Pagan Studies

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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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. 

I could probably rattle off a number of other fantasy and fiction authors (and that's not even including comics), but the point I really want to make is that esoteric secrets and magical techniques aren't just found in books on magic. They can be found in other places, if you just know how to read for them. And while its true that there is some fantastical elements applied to the content, it doesn't mean that the core content isn't solid. Remember some, if not all, of these writers were choosing to disguise the magic aspects in the fantasy. Read to enjoy, but also with an open mind and you might just discover some ideas you can use in your own magical practice!

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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.

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