Exoteric Magick: Pop Culture Practices for All

An exploration of pop culture magick in all its forms for practitioners from any path. Including how to's, Q & A's, reviews, and shared experiences.

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Finding Pop Culture Magick

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.

I started formally practicing magick when I was eighteen; it was 1999 and I had just arrived at a college with broadband internet (this was terribly exciting at the time). I had picked up a book on Wicca during an outing to Salem, Ma and felt a strong pull towards the magicks it taught. However, at the time I was an atheist and had a really hard time with the idea of working with deities of any kind (not so much an issue these days). I decided that it would be easier to start off working with the elements, since they were natural forces that I could actually see working in the world, rather than something as nebulous and uncertain as the concept of deity was for me at the time.

When it came time for me to do my very first ritual I remember the book telling me something along the lines of “visualize the element of earth before you.” I remember thinking to myself, well how the hell am I supposed to do that? Am I supposed to see a big rock? A mound of dirt? A gnome? The concept of a disembodied natural force “standing before me” was utterly incomprehensible to me. However, thanks to a vivid imagination and a brain chock full of ancient mythology I could think of the qualities of earth being embodied and personified by a person pretty easily. I decided the best way to handle the situation was to try and find characters from stories that best embodied each of the elements.

Quite unintentionally, I spotted my Master of Puppets CD sitting on my desk and immediately began to think of the four members of Metallica as each of the elements. I saw the bassist representing earth, the guitarist representing air, the singer fire, and the drummer water. To me both their instruments and their personalities seemed to fit, so I decided to run with it and see how it went. I cast my circle and then called the elements, visualizing the band members as their respective elements. It worked flawlessly. All of the ungrounded concepts finally solidified in my brain and I was able to get past ideas and actually get to work. A little pop culture was all it took to change the way I looked at magick and for it to finally make sense.

At the time this little workaround was my dirty little secret. The other folks I was learning magick with never said anything about having problems connecting with elements or deity, so I figured it was just me. It felt a little like I was cheating; like there was something wrong with solving my problem the way I had because no one else I knew was doing anything similar. However, that didn’t stop me from approaching other problems the same way when they came up.

From then on when I needed something to visualize a natural force, a spirit, a deity, or any concept that could be embodied I would pick someone from pop culture, usually a character from a book or a movie, but occasionally a celebrity I was fond of. When I started working with Ares I envisioned him as he was playing in the Hercules and Xena television series – why wouldn’t I? When I needed to do a spell to deal with a particular problem I would pick a character from a favorite book as often as I would call on a deity or spirit. When I did a working to protect me from meddlesome ghosts (my college was very, very haunted) I called on Van Helsing from Dracula. To do so just made sense to my mind. It felt right in a way that calling on ancient deities with almost no connection to my everyday life just didn’t. I don’t live in the world that Mannanan Mac Lir walked through, but I see Captain America t-shirts every day.

Nowadays my little workarounds are called pop culture magick and there are A LOT of people who have started working this way, or admitting that they work this way. With the rise of fandoms in mainstream culture a lot of people have started to openly identify with characters and stories from beloved books, television shows, movies, comics, etc., in a way that wasn’t really considered socially acceptable before. I say if it feels right to you to call on Cu Chulainn when you need protection then do so; if you’d rather call on Batman instead then go for it. Pop culture magick was the tool I needed to bring magick out of the realm of fantasy and into my reality. Give it a try and see if it works for you ;)

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Emily Carlin is an eclectic witch, attorney, and mediator, based in Seattle, Washington. She works extensively with the Crone and her specialties are shadow magick, defensive magick, and pop culture magick.


  • Dragon Dancer
    Dragon Dancer Saturday, 04 July 2015

    Oh. My. Gods!

    I think I've done this in the past and never even known it!

    I surround myself with fandom and fantasy, always have. When I was a child and even into my teenage years, I had "imaginary friends" all around me, drawn from books and movies and comics. I knew they weren't real, but at the same time, they were. They were very much alive if only in my own mind. I've sung with the Muppets, explained Christmas to hobbits, and felt the weight of a wounded Tasslehoff in my arms. My stuffed unicorn Dakin maintained what I now know to call a protective circle around my family's home, keeping out the enemies of my friends (Sauron, Darth Vader, etc) as well as anyone or anything who might come after me, my brother, or our parents.

    I lost that contact in my late teens when I let a schoolmate talk me into going to her Christian teen outreach, thus getting me into "church" (something I'd not had nor overly wanted before that), and I later made the mistake of telling a counselor there about my friends and was warned they were demons trying to pull me from God. I knew it wasn't true, but that slammed a wall between my friends and I that I've never quite fully managed to break down since, more than 20 years later. But I've always been a nerd, geek, whatever, loving fandoms and adopting the characters that speak to me.

    Fictional characters, while I recognize that they're "not real", are as real to me as actual, living, flesh-and-blood people, and it makes so much sense to me to consider including them, calling on /their/ magic in the same way that one would call on ancient gods or fairies or the faceless elements. It's possible to consider that the characters of our modern stories are no different than the mythologies of older cultures. They are the epic heroes of /our/ age.

    This is something I'm DEFINITELY looking more into, because I've been having problems finding people (gods, etc) that I identify and connect with enough to try working with them in magic. THANK YOU THANK YOU for this article! ~~Blessed Be

  • Emily Carlin
    Emily Carlin Tuesday, 07 July 2015

    I'm so glad you enjoyed the article :) There will be many more to come. Please let me know if you have any particular questions or topics you'd like to see me address.

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Sunday, 05 July 2015

    Thank you for sharing. I once had a dream where I was in a barren dark grey wasteland. Ahead of me were the goggle boys from the first four seasons of digimon. The only noticeable light was from their digivices. Since then I've called upon the four of them: Taichi, Daisuke, Takato, and Takuya as the guardians of the four directions.

    There is a very obscure comic book miniseries called the night pride in which four plush animals, no more and no less are placed around a bed and invoked to guard a child's sleep from nightmares, and things that go bump in the night. I'm sorry but I don't have access to the series right now but perhaps someone reading this may remember the verse.

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