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.

How to Recognize I can't in your Magical work

Sometimes what I find most fascinating about magic is what limitations people build into it. In other words, a person will say to themselves, I can't do this in magical work. They'll have various reasons for that " I can't" which can range from moral/ethical reasons, spiritual "laws" or personal hang-ups that tell them they can't do x because of y. I do believe in the value of limits, and I think limitation, as a principle can be very effective for magical work, but when I talk about limitation I'm not referring to the "I can'ts" which are ultimately subjective, but rather to natural principles that structure, organize, and scaffold how magic can work. And its important remember that such limitations can be worked with quite productively, provided we understand them. The "I can'ts" on the other hand are wholly subjective, developed for various reasons that tend to be more harmful than useful in most situations.

When I was young, I was often told what I couldn't do. I'd tell a family members one of my ideas and be told it would never work and that I couldn't do it. Fortunately I never believed them, and if anything when I heard such discouragement, it encouraged me to prove them wrong. It's fair to say that up until my mid twenties most of what I did was inspired by a desire to prove people wrong, to prove that what I couldn't supposedly do, actually could be done. Even to this day, I still find that when someone says that something can't be done, it gets me curious to see if in fact they are correct, or if it can be done. 100% of the time I find it (whatever it is) can be done provided you have enough motivation and willingness to experiment and try various possible solutions. What this indicates to me is that many times the only limitation people deal with is the one they impose on themselves or accept from other people.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • donna
    donna says #
    This is really good. I do get caught up in the "I cant's" that I've worked on for years. I have to remind myself that I do have th
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Thank you Donna. I think it really is important to operate from a place of thinking big instead of thinking in negatives. The peop
How I've learned to let Magic Move Me

A while back on Pagansquare I wrote several articles about my work with elemental magic (you can find them here and here). I'm currently in a process of transition from the element of movement to the element of stillness. I've been working with movement for almost two years and will fully switch over on the 2nd year anniversary of my work to stillness. However, even before that date, the transition is beginning. Elements of Stillness have been showing up in my work for a good part of this year and are becoming much prevalent in the time leading up to the change.

When I first started the elemental balancing ritual, I chose the element. The very first year, I chose Water because I knew I needed to get in touch with my emotions and water represented that to me. The next year I chose Sound because I needed to work on connecting with people. The third year I chose Earth because I wanted to ground myself where I was living. After that though, the elements started choosing me. Or rather incidents occurred in my life that spoke for the need to work with a specific element to help me find balance. In the Earth year, the element that came up was Love. I'd made some bad choices in handling relationships and it became clear to me that I needed to work on love and what that meant to me. In the middle of the love year, I had an experience that demonstrated to me that I needed to work with Emptiness as an element. And so on and so forth.

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Witch Hunting in the 21st Century

 

A little while back I wrote an article about The Broom Closet in the 21st Century. Recently the New York Times had an opinion article about the persecution of Witches in various parts of the world. In that article the opinion writer argued that the age of the internet has increased the witch hunting that occurs. One of the problems is that many of the people accused of witchcraft may not even be witches. They are accused for reasons that may have nothing to do witchcraft, but nonetheless it is used because it's convenient. In such places, the brutality that occurs involves burning people alive, or beheading or stoning them. The majority of such atrocities occur to women and the the people doing the assault are men doing it for prestige or as a way to enforce dominant social values. I mention all of this make a point: That such atrocities, far from being history, are still happening. In some cases, they are even happening in the U.S. And even here in the U.S. we also see the proliferation of ignorant perspectives about magic, because of how the mainstream religion fears the spread of any spiritual beliefs that run counter to that religion. Now whether every single one of those victims did or didn't identify as a Pagan or a Witch doesn't really matter, because those people were still labeled as such and punished for beliefs they may or may not have held.

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Hierarchy, Musical Harmony, and Magic

In Music Power Harmony, R. J. Stewart presents an interesting take on the concept of hierarchy as it relates to musical harmony and how that can be applied to magical work. He argues that hierarchies aren't inherently linear or spatial and that treating a hierarchy as a series of separate entities with linear connections ignores holistic aspects of the hierarchy that could be useful in magical work. When examining hierarchy from a harmonic perspective, Stewart notes that harmonics can open our awareness to resonances and relationships between the patterns and entities involved, in such a way that it provides order without necessarily bringing authority into the mix. It's an interesting take on hierarchy, which is typically treated as a linear structure with temporal authority included in it.

The problems that most people have with hierarchy is the abuse of authority or the bureaucracy that makes it convoluted and unable to do anything. Typically hierarchies are associated with corporations, governments, and other such institutions. These institutions enforce hegemonic authority and standards that keep certain agendas in power, while keeping others out. It's not a surprise then that people have knee jerk reactions to hierarchy. Yet I think R. J. Stewart makes some interesting points about hierarchy as it relates to both music and spiritual work.

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The Broom Closet in the 21st Century

When I was 18, in 1995, I was outed from the broom closet. I had kept myself in that closet, because I was afraid of how people would react if they realized I practiced magic. A friend's parents (both fundamentalist Christians) found a book I'd let my friend borrow and contacted my mom about it. She was also a fundamentalist Christian and needless to say did not approve of my spiritual choices. I was still living with her as I was in high school and I didn't have a job at the time. She told me I had a choice. I could move out or burn my books. I had a half hour to decide before she kicked me out. A half hour isn't a lot of time to make such a decision. I made a very practical choice and decided I would burn my books, because I didn't have a job and I wanted to finish high school. I hid the books I hadn't read yet and took the books I had read and told her I'd burn them. She marched me out to the back yard and I burned those books. That incident didn't discourage my practice of magic. If anything, it only made it more attractive and also made me more determined to continue learning. That incident also convinced me that staying in the broom closet wasn't going to help me, and so I decided I'd be open about my beliefs and practices, and I have been to this day.

A short time after the book burning, I was contacted by the father of my friend (I didn't know who he was at the time). He was drunk, had a cold, and told me how he was going to come kill me in 48 hours and he'd call me on the hour, each hour before he came. He started singing hymns to me. I told him if he came over I'd defend myself. I also called the police. He kept calling and eventually I disconnected the phone. The next day, in school, my friend told me that his father and step-father, in a rare moment of collaboration, had decided they were going to try and kill me. The step-father would drive the father over to do the deed. It never happened, but it illustrated to me how intolerant Christians were when it came to any religion or spirituality that wasn't of their own practice. It also illustrated what a risk it could be to be out of the broom closet.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Rebecca Kinney
    Rebecca Kinney says #
    I have also found that the most intolerant and vocal of any religion are the ones with the most to hide. It is as if they use the
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Unfortunately many Christians are intolerant and interpret freedom of religion to only pertain to their religion. Not all of them
  • Joyce ORourke
    Joyce ORourke says #
    I find most Christians to be intolerant of any religion other then their own. If you want to know what a religion is like read hi
The never ending process of Internal Work

A lot of the magical work I do and have been doing for the last ten years is focused on internal work. Internal work is a combination of inner alchemical techniques, energy work, meditation, ritual magic, and psychology. The focus of internal work can vary, based on the particular purposes you apply it to. For example, internal work can be used to help you develop a better understanding of your body, or can be used to refine your internal energy, while also releasing emotional and mental blockages (also known as dysfunctional behaviors). Internal work can also be used to deepen your connection to the spirit world, or it can be used to cultivate your creative resources. Ultimately, the purpose of internal work can be boiled down to it being used as a catalyst for change.

I use internal work for all of the above purposes and have been doing internal work for ten years, as I mentioned above. I woke up, one day in March, in 2004, with the realization that if I didn't change my life I'd end up in a bad situation. I'd been living my life reactively and I suppose I had a glimmer of realization about that reactivity, which consequently led me to start doing internal work. I realized I didn't want to live a reactive life, constantly responding to what came into my life. When you live life in that way, you live in a chaotic environment, with little control over yourself, let alone anything else, because you are letting what happens to you dictate your life and the choices you make in life. You are living a life of reaction instead of a life by design.

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How to Learn and Experiment with Magical Techniques

For many people in the Pagan and Occult communities, their initial journey into magic is one which is self-taught, with the majority of learning occurring from reading books. Even when you do encounter a teacher, you still may find that a lot of your learning occurs on your own, with the expectation that you will teach yourself and also discipline yourself to do the work. In my own experience, the majority of my magical education has been self-taught. I've only had one teacher show up in my life, and he's only appeared in the last couple of years, and I've been practicing magic for 21 years now. Whether you are just starting to practice magic or have been practicing it for a while, it's a good idea to develop your own process for learning and experimenting with the magical techniques you learn.  In this article, I'm going to show how I learn and experiment with techniques I read from books, as well discuss how you can apply the same process toward what you learn from teachers.

Right now I'm reading a book called The Sacred Cross by Anastacia Nutt, which teaches a stillness technique that I'm using as part of my daily work, and as a foundation tool for deeper ritual magic workings. In this article, I'm going to use my own journey in learning and experimenting with this technique as a case study to illustrate the process of learning. The process for learning and experimentation doesn't need to be formalized or tedious, but there are certain considerations that need to be factored in with the learning of any technique. These considerations are: your learning style, patience, carefully checking in with yourself, Integration of the technique into your practice, and Careful experimentation and modification of the technique. Let's look at each of these considerations in more depth.

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