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.

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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  • Mariah Sheehy
    Mariah Sheehy 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

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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  • 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

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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  • 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.

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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Sometimes what I find most fascinating about magic is what limitations people build into it. In other words, a person will say to themselves, I can't do this in magical work. They'll have various reasons for that " I can't" which can range from moral/ethical reasons, spiritual "laws" or personal hang-ups that tell them they can't do x because of y. I do believe in the value of limits, and I think limitation, as a principle can be very effective for magical work, but when I talk about limitation I'm not referring to the "I can'ts" which are ultimately subjective, but rather to natural principles that structure, organize, and scaffold how magic can work. And its important remember that such limitations can be worked with quite productively, provided we understand them. The "I can'ts" on the other hand are wholly subjective, developed for various reasons that tend to be more harmful than useful in most situations.

When I was young, I was often told what I couldn't do. I'd tell a family members one of my ideas and be told it would never work and that I couldn't do it. Fortunately I never believed them, and if anything when I heard such discouragement, it encouraged me to prove them wrong. It's fair to say that up until my mid twenties most of what I did was inspired by a desire to prove people wrong, to prove that what I couldn't supposedly do, actually could be done. Even to this day, I still find that when someone says that something can't be done, it gets me curious to see if in fact they are correct, or if it can be done. 100% of the time I find it (whatever it is) can be done provided you have enough motivation and willingness to experiment and try various possible solutions. What this indicates to me is that many times the only limitation people deal with is the one they impose on themselves or accept from other people.

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  • donna
    donna says #
    This is really good. I do get caught up in the "I cant's" that I've worked on for years. I have to remind myself that I do have th
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Thank you Donna. I think it really is important to operate from a place of thinking big instead of thinking in negatives. The peop

A while back on Pagansquare I wrote several articles about my work with elemental magic (you can find them here and here). I'm currently in a process of transition from the element of movement to the element of stillness. I've been working with movement for almost two years and will fully switch over on the 2nd year anniversary of my work to stillness. However, even before that date, the transition is beginning. Elements of Stillness have been showing up in my work for a good part of this year and are becoming much prevalent in the time leading up to the change.

When I first started the elemental balancing ritual, I chose the element. The very first year, I chose Water because I knew I needed to get in touch with my emotions and water represented that to me. The next year I chose Sound because I needed to work on connecting with people. The third year I chose Earth because I wanted to ground myself where I was living. After that though, the elements started choosing me. Or rather incidents occurred in my life that spoke for the need to work with a specific element to help me find balance. In the Earth year, the element that came up was Love. I'd made some bad choices in handling relationships and it became clear to me that I needed to work on love and what that meant to me. In the middle of the love year, I had an experience that demonstrated to me that I needed to work with Emptiness as an element. And so on and so forth.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs

 

A little while back I wrote an article about The Broom Closet in the 21st Century. Recently the New York Times had an opinion article about the persecution of Witches in various parts of the world. In that article the opinion writer argued that the age of the internet has increased the witch hunting that occurs. One of the problems is that many of the people accused of witchcraft may not even be witches. They are accused for reasons that may have nothing to do witchcraft, but nonetheless it is used because it's convenient. In such places, the brutality that occurs involves burning people alive, or beheading or stoning them. The majority of such atrocities occur to women and the the people doing the assault are men doing it for prestige or as a way to enforce dominant social values. I mention all of this make a point: That such atrocities, far from being history, are still happening. In some cases, they are even happening in the U.S. And even here in the U.S. we also see the proliferation of ignorant perspectives about magic, because of how the mainstream religion fears the spread of any spiritual beliefs that run counter to that religion. Now whether every single one of those victims did or didn't identify as a Pagan or a Witch doesn't really matter, because those people were still labeled as such and punished for beliefs they may or may not have held.

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