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.

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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.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • 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
  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward says #
    The fact that this idea comes from outside the community -- yet also reflects the "law of threefold return" which is popular withi
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:

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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
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Well said Terence.
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    That's a good point Terence. It can be said that once the word privilege is invoked it sets the tone of the conversation. Sometime
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.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • 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
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    I don't think it's helpful to stigmatize people. As long as all of can remember that we're in a public space and behave accordingl
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Excellent, rational advice which is so self-evident that I'm always amazed at how many people need to have it pointed out to them!

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.

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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.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • 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.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • 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

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