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.

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
How I'm becoming present with my Aging

Lately I've been doing a lot of internal work around aging. When I was at Pantheacon a couple weeks ago, I got into a conversation about aging and my realizations that in some ways I've been very resistant to it, wanting to stay young forever. I've never had an issue with dying or death, because I've had multiple near death experiences, but aging is something I haven't wanted to acknowledge. Yet at 38, I feel a difference in my body. I wake up and I need to stretch more than I used to. I have a bit of a belly now, and I eat less food because my metabolism is slower. I have less hair on my forehead and I realize I am changing. I am still relatively young, but aging happens and no matter what creams I put on my face, or how much or little food I eat, or what exercise I d0, I can't change the fact that I am aging. What I can change is how well I take care of myself.

In the Nature of Personal Reality by Jane Roberts, Seth (an entity channeled by Roberts) makes the following observation about aging and people: "If you desperately try to remain young, it is usually to hide your own beliefs about age, and to negate all of those emotions connected with it." It's an insightful point that made me think about my own fixation on age. I realize I am so resistant to aging because I have this particular image of myself, this particular state of being, and what I see in the mirror doesn't reflect that. I'm changing and being in denial about that change isn't really serving me.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
How Context shapes your spiritual work

Lately, in the magical experiments community, I've been doing some experiments with pathworking techniques, and my fellow members have been gracious enough to try my ideas out. I've been paying close attention to their feedback and one consistent issue that has come up is how important context is for shaping a pathworking in such a way that people actually connect with whatever you want them to connect with. If there is not enough contextual information provided it can be hard to know what, if anything, you've connected with.

The right context provides enough information to orient the person in the pathworking and then leaves the rest of it up to the person. I take a very minimalistic approach to pathworking, ideally providing as little information as possible in order to see how the people involved will connect with whatever is being worked with. Determining how much context and what context to provide has been the interesting challenge. I don't want to provide too much because then I could potentially be steering the pathworking toward specific outcomes and I want to pick what information I share so that I can see what people pick up independently of anything I've shared.

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Who Does your Spiritual Practice Benefit?

In Awakening the Sacred Body, the author asks a hard question: "Who does your spiritual practice benefit?" That question isn't asked often. In fact, I can count on one finger the number of times I've come across this question in all the books I've read. It makes me wonder why this question isn't asked more often, but I think we can answer that by simply recognizing that a lot of the focus in spiritual books is on helping a person improve him/herself. Ironically, what isn't recognized is that in some ways what this encourages is a lot more focus on the self than on other people.

I think there's an assumption that goes into spirituality, which is that if a person is engaged in spiritual practices they somehow are becoming better people or more enlightened, or whatever else, but the problem with that assumption is that there is no guarantee that being engaged in any type of practice automatically makes you a better person. And that may not even be the point of the spiritual practice. Spirituality isn't always about making a person into a better person. It's a relationship, but what comes out of the relationship is also informed by what goes into it. Why we engage in spiritual practice is ultimately a personal matter.

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The role of Immersion in Pop Culture Magic

One of the pop culture magic systems I work with is Dehara, based off the Wraeththu series by Storm Constantine. We're currently doing some work on the next grimoire and as part of that work I've been immersing myself in reading the Wraeththu series, as well as fan fiction set in that universe. By immersing myself in the pop culture artifacts I attune myself to that system of magic, as well as to the characters that may show up as a result. Scientists call this type of immersion experience taking. I get caught up in the pop culture world and change my behavior and thoughts to match that of the characters. Personally I think the concept of experience taking sounds a lot like invocation.

I've been integrating my work with Dehara into my daily work, doing path workings with the various beings I'm contacting as I help to flesh out this system of magic. What's been most fascinating for me though is that my work has shown up in my dreams. I've dreamed of myself as a hara having adventures in the Wraeththu universe. Perhaps this is due to the fact that I'm doing this magical work and also re-reading the series at the same time, creating this immersive experience that effects my imagination and makes my dreams more receptive to continued interactions and work on this system of magic. In both my meditations and dreams the experiences have been lucid. In one case, in the meditation the Hara version of myself experienced a burn on his hand, and my physical hand had a similar reaction, though there was no burn on it.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    Thank you for relating that experience about the burn on the hand. I had a similar experience recently while writing a novel and w
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Hi Erin, I think you can tell when you've really connected with a mythology (modern or traditional) when you have that kind of i
  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham says #
    Thanks for this column - as a writer of fiction I was particularly pleased. I may work with my own characters at a deeper level b
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Thanks for commenting. I think this would be an excellent process for working with your characters more deeply.

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Possessions and Letting Go

Over the last week or so I've been systematically going through my house and sorting my various possessions into two piles: What I'll keep and what I'll get rid of. So far I've managed to cull quite a bit of my possessions, which I'm pleased about because they can hold you down sometimes. This time of year is perfect for this kind of work. People are in a reflective mood, looking back over the previous year, while also starting to plan toward the future, like Janus. The act of sorting your possessions is simultaneously a releasing of the past and an embrace of the future. You let go of what is holding you back and open yourself up to the possibilities.

You might not think that your possessions would weigh you down to the past, other than through the obvious physical reality they embody, but with anything you have there is always an emotion and memory attached to it, if not more than one. In some cases you can rewrite those memories by making new ones. I've done that a lot over the last few years, but in other cases, it can be good to just let go of the memories and emotions by letting go of the possessions. In my case that includes letting go of 8 crates of books, which served their purpose, but now is just a lot of weight, emotionally and physically to continue carrying around.

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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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