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!

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form
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.

Academic Cultural Appropriation of Neopaganism and Occultism

Author's Note: This is a reprint of an article I originally published in the Anthology: Talking About the Elephant in 2008. Because the theme of the month is on cultural appropriation I thought I'd dig it out and reprint it here. I've added a commentary on the end to show where my thoughts on this topic are now (5 years after the original article was published).

While some of the articles of this anthology [Author's note: I'm referring to Talking About the Elephant] deal with cultural appropriation issues that Neopagans and Occultists may perpetuate, the goal of my article is to provide a look at a different form of cultural appropriation currently gaining popularity in both the academic and Neopagan/Occult cultures. This cultural appropriation comes in the form of academic articles and books focused on Neopaganism and the Occult. On the surface, it would seem that scholarship on these subjects is a good thing, certain to buoy the public relationship image that both Neopaganism and Occultism have with mainstream culture. However, as I will argue, there is a different, more subtle agenda occurring in these academic works, and in a manner that can be considered cultural appropriation. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to revere academic works without coming to them with an open, but critical, awareness of how those works really represent their beliefs. Nor is the question raised by Neopagans or Occultists, if the benefits of said academic works are really good for the community, or are only good for the academic who happens to be doing the research.

 

Last modified on
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    The knife does cut both ways and I'm sorry you had that experience, but imagine if you'd gone in, recorded everything and publishe
  • Amarfa
    Amarfa says #
    I tried that myself, and I got burned badly. I can't use my research at all. I wasn't allowed to record, barely able to take not
  • Amarfa
    Amarfa says #
    I have a question on this subject: Has a researcher ever encountered a Pagan population they wanted to study that has said "No" t
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Not that I know of, per se, but by the same extension has the researcher fully briefed them on what they would be doing and/or sha
  • Amarfa
    Amarfa says #
    *I apologize for poor grammar and sentence structure in the last paragraph, I hit submit before I was actually done.*

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
The Role of Practice in Magic

In my previous post I discussed the role of the theory in magic. In this post I want to unpack the word practice and consider what it really means to practice magic or practice spirituality. The word practice originates from Praxis, which roughly translate to taking action. Practice also refers to any activity that people do. When practice is applied to spirituality it can be thought of as a set of activities a person does in order to cultivate spiritual development (ideally physical and mental development as well). A practice moves a person along a path toward a goal, whether it is spiritual union or the practical realization of something you need. Practice is a central concept of magic and Paganism. One of the questions you might ask a fellow pagan is: "What magic do you practice?"

Without practice magic is just an academic discussion over tea with someone. There are many would-be magicians who love to discuss magic and have lots of books. Reading those books and discussing the concepts is not the practice of magic. I'd argue that such a person can't really even know what magic is because s/he hasn't experienced magic. And that's what practice is supposed to do. It's supposed to provide us with experiences that occur as a result of doing activities. Practice is the implementation of the magical process, the choice to do something in order to change your relationship with the world, spirit, or whatever else you are practicing magic for.

...
Last modified on

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
The Role of Theory in Magic

This is part 1 of a 2 part series about theory and practice in magic. I've started with theory, because in my opinion the word theory is not accurately used by the majority of people including it in their writing. The word theory is one that has become conflated with a variety of meanings and associations. I'd argue that how theory is often used, in Paganism and in general, isn't really in line with the meaning of the word as it applies to the scientific method. In other words, a person chooses to use the word theory but how s/he uses it has less to do with the scientific method and more to do with cultivating a certain image associated with the word. If theory is used in context to the scientific method then the theory is a 'proven' hypothesis which has been tested and replicated by multiple people, all who have gotten the same results. The theory is valid as long as the same result is replicated each time, but becomes disproven if the result isn't replicated. In that context, theory is actually a part of practice and is used to demonstrate what a person understands about practice, but also is used to test that practice.

How the word theory seems to be applied, when people use it, is more along the lines of providing a generalizing statement about a topic. Said statement is speculative and nothing is really proven. The word theory becomes a kind of paper shield. It looks impressive so we use it to make what we discuss seem impressive. Used in this way the word theory seems to be used in the classic Aristotelian sense of the word, where no doing, no practice occurs beyond the formulation and expression of the theory. In contrast there is practice (which I'll cover in my next post), which involves doing, an essential activity to really experiencing anything life.

...
Last modified on
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Stephanie Rodriguez
    Stephanie Rodriguez says #
    Thank you, Taylor for this effort to steer the general conversation back toward meaningful discourse and away from spiteful argume
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Hello Stephanie, Thank you for the kind comment. Theory is fairly loaded word, which is one of the reasons I wanted to unpack it
In Defense of Pop Culture Magic

 

When I first wrote the Invoking Buffy article for Newwitch Magazine I got a lot of flak from the occult and Pagan communities. I was accused of being flaky, a fluffy bunny, and a variety of other labels. When I wrote Pop Culture Magick these criticism increased ten fold. Once, when I was talking with a Celtic Reconstructionist friend, she pointed out that her Gods had been around thousands of years, which seemed to automatically confer more validity to her spiritual practices, compared to my own. When I pointed out that the stories around her Deities were the pop culture for the people who had told the stories, I was told that such a perspective was blasphemous and that because her Deities had been around for millennia they were automatically more powerful than any pop culture Deity. And when I was interviewed by Pagan Centered Podcast it was a hostile interview, with their goal being focused on trying to disprove what I practiced. I could probably tell you a few more stories along these lines, but I think you get the idea: Pop Culture Magic, and any associated beliefs, spiritual practices, etc. are considered to be the bastard child of Paganism and Occultism by a good number of people who inevitably seem intent on proving why their beliefs are more valid, more spiritual, more anything than pop culture magic is.  And if you, like me, are associated with practicing pop culture magic you'll be told what a flake you are and how your spiritual practices aren't as good as the person to your left or right who believes in more traditional deities. You'll be told it's fiction and that you're wrong and they're right.

...
Last modified on
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    I think the recons would argue that they have allowed the gods to find and shape them. As for myself, any entity I'm working with
  • Rhiana
    Rhiana says #
    Let me start off by saying I find both arguments be they pro or con to have valid points. Having said that, I often wonder why we
  • Frater Isla
    Frater Isla says #
    Good point. And I've found that most internet 'discussions' are just ego dancing. I've maybe gotten two actual responses where I f
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Yeah we both did
  • Frater Isla
    Frater Isla says #
    The good news is, this 'controversy' is bringing us lots of new readers! And now I'm going to order your pop culture magick book.

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Magic isn't always Glamorous

I've been thinking about what to write for this column for the last week and I've been coming up blank. No topic has really seemed right. There was nothing exciting going on or anything of real note standing out to me. If anything my life has been pretty mundane. Get up, go to meetings, meet with clients, come back and work on a project, spend time with the family, and of course throw some meditation and exercise in the mix for grounding purposes. Nothing very glamorous at all, and yet it strikes me that perhaps there is something to write about that, on this blog and its this: Magic isn't always glamorous or full of drama or anything else that we might associate with pop culture references to magic. Sometimes magic is just part of daily life, something you are doing to make your life easier or more meaningful or to connect with the spirits, but not something which necessarily has a lot of glamour associated with it.

My latest book, A Magical Life, has just been published. I'm excited to have it out, but something that the author of the introduction, Storm Constantine, wrote has been on my mind. In describing the book, she explains that magic isn't a colorful garment we put on, but rather it is an integral part of our being, woven into our lives everyday. And that is how I think of magic. I meditate each day and my meditations are an essential part of my life, something done as a way of bringing order to my mind, while allowing me to connect with the spiritual forces I work with. Nonetheless I'd have to say there is nothing inherently glamorous about the meditation. In fact, there are days I don't want to meditate or do anything else along those lines, and yet I make sure I do meditate because it is part of my life, and because not doing it takes away from the quality of my life.

...
Last modified on
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Thank you Erik. I'm glad this article was helpful!
  • Erik M Roth
    Erik M Roth says #
    Thank you Taylor. This is a great reminder about the nature of magic and it's ability to weave into everyday life. I appreciate
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Indeed you are not. There are many people out there who realize this.
  • Peter Beckley
    Peter Beckley says #
    Well put, Taylor. I've touched on this very thing several times on my blog, and it's always nice to know that "I'm not alone" lol

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
The feelings you put into magic

In my previous post I discussed how to emotions could be used in magic and made the point that an emotion such as anger is not inherently negative. What makes anger negative is we choose to express it. In thinking further about my own approach to magic and what I use to fuel my magical work, I recognize that it's not just emotions I draw upon, but experiences and the feeling of the experience. A feeling is not necessarily the same as an emotion. A feeling is the awareness of an experience and emotions are just one component of an experience and the expression of that experience. This is important because when we work magic to bring a possibility into reality part of what we are working with is the feeling associated with that possibility.

Think about love for a moment. What does love feel like? Don't think just in terms of the emotion, but also the physical sensations of you holding someone else's hand, or holding the person or kissing the person. What does that feel like? How does it make you feel emotionally? How does it make you feel intellectually, spiritually, and physically? All of those feelings and experiences are what love (romantic) is comprised of. So if you were to do a love magic working, you'd want to draw on those experiences as part of the fuel for the workings, because those experiences shape that feeling in your life.

...
Last modified on
Emotional Magic: Can emotions be used in magical work?

The other day my wife Kat commented on a newsletter I'd written where I explained how you could use "negative" emotions in your magical work. She asked me if that was really a good idea, especially since I'd essentially be integrating those emotions into the magical working. It was a good question to ask, but what it highlighted to me is just how much cultural baggage we have around the word negative as well as specific emotions. I explained my reasoning by noting that I don't think any emotion is inherently positive or negative, but that if we believe an emotion is negative or positive it is because of the cultural associations that have been placed on that emotion. The problem with that association is that it causes us to not genuinely experience the emotion.

Anger, in and of itself, is not inherently negative. The expression of anger can be negative or positive, depending on what a person does, but that expression doesn't make the anger wrong or bad or negative. The expression isn't the anger in and of itself, but if we examine anger from a cultural perspective what we tend to find are associations of negativity with anger. The same is true with fear, sadness, anxiety, or any other emotion that is "negative" On the flipside love and happiness are considered "positive" emotions.  However expressions of love and happiness can be negative just as expressions of anger, sadness, and fear can be positive. There is nothing inherently polarized about our emotions other than what we choose to believe about them. 

...
Last modified on
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Mikey
    Mikey says #
    OHhh I forgot the counter balances of love. Love...is a warm and nurturing emotion. It has alot of power, like a parent protect a
  • Mikey
    Mikey says #
    Hi, I'm new, so forgive me if this sounds peculiar. However, I was reading the post, and I couldn't help but put my 2 loonies in.
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Precisely my point. Thanks for commenting!
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    There is a lot of energy and power in anger, but it can lead to negative consequences. Be VERY careful.
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    There is a lot of energy and power in anger, but it can lead to negative consequences. Be VERY careful.

Additional information