Over the last few years the use of pop culture in magickal practices has grown by leaps and bounds.  As pop culture magick practices grow, becoming more widely accepted and practiced, so does the the need for more cohesive systems for sharing and deepening those practices.  In Pop Culture Systems: How to Create Your Own Pop Culture Magic System, Taylor Ellwood outlines some of the many ways that a practitioner can draw upon pop culture to create a coherent and powerful magickal system. 

Pop Culture Systems aims to help the experienced practitioner take disparate one-off pop culture practices in a particular pop culture universe and combine them to create a fully developed system of magick.  Ellwood defines a system of magic as: “a series of processes and techniques developed by a magician for the purposes of connecting with the divine (in whatever form the divine shows up) and for turning possibilities into reality.  The system is used to organize these processes and techniques so that they can be shared with other people, either through books (such as this one) or through classes or in-person transmission.” (p. 19)  The beginning of the book covers how to choose the pop culture universe you want to work with and the various elements within that universe that would be specifically incorporated into magick.  For example, if a practitioner felt pulled to work with the Firefly universe they would need to examine what resonated with them and why, and how that might harmonize with magickal practices, as well as ways canon behaviors and ideologies might clash with magickal goals. 

The middle of the book goes into the details of creating your own system.  This is done largely by mapping characters, tools, symbols, locations, and other elements of the chosen pop culture, to magickal correspondences or mechanisms in existing magickal systems.  For example a practitioner wanting to work with the Harry Potter universe might map the four Hogwarts houses to the four elements, or someone wanting to work with the Dresden Files universe might map the main characters onto the traditional eight sabbats.  This part of the book also touches on ways to create a system based on systems of magic in fiction and gaming mechanics.  Ellwood emphasizes that once correspondences have been mapped the practitioner must do meditations, pathworkings, and small magickal tests to make sure the correspondences hold true in practice. 

The end of the book examines some of the reasons and ways a practitioner might choose to share their system.  Some of the reasons cited include being able to solicit outside feedback, deepening practices collaboratively, and having a way for your system to live on beyond the practitioner’s own personal practice.  Ellwood suggests reaching out to mundane fandoms, beyond known magickal practitioners, as a way of sharing a system.  The book concludes with a few essays from other pop culture practitioners giving their take on pop culture systems.

Pop Culture Systems gives the reader a quick and easily understandable overview of how to create a system of magick based on a pop culture universe.  One of the book’s strengths is its use of a wide variety of fandoms in concrete examples to illustrate the core concepts.  With example taken from everything from Lord of the Rings to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, there is something to resonate with almost everyone.  Further, while most of the methods discussed seem fairly common sense once read, they’re not necessarily things that would occur to the average practitioner on their own.  Ellwood effectively addresses a lot of the complications and stumbling blocks a practitioner can face developing their own magickal system, saving the reader a lot of unnecessary trial and error.  While solidly aimed at the experienced practitioner, this book can be enjoyed by newer folks with an eye to prioritizing what they learn and how to begin putting together some of the foundational pieces of a pop culture practice. 

For me, there were two main drawbacks to this work.  First, the writing style is somewhat repetitive.  Ellwood goes over the main concepts many times, and while some repetition is helpful for memory retention it does grow stale.  Second, Pop Culture Systems focuses exclusively on systems based on a single pop culture universe.  Most of the pop culture practitioners I know work across multiple fandoms, and while the core concepts of the book can be applied to a multi-fandom practice with a little tweaking it’s never addressed.  These drawbacks are fairly minor and don’t take away from the validity of the core content.

Overall I would recommend Pop Culture Systems for experienced pop culture practitioners looking to deepen their practices within a specific fandom/universe or those wishing to include others in their practice.  The book is a quick and easy read that gets the reader thinking and asking the questions they’ll need to answer to create their own magickal system.  If you’re looking to create a system of magick that is all your own and includes the pop culture you love, this is a great place to start.