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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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