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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Taylor Ellwood

Taylor Ellwood

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.

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
What is Pop Culture Paganism?

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.

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How Pop Culture Introduced me to Magic

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.

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The Subjectivity of Spiritual Experiences

Lately, in my meditation group, we've been doing some work with space/time magic meditations and with spirits associated with space and time. In our most recent session I had the group do a meditation with Purson, a goetic demon who has some specific skills related to time. What I also told the group was that it's important to recognize that their experience of Purson is subjective and that he is only as real as that person wants him to be. That may seem like an odd statement to make, but the group was comprised of people that ranged from atheists to people who believe in the objective existence of spirits, and so I felt it was important to acknowledge that a wide range of experiences could happen that would nonetheless be significant to each participant and wouldn't necessarily invalidate any of the experiences. All the participants accepted that explanation and then we had our various encounters with Purson.

Spiritual experiences, by their nature, are subjective. For example I believe that spirits are objective beings in their own right. Note the word believe. Believe is a word rooted in subjectivity. That's what I believe, but I can't really prove it. I can tell you about my experiences and I can cite other people who've had experiences in their own right which tells that what they encountered is real, but its ultimately subjective. For that matter so is the argument that the spirit is just a psychological aspect the person is drawing upon. Again we can find a variety of people who will argue that position and draw on their experiences, but it's still subjective.

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The Value of Taking a Moment of Stillness

Every day I make it a point to give myself a moment of stillness. That moment of stillness isn't a short moment either. It's as long as it needs to be. Usually it occurs shortly after I've had breakfast and before I've started my work day. I do it then because I'm still just waking up and its an optimum time to still myself before getting into whatever the day will involve. This moment of stillness is my meditation time. I do a series of meditation exercises, all of which lead me deeper and deeper into a state of stillness, which unfolds within it non-conceptual awareness.

Non-conceptual awareness is the experience of being without doing, judging, categorizing or filtering anything. You just are. The value of that experience is that it allows me to just be without stressing about anything I need to do. Sometimes in the process of doing that work, some emotions will come up or some thoughts will happen and I don't go out of my way to dismiss them. I just let them be as well, because I find in doing that it really brings my awareness to where I need to be, present with whatever is coming up that needs to be worked through, accepted, or otherwise processed.

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How process and creativity work together in magical work

One of the reasons I apply process to my magical work is because with good processes in place, it makes easier to innovate and experiment with magic. I learned that in the business world and I've applied to my spiritual practices over the years to great success. You can actually learn a lot by taking the practice of one discipline and applying it to another discipline. In business, processes are used to solve problems, design and implement solutions, and to encourage creativity. Process encourages creativity by cutting out extraneous busy work, to focus on what really works, but in order to discover what works you necessarily need to work the process.

A lot of times creativity is treated as a chaotic experience, which occurs when a person is inspired. But in my experience, creativity is quite structured. Process provides the necessary structure for creativity to flourish in. Whether I'm writing, painting, or practicing magic, having a process in place allows me to work with my creativity as a resource. I'm not just waiting for inspiration to hit me...I'm actively cultivating it as part of my process.

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My Adventure Between the Worlds in Sacred Space

I recently attended the joint Between the Worlds and Sacred Space conference that occurred in Maryland from the 5th through the 8th of March. Between the Worlds is a conference which occurs every few years, dependent on the right astrological circumstances, while Sacred Space is an annual conference. I'd never attended either, but I had been invited to be a presenter for Between the Worlds by Ivo Dominguez Jr (And a hearty thank you to him for doing so). Thursday was the start of the event, and I attended the opening ritual, which was a powerful awakening of the Sacred Space egregore. I liked how everyone got involved in the ritual...It was quite moving in its intensity. Later on I attended a talk by Literata on Modernity and Occultism and how different people had specific visions of what they wanted to manifest and how what they manifested didn't quite turn out the way they expected, but nonetheless built a current of sorts that we can look back on in history.

On the second day of the event I attended a panel on alliances with the spirit world, with Diana Paxson, Dorothy Morrison, Kirk Thomas, Aeptha, and Michael Smith sharing their perspectives on working with the spirits. I enjoyed the various perspectives they shared, all of which showed a depth of experience that was meaningful to anyone listening to the panel. Then I presented my class on the Alchemy of Breath, which seemed well received. As a presenter, it is always nice to have a room full of people who are genuinely engaged in what you are sharing. After that we attended the ritual prep class for the main ritual. What I liked about it is that they provided people the necessary background information to get the most out of the ritual scheduled for that evening. Later I went to Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki's class on Astral Doorways. This was a fascinating class, where she presented information on the second road/world. A lot of what she presented fit in with what I've been learning from R. J. Stewart (no surprise given their respective lineages), but it also gave me food for through about my own practices in relationship to imagination. Finally I attended the main ritual, which was a syncretic mix of five different traditions, woven together quite nicely to create a ritual which spoke to the importance of being present and participative in the changing times, to represent your cause during those times and know that others were also there. Following all that I had some conversation with people I've met and people I already know.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs

Lately I've been doing a lot of internal work around aging. When I was at Pantheacon a couple weeks ago, I got into a conversation about aging and my realizations that in some ways I've been very resistant to it, wanting to stay young forever. I've never had an issue with dying or death, because I've had multiple near death experiences, but aging is something I haven't wanted to acknowledge. Yet at 38, I feel a difference in my body. I wake up and I need to stretch more than I used to. I have a bit of a belly now, and I eat less food because my metabolism is slower. I have less hair on my forehead and I realize I am changing. I am still relatively young, but aging happens and no matter what creams I put on my face, or how much or little food I eat, or what exercise I d0, I can't change the fact that I am aging. What I can change is how well I take care of myself.

In the Nature of Personal Reality by Jane Roberts, Seth (an entity channeled by Roberts) makes the following observation about aging and people: "If you desperately try to remain young, it is usually to hide your own beliefs about age, and to negate all of those emotions connected with it." It's an insightful point that made me think about my own fixation on age. I realize I am so resistant to aging because I have this particular image of myself, this particular state of being, and what I see in the mirror doesn't reflect that. I'm changing and being in denial about that change isn't really serving me.

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  • Philipp Kessler
    Philipp Kessler says #
    We're of an age, Taylor. And from what I see you have aged (if we can say that at our age) better than I have. I have arthritis,

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