Definitions & Labels

Can Jesus be for Pagans too?

jesus Sam Webster recently posted an article that has caused some controversy: Why you can't be worship Jesus Christ and be a Pagan. My own response to the article is admittedly based on my own history with Christianity, which has been a fairly adversarial relationship. I had my occult books burned by my mother, a fundamentalist Christian, when I was forcibly outed and I also received death threats for practicing magic. Even in later years I can't say that I really care for a religion which has many adherents that seem compelled to push their beliefs, and vision for the world on everyone else and I have resented it, when it has happened to me. I understood and appreciated where Sam is coming from, because my experiences with Christianity do not make me feel that my beliefs and choice of lifestyle is welcomed by people who adhere to that particular religion.

I am frankly skeptical as to how Jesus can be integrated into magical practices or into Paganism, especially given the commandments of his father, that there should be no other gods other than him. At the same time, I don't know that I can blame Jesus the deity for the faults of his worshippers. Indeed, having read the new and old testament a few times through, what has always struck me is that the parables of Jesus and the golden rule are actually insightful lessons that anyone, Christian or otherwise, could benefit from. And I'm also of the mind that if something calls to you and there is a meaningful experience there that contributes to your life, you need to honor it. So if someone tells me that Jesus is part of their pantheon, I can accept that it works for them. It would never work for me, but fortunately as long as they can accept that, we'll get along just fine.

At the same time, I don't think that Sam's article is all that different from how Christians would respond to the idea of Jesus being part of a Pagan pantheon. Back in my days of being a Christian, I remember telling a friend about the Greek myths I was reading and how there was one myth that made me think of the Christian God and made me wonder if there was some relationship there. I remember his mother telling me, quite fiercely, that I shouldn't read Greek myths (or fantasy or Science Fiction) and that having such discussions were sacrilegious. Not surprisingly such close mindedness was one reason I left the Christian religion, and its various sects behind. And while I don't assume all Christians are that way, I've encountered enough of them that are, that I could just as easily see them arguing that a pagan who worships Jesus is a fifth columnist or that his/her belief isn't genuine.

But you know, it doesn't matter what Sam, or I, or some Christian thinks about what you believe. What matters is what you think and how you choose to accept it (or not). I learned long ago that looking for acceptance from others was not a fruitful path. There will always be someone who will say what you believe is wrong, heretical, etc. And you can argue against them, but likely no one will budge. So share your own opinion and perspective, like I'm doing here, and then leave it at that. In the end, the only person who's opinion matters is yourself, and the relationship you have with your pantheon of choice.

What's in a name?

  magical name

I have a confession to make. I have never given myself a magical name. My magical name is my actual name and I think that name is magical enough that I don't need to come up with something else. Recently I came across an article where the author mentions that he'd never realized that shifting from a magical name to your mundane name could be a form of grounding that separates your magical persona from your regular persona. He cited an article by Frater Barrabbas that discusses this aspect further and I found the argument intriguing.

Frater Barrabbas's argument is that if a magician uses his/her mundane name as his/her craft name, s/he runs the risk of believing his/her own pr and can become deluded about his/her magical achievements and also the reality of his/her situation. The adoption of a magical name and motto allows the magician to create a persona for his/her magical self. This in turns allows the magician to turn off that persona as needed and keep him/her grounded in reality. I see his point and I agree with it to a degree, especially because he cites how actors and other famous people also experience this kind of delusion, as I've noted in Pop Culture Magick, and as can be seen in any number of bizarre behaviors famous people end up doing. The amount of energy and attention thrown their way affects who they are and causes them to buy into the image as reality, instead of remembering that they are mortal. Sadly unless you are a triumphant roman general, you probably won't have someone whispering in your ear that you are mortal.

At the same time I have always considered magical names to be a conceit of sorts, a way for someone to give themselves a self important title. And because of that and also because I believe that the only way people in general will become more accepting of magic, Paganism, and alternative beliefs in general, I've chosen to use my own name as my magical name. Anyone who does a Google search on my name discovers that I'm an occultist, which has lead to some interesting discussions, but also provided me a sense of freedom because I am choosing not to hide what I believe or practice. That's my choice and yet it also serves to keep me humble.

If you read this journal you'll inevitably come across entries where I detail some of my personal struggles, failures, or magical workings that just didn't work out the way I hoped. Nor do I consider myself to be famous. I'm at most kinda famous, on the fringe of the occult community. And on a mundane level, I've gone through a divorce and made my share of mistakes with finances, work, life, and love. I can be petty, vengeful, and quick to anger, and my people skills could use work. On the other hand I can also be compassionate, caring, and generous. I've made an ass of myself on multiple occasions and I've lost friends, made enemies, and had other mundane issues come up. In short I am a fallible person and I don't buy into any pr about me because I know at the end of the day that any enlightenment I've experienced has been worked for...hard. And on the rare occasion I meet someone who acts impressed by who I am (it doesn't happen often, though I'll admit social media has been a nice shot to my self-esteem as a writer) what I try to do, more than anything, is get them to meet the real me. Not the author, not the magician, but Taylor Ellwood the person. Because Taylor Ellwood the person is a lot less likely to let them down, and because when they get to know me as a person they realize that while I'm a pretty interesting person, I am just another person at the end of the day.

I keep my name because it reminds me to be humble. The assumption of a magical name doesn't ground just creates another level of occult BS that I dislike with an intense passion. Now to be clear I do respect why Frater Barrabbas has chosen to take on a magical name. I respect it because I think that is the intention behind taking on such a name. I just don't know that many people hold to that same standard. He does, and I can safely say that because I know him and we've had a few conversations both with his persona on, and off. If you want to take on a magical name, then do it, but do it for the right reasons.

The truth is that we all take a risk of believing our own pr. Occultists can be pretty arrogant and I've definitely been arrogant at times. I've just learned that being arrogant doesn't really help. It just makes you into an asshole that everyone else dislikes and avoids. Lucky for me I've moved out of that stage of life and actually have people who want to hang with Taylor Ellwood the person. I'll never be the most popular guy, but that's ok too. I am an acquired taste and I know it and I'm satisfied with being that way. So whatever way you choose to keep yourself humble...remember you are but mortal...

Why terminology is important in magical work

In both Multi-Media Magic and Magical Identity I devote a chapter to discussing definitions and why its important to understand the power of definitions in magical work. In my recent post on Magic and Biology, I got into some conversations about how terms were defined which illustrated why its so important to define your terminology as clearly as possible. At the same time, you also have to accept that no matter how clearly you think you've defined a term, there's always room for interpretation on your definition.

One of my favorite books that I would make required reading for any magician is Defining Reality by Edward Schiappa. The reason is because he spends an entire book exploring definitions and how they are used to frame and construct arguments as well as people's perceptions of reality. Combine that with William S. Burroughs perspectives on language and you can develop some powerful approaches to words, language, and magic.

Even a word like evocation has different meanings. Some people associate it with the grimoiric traditions, and others approach it from a psychological perspective. And then someone like me agrees with principles of evocation as they are framed from a more traditional perspective, but I like to experiment with how its done. And since I think terminology necessarily involves explaining how something is done this creates different definitions as well.

I like definitions, because I think of them as magical workings. They embody a current of meaning and perspective that is shared with others, interpreted by them, and reshared. They are discussed, debated, and embodied by the people involved with them. I perceive writing as an integral part of my magical work, which is one of the reasons I write about my work so much. It's as much a part of the magical work I do as any of the other activities associated with the magical work.

Why magic isn't a bunch of categories or labels

I think sometimes people try too hard to boil magic down to categories. You ask someone what type of magic s/he practices and you get a long list list of categories such as Chaos Magic, Postmodern Magic, Shamanism, Ceremonial Magic, etc. Add in magical lodges the person belongs to and you've got another set of categories (made into Acronyms) such as TOPY, OTO, OSOGD, GD, Etc.,I see these categories applied to the future of magic as if that can be boiled down to a specific type of magical practice. I'm guilty of this too. I talk about experimental magic as a label of some kind, as a way of trying to differentiate what I'm doing from what others are doing and labeling their practice as. Yet at some point it becomes a haze of semantics and the question that arises is: Are you doing anything with all of this anyway or just armchairing it?

On some level there's a necessity for labels and categories, to be able to provide some vocabulary for the discussions, but when we get obsessed with it, it ends up becoming some kind of circle jerk indulged in for the sake of trying to prove who is cooler than thou or who's the most elite occultist out there, or whatever. We all want to stand out and how better to do it than come up with some crazy ass term that sounds cool and might even mean something up if we get through the semantic haze.

But I like my magic simple. Yes, I want to experiment with it, but I also want it to be something other people will do and understand without having to throw in a lot of specialist jargon. So I'll use a definition where applicable, and otherwise keep the focus on doing the magic.

Time Dilation Experiences

Space/time Magic Time dilation is one of the experiences that's always fascinated me. I suspect just about every person has experienced time dilation. Time dilation is the experience of time either slowing down or speeding up. For example, if you've done a magical ritual before and you've felt like hours passed when perhaps only a half hour passed, you've experienced time dilation. Or if you've raced for a bus and felt like time sped up around you, you've also experienced time dilation.

When I do space/time magic, I like to warm up, as it were, using time dilation techniques. they are techniques that help to push the mind out of the linear frame of thinking it is used to, while prepping it for opening the doors of consciousness to explore time from a non-linear perspective. One of my favorite exercises to use comes from Jean Houston's Book The Possible Human (affiliate link). In this exercise you visualize time as a yard stick with past, present, and future occupying 12 inches each. Then what you do is take the past and give it 12 more inches, while having six inches off the present and future, and focus on experiencing a perception of time where most of the perception is on the past.

You can do the same exercise with the future, giving it 24 inches, and giving the past and present 6 inches each, or apply it to the present. Now you'll note that this is still a fairly linear perception of time, but the point of the exercise is to loosen up your habitual perception of units of time.

Time dilation is the first step toward experiencing and accepting that time isn't a constant and that we have influence on it. The usefulness of doing a time dilation exercise, whether in daily work, or just before you do a space/time working is that it'll push you outside the digital measurements of time we've come to rely on so much. And learning to activate time dilation at will can actually help out in those everyday situations, as well, because it teaches you to rely less on external measurements of time and more on internal awareness. You can apply that internal awareness toward shaping time around you, like in the time sphere working I discuss in Space/Time Magic.

Time dilation frees us of the automation of time, challenges us to question the measurements and schedules of others and shows us a glimpse of what time could be, if we are open to altering our perceptions of it.

Definitions and Personalizing Magic

One of my passions, when it comes to magic, is really about personalizing it to fit the circumstances of your life and what you draw inspiration from. When I learned ceremonial magic, I realized that to make it really effective, I had to personalize it, fit it to my style and understanding of the world. Thus Pop Culture Magic came about, a direct answer to how I could personalize magic to fit my cultural background and interests. Recently on the Magical Experiments page on Facebook, I asked what pop culture others drew inspiration from. One person found the Justice League to be an effective pantheon, while another person drew on the Circle of Magi  series. Another mentioned the Dune series, and another mentioned the Invisibles series. All of these people found inspiration from non-traditional sources and yet clearly those examples worked for them.

Magic really needs to be about personalization, which is why I always urge that people develop their own definitions, while also learning from other people's definitions and explanations about magic. The ability to draw on your own understanding of magic and to personalize what you do magically is what makes magic work so effectively. Learn the foundations of magic...learn how others do what they do, but then challenge that in your own work and don't let others gainsay you from doing so. You can only know your limits, if you are truly willing to experiment and test what you've learned by personalizing to fit your understanding of your place in the world and universe and how you move that place, and move all else to create perfect alignment with your desired change. That truly only happens when you challenge what you've learned with experiences and make the knowledge your own through experiental doing!

Magic and the Scientific Method

I was recently asked on Twitter the following question: Can magickal ritual stand up to scrutiny of scientific method? My response was: Not unless science accepts that magic is a subjective experience.

Let's unpack that statement. In my opinion, and from reading a variety of books, it seems that some magicians try to scientifically "prove" the existence of magic, Goetic demons etc., or if they are disillusioned by trying to be a magician, give it up and argue it doesn't exist, or its all in our heads.

While I certainly appreciate that science can offer some criticisms and even principles about magic, I would argue that magic as practice and process isn't as straightforward as science is. People customize magical practices a lot. Certainly I've done that, in part because I've found that sticking with what others have done hasn't worked for me as well as it might for them. I've found that I've been able to achieve consistent results that tell me magic is real, and other people who've tried my  processes have also achieved results. Nonetheless, I've also noted that when those same people customize the process to fit their own understanding of the universe, it seems to be more efficacious, and my thought on that is that what makes magic what it is, has less to do with replicating an overt process, and more to do with understanding the process from an internal perspective. In other words, it's not so much about objective, as it is about subjectivity, and more specifically the subject's relationship with him/herself, others, and the universe at large.

Whereas with science the idea seems to be that you follow a set process in order to replicate results, and if you deviate from that process, it's no longer considered to be science. This isn't to say that some degree of customization and creativity doesn't occur in science, but even when it does, its rigorously tested by many people, doing the same process in order to determine the validity of said process.

It could be argued that ritual provides the same kind of rigor, or that the variety of books written with spells and techniques demonstrates processes that if followed show the "science" of magic. The problem however is that what people look for in this kind of situation is irrefutable, objective proof. So if I do an evocation of a Goetic Demon, but no one sees it, people will argue its not real, that there is no objective proof to demonstrate it's existence. Yet, I don't know that such a criteria really applies to beings that very may well have objective existence, albeit in a different dimension. And more importantly, if we are looking for proof, then the results speak more tangibly than anything else to the efficacy of the process.

In my own work with entities and with magic in general what I've found to be so compelling about magic and why I continue to practice it is that it doesn't just solve some problems or generate results. It provides me an explanation of the universe, my place in it, and how I can utilize magic to make changes to that agreement. And in that sense, what makes it work isn't just a process but a choice, my choice, to believe...

Not very objective and scientific perhaps, but given how often magic has worked in my life, my belief in it works for me, and my understanding of the processes used also works. And I think that's more important than trying to prove it to everyone else.

Identity and Time

Each year on my birthday I do an elemental magic switchover to a new element for the next year. Last year I switched from Emptiness to Time. This year, however, I'm not going to switch from Time. Part of it is because astrologically Saturn is a significant influence over the next year and I think I should capitalize on it, but part of it also is because while I did some work with time, I ended up actually working a lot more with the element of Identity. It makes sense actually because when I finished with the element of Emptiness, I felt like my life was a blank slate. And in January of 2010, I was divorced. Needless to say that was also a big change in identity for me, and I felt like much of this year has been an exploration of who I am and what I want and need.

Even getting involved in a new relationship has brought identity changes. I identify myself as childfree, but my partner has children and that's involved some adjustment to how I think about children and my identity in relationship to them. This entire year has been less about time and more about identity, discovering and claiming my identity, as well as claiming boundaries for that identity. I actually think that's one of the more magical acts I've done this year. It's helped me understand the role of identity in magical work, and it's also helped me identify the parts of my identity that I've wanted to change.

This year has been one of the best years of my life. Instead of holding on to the past, I've let go and embraced the present as an opportunity to explore who I can be, and in turn allow that realization to manifest in the universe and in my life. The previous years of internal work have paid off, and my life has come into a lot more focus as I've really reshaped my contractual agreement with the universe into an agreement I can really be behind. And it's going to keep getting better from here.

My work with the element of time is something I'm going to continue with. But today I'm going to celebrate my holy day.

Happy birthday to me

The need for innovation in magic

When we adhere to other people's rules and definitions of magic without questioning them or testing them, we become dogmatic and lose out on innovation. For magic to be an effective practice, we need to question all definitions and practices, with an eye toward improving our magical practice and also toward improving magic as a whole.

Video: Internal work and Definitions

As I continue to explore the role of definitions in magic, I've also applied them to internal work, with the specific understanding that any given issue brings with it definitions of the reactions a person will take when the issue comes up. The video below goes into more depth about this:

Short notes

A Note about Definitions and Meaning My post about definitions could easily also apply to the word models. The word models is used a lot in magic theory. There is the spiritual model, the psychological model, the model for this or the model for that. But I don't think definitions are really models. I do think models are metaphors that attempt to categorize magic, whereas I think definitions are less about categorization and more about making meaning, or maybe even making connection through meaning. You can't really have connection if some kind of meaning isn't involved and definitions are all about meaning, the establishment of it as the way to understand what's around and within.

A Note about Immanion Press

I'm still involved in Immanion Press. At one point, in the winter, I gave some serious thought to leaving Immanion Press as the managing editor and heading for the hills as it were, but then the divorce happened and I figured that was a big enough change in my life. The purpose of Immanion Press, as it applies to occult books, is to publish the books other publishers won't touch and/or reprint what's out of print. And I think we've published some great books by some great authors and I hope we continue to.

What isn't realized, I think, is that for all intents and purposes Immanion Press is volunteer run. I don't really get paid for doing the editing, layout, or managing of other editors. It's a lot of work and it's mostly a labor of love, save on those occasions when it can become a labor of hate.

I won't be at the Esoteric Book Conference this year representing Immanion Press. Lupa will be there, and you can buy books from the press through her. I have mixed feelings on how much I will represent the esoteric book line in the future, since I no longer do any of the distribution for it, beyond my own books. I'll still do the managing editor part, but I figure it's time to focus on myself a bit more, which includes finishing some writing I've been working on, so I actually have a justifiable reason to show up at a conference.

Review of Sacred Kink by Lee Harrington

What I most enjoyed about this book was Lee's efforts to provide detailed information about each path and create a framework for people from multiple belief systems to engage in the incorporation of kink to their spirituality. Lee's expertise as both a sex educator and spiritual teacher shows through in this book time and time again. He provides excellent examples and also useful definitions for understanding each path. I found a lot in this book that I know I can apply to my own spiritual practices and I think anyone else would find a similar treasure trough.

5 out of 5

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Definitions, definitions, it's all definitions

The more I focus on definitions, the more I realize how integral they are to any sense of self and identity a person has. We define everything to not only explain everything, but also provide structure and environment for ourselves, to create a sense of place in the universe, little realizing just how constructed all of it is. Truth seems to be that the majority of definitions used were created by someone else, and there's a kind of blind adherence to these definitions, without really questioning them. Maybe it's the belief that "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" I see the belief as being one of the primary blockers of innovation change. "You're reinventing the wheel." I've heard that one a number of times because I decided I'd question definitions. At least it is MY wheel.

Definitions seem to be integral to magical activity and theory as well. And I'm not talking about trotting out the rather tired definition of magic that Crowley belched out years and years ago. I'm talking instead of the realization that definition is an integral key for providing the framework through which an action can occur. No definition and you don't have an action, because there is an absence of environment for that action to occur in. Definitions provide structure, environment, a call to action. But they provide more than that as well. They provide insight into the unconscious, into the deepest layers of a person, and what makes that person tick. Definitions are the basis by which we make sense of reality.

Are you a Traditionalist?

A reader asked me yesterday, after I posted my review of Evola's book on Buddhism, if I agreed with Evola's  traditionalist views in other areas, because I liked Evola's work. When I posted the review to Amazon, I'd noticed traditionalism come up as a possible tag, first time I ever came across the word actually. Let me just say that assuming I'm anything based on what I read is at best an erroneous assumption. It's true I like Julius Evola's writing. And if we were to research Julius the person, we would find out he was a fascist and I guess a traditionalist as well (maybe they are even one and the same!). But I'm not interested in Evola's political beliefs and don't find them relevant to my practice. Nor, really, am I concerned with labeling his spiritual practices or my own as traditionalist.

In fact, I'm not really interesting in trying to label my own practices either. The most I've ever done is to label myself as an experimental magician, an even that label is one I rely on less these days. What's really important afterall is not the label, but rather what one is actually doing.

So for me, Evola's writing, which I like because he's a good scholar and offers some intriguing perspectives on what he writes about, whether it's Buddhism or Tantra, or Hermeticism, or an article on time magic, is important because I find it relevant to my spiritual practice. Frex, the book on Buddhism offered some useful insights into early Buddhist texts and practices, and proved helpful in my emptiness working.

But even though I like his works, it shouldn't be assumed that I'm a traditionalist or anything else that Evola was. I am, after all, not Julius Evola (last I checked). Nor because I've read Edward Hall and liked his work, should it be assumed I hold to his political beliefs or his approach to anthropology or anything else. Liking someone's writing doesn't mean you agree with all of it or that you hold the same beliefs as someone.

But really what I'm saying is this: Labels are at best an illusion crafted to provide us and others the security (a false one) of being able to say this person is this or that. But what if I'm not?

I read what I read because I find it important to cultivate an awareness of a wide variety of perspectives and beliefs so that I can see how those perspectives inform my spiritual and indeed, overall life. So am I a traditionalist? Likely not.

But I am me...and I do enjoy learning and applying what I learn toward living a better life. I hope you do as well.

Review of The Silent Language by Edward T. Hall

In this book, Hall explores the intricacies of time and space from a cultural studies perspective. Although this book is a bit dated, the information is still very relevant, and what Hell offers is an examination of how much our perception of time influences our cultural and everyday interactions. For example, learning just how tightly time is wound for Americans as opposed to other cultures is quite insightful to the workaholicism that pervades American culture. Hall touches on some aspects of space as well, though you'll find more of his thoughts on it, in the hidden dimension. What I most enjoyed about this book is an exploration of time from a social science perspective as opposed to a hard science perspective.  I definitely recommend it to anyone interested in understanding concepts of space and time.

5 out of 5 stars