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.
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!
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'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.
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.
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....
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....
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....
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....