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As you begin to wade into the world of Pop Culture Magick it’s important to understand the difference between Pop Culture Magick and Pop Culture Paganism. You’ll often find these words thrown around interchangeably (I’m certainly guilty of doing it on occasion), but they’re actually distinct terms. While every practitioner will define them a bit differently, the definitions below should help you to navigate these fundamental concepts.
Pop Culture Magick (PCM) is the use of pop culture stories, characters, images, music, toys, etc. as magickal mechanisms – the tools and techniques you use to bring your magick into being. That might mean doing a guided meditation to talk to Abraham Van Helsing about vampires, using an action figure of the Hulk to house a protective egregore, invoking the fortitude of your level 10 Paladin in Dungeons and Dragons, performing a prosperity spell that calls on Daddy Warbucks, or myriad other actions. PCM isn’t a new way of doing magick, it’s magick that calls on powers and ideas that are more immediately present in most peoples’ everyday lives than most of the mechanisms in more traditional magick. PCM may or may not have religious elements involved, depending entirely on the practitioner. In and of itself PCM is no more religious, Pagan or otherwise, than any other set of magickal techniques like candle magick or herbal magick. PCM is just the use of pop culture elements in magickal practices.
Pop Culture Paganism (PCP) is the use of pop culture characters and stories as either an approachable face for traditional Pagan deities and powers, or as a substitute for more traditional powers and mythologies. That could mean communing with Eros via the character of Capt. Jack Harkness (from Doctor Who and Torchwood), working with Diana in the guise of Wonder Woman, using Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a spirit guide, etc. It can also mean worshiping Tolkein’s elves as representations of nature, working with the Small Gods of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, or creating your own path using various pop culture elements. PCP is all about working with the powers you find that resonate with you, regardless of whether or not they’re accepted by the larger magickal community. PCP may or may not involve PCM or more traditional magicks, depending entirely on the practitioner. On its own, PCP is simply the use of pop culture in the furtherance of the practice of Pagan religions.
My current personal practice uses a lot of Pop Culture Magick, but not a whole lot of Pop Culture Paganism. As a person who loves books, movies, graphic novels, and gaming it seems natural to use the things I love as part of my magickal practice. If I’m going to have a plushy Chtulu sitting in my cubicle at work, why wouldn’t I infuse it with a spell to ward off annoying co-workers? After seeing Doctor Who wield a sonic screwdriver like a magick wand in episode after episode, why wouldn’t I use my sonic screwdriver flashlight as a wand? These are things that I have a deep personal connection with (in Tumblr speak: my fandoms give me feels). The fact that I can have these things sitting openly on my desk at work without anyone looking twice is merely a bonus.
I don’t currently do much with Pop Culture Paganism, but I used to. As I talked about in my last post, when I first started getting into Paganism I had a hard time connecting with various deities and traditional powers because I felt that they were pretty far removed from my everyday life. Honestly, how much deep and meaningful reverence does the average computer nerd have for ancient agricultural deities? These days I do have that kind of connection with my deities but it took a lot of work. For me it took years of study and repeated workings with the traditional powers to build a strong connection. I can achieve that same level of connection with a pop culture figure by reading the books I love or watching my favorite movies. That’s not to say that I regret taking the time to forge the relationships I now have with deity, far from it. However, if back then it had been openly acceptable to do Pop Culture Paganism I probably would have run down that path as fast as I possibly could.
The beauty of Pop Culture Magick and Pop Culture Paganism is that they are so very individual. Each practitioner gets to pick and choose their very favorite things to work with in the best ways possible for them. There are basically no rules, no dogma, about how to work with pop culture, what is or isn’t “correct.” Each practitioner gets to define PCM and PCP for themselves, choosing to mix them or keep them separate as works best for them.
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.
One of the pop culture magic systems I work with is Dehara, based off the Wraeththu series by Storm Constantine. We're currently doing some work on the next grimoire and as part of that work I've been immersing myself in reading the Wraeththu series, as well as fan fiction set in that universe. By immersing myself in the pop culture artifacts I attune myself to that system of magic, as well as to the characters that may show up as a result. Scientists call this type of immersion experience taking. I get caught up in the pop culture world and change my behavior and thoughts to match that of the characters. Personally I think the concept of experience taking sounds a lot like invocation.
I've been integrating my work with Dehara into my daily work, doing path workings with the various beings I'm contacting as I help to flesh out this system of magic. What's been most fascinating for me though is that my work has shown up in my dreams. I've dreamed of myself as a hara having adventures in the Wraeththu universe. Perhaps this is due to the fact that I'm doing this magical work and also re-reading the series at the same time, creating this immersive experience that effects my imagination and makes my dreams more receptive to continued interactions and work on this system of magic. In both my meditations and dreams the experiences have been lucid. In one case, in the meditation the Hara version of myself experienced a burn on his hand, and my physical hand had a similar reaction, though there was no burn on it....
I've just finished re-reading the Deathgate Cycle, a 7 book series published in the early 1990's and one of my favorite fantasy series. One of the reasons I like the series so much is the appendices, which the authors created to explain various aspects of the series, including how the magic in the series works. Although neither author is a magician, so far as I know, the detailed explanations they share provide a lot of insight into not the magic of their series, but magical work in general. For example, one of the concepts they talk about is the importance of definition in magic, and how definition shapes the raw possibilities into something that a person can understand apply to the world around him/herself.
I read the Deathgate cycle when it first came out, before I started practicing magic. It's fair to say that reading those appendices certainly had an effect on how I thought about magic, once I started to practice it in earnest. The concepts presented provided a way to understand magic that made sense to me, because what was presented was a very methodical approach to magic that made sense. That I would find some similar approaches in actual books on magic only confirmed to me the value of looking outside of strictly magical texts to find inspiration in my magical work....
I'm currently replaying the God of War series. Each time I play this series, what fascinates me about it is how Greek mythology is portrayed in the game series, and how that very process of representation consequently creates new interest in the original mythology. And this isn't just limited to God of War. I've noticed this same phenomenon with the Percy Jackson series, Marvel's version of Thor, and other modern variants of older mythology, which simultaneously create new mythology and also revitalize older mythology by getting people interested in the source material.
While there may be some knee jerk reactions to this concept from purists, I think that its worthwhile to examine and understand how pop culture can revitalize interest in older mythologies, and how this may even be intentional on the part of the deities associated with those older mythologies. The reason it may be intentional is that said deities recognize that one way to get attention, belief, and eventually worship involves utilizing the medium of modern culture in order to get in front of the various people who might be receptive to those deities. And in this age of multi-media, the opportunity to get in front of such an audience is unparalleled for there are more people living now than have ever lived in previous eras of history....
I dislike the term "world music"; it's basically an inaccurate catch-all term used for Mediterranean, Asian, African, and often enough Latin American folk music in a culture where "folk music" is based on the folk music traditions of the British Isles and regions of France and Germany and maybe a few other "Northern Europe" regions. But already, I digress....
I also dislike most "pagan music". I've gotten very selective about my cheesy gothic pop-rock with my old age (no offence to Inkubus Sukubus fans in the room), and when your paternal grandfather and both maternal grandparents got off the boat from said Isles, your step-mother, who was not Anglo-Celtic in any ancestral manner, becomes obsessed with Irishness after marrying your father, and half your teachers feel compelled to tell you about how they felt when they say Michael Flatley in Riverdance, or that Michael Collins film, the Celtic folk-based filks that often uncritically dominate the pagan community get really boring, really fast. To make things worse, when interacting with "pagans" on an interfaith level, rather than other Hellenists exclusively, my opinion is not a popular one: My religion encourages competition and bettering oneself --it is completely fair to offer a constructive critique of another's "musical offering" among Hellenists. Many ancient Hellenic festivals featured contests where, yes, there would be a winner and sometimes even a clear loser. I once hosted a Mouseia poetry contest where a participant later harshly criticised me in their own blog cos they didn't win for a very good reason --they submitted a very generalised poem of Olympian reverence, and the contest guidelines were for a poem dedicating a community website to the Moisai. In what basically amounts to an experience-based community with a large interfaith focus, where the status quo is that all good faith efforts to produce something "good" necessarily produce only "good" works, the idea that some works are necessarily better than others will not make one many friends.