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.

How Openness to Experience brings you to Presence

One of the values I ascribe to in my magical practice is keeping an open mind. A recent conversation with an acquaintance got me to thinking about what keeping an open mind means to me, and I consequently decided to revise that value to one which I feel is more accurate to who I am and how I approach life. I keep myself open to experience. There is a distinct difference to keeping an open mind and keeping yourself open to experience. Keeping yourself open to experience is a recognition that genuine openness isn't something you can keep in the realm of the conceptual. An open mind might conceptually consider an idea, but not engage it in a fundamental manner that actually enables real experience to occur. Keeping yourself open to experience, on the other hand, moves away from concept. The experience is important because it requires a level of engagement that goes beyond just thinking about something.

In Awakening the Sacred Body and Embryonic Breathing, both authors discuss the importance of maintaining a state of openness to experience. Both books are about meditation and experiences of altered awareness and what both authors recognize is that a conceptual treatment of the topic won't provide the necessary understanding and development of skills that the reader ideally wants. The only way the reader can learn about these topics is to open him/herself to the actual experience of doing the work. Even more important, for the person to get real value out of the work s/he must as best as possible avoid preconceptions that may shape the experience in ways that are less than helpful. Being open to experience means truly being open to the actual experience, allowing yourself to be present without analyzing or categorizing it. That can be hard for anyone to do, because so much of what we're taught is to categorize and label our experiences.

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How the Death Gate Cycle inspired my Process approach to Magic

I've just finished re-reading the Deathgate Cycle, a 7 book series published in the early 1990's and one of my favorite fantasy series. One of the reasons I like the series so much is the appendices, which the authors created to explain various aspects of the series, including how the magic in the series works. Although neither author is a magician, so far as I know, the detailed explanations they share provide a lot of insight into not the magic of their series, but magical work in general. For example, one of the concepts they talk about is the importance of definition in magic, and how definition shapes the raw possibilities into something that a person can understand apply to the world around him/herself.

I read the Deathgate cycle when it first came out, before I started practicing magic. It's fair to say that reading those appendices certainly had an effect on how I thought about magic, once I started to practice it in earnest. The concepts presented provided a way to understand magic that made sense to me, because what was presented was a very methodical approach to magic that made sense. That I would find some similar approaches in actual books on magic only confirmed to me the value of looking outside of strictly magical texts to find inspiration in my magical work.

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How to turn Profane holidays into Sacred Days

One of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving. It's always been one of my favorite holidays because of the gathering of community and the sharing of food, as well as the playing of board games after the food has been eaten. Then again, I just like social gatherings in general, where people come together to share food and connect with each other. Nonetheless, Thanksgiving holds a special place in my heart. Perhaps one of the reasons I like this holiday so much is that it isn't overtly associated with any given religion. Rather it is a profane holiday, which nonetheless can become sacred.

Actually I think that's true with any given moment you have. There is no moment that is strictly profane or sacred that isn't made that way by the people in that moment. What makes something sacred or profane is our own interpretation of it, and how we choose to embody it. So when it comes to Thanksgiving, the experience of the food, friends, and activities becomes sacred because of how I choose to approach those moments. The making of the food is significant because of the meaning I associate with it. The point I'm making is this: What makes something significant ultimately is your choice to make it important. For many people, Thanksgiving will be a day off, or a day celebrating gluttony or commercialism or any other number of things. For me, Thanksgiving is a holy day. That's my perception of the day, but its also how I approach the various activities of the day. I'm aware of the various other meanings that people have for the day. But those aren't my meanings.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Linette
    Linette says #
    Thank YOU for this blog! As an aside. I live in an area with Native American reservations on two sides of me and nearly all the N
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Glad you enjoyed the post. Like you I feel everything is sacred as well...but it really does cme down to appreciating that sacredn
  • Modemac
    Modemac says #
    Thanksgiving may not be overtly religious (though the Puritans had religious motives behind nearly everything), but it is *is* pri
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    There's definitely controversy around the holiday. I suspect that many people, myself included, will continue to celebrate it rega
How Pop Culture promotes interest in Mythology

I'm currently replaying the God of War series. Each time I play this series, what fascinates me about it is how Greek mythology is portrayed in the game series, and how that very process of representation consequently creates new interest in the original mythology. And this isn't just limited to God of War. I've noticed this same phenomenon with the Percy Jackson series, Marvel's version of Thor, and other modern variants of older mythology, which simultaneously create new mythology and also revitalize older mythology by getting people interested in the source material.

While there may be some knee jerk reactions to this concept from purists, I think that its worthwhile to examine and understand how pop culture can revitalize interest in older mythologies, and how this may even be intentional on the part of the deities associated with those older mythologies. The reason it may be intentional is that said deities recognize that one way to get attention, belief, and eventually worship involves utilizing the medium of modern culture in order to get in front of the various people who might be receptive to those deities. And in this age of multi-media, the opportunity to get in front of such an audience is unparalleled for there are more people living now than have ever lived in previous eras of history.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Mariah
    Mariah says #
    A lot of us have our pop culture gateways to paganism! For some it remains part of their path, others move beyond it. For myself,
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Good point about the UPG of authors.
  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    New versions of mythology for the modern world are perfectly fine, as long as they don't insult the beings being portrayed. My gen
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    I'd agree that not everything produced is accurate to the original mythology and that in some cases it can be quite a different st
  • leonard wilson
    leonard wilson says #
    Great observation , i to enjoy the God of war series , later find myself brushing up on mythology , i just never made the connecti

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Why I write about my mistakes

I've noticed that the majority of books on magic and indeed even the online writing I come across is mysteriously devoid of the mistakes practitioners make when practicing magic. I'll admit I find this to be puzzling and less than useful for purposes of magical work, because in only presenting the successes a person has had with magic, what is missed out on is the process of trial and error, the refinement of technique and the recognition of the opportunity to learn. In both my books and blog articles, I share my mistakes in magical work because I find it useful to keep a record of what hasn't worked, as much for myself, as for the reader. A record of my mistakes helps me keep track of what hasn't worked, so that I can work on such processes further. It helps the reader see the process of evolution that a given technique undergoes as well see where mistakes were made. It also teaches the reader that mistakes are a natural part of the magical process and should be embraced as opportunities for learning.

No matter how skilled you are, inevitably you'll make a mistake. It's important to recognize the mistake and acknowledge it. This may be hard to do, especially if it brings up hard questions for you such as wondering if magic really works, but asking those questions are important and when you hit that moment of doubt, it actually is an indicator that your approach to magic is starting to deepen. A mistake challenges us to be honest with ourselves about our magical work and its relative meanings in our lives. If we only ever have success we don't really know what we can be capable of, because that success limits us from discovering what we really need to improve on.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    I agree. I think its very important to share these stories and help people learn frm them as a result.
  • Felix Warren
    Felix Warren says #
    This is really important. One of the number one things beginners tell me is that they feel like they're failures when things don't
When Magic becomes mainstream (sort of): Tulpamancy

The other day a friend pointed me to this link, where I ended up learning about Tulpamancy. Tulpamancy is essentially the creation of an imaginary friend who shares your body with you. The practice reminds me a bit of otherkin, only in this case instead of the person claiming they are some type of non-human entity, they instead claim that they are creating a spirit being and hosting that spirit being. Most of these Tulpamancers think of the tulpa as a psychological construct, though some ascribe metaphysical aspects to their tulpa. None of them, so far, as I know, seem to practice magic and this is only significant because they've taken a technique which is magical and applied it to their own lives without focusing on the magical aspects of the practice. 

The concept is actually a familiar one in occultism. The word Tulpa originates from Tibet and refers to the practice of creating a thought-form. Whether you know the concept through the label of thought-form, servitor, magical entity, or for that matter Tulpa, what the concept boils down to is the creation of an entity that becomes a spirit ally or performs a specific function for you. The main differences are that the magician typically doesn't house such an entity within themselves, isn't necessarily setting out to befriend such an entity, and may set up a deadline for certain task to be performed, or for the entity to be dissolved.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Lee Pike
    Lee Pike says #
    Great article - it's interesting to note how ideas develop on Tumblr seemingly in (mostly) isolation and become paradigms unto the
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    I could see how tumblr could be part of it though from the one article reddit also seemed to play a role.
Anthropomorphic Assumptions that show up in magical work

One of the challenges with exploring a non-anthropomorphic approach to magical work involves uncovering the anthropomorphic assumptions that show up in your thinking and practice. These assumptions can be quite subtle and yet can create a cognitive dissonance with the work you are seeking to do. At the same time, another challenge we face is the inevitable fact that at some point we need to translate and interpret experiences into something we can relate to. Anthropomorphism is one such route, though it is not the only route. I think that if we are to genuinely apply a non-anthropomorphic perspective and practice to our spiritual work we necessarily need to identify the anthropomorphic assumptions which may come up. Below are some such assumptions, as well as how you can identify them.

Applying humancentric categories or labels to experiences. One of the assumptions that comes up involves seeking to categorize or label a non-anthropomorphic experience. We use labels and categories to organize our thoughts and define the world around us, but the problem with such an assumption is that in our haste to define and categorize we can miss out on being open to experience. Admittedly, it can be argued that we use labels and categories to provide some type of explanation for what we've experienced, but perhaps in seeking to explain it using categories and labels what we lose is something essential about the experience that can't be explained in that way. A better approach would be to take your time with the experience and seek it out multiple times. As you have it, allow yourself to express it without attaching labels or categories. Whether its stream of consciousness writing or painting or music or some other form of expression open yourself to expressing it differently.

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