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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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.

Your Genetics are another element of identity. Your health is determined in part by your genetics and knowing your family's health history can help you plan accordingly. Many of the diseases we deal with seem to have a genetic component, which can also shape your identity and how you prepare to deal with those diseases. But beyond health, your genetics also plays a role in your overall appearance, which also creates a sense of identity that shapes your life. 

The culture and subcultures you are part of also shape your identity. The cultural norms dictate what behavior is acceptable or unacceptable, as well as dictating what types of appearance is acceptable or unacceptable. But beyond that culture is formed by a shared discourse, with specific language and actions that determine who is part of a given culture/subculture and who isn't. High school is an excellent example of culture in action, with its various cliques which are actually subcultures, but you can see this at work in any kind of gathering of culture. Where you fit into culture shapes your identity and your interactions with others.

Ethnicity is another form of identity, which can be linked to culture. The ethnic background that a person has provides access to specific customs and behaviors and beliefs that are related to that ethnicity. Everyone has an ethnic heritage, but for some people it is more important or prevalent than others, because of the sense of identity and empowerment it provides them, or because it gives a shared identity which can be used to resist the hegemony of the dominant culture.

Class is also part of identity that is shaped by the economic status and opportunities a person has access to. If a person comes from a blue collar family for example, this shapes the identity of the person around the economic opportunities available to him/her. However class is also dictated by behavior. If you call someone a redneck, for instance, you are associating that person with a specific class, but also with specific behaviors.

Privilege is a part of identity that shapes the level of opportunities that has a person has access to. A person who is white and middle class and male, for example, will have a level of privilege in the U.S. that many other people don't have. If on the other hand you are a black woman your level of privilege will be different. In my opinion, privilege is one of the most overlooked aspects of identity, usually because people become uncomfortable when they realize that their level of privilege can either put them into a more advantageous or disadvantageous situation. Privilege demonstrates the inequity of identity, when identity is abused as a way of putting certain types of people into positions of advantage and opportunity that other people don't have access to.

Race is another part of identity. If you are an Asian that will provide a different identity than if you are a white or black person. I'd argue that race is separate from ethnicity. Just because someone is Asian, for example, doesn't mean that s/he is also Chinese or speaks the Chinese languages etc. However what it does mean is that there is a shared racial identity in a very general sense of the world that can shape how people treat someone.

Your gender is both a biological piece of identity, and a self conceptualization. It is a biological aspect of identity in terms of what genitals are between your legs, but it is also a self-conceptualization in terms of whether or not you identify yourself as male, female, or intersex. The self-conceptualization is an important distinction to make because even if you are biologically male, you may not think of yourself as male and may feel a need to change your biology to become the gender identity you feel yourself to be. 

Sexuality is distinctly different from gender because it refers to your sexual desires and how they in turn inform your identity, both in seeking sexual partners, but also in how you relate to people in general, and how those people treat you as a result.

Your body is the physical representation of identity and how you treat yourself. Some people treat their bodies like a tool, while others treat it as a living universe. How you feel about your body and take care of it speaks to your identity on not just a physical level, but also an emotional, mental, and spiritual level.

I likely haven't covered every aspect of identity I could cover and what I've provided above are short definitions that provide a rough understanding of these elements of identity (We know that because of all the books that are available on each of these topics, plus all the conversations, etc.). I believe that some of these elements of identity can be changed, while others are fairly fixed. However, even the ones that can be changed usually involve change on a societal level, as well as a personal level. Working with identity as an element of magical can be useful both as a means of doing internal work, but also as a form of social inquiry and activism that prompts us to consider if we are really happy with the status quo of identity, or if we need to continue to push for change, so that identity becomes a form of liberation and empowerment instead of oppression (I'd argue it can be simultaneously both for people).

To work with identity as a magical principle involves exploring hard questions about respective places in the world and the level of opportunity that is available to a given person. But I think that integrating these aspects of identity into magical work can produce an opportunity for a spiritual and mundane journey that allows us to not only question the status quo, but also work toward a better world.

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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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