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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.
The application of identity to magic

In my previous post, I defined various elements of identity that I thought should be considered in choosing to work with identity as a principle of magic. However what I didn't do was explain, in full, how identity could be applied to magic. It's not enough to simply recognize identity as a principle of magic or to even define identity, but consider this: The various elements I used to define identity all play a role in our lives, and in how we interact with other people, and the world. Understanding this about identity is important, because if we are apply identity to magic, we need to understand that we are working with these elements of identity and choosing to use them in a conscious, purposeful manner to effect change.

For example, your family is one of the elements of identity I mentioned in the previous post. There are a number of ways you could work with family as an element of identity, and apply that your magical work. You could do internal work via meditation, where you explore your dysfunctional issues and trace them back through your family, from generation to generation. The meditation could be a pathworking where you traveled into each each ancestor and experienced the dysfunction as it showed up in their lives. It might help you better understand it as well as look at how you could break the cycle. You could apply this working to life skills you learned from your family as well, such as finances, or your work ethic. You could also take this working and apply it forward to your descendants. 

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Elements of Identity

In my previous post, I discussed why I thought identity was an essential principle of magic and explored what magic as an ontological practice might look like. In this post, I want to unpack identity further so that we can learn what makes up identity and how we can work with it as a magical principle. Some of what I discuss below can also be found in my book Magical Identity.

Your Family is one of the foundational elements of your identity. Your mother and father, and siblings (if you have any) provide you the initial experience of the world, as well as modeling behaviors about how to interact with the world. They pass down both their functional and dysfunctional behaviors, both in terms of how they interact with you and around you. It's fair to say that your identity is shaped by them for your entire life. I'd argue that your family is one of the more influential elements of identity and one that needs to be carefully explored in order to change a lot of your own behaviors. Your family also models financial and health skills to you. Even if they never explicitly discuss finances or health, they nonetheless provide you with standards that impact how you handle both throughout your life.

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Exploring Magic as an Ontological Expression of Identity

A year or two back I remember telling an acquaintance that I was actively exploring identity as a foundational building block of magical practice. He looked surprised and told me that he didn't recall seeing much about identity in Western Magic ad what he saw in Eastern Mysticism pushed for getting rid of identity because of the karma that holding onto identity causes. He was right that there wasn't a lot of material about identity in Western Magic (I've found a couple authors who write about it, but otherwise it is curiously ignored) and he had a point about Eastern mysticism and its relationship to identity. Still I felt like something was being missed by not exploring identity and its role in magical work and I explained to him that I felt that getting rid of identity actually worked against the practical applications of magic, because magic is very much about being in this world as opposed to to getting rid of your connection to it.

My exploration of identity came about as a result of my dissatisfaction with standard definitions of magic, which are usually variants of Crowley's definition of magic. Those various definitions focus on doing magic, on applying magic to change the world according to the will of the magician, but I disagreed with that approach to magic and felt that there had to be something better out there. I shifted away from doing magic and instead focused on exploring magic from an ontological perspective, a perspective based on being and on identity, which also examined the relationship of a person's identity in context to the world and other people around him/her.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Eros, Movement, and Magic

In my previous post I discussed the elemental balancing ritual and explained how I'd moved from a traditional elemental model to a non-traditional approach to elements. With this post I'd like to share my work with the element of Movement as mediated by Eros.

I always get an idea of which element I'll be working with next about halfway through the year of the prior elemental working. In the case of movement, what told me it would be the next element was how I came across several references to movement in relationship to identity. Since I am continuing my work with identity as a principle of magic, I knew it was essential to explore movement in relationship to magic.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
A New Model of Elemental Magic

Since October of 2004 I've practiced a year long ritual called the elemental balancing ritual. It's a ritual that involves the invocation of an element into your life, so that you can work with it over the course of the year, in order to bring balance with that elemental energy and your life. Balance, in the context of this ritual, means that you working with the elemental energy and the behavioral attributes it represents in order to balance that energy and behavior in your life. For example, the element water is traditionally associated with feelings and emotions so if you feel disconnected from your emotions, you might work with water to develop a better relationship with your emotions. Of course you'll also pick up other aspects of water while doing the work, such as learning to be more flexible or discovering the value of stillness.

I chose to start this balancing ritual in October, because of Samhain which marks the end of the year, in a spiritual sense, and also because my Birthday is in October, but anyone doing this ritual could start it at any time of the year. I'll explain more about how to do the actual work below. I've also described this work in my book Inner Alchemy.

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