bacteria on their own level of consciousness. Part of my inspiration for this work can be found at this post and the links included in it. But part of my inspiration is simply my desire to experiment with magic, to see what I can do and how I can explore the universe around me.

In choosing to work with the bacteria in my body, I did some research. Usually when you see the word bacteria its associated with disease, but humans actually have  bacteria in our intestines (among other places), which exist in symbiosis with us and help us to process the food we eat. Bacteria also exist on the skin, mouth, and other parts of the body, and play some role in protecting us from harmful bacteria. This symbiosis is one of mutual support, where both the human host and the bacteria benefit. What strikes me the most is how even though human beings consider themselves to just be one identity, one life, in reality we are a universe all our own, full of life that we support, often without recognizing we support it. I suspect most people would be uncomfortable recognizing that they support a wide variety of microbial life. Instead we find it more comforting to just see the body as part of a singular identity we construct in relationship to the world around us.

In my approach to connecting with the bacteria in my body, I have initially focused on connecting with the bacteria in my stomach. There are actually a variety of different types of bacteria, but I haven't focused so much on the types as just connecting with the bacteria in the gut. I could just as easily focus elsewhere, say in the mouth or on the skin (and actually I have just started doing some connection work with the bacteria on my skin), but for this article I'm just going to describe my work with the bacteria in my gut. I want to note that in doing this work, something I've consciously recognized is that to effectively engage bacteria its important that I don't categorize them with human emotions or attributes, or assume that they'll appear in a human shaped form, or even assume they'll communicate with me using language, or visuals. I figure if I make that assumption what I'm really doing is applying an anthropocentric perspective to the magical work and consequently not effectively engaging the bacteria. At the same time I also realize that at a certain point I may need to interpret what I'm experiencing in terms that are more human oriented. The key is to recognize that and be aware of it as I continue to connect with the bacteria.

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  • Travis Crockett
    Travis Crockett says #
    Pardon, *exploring not expelling.
  • Travis Crockett
    Travis Crockett says #
    This is pretty cool. I think its particularly praise worthy that you maintained the non-anthropocentric perspective. That's incred
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Thanks Travis, It's something I'll be continuing to explore in more depth. I've found that by employing such an approach it real

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
How Magic can be Innovative

One of the books I'm currently reading,  The Necessity of Strangers, discusses how important it is to be open to different perspectives, outside of what you normally know. One of the intriguing stories they share is about a hair dresser, Vidal Sassoon, and how he developed his hair styles based off the Bau Haus architecture style that he'd seen in Germany. Now you might not think that architecture and hair design would have a lot in common, but Sassoon saw something in the architecture that he could bring over to hair design. He understood that certain principles of the architecture, especially the simple geometrical focus could also be applied to hair. The result was a change in hair styles and the formation of a brand of hair care products still used today. And all it took was a person being open to considering alternative perspectives outside of the obvious ones found in his discipline.

Now what does that have to with magic and how magic can be innovative? Occasionally I get asked how I've developed my ideas and techniques of magic, especially since some of them aren't based on traditional perspectives found in magic. The answer is that I'm always looking for different perspectives, inspiration, and ideas from other disciplines outside of magic that I nonetheless feel can inform how I approach magical work. For example, I'm reading Understanding Comics and When: The Art of Perfect Timing. Neither book as has anything overt to do with magic, but both books provide some intriguing perspectives on time and space and how people perceive and work with both elements. In turn, what I've learned from these books has been and will be applied to my own magical work, both with space/time magic, but also in other areas of magic where the perspectives inform how magic can be done.

Something I tell my students is that there is no tried and true way of doing magic. There are paths that have been blazed by other people and those paths provide a foundational knowledge of magic which is valuable, but to assume that the paths already blazed describe the one and only way of doing magic is to block out other potential avenues of exploration and to close ourselves off from possibilities of evolving magic. We need to acknowledge those who've come before us and provided us the foundation we draw on, but I'd argue that its equally important to draw on other disciplines and other perspectives in order to evolve as a magician. By being curious and open to discovering what a discipline such as architecture might offer you as a magician, what you provide yourself with is a way to challenge what you already know with what you are learning. There may be no immediate connection, but you'd be surprised at how much a different discipline can inform your magical practice or anything else you do.

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  • Hope M.
    Hope M. says #
    I am getting my certification in coaching, and one of the ways we get our clients to experience growth is by assigning them practi
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Hello Hope, I'm a coach myself. It's quite a fun journey and I wish you success as you become certified and explore it in whateve

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Interview with Tara Miller

This is an interview between myself and Tara Miller. Tara is a blogger at Patheos for the Staff of Asclepius, and is also the editor of the Anthology Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul, which has just been released by Immanion Press. I thought it would be interesting to interview her and learn more about the anthology. Disclosure note: I am the managing non-fiction editor of Immanion Press, but I think that the topic I've interviewed Tara about is one which needs more awareness in the Pagan Community.

1.     Taylor Ellwood: What are some common misconceptions around spirituality and people with disabilities? How do you address these misconceptions?

Tara Miller: Several of the contributors said they were told if they believed enough in being healed or had more magical power they would be healed of their disability. Another misconception is that people, like myself, who are born with a disability, have it because they were meant to learn a lesson in this life.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
The Literacy of Magic Pt 2

In my previous post, I explained how literacy is an institution, and how a literacy of magic would be an extension of the institution of literacy, in the sense that a given institution typically determines who is or isn't included in the institution and also establishes what constitutes institutional legitimate actions vs actions which don't fit into the institution. I explored why I felt literacy is a loaded term and why it can be problematic to apply it as a concept to magic. I also explored how trying to define magic as a literacy would inevitably end up excluding certain people or practices because of the institutional aspects of literacy. In the 2nd post to this series, I'm going to explain why the literacy of magic isn't the same as the practice of magic and why it is more useful to examine magic as a practice instead of as a literacy.

Literacy, as it applies to magic, would seem to deal with the ability to read, write, and design magic, which could include among other things the ability to read, write, and design rituals, spells, and other associated magical activities. However, once again we are left with a question: Who determines what the literacy of magic is, and what is their agenda for defining it in the way they have? An additional question that is useful to ask is: "What activities, techniques, etc., are left out of the literacy of magic?" I'd argue that a variety of activities, techniques, etc., are left out if we look at magic as a form of literacy. Now some people might argue that I'm being overly literal by exploring magic as a form of literacy and perceiving it in terms of what are considered traditional activities of literacy, but I think that we need to be particular about the words that we use when trying to define a concepts such as magic or literacy. When we conflate these two concepts together without being particular, what results is a lot of theoretical confusion and armchair arguments that do little to substantively advance the discipline of magic.

Thus I don't think it's useful to define magic as a literacy. If anything, I find literacy to be too confining and limiting in terms of describing what magic seems to be or what one can possibly do with it. At best a literacy of magic can describe certain activities and how those activities are performed, but even in that case the above questions should be asked.

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  • Henry Buchy
    Henry Buchy says #
    I didn't get the idea that Ivo intended to define magic as a "literacy" and not a practice. What he did do is draw an analogy usin
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Hello Henry, At this point i'm not really Ivo's article anymore, but just taking this into my direction. His article was a good p

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
The Literacy of Magic Pt 1

Recently Ivo Dominguez Jr published a thought provoking article where he discussed the lack of the literacy in magic in today's Pagans. While I found myself nodding in agreement with a lot of what he had to say (I've observed in the past that there is an increasing amount of emphasis on removing magic from Paganism because it makes Paganism less acceptable to the mainstream*), I also found his use of the word literacy problematic, and by extension it caused me to re-examine his article and some of my agreement with the article in a different light. As a result, I think it worthwhile to examine the concept of the literacy of magic, both in relationship to the word literacy and its variety of meanings, and also in context to the practice of magic vs the "literacy" of magic, which I'll argue are not one and the same (in part 2 of this series). In fact, part of the issue I have with the use of the word literacy is that conjures up the armchair magician, a person has read a lot of books on magic, but has done little, if anything, with that magical knowledge. I would locate the armchair magician on the opposite end of the illiterate Pagan (at least as that illiteracy applies to magic). However, as we'll see, it's simplistic to categorize anyone as literate or illiterate, because literacy itself is a loaded term.

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  • Ivo Dominguez Jr
    Ivo Dominguez Jr says #
    Just as a clarification, I did not say that the Western Magickal Tradition was the only source for trusted systems, only that it w
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Hi Ivo, Thanks for the clarification. I really appreciate that you've written that post, because it's gotten some much needed con
  • Jay Logan
    Jay Logan says #
    I would hazard a guess that it is because we are talking about different kinds of magic. To take a simplified approach, you can d
The application of Magic to Being Human

One of my fascinations in life is human behavior. I'm reading Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely and it's a book about irrational behavior, and ultimately human behavior and why people make the choices they make. Reading it is enlightening, but even more than that I want to apply it to my magical work. See, one of the things that I like about magic is that I think it can be applied quite productively to human behavior. But that can only occur when you take the time to study human behavior and ask yourself the question as to how you could apply magic to that behavior. Whatever being human really means, when we apply magic to the mix what we seem to ultimately be doing is changing behavior and habits. We uncover and examine the unconscious behaviors we've taken on and use magic to bring them to a level of conscious awareness that can then be applied to change that behavior. Here's a few thoughts on how magic can be applied to human behavior:

1. Stop an expression of behavior. This is a typical act of magic that many people do. If you are doing a behavior that you find to be harmful, use magic as one of the ways to help you stop the behavior. When you use magic to help you stop a behavior you are finding some way for the magic to actually redirect the behavior. So you'll also want to think of what behavior you want to redirect it to. If you want to stop smoking, you typically start by cutting down on the smoking and or replacing it with a supplement, such as chewing gum, but you also need to change the behaviors associated with smoking, in some form or manner. For example, there may be specific hand gestures you did when you smoked, that you might need to change in order to avoid calling up the associations with the smoking.

2. Enhance or construct a behavior. When you think of the concept of a glamour, it's an illusion to used to enhance an image, but why not apply the principle to a behavior? For example, let's say you want to feel confident when you are speaking to people. You might observe someone you really admire for their confidence and analyze how they behave or act, and then construct a persona that allows you to access similar skills in order to improve your own confidence.

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Email for inquiries and submissions: Crystal Blanton

Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press (Stafford, U.K./Portland, OR, U.S.A) is seeking submissions for the Bring Race to the Table: An Exploration of Racism in the Pagan Community.

This anthology explores the topic of Racism and how Racism shows up in the Pagan community, as well as what we can do to recognize it and proactively work to change it by being consciously aware of race and privilege and actively applying that awareness to the Pagan community. We also examine cultural appropriation and its role in racism, and how we can approach issues of culture with conscious awareness that leads to genuine cultural exchanges instead of appropriation.

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  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus
    P. Sufenas Virius Lupus says #
    I will probably try to submit something for this! (I have to get a hold of a few resources in order to do so, thus it won't be fo

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Halloween Masks and Invocation

Halloween is the first cosplay convention that ever was, and the longest running one, but Halloween is more than just that. It's a time for people to connect with the pop culture they love and embody that pop culture. For example, the recent Verizon commercial shows a family dressed up as characters (and more) from Star Wars. What strikes me about that commercial is that for that family Star Wars is real that night and in a way they get to become those characters while they trick and treat (though they do seem more obsessed with Candy than anything else).

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and it's also one of the inspirations for my approach to pop culture magic. This isn't surprising because its during Halloween that pop culture comes out in force. People dress up as the characters they love and for an evening embody those characters in one form or another. This occurs across ages, with little children dressing up to go trick and treat, while adults dress up to have fun at a costume party. Now not all of these people intentionally set out to work magic, but Halloween is a night of masks, and as such it can be useful for magical work to explore the idea of taking on a mask.

A mask allows a person to become something else, to invoke a different presence into his/her life. The mask isn't a permanent change in identity, but rather is a temporary change that allows the person to access what the mask represents. And what the mask represents is a chance to let go and allow yourself to connect with something that isn't you, that is different from your usual identity. Of course there are potential dangers when you do this without the right constraints, and I think that one of the constraints that is present in Halloween is the idea that it's all make believe. It's a useful constraint for people who aren't magicians, but for someone who practices magic, putting on the mask is never make believe. Putting on the mask is a connection with the character, entity, deity, etc that the mask represents.

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  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham says #
    Great post, thanks!
Cultural exchange vs cultural appropriation

Recently I attended a workshop run by R. J. Stewart and he related a story of a discussion he had with a Lakota Shaman. Something she said to him was that she didn't want white people trying to take the practices of her people and make them their own, but rather that she wanted them to find their own practices and then meet with people from other practices and share what each of them was doing. When I heard that story, it made me think that something which is really important for all of us is cultural exchange, where we appreciate what a given person (and his/her culture) brings to the table without feeling the need to steal from it. Instead that appreciation allows us to learn from the other person and reflect on our own practices in context to what we've learned. We engage in a cultural exchange, so that everyone can benefit from what is learned.

Cultural appropriation is the wholesale stealing of a given culture's practices. The reason people do it may be a result of feeling disconnected from the culture they are in or identifying spirituality as only residing in the cultural practices of the culture they are appropriating from. Regardless of what the reason is, such appropriation ultimately creates a mockery of the original practices, because while the person might steal away the practices, s/he can never truly know the culture. S/he is always interpreting the other culture through the lens of his/her own culture.

One of the grey areas in this kind of discussions involves the choice to study a given culture's practices. I likely fit into that gray area. I study Tibetan and Taoist meditation practices. I am not of the cultures where those practices originated and I don't try to be. I study those practices to learn from them and implement them in my life, without trying to identify with the culture. It's a grey area, because I'm not trying to appropriate the overall culture and pretend to be something I'm not, but I am learning and practicing from that culture's spiritual practices. However, I think that such learning can fit into cultural exchange if it is done respectfully and with an intention to respect the original culture without trying to become part of it.

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  • Jennifer Tindell
    Jennifer Tindell says #
    Thanks, this is very good.
  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward says #
    The story I tell about cultural appropriation is that I once approached a Native American practitioner and inquired about learning
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Hi Carl, Thank you for commenting. I wrote an essay for that anthology. It's a good anthology, and some of the other ones that we

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
What Happens when your magic fails?

What happens when your magic fails?

This is a question most magicians and pagans never want to ask or answer, but I think it's a question we need to ask and answer. It's a question that likely makes you squirm just a little bit, because it raises the spectre of "What if all this is just in my head?" The thought that it's all just in your head and that perhaps what you're doing is just a deluded fantasy is hard to face. It can cause you to feel some real doubt about magic and whether its real or just make believe. I think feeling such doubt can actually be healthy, because it teaches you to question critically and carefully what you're doing and how you're doing it. It also teaches you not to take magic for granted. If you assume that your workings will always be successful, you may be shocked when a working isn't successful. By cultivating just a bit of critical awareness, you can look through your magical workings and figure out why it didn't work as well as what you can do to improve your workings.

A good place to start is to actually determine how many of your magical workings have been successful. See if you can calculate a percentage and then determine what types of workings they were. Was it practical magic to resolve a problem, or was it a working to make contact with a deity or inner contact?  Was it some other type of magical working? So for example, perhaps you calculate that 90% of your magical workings in the last year have been successful and you realize that a quarter of the workings were practical magic and the rest were devotional, theurgic workings. Once you have estimated the successful number of magical workings, then you can look at the remaining magical workings, the ones that didn't work and determine what type they were. You might discover that 75% of the workings that weren't successful were practical magic workings. What this will tell you then is what you need to work in your magical practice. It shouldn't be hard to determine these figures if you are keeping a magical record of some type and diligently updating it.

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  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Very nice, Taylor. Reminds me of the end of Little Big Man, when Chief Dan George says to Dustin Hoffman, "Sometimes the magic wor
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Thank you Ted. I think it's worthwhile to explore why it didn't work. A failure can teach you a lot, if you are pen to learning fr
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Point well taken, Taylor; I think you are right. At various times in my life I have been guilty of all 7 of the mistakes you have
Why the question why is important to your magical practice

The other day a student from the Process of Magic class told me that she was working on the first homework assignment, which asks the student to tell me what their definition of magic is and why they've chosen that definition. She'd answered the first part, but asked me: "Why do you ask why?" I quipped "Why not" but then proceeded to explain why the question why is so important not only in magic, but in any subject you are trying to learn. In my opinion, if you can't answer the question why it indicates that you don't understand what you would be explaining to the person. For example, going back to the question of why a person has chosen a particular definition of magic, simply offering the definition isn't enough, if s/he can't explain how s/he arrived at that definition of magic. When you define something like magic, you are either defining it based off your personal experience, using someone else's definition, or a combination of the two, wherein your experiences seem to confirm the definition that someone else has offered.

One of the problems I have with how the average occultist or pagan defines magic is that all too often the definition offered is someone else's. Crowley's definition of magic, for example, is often used to explain what that person conceives of as what magic is. The problem, in my opinion, is that there is a tendency to accept this definition without asking why. The same applies to any other definition of magic that is offered up without the person questioning the definition. A definition of magic, or anything else for that matter only really becomes relevant when you can explain why that definition is important to you, in context to your own experiences. Simply expressing what something is doesn't demonstrate true understanding of it, until you can explain why the definition is meaningful to you.

Another reason to ask why is that why necessarily helps you to uncover the positives and negatives of a given definition. Any definition brings with it the baggage and agendas of the person who created the definition. Thus when we use another person's definition we are also using all the associated baggage and agendas that come with that definition. Asking why allows you to examine a given definition carefully and explore what makes it what it is, and ask whether that really fits your needs. Definitions are ultimately words used to describe how something ought to work and/or exist, and as such they are far less tangible then we sometimes think. A definition of magic is ultimately just words used to describe how you think magic ought to work...so why not ask why and actually test the definition to see if it has any validity to it. By doing so you can determine if the definition really applies, or if you need to develop one of your own that better fits your experiences.

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  • Lalia Milner
    Lalia Milner says #
    What would be a good way to introduce this concept to my children? With so many "traditional" beliefs out there it's sometimes dif
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Hello Laila, The best way to teach them is get them to ask why and also to explain why to them. By getting them to ask why, they'
  • J'Karrah
    J'Karrah says #
    This article very closely aligns with a position I have held as a teacher of magic for years: if I agree to take you as a student,

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Why Magic should change you

It seems obvious that magic should instill some kind of change within you, but I feel compelled to write this article because so often what I see in occult texts is a emphasis on changing the environment around you, as opposed to changing yourself, or a focus on changing yourself solely through spiritual means and the assistance of spirits of some type. There's this dualism within Western Magic, where you apparently have two schools of magical practice. The theurgic school is a spiritual school, wherein the magician practices high magic in an effort to connect with spiritual powers and and gradually change him/herself via that contact. The thaumaturgic school is a practical school, where magic is done to solve problems and change the environment to one that is more pleasing. I think of it as reactive magic, done to solve the current crisis in one's life. This approach to magic breaks down various magical actions by the results, and depending on what the results are a magical action is lumped in one of the two schools of magical thought and practice.

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How to experiment with magic

I've experimented with magic from almost the beginning of my magical practice. When I've tried techniques that other people have developed, I've always had one question in the back of my mind: How can I improve on this technique? Even with my own techniques, I am always interested in experimenting with them and improving on how the process of magic works. I thought it might be interesting to share on here how I experiment with magic and how you can, in turn, also experiment with magic.

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Academic Cultural Appropriation of Neopaganism and Occultism

Author's Note: This is a reprint of an article I originally published in the Anthology: Talking About the Elephant in 2008. Because the theme of the month is on cultural appropriation I thought I'd dig it out and reprint it here. I've added a commentary on the end to show where my thoughts on this topic are now (5 years after the original article was published).

While some of the articles of this anthology [Author's note: I'm referring to Talking About the Elephant] deal with cultural appropriation issues that Neopagans and Occultists may perpetuate, the goal of my article is to provide a look at a different form of cultural appropriation currently gaining popularity in both the academic and Neopagan/Occult cultures. This cultural appropriation comes in the form of academic articles and books focused on Neopaganism and the Occult. On the surface, it would seem that scholarship on these subjects is a good thing, certain to buoy the public relationship image that both Neopaganism and Occultism have with mainstream culture. However, as I will argue, there is a different, more subtle agenda occurring in these academic works, and in a manner that can be considered cultural appropriation. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to revere academic works without coming to them with an open, but critical, awareness of how those works really represent their beliefs. Nor is the question raised by Neopagans or Occultists, if the benefits of said academic works are really good for the community, or are only good for the academic who happens to be doing the research.

 

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  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    The knife does cut both ways and I'm sorry you had that experience, but imagine if you'd gone in, recorded everything and publishe
  • Candi
    Candi says #
    I tried that myself, and I got burned badly. I can't use my research at all. I wasn't allowed to record, barely able to take not
  • Candi
    Candi says #
    I have a question on this subject: Has a researcher ever encountered a Pagan population they wanted to study that has said "No" t

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
The Role of Practice in Magic

In my previous post I discussed the role of the theory in magic. In this post I want to unpack the word practice and consider what it really means to practice magic or practice spirituality. The word practice originates from Praxis, which roughly translate to taking action. Practice also refers to any activity that people do. When practice is applied to spirituality it can be thought of as a set of activities a person does in order to cultivate spiritual development (ideally physical and mental development as well). A practice moves a person along a path toward a goal, whether it is spiritual union or the practical realization of something you need. Practice is a central concept of magic and Paganism. One of the questions you might ask a fellow pagan is: "What magic do you practice?"

Without practice magic is just an academic discussion over tea with someone. There are many would-be magicians who love to discuss magic and have lots of books. Reading those books and discussing the concepts is not the practice of magic. I'd argue that such a person can't really even know what magic is because s/he hasn't experienced magic. And that's what practice is supposed to do. It's supposed to provide us with experiences that occur as a result of doing activities. Practice is the implementation of the magical process, the choice to do something in order to change your relationship with the world, spirit, or whatever else you are practicing magic for.

Practice is defined by the goals that we create around it. There is no magical practice that does not have some kind of goal, some kind of end result in mind. Whether you are seeking divine union with a deity or doing a practical magic working to solve a problem in your life, your practice is defined not just by the activity itself but also by the result. This makes it rather interesting because we are told not to lust for results and yet results are central toward defining the practice of magic. The solution to this dilemma is the choice to define the result and make it part of your practice while also not obsessing about the actual experience of the result. In other words, you need to know what the result is, but you also need to allow yourself to be open to the experience as it actually occurs, instead of fixating on how you think it should occur.

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