Pagan Studies

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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Making the case for Experimentation in Magic

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?

The answer to those questions is simple: Experimentation with magic is how we keep it relevant as a discipline, and how it continues to evolve with the times. Experimenting with magic isn't simply about coming up with new techniques or modifying existing ones. It is choosing to explore what magic can be as a spiritual and practical discipline. It is choosing to be curious about magic and how it fits in the world around us, as well as in our lives. It is asking questions that have no obvious answer. Let me provide two case studies from my own magical practice to illustrate this concept.

The first case study involves my work with Neurotransmitters as spiritual entities. Neurotransmitters are chemicals and hormones the brain and body produce as a response to external stimulus. Most people would probably not think of treating them as spiritual entities. I chose to take such an approach, because it seemed like an excellent way to explore the human body as a universe all its own. Additionally, I wanted to work with the neurotransmitters because they are the physiological component of an altered state of consciousness. Learning to work with them as spiritual entities would be useful as a way of learning how to control and cause an altered state of consciousness. The details of that work are in my book Inner Alchemy, but my point in mentioning this as a case study is that no one ever thought to work with neurotransmitters or the bacteria in a person's body as spiritual entities, partially because the awareness of these aspects of our existence is relatively recent, but also because its not a part of traditional practices of magic. Nonetheless the choice to explore the possibility of working with neurotransmitters as spiritual entities revealed that interacting with them in that manner was useful for learning more about the body and how it could be usefully incorporated into magical practices. Without experimentation in magic, such exploration would never occur.

The second case study involved working with Harry Potter as a magical entity, way back when the movies first came out. I once put together a Samhain ritual, using the four houses of the Hogwarts school for the four corners, with attendees choosing the particular corner/house that best fit their personality/needs. Attendees reported meeting with characters from Harry Potter and getting insights and advice for particular situations in their lives. The magical working wasn't significantly different from a more traditional working. What was different was the inclusion of pop culture characters. Nonetheless this inclusion didn't significantly impact the magical working in a negative way. If anything, the end result was the people attending realized that pop culture could provide some useful inspiration for their magical work. Without experimenting with the idea of integrating pop culture into magic this ritual wouldn't have occurred, nor would many others that have since occurred. What this working really reveals is that what makes magic work is understanding the underlying principles of magic. If you understand those principles and can use them effectively, what you choose to add to the working can be just as effective, even if it isn't as traditional.

In future entries for this blog I'll provide other case studies and ideas for experimentation with magic. There is so much to explore with what magic can do, and how it can draw from other disciplines. Experimentation with magic is essential for it to continue to evolve as a discipline, and there are many possibilities for experimentation. We have but to cultivate our curiosity and keep our minds open to those possibilities so that we can turn them into reality.

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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.

Comments

  • B. T. Newberg
    B. T. Newberg Sunday, 02 September 2012

    Interesting. Thanks for this. What are your views on experimental methodology in magic?

  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood Monday, 03 September 2012

    Hello,

    I take a process approach to experimentation in magic, which means that if I put together an experiment and describe it to you, I should be able to discuss each step and you should be able to replicate it. When I develop experiments, I typically share the experiments with a group of people and have them test them as well. For example, in Inner Alchemy, I had some other people try the neurotransmitter experiment out and then share their results. I figure that kind of approach is what keeps magic rigorous and informed.

  • Merle Moss
    Merle Moss Wednesday, 05 September 2012

    The only problem I have with the idea of 'experimentation in magic(k)', is rigorously keeping the original intent clear and simple. When that intent is 'Make this (magic(k)) work better for me', no problem. The potential problem I see is vaguer usages - - - magick is so slippery itself, that inquiries using it to look more deeply into it, itself can quite easily slip into spiral-logic drops. Not that there's any danger, other than some wasted time and possible mage burn-out.
    But it sounds like you are a rigorous kind of person, perhaps you'll be able to keep things from slipping. It does sound fun, good luck!

  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood Wednesday, 05 September 2012

    Hello Merle,

    That's a fair point to make. I find that applying a process approach avoid such slippage, because the intent is written into the process and is used to define the purpose of the experiment.

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