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When the phrase pop culture magic (or magick) is thrown around, what comes to mind for you? Do you imagine doing a magical working with your favorite pop culture icon or character? Or do you think of developing a magical technique based off a TV show or book? Or do you think of pop culture magic as something else? What I've noticed is that the majority of people who practice pop culture magic tend to approach it in terms of working with pop culture characters and the mythologies around those characters. There's certainly nothing wrong with perceiving pop culture magic in that way, but I think pop culture magic can be much more than just working with your favorite pop culture character (although that can be a lot of fun!)
In Pop Culture Magick, I defined pop culture magic in terms of its resistance to mainstream culture, arguing that the reason to work with pop culture magic was as a means of subversively resisting mainstream culture. I also argued that you needed to work with whatever was popular at the time. In Pop Culture Magic 2.0 (now available for pre-order!) I've revised my definition of pop culture magic substantially, arguing that pop culture is an expression and extension of mainstream culture (as opposed to it) and that a person's pop culture interest doesn't have to be popular in order to be worked with as pop culture magic. However, I don't think pop culture is just about the characters you can work with or the mythologies created around those characters....
The term Pop Culture Paganism has only shown up in the last few years. When I wrote Pop Culture Magick no one was using the term Pop Culture Pagan. Now the term is used by some people to describe their spiritual work and its distinct enough from Pop Culture Magic because not all pop culture Pagans practice magic or view it as an essential part of their spiritual work. That's not the only distinction however, between pop culture magic and pop culture Paganism. Pop Culture Paganism involves what I would consider to be a devotional approach to working with pop culture spirits. In other words, there is a recognition that the pop culture spirits are beings that the person wants to work with in a devotional manner, which could include prayers, offerings, and rituals done for purposes of honoring the spirit, as well as other activities that the pop culture spirits feel are appropriate. Given that we're dealing with a modern context those activities could include a different type of devotional behavior that's dependent on the pop culture media that the spirits show up in.
I consider myself both a pop culture Pagan and magician (in my next post I'll define what I think of as pop culture magic). In the context of being a pop culture Pagan, I find that there is a blending of magic into that Paganism, but that's because magic is an essential part of my spiritual work. In that context, let me share what my pop culture Pagan practice looks like. I work with the Dehara, which are based off Storm Constantine's Wraeththu series and are hermaphroditic deities. Each day I offer them a prayer of thanks for their presence in my life. Additionally I've integrated them into my magical work. For example, Thiede is the Dehar of Space and plays an integral role in my system of space/time magic. In addition, in Grimoire Kaimana, Storm laid out a wheel of the year associated with the Dehara, which can be worked with in terms of connecting with them. I've lately been looking into creating some correspondences around the Quabalistic Tree of life for the Dehara, as well as exploring some other alternatives to developing this particular spiritual path further. For me, this work is part of my spiritual work, a communion with spiritual beings that I feel a strong resonance with because of their nature and perspective that falls outside traditional gendered polarities. I'm not the only one to work with Dehara and what I've consistently found is that people involved in that path feel it fits them and that they fit it, which I think is an essential part of a spiritual calling....
As you begin to wade into the world of Pop Culture Magick it’s important to understand the difference between Pop Culture Magick and Pop Culture Paganism. You’ll often find these words thrown around interchangeably (I’m certainly guilty of doing it on occasion), but they’re actually distinct terms. While every practitioner will define them a bit differently, the definitions below should help you to navigate these fundamental concepts.
Pop Culture Magick (PCM) is the use of pop culture stories, characters, images, music, toys, etc. as magickal mechanisms – the tools and techniques you use to bring your magick into being. That might mean doing a guided meditation to talk to Abraham Van Helsing about vampires, using an action figure of the Hulk to house a protective egregore, invoking the fortitude of your level 10 Paladin in Dungeons and Dragons, performing a prosperity spell that calls on Daddy Warbucks, or myriad other actions. PCM isn’t a new way of doing magick, it’s magick that calls on powers and ideas that are more immediately present in most peoples’ everyday lives than most of the mechanisms in more traditional magick. PCM may or may not have religious elements involved, depending entirely on the practitioner. In and of itself PCM is no more religious, Pagan or otherwise, than any other set of magickal techniques like candle magick or herbal magick. PCM is just the use of pop culture elements in magickal practices.
Pop Culture Paganism (PCP) is the use of pop culture characters and stories as either an approachable face for traditional Pagan deities and powers, or as a substitute for more traditional powers and mythologies. That could mean communing with Eros via the character of Capt. Jack Harkness (from Doctor Who and Torchwood), working with Diana in the guise of Wonder Woman, using Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a spirit guide, etc. It can also mean worshiping Tolkein’s elves as representations of nature, working with the Small Gods of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, or creating your own path using various pop culture elements. PCP is all about working with the powers you find that resonate with you, regardless of whether or not they’re accepted by the larger magickal community. PCP may or may not involve PCM or more traditional magicks, depending entirely on the practitioner. On its own, PCP is simply the use of pop culture in the furtherance of the practice of Pagan religions.
My current personal practice uses a lot of Pop Culture Magick, but not a whole lot of Pop Culture Paganism. As a person who loves books, movies, graphic novels, and gaming it seems natural to use the things I love as part of my magickal practice. If I’m going to have a plushy Chtulu sitting in my cubicle at work, why wouldn’t I infuse it with a spell to ward off annoying co-workers? After seeing Doctor Who wield a sonic screwdriver like a magick wand in episode after episode, why wouldn’t I use my sonic screwdriver flashlight as a wand? These are things that I have a deep personal connection with (in Tumblr speak: my fandoms give me feels). The fact that I can have these things sitting openly on my desk at work without anyone looking twice is merely a bonus.
I don’t currently do much with Pop Culture Paganism, but I used to. As I talked about in my last post, when I first started getting into Paganism I had a hard time connecting with various deities and traditional powers because I felt that they were pretty far removed from my everyday life. Honestly, how much deep and meaningful reverence does the average computer nerd have for ancient agricultural deities? These days I do have that kind of connection with my deities but it took a lot of work. For me it took years of study and repeated workings with the traditional powers to build a strong connection. I can achieve that same level of connection with a pop culture figure by reading the books I love or watching my favorite movies. That’s not to say that I regret taking the time to forge the relationships I now have with deity, far from it. However, if back then it had been openly acceptable to do Pop Culture Paganism I probably would have run down that path as fast as I possibly could.
The beauty of Pop Culture Magick and Pop Culture Paganism is that they are so very individual. Each practitioner gets to pick and choose their very favorite things to work with in the best ways possible for them. There are basically no rules, no dogma, about how to work with pop culture, what is or isn’t “correct.” Each practitioner gets to define PCM and PCP for themselves, choosing to mix them or keep them separate as works best for them.
I read my first fantasy book when I was 7 or 8. It was The Hobbit and it conjured up a magical world of adventure that I was fascinated by. I didn't stop at The Hobbit. I read the Greek Myths and then I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and later the Dragonlance sagas. Inevitably my favorite characters were the magicians or the people who somehow or another got some magical object that gave them an advantage in the adventure. As I grew up, I never got over my fascination with magic or fantasy books for that matter. And as I read each book, I thought about magic a lot and wondered if it was real or just some element of fantasy. Yet it was because of fantasy books that I discovered that magic was real.
When I was 16, a fellow student in my high school sat me down and told me about his experiences on the astral plane. He later admitted that he told me his experiences because he noticed I liked to read fantasy books and he was hoping to freak me out. The last thing he expected was for me to ask, with baited breath, if I could learn myself and if there were books on the topic. The next day he brought me a couple books and I eagerly read them and did the exercises, to see what would happen. At last, I had found out magic was real and more importantly that I could do it myself. It wasn't the same magic as what I read about in fantasy books, but it was something and I took that to heart. I read every book I could find and talked with whoever else was interested in the same topics. I tested everything I read, eager to see what I could do and how far I could take it....
A lot of people have been asking me how I got into pop culture magick of late. It’s a difficult question to answer because it’s always been a part of my magickal practice. When I was a little girl I remember imagining Rainbow Brite protecting me from thunderstorms and nightmares. When I was a teenager I would “talk” to Hamlet and Horatio when I felt misunderstood and needed guidance. So even before I knew what real magick was, I was doing bits and pieces of pop culture magick. I suppose the first time I intentionally did pop culture magick, though I didn’t call it that at the time, was when I first started working with the elements.
For my use of pop culture magick to really make sense you’ll need a little context. I grew up in a household where hiking and enjoying nature were valued side by side with science and engineering. I remember meandering through woodland trails in the North Cascades while talking to my Dad about NASA, Star Trek, and fairy tales interchangeably. My love of mountains and general geekery were born and nurtured at the same time and in largely the same way, so they’ve always been intertwined in my mind. For me, there’s never really been a separation between the magicks of nature and the realities of the mundane world.
One of the pop culture magic systems I work with is Dehara, based off the Wraeththu series by Storm Constantine. We're currently doing some work on the next grimoire and as part of that work I've been immersing myself in reading the Wraeththu series, as well as fan fiction set in that universe. By immersing myself in the pop culture artifacts I attune myself to that system of magic, as well as to the characters that may show up as a result. Scientists call this type of immersion experience taking. I get caught up in the pop culture world and change my behavior and thoughts to match that of the characters. Personally I think the concept of experience taking sounds a lot like invocation.
I've been integrating my work with Dehara into my daily work, doing path workings with the various beings I'm contacting as I help to flesh out this system of magic. What's been most fascinating for me though is that my work has shown up in my dreams. I've dreamed of myself as a hara having adventures in the Wraeththu universe. Perhaps this is due to the fact that I'm doing this magical work and also re-reading the series at the same time, creating this immersive experience that effects my imagination and makes my dreams more receptive to continued interactions and work on this system of magic. In both my meditations and dreams the experiences have been lucid. In one case, in the meditation the Hara version of myself experienced a burn on his hand, and my physical hand had a similar reaction, though there was no burn on it....