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
Halloween Masks and Invocation

Halloween is the first cosplay convention that ever was, and the longest running one, but Halloween is more than just that. It's a time for people to connect with the pop culture they love and embody that pop culture. For example, the recent Verizon commercial shows a family dressed up as characters (and more) from Star Wars. What strikes me about that commercial is that for that family Star Wars is real that night and in a way they get to become those characters while they trick and treat (though they do seem more obsessed with Candy than anything else).

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and it's also one of the inspirations for my approach to pop culture magic. This isn't surprising because its during Halloween that pop culture comes out in force. People dress up as the characters they love and for an evening embody those characters in one form or another. This occurs across ages, with little children dressing up to go trick and treat, while adults dress up to have fun at a costume party. Now not all of these people intentionally set out to work magic, but Halloween is a night of masks, and as such it can be useful for magical work to explore the idea of taking on a mask.

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  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham says #
    Great post, thanks!
Cultural exchange vs cultural appropriation

Recently I attended a workshop run by R. J. Stewart and he related a story of a discussion he had with a Lakota Shaman. Something she said to him was that she didn't want white people trying to take the practices of her people and make them their own, but rather that she wanted them to find their own practices and then meet with people from other practices and share what each of them was doing. When I heard that story, it made me think that something which is really important for all of us is cultural exchange, where we appreciate what a given person (and his/her culture) brings to the table without feeling the need to steal from it. Instead that appreciation allows us to learn from the other person and reflect on our own practices in context to what we've learned. We engage in a cultural exchange, so that everyone can benefit from what is learned.

Cultural appropriation is the wholesale stealing of a given culture's practices. The reason people do it may be a result of feeling disconnected from the culture they are in or identifying spirituality as only residing in the cultural practices of the culture they are appropriating from. Regardless of what the reason is, such appropriation ultimately creates a mockery of the original practices, because while the person might steal away the practices, s/he can never truly know the culture. S/he is always interpreting the other culture through the lens of his/her own culture.

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  • Jennifer Tindell
    Jennifer Tindell says #
    Thanks, this is very good.
  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward says #
    The story I tell about cultural appropriation is that I once approached a Native American practitioner and inquired about learning
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Hi Carl, Thank you for commenting. I wrote an essay for that anthology. It's a good anthology, and some of the other ones that we
  • Carl Neal
    Carl Neal says #
    Very interesting! I recorded a panel discussion last weekend (at the Oregon Coast Pan Pagan Gathering) that addressed this same i

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
What Happens when your magic fails?

What happens when your magic fails?

This is a question most magicians and pagans never want to ask or answer, but I think it's a question we need to ask and answer. It's a question that likely makes you squirm just a little bit, because it raises the spectre of "What if all this is just in my head?" The thought that it's all just in your head and that perhaps what you're doing is just a deluded fantasy is hard to face. It can cause you to feel some real doubt about magic and whether its real or just make believe. I think feeling such doubt can actually be healthy, because it teaches you to question critically and carefully what you're doing and how you're doing it. It also teaches you not to take magic for granted. If you assume that your workings will always be successful, you may be shocked when a working isn't successful. By cultivating just a bit of critical awareness, you can look through your magical workings and figure out why it didn't work as well as what you can do to improve your workings.

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  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Very nice, Taylor. Reminds me of the end of Little Big Man, when Chief Dan George says to Dustin Hoffman, "Sometimes the magic wor
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Thank you Ted. I think it's worthwhile to explore why it didn't work. A failure can teach you a lot, if you are pen to learning fr
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Point well taken, Taylor; I think you are right. At various times in my life I have been guilty of all 7 of the mistakes you have
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    As have I...
Why the question why is important to your magical practice

The other day a student from the Process of Magic class told me that she was working on the first homework assignment, which asks the student to tell me what their definition of magic is and why they've chosen that definition. She'd answered the first part, but asked me: "Why do you ask why?" I quipped "Why not" but then proceeded to explain why the question why is so important not only in magic, but in any subject you are trying to learn. In my opinion, if you can't answer the question why it indicates that you don't understand what you would be explaining to the person. For example, going back to the question of why a person has chosen a particular definition of magic, simply offering the definition isn't enough, if s/he can't explain how s/he arrived at that definition of magic. When you define something like magic, you are either defining it based off your personal experience, using someone else's definition, or a combination of the two, wherein your experiences seem to confirm the definition that someone else has offered.

One of the problems I have with how the average occultist or pagan defines magic is that all too often the definition offered is someone else's. Crowley's definition of magic, for example, is often used to explain what that person conceives of as what magic is. The problem, in my opinion, is that there is a tendency to accept this definition without asking why. The same applies to any other definition of magic that is offered up without the person questioning the definition. A definition of magic, or anything else for that matter only really becomes relevant when you can explain why that definition is important to you, in context to your own experiences. Simply expressing what something is doesn't demonstrate true understanding of it, until you can explain why the definition is meaningful to you.

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  • Lalia Milner
    Lalia Milner says #
    What would be a good way to introduce this concept to my children? With so many "traditional" beliefs out there it's sometimes dif
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Hello Laila, The best way to teach them is get them to ask why and also to explain why to them. By getting them to ask why, they'
  • J'Karrah
    J'Karrah says #
    This article very closely aligns with a position I have held as a teacher of magic for years: if I agree to take you as a student,
  • J'Karrah
    J'Karrah says #
    I hope I explained that right. Reading back over it, it sounds more than a little cocky...even though it's not meant to be
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    A good teacher always is willing to learn from his/her students. I certainly have. Ad like you said until they explain why they ha

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Why Magic should change you

It seems obvious that magic should instill some kind of change within you, but I feel compelled to write this article because so often what I see in occult texts is a emphasis on changing the environment around you, as opposed to changing yourself, or a focus on changing yourself solely through spiritual means and the assistance of spirits of some type. There's this dualism within Western Magic, where you apparently have two schools of magical practice. The theurgic school is a spiritual school, wherein the magician practices high magic in an effort to connect with spiritual powers and and gradually change him/herself via that contact. The thaumaturgic school is a practical school, where magic is done to solve problems and change the environment to one that is more pleasing. I think of it as reactive magic, done to solve the current crisis in one's life. This approach to magic breaks down various magical actions by the results, and depending on what the results are a magical action is lumped in one of the two schools of magical thought and practice.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
How to experiment with magic

I've experimented with magic from almost the beginning of my magical practice. When I've tried techniques that other people have developed, I've always had one question in the back of my mind: How can I improve on this technique? Even with my own techniques, I am always interested in experimenting with them and improving on how the process of magic works. I thought it might be interesting to share on here how I experiment with magic and how you can, in turn, also experiment with magic.

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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.

 

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  • 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.*

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