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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How Magic can be Innovative

One of the books I'm currently reading,  The Necessity of Strangers, discusses how important it is to be open to different perspectives, outside of what you normally know. One of the intriguing stories they share is about a hair dresser, Vidal Sassoon, and how he developed his hair styles based off the Bau Haus architecture style that he'd seen in Germany. Now you might not think that architecture and hair design would have a lot in common, but Sassoon saw something in the architecture that he could bring over to hair design. He understood that certain principles of the architecture, especially the simple geometrical focus could also be applied to hair. The result was a change in hair styles and the formation of a brand of hair care products still used today. And all it took was a person being open to considering alternative perspectives outside of the obvious ones found in his discipline.

Now what does that have to with magic and how magic can be innovative? Occasionally I get asked how I've developed my ideas and techniques of magic, especially since some of them aren't based on traditional perspectives found in magic. The answer is that I'm always looking for different perspectives, inspiration, and ideas from other disciplines outside of magic that I nonetheless feel can inform how I approach magical work. For example, I'm reading Understanding Comics and When: The Art of Perfect Timing. Neither book as has anything overt to do with magic, but both books provide some intriguing perspectives on time and space and how people perceive and work with both elements. In turn, what I've learned from these books has been and will be applied to my own magical work, both with space/time magic, but also in other areas of magic where the perspectives inform how magic can be done.

Something I tell my students is that there is no tried and true way of doing magic. There are paths that have been blazed by other people and those paths provide a foundational knowledge of magic which is valuable, but to assume that the paths already blazed describe the one and only way of doing magic is to block out other potential avenues of exploration and to close ourselves off from possibilities of evolving magic. We need to acknowledge those who've come before us and provided us the foundation we draw on, but I'd argue that its equally important to draw on other disciplines and other perspectives in order to evolve as a magician. By being curious and open to discovering what a discipline such as architecture might offer you as a magician, what you provide yourself with is a way to challenge what you already know with what you are learning. There may be no immediate connection, but you'd be surprised at how much a different discipline can inform your magical practice or anything else you do.

For example, in my own magical practice, I've drawn on cultural studies, literacy studies, physics, comic books, business process and operations, writing, biology, neuroscience, linguistics, NLP, to name just some of the various disciplines that I've been curious about. I feel that if I had not explored the various disciplines I've been drawn to that my magical practice and life would be the poorer for it. By being curious and actively learning and applying whatever I could to my magical practice its allowed me to explore and understand magic in a way that I could not have discovered by just sticking to what's been written about in magic books. I found that my curiosity is my best magical tool because it drives me to keep discovering whatever I can learn about magic and keeps me open to reading and exploring other disciplines to see how they can inform my work with magic.

To make magic innovative, we need to ask ourselves what we can learn from different perspectives outside the normative knowledge we have to draw on. By consistently examining what we do and asking how we can improve on it or how we can change it, we open ourselves to new perspectives and cultivate innovation. We want to cultivate innovation to avoid the peril of stagnation and to create discussion and practice around what is being done. We also want to cultivate innovation because it is something that allows us to personalize our practice of magic. The ability to personalize your magical practice is a significant step forward because it means you are developing your own systems and practices for magic.

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Taylor Ellwood is the author of Pop Culture Magic Systems, Space/Time Magic, Magical Identity and a number of other occult books. He posts about his latest projects at Magical Experiments.


  • Hope M.
    Hope M. Friday, 17 January 2014

    I am getting my certification in coaching, and one of the ways we get our clients to experience growth is by assigning them practices that cause them to temporarily step outside their regular way of being and experience a new way of being. This (hopefully) causes them to develop the capacity to "be" in a new way. The best kinds of practices are the ones that ask the client to interact with their reality in a new way, and fundamentally this means we have to offer them practices that they are not familiar with. We call these marginal practices. Marginal practices are useful because they can aim right for the blindspot that the client is experiencing in a way that whatever practices are already central in the clients life are unable to do. For example, the Strozzi Institute is very successfully founded on the principle that the BODY is an important part of what it takes to be an effective leaders (this was a HUGE cultural blindspot before they pointed at it)--they use the marginal practice of akido, which they have adjusted so it can be done in conference rooms by people wearing business casual clothing. and they are an enormous success and they change people's entire leadership strategy.

    Coaching is a world where they pull on so many different areas....improv, dance, somatics, therapy (all kinds...gestalt, IFS, jungian, art, dance, etc and so on), writing, poetry, music....It has really taught me to be more collaborative in all other areas of my life.

    In other words...YES!! I am so with you on what you are on about here! Cross pollination and mixing things up and pulling seemingly disparate things together makes everything so much richer.

  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood Friday, 17 January 2014

    Hello Hope,

    I'm a coach myself. It's quite a fun journey and I wish you success as you become certified and explore it in whatever capacity you apply it to. Like you, I also have my clients do things outside of their normal zone of comfort. I think its important because it really stretches them and helps them to be open to perspectives they might not otherwise cultivate.

    In general, I find it better to be curious and open to the world. No one discipline or religion or what have you has all the answers...and what we can learn if e are open to learning can help us evolve our practices.

    Thanks for reading!

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