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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in experimental magic
Why the question why is important to your magical practice

The other day a student from the Process of Magic class told me that she was working on the first homework assignment, which asks the student to tell me what their definition of magic is and why they've chosen that definition. She'd answered the first part, but asked me: "Why do you ask why?" I quipped "Why not" but then proceeded to explain why the question why is so important not only in magic, but in any subject you are trying to learn. In my opinion, if you can't answer the question why it indicates that you don't understand what you would be explaining to the person. For example, going back to the question of why a person has chosen a particular definition of magic, simply offering the definition isn't enough, if s/he can't explain how s/he arrived at that definition of magic. When you define something like magic, you are either defining it based off your personal experience, using someone else's definition, or a combination of the two, wherein your experiences seem to confirm the definition that someone else has offered.

One of the problems I have with how the average occultist or pagan defines magic is that all too often the definition offered is someone else's. Crowley's definition of magic, for example, is often used to explain what that person conceives of as what magic is. The problem, in my opinion, is that there is a tendency to accept this definition without asking why. The same applies to any other definition of magic that is offered up without the person questioning the definition. A definition of magic, or anything else for that matter only really becomes relevant when you can explain why that definition is important to you, in context to your own experiences. Simply expressing what something is doesn't demonstrate true understanding of it, until you can explain why the definition is meaningful to you.

Another reason to ask why is that why necessarily helps you to uncover the positives and negatives of a given definition. Any definition brings with it the baggage and agendas of the person who created the definition. Thus when we use another person's definition we are also using all the associated baggage and agendas that come with that definition. Asking why allows you to examine a given definition carefully and explore what makes it what it is, and ask whether that really fits your needs. Definitions are ultimately words used to describe how something ought to work and/or exist, and as such they are far less tangible then we sometimes think. A definition of magic is ultimately just words used to describe how you think magic ought to work...so why not ask why and actually test the definition to see if it has any validity to it. By doing so you can determine if the definition really applies, or if you need to develop one of your own that better fits your experiences.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Lalia Milner
    Lalia Milner says #
    What would be a good way to introduce this concept to my children? With so many "traditional" beliefs out there it's sometimes dif
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Hello Laila, The best way to teach them is get them to ask why and also to explain why to them. By getting them to ask why, they'
  • J'Karrah
    J'Karrah says #
    This article very closely aligns with a position I have held as a teacher of magic for years: if I agree to take you as a student,

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Why Magic should change you

It seems obvious that magic should instill some kind of change within you, but I feel compelled to write this article because so often what I see in occult texts is a emphasis on changing the environment around you, as opposed to changing yourself, or a focus on changing yourself solely through spiritual means and the assistance of spirits of some type. There's this dualism within Western Magic, where you apparently have two schools of magical practice. The theurgic school is a spiritual school, wherein the magician practices high magic in an effort to connect with spiritual powers and and gradually change him/herself via that contact. The thaumaturgic school is a practical school, where magic is done to solve problems and change the environment to one that is more pleasing. I think of it as reactive magic, done to solve the current crisis in one's life. This approach to magic breaks down various magical actions by the results, and depending on what the results are a magical action is lumped in one of the two schools of magical thought and practice.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
How to experiment with magic

I've experimented with magic from almost the beginning of my magical practice. When I've tried techniques that other people have developed, I've always had one question in the back of my mind: How can I improve on this technique? Even with my own techniques, I am always interested in experimenting with them and improving on how the process of magic works. I thought it might be interesting to share on here how I experiment with magic and how you can, in turn, also experiment with magic.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
The Role of Theory in Magic

This is part 1 of a 2 part series about theory and practice in magic. I've started with theory, because in my opinion the word theory is not accurately used by the majority of people including it in their writing. The word theory is one that has become conflated with a variety of meanings and associations. I'd argue that how theory is often used, in Paganism and in general, isn't really in line with the meaning of the word as it applies to the scientific method. In other words, a person chooses to use the word theory but how s/he uses it has less to do with the scientific method and more to do with cultivating a certain image associated with the word. If theory is used in context to the scientific method then the theory is a 'proven' hypothesis which has been tested and replicated by multiple people, all who have gotten the same results. The theory is valid as long as the same result is replicated each time, but becomes disproven if the result isn't replicated. In that context, theory is actually a part of practice and is used to demonstrate what a person understands about practice, but also is used to test that practice.

How the word theory seems to be applied, when people use it, is more along the lines of providing a generalizing statement about a topic. Said statement is speculative and nothing is really proven. The word theory becomes a kind of paper shield. It looks impressive so we use it to make what we discuss seem impressive. Used in this way the word theory seems to be used in the classic Aristotelian sense of the word, where no doing, no practice occurs beyond the formulation and expression of the theory. In contrast there is practice (which I'll cover in my next post), which involves doing, an essential activity to really experiencing anything life.

The latter use of the word theory is unfortunately used a lot. It leads to a lot of speculation, a lot of discussion and very little doing. Armchair magicians, in particular, love this kind of theorizing. I find it to be boring and less than useful. Theory without practice is a lot of hot air, with no engagement, no experience occurring. I find that when the word theory is employed in discussions about magic and metaphysics in general the result is a lot of speculative conjecture thrown around for the sake of doing it. Theories abound about why magic works or why deities are or aren't real, or any number of other metaphysical topics. But does it even matter? All that kind of conjecture leads to is an intellectualizing of magic, which in turns creates a distance that from doing the actual work. My question is: Does your theory work?

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Stephanie Rodriguez
    Stephanie Rodriguez says #
    Thank you, Taylor for this effort to steer the general conversation back toward meaningful discourse and away from spiteful argume
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Hello Stephanie, Thank you for the kind comment. Theory is fairly loaded word, which is one of the reasons I wanted to unpack it
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.

Some of this bias comes from a tendency to revere something that is older or more traditional (older is better), and perhaps even purportedly rooted in nature. While I think its important to maintain a connection to nature, I am skeptical as to how older religious systems automatically ensure that particular connection. If anything, I have found that developing a genuine connection with nature is much more primal and based on your willingness to spend time and effort in nature. For example, choosing to deweed your yard and really put your hands in the dirt to take care of the land is an action that is very connective to nature, with no Deity required to facilitate said interaction. A long hike can also be just as connecting, allowing you to become part of the land by choosing to be in it, instead of merely observing it. The smell of the land, the feeling as you walk it is a spiritual experience that again needs no Deity in order to facilitate it. All that is really needed is you and your willingness to connect with the land and learn from it, as a result of the connection.

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  • 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

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.

I think to some degree your average magician is in love with the idea of magic being glamorous. Certainly at the beginning of a person's spiritual work with magic, there is this sense that you need to get all the ceremonial tools and that every act of magic must be an overt, explicit affair that screams to the universe: THIS IS MAGIC! And there is something to be said for doing those loud acts of magic that are glamorous and over the top and amazing in their own right. I've done and still do those kinds of acts of magic when the time is appropriate. But I recognize that fundamentally magic isn't always that way, nor does it need to be. My meditation practice isn't over the top and yet it still fills me with a sense of wonder and amazement. Indeed, if anything my daily work speaks more loudly to me than an over the top ritual because the daily work is where the discipline of the magician is tested. In that daily work, I don't necessarily do magic to solve problems (at least not overtly), but what I do is connect to the magic in a meaningful way that allows me to deepen my relationship to the spiritual forces I'm working with.

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  • 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.
The virtue of curiosity in your magical practice

One of the most important virtues a magician can cultivate is curiosity. While the old saying that curiosity kills the cat comes to mind, we should consider that such a saying really is a response to curiosity that favors the status quo. It discourages exploration in favor of keeping things the same. Such an attitude should be an anathema to the magician.

Curiosity is at the core of my spiritual practice. When I was much younger I was a born again Christian and I left because I realized that I couldn't find all the answers in one book and that allowing myself to be limited to what I considered to be a narrow perspective of the universe was not good. So when I discovered that magic was real I voraciously began to read books and I allowed my curiosity to explore and experiment with what I learned. Curiosity motivates me to discover my questions and answers and it is an emotion that I couldn't imagine being without.

I think that to truly make magic your own you need to be curious. It is not enough to read books and do the practices in those books, nor is it enough to learn from others and only do what those others have instructed you to do. While both activities can be useful for building a foundation, at some point you need to leave the nest and learn to fly. You need to take your magical practice and personalize it, making it your own, and to do that, it necessarily must be reflective of your interests.

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  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer says #
    Well said! If you think about it, any seeker wanting growth and spiritual health needs curiosity. It's the only way to expand our
  • Carolina Gonzalez
    Carolina Gonzalez says #
    I couldn't agree more with your every word. I follow the same approach and give the same advice that you are giving here to my own
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Thanks Carolina! It's important to encourage curiosity...it's how we grow.

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
How to apply art to magical work

I've always been a creative person and that creativity has extended past writing to painting, singing, and other artistic pursuits that I continue to pursue to this day. And as with all my other interests, I'm always looking for ways to apply my artistic skills to my magical work. I figure that the art gives me another way to express my magical talents as well as my creative vision.

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  • Carol Frierson
    Carol Frierson says #
    Thank you Taylor! This came to me just at the right time! This may seem a little crazy but...I have never painted before but I ha
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Hello Carol, I'm glad this article helps. It's not crazy. I felt such an inclination myself at one time. Good luck!
Cultivating Relationships with your Spiritual Entities

When you've practiced magic long enough, you inevitably start to form relationships with spiritual entities, and much like relationships you have with people, its takes some work on your part (and their part) to create a healthy and sustainable relationship. There's also the question of how you form the relationship initially. There are some approaches to forming a relationship with a spiritual entity that I would find quite rude (these approaches involve commanding an entity to appear and do what you tell it to do), and other approaches I wouldn't do because I'd be concerned about how much power I was giving to the entity.

Personally I prefer a middle approach. I'm not going to worship a spiritual entity or deity and do what it says. If I wanted to do that I'd have stayed with the religion of my family. But neither do I believe in doing the medieval approach to evocation which involves summoning the entity and threatening it with other entities in order to coerce it into doing something. I figure why not just ask nicely and on top of that create a good relationship? I know, I know, some of you will say, "That sounds rather fluffy and ill-advised." But seriously why not simply dispense with all the theatrics and try and make nice? It's always worked for me and I've gotten the results I've wanted while also creating a solid relationship with the entity I've worked with.

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I've experimented with magic since I first started practicing when I was sixteen. I'd buy books at the local occult shop, voraciously read them and try the exercises out. Afterwards, I'd think about how I could improve the exercises or change them or experiment with them. I was never satisfied with other people's explanations of how magic worked. I'm still not satisfied with most of the explanations about how magic works, and that includes some of my explanations. That dissatisfaction, as well as an insatiable curiosity drives my desire to experiment with magic.

Magic is perceived by some as a spiritual force that complements their religious practices, and by others it is perceived as a practical methodology used to achieve measurable results that improve the lives of the practitioners. Still others think of it as a spiritual practice that allows them to commune with the world and the divine. Beyond all of that though it is a discipline, a field of study that many people contribute to on a regular basis. The challenge with any discipline is figuring out how you keep it relevant to the times and to the needs of the people.

When we look at magic as a discipline, we see that it is relevant through the diversity of the community. Whether its the reconstruction of a particular culture and its spiritual practices, or the melding of Eastern and Western magical practices, or the evolution of a given tradition as that tradition adapts to the times, there is clearly relevance in magic as a spiritual and practical discipline. So the question may come up: Why experiment with magic, especially if the practices we have already work? Do we really need to fix something that isn't broke? Aren't we just reinventing the wheel?

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  • Merle Moss
    Merle Moss says #
    The only problem I have with the idea of 'experimentation in magic(k)', is rigorously keeping the original intent clear and simple
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Hello Merle, That's a fair point to make. I find that applying a process approach avoid such slippage, because the intent is writ
  • B. T. Newberg
    B. T. Newberg says #
    Interesting. Thanks for this. What are your views on experimental methodology in magic?

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