pop culture

A pop culture magic pathworking with stranger things

In this video I'm doing a pop culture pathworking with stranger things. I'll share how I've set up the pathworking and then we'll actually do it. Feel free to join along

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How to pick your pop culture for pop culture magic

I’ve recently started playing a game called in Inquisitor-Martyr, set in the Warhammer 40k universe, which a is a dystopic universe where humanity has access to advanced technology, but also a medieval mindset about technology. At the same time, humanity is beset by various alien menaces and the forces of chaos. I enjoy the game, but I would never create a pop culture magic working or system based off the Warhammer universe.

In this article, I want to share some thoughts on how to pick your pop culture for pop culture magic and also demonstrate why a viable option for pop culture magic may not be ideal, for other reasons. At the same time I’m going to compare and contrast the 40k universe with that of Kingdom Hearts (for purposes of pop culture magic), which is on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to pop culture based off fantasy.

Videogames, Emotions and Magic

Lately I've been replaying the God of War series. It's one of those videogame series that I play as a way to process emotions and solve problems. Losing myself in the game and in the character of Kratos and his own issues with rage allows me to come to a meditative space. In that space, each push of the button is mirrored in the meditation and what is presented is a space where the problem can be worked through, while the game is being played. 

How Pop Culture Magic works: A guide in theory and practice

If there's one perception about pop culture magic that stands out to me as being inaccurate, its the idea that people practicing pop culture magic are winging it. It's as if people think that pop culture magic is an undisciplined approach to magic that's really about wish fulfillment as opposed to a genuine magical practice.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

When I started practicing pop culture magic, I knew that in order to make it work, I needed to draw on my previous experiences with magic. In fact, I wouldn't recommend pop culture magic to someone who didn't have at least a couple of years experience with magic under their belt, because you need that experience to make sure that what you're doing actually works and isn't wish fulfillment on your part.

4 ways Walt Disney shaped pop culture magic

Disney parade On one of the days I was at Disney, I had the chance to see a parade go by. People were lined up by the sides of the street and the various parade floats were themed around specific Disney movies. You had characters on the floats and you also had people dressed up in outfits, like the green army men from Toy Story, or ants from A Bugs Life. What fascinated me the most about the experience was the combination of music, the floats, and people watching the parade, getting into the experience. I felt a ripple flow through me and I knew in that moment that I was watching magic happen. The magic of belief, the magic of people in that moment playing a role in a ritual that was unfolding before us in the parade.

Green Army Men

And make no mistake...it was a ritual. It may not have been a magical ritual in the usual sense of the word, but nonetheless what was unfolding before my eyes was an experience of altered consciousness, a warping of space and time, similar to how a ritual feels. All the people, whether they were cast members or people watching the parade were brought into this ritual that was an exultation of Disney and the characters and movies that were in the parade.

Disney parade

At first fascinated by the parade ritual, I ended up becoming part of it, snapping pictures, but also caught up in the emotion of the moment. I felt excited, thrilled, and energized by what I saw and heard.

Afterwards, as I reflected on the ritual of the parade I began thinking about Walt Disney and my experience of Disneyland and how all of this could be part of pop culture magic. I've never been a huge Disney fan, but its fair to say that Disney has some influence on pop culture magic and how we might approach pop culture magic. I thought I would share below 4 ways Disney has influenced pop culture magic.

1. Disney took existing stories and modernized them through media to capture the imagination. Disney understood the power of stories. He also understood the power of using different media to tell those stories. His cartoons and movies took older stories and made them into something new, something to be experienced. And as a result he captured the imagination of the people who watched those movies. Part of what makes pop culture magic effective is how the imagination of people in general are captured by the pop culture. Their attention and imagination, on some level, is locked into Disney. In general, with pop culture, what our imagination is locked into is what makes the pop culture relevant and the significance to that in pop culture magic is that we can draw on what is significant in the imagination and make it into viable magical work.

2. Disney recognized that people want to experience magic, and made it a pivotal part of most of his work. Magic has been a significant element in Disney's work. Whether you agree or disagree with how magic is portrayed in Disney, it's fair to say that one of the reasons magic shows up in pop culture in general is because of Disney and the inclusion of magic. Disney understood the power of magic and how people secretly longed for it. He made that longing visible and allowed people to enjoy the possibility of magic being in their lives (even if only in pop culture).

3. Disney's pop culture sets up characters around specific values and themes that people can relate to. If you look at the various Disney media you see certain themes in play such as good versus evil or the triumph of romantic love. While Disney certainly wasn't the first person to come up with these themes, they nonetheless play an integral role in the work he produced, and also promote the values he believed in. The characters are framed in context to those themes, which makes it easier to work with them on a spiritual level. Disney understood the power of stories and myths and so he's created his own mythology around his characters and the themes that are relevant to those themes.

the spirits of Disney

In Disneyland there's a case (pictured above) with statues. You have the spirit of innovation, the spirit of imagination, the spirit of achievement etc.. These statues embody the themes that Disney wanted integrated into any media produced by his company. As a result the characters can also be matched to those themes. And I think you see those themes come alive in a lot of what Disney media produces even now.

With pop culture magic such themes can be worked with and explored through the characters a person chooses to work with. What's striking about the themes is that you don't necessarily see them show up in just any pop culture media, but in the case of Disney they do show up and that can be useful in developing correspondences and a system of magic around them.

4. Disney recognized the power of belief and how it could shape the experience people have. Throughout my time in Disneyland, it became very clear to me how much Disney recognized and accounted for the power of belief. He wanted people entering the theme park to suspend their disbelief, get in touch with their inner child, and while they were in Disneyland believe in a different reality. I felt like Disneyland was a pocket universe that people would enter into, and for a time, become like children again. This happened because they suspended their disbelief, and embraced a belief in the reality of Disneyland, the reality of experience they were having.

The ability to believe in the experience and allow it to become part of your reality is an important part of magical work in general, but in pop culture magic it is particularly important because it allows you to develop viable magical workings using pop culture. The pop culture becomes something more than just what you've seen on T.V. or played in a game. It becomes a mythology that you take part in and make part of your life. Disney, while he never practiced magic, understood the power of taking stories and making them into something people could identify with and make part of their lives. My visit to Disneyland really helped me appreciate the nuances of pop culture magic and recognize that pop culture will continue to be something we bring into all areas of our lives, including our spiritual journey.

If you're interested in developing your own pop culture systems of magic, check out my upcoming class Pop Culture Magic Foundations, starting on August 9th.

The Difference between Belief and Attention in Pop Culture Magic

Thiede I've been thinking about belief and what it is and how it shows up in magical practice over the last couple weeks. I've asked members of the Pop Culture Magick and Magical Experiments Facebook groups to share their own thoughts and I've gotten some great answers with a range of perspectives. Naturally considering belief and its role in magic has also gotten me to consider attention and its role in magic.

Attention and belief are not the same.

Let me use some examples from pop culture magic to demonstrate the difference between attention and belief and also show why it is possible to believe in a pop culture spirit and develop a sacred connection as a result. In pop culture, its fair to say that attention plays a prevalent role. When you watch a T.V. show, play a game, or listen to your favorite band you are giving attention to what you are focused on. That attention, in and of itself, does have some power to it.

Nonetheless I can give attention to something without giving it much in the way of belief. For example, I've enjoyed watching the Marvel Universe movies. I've given attention to the characters by watching the movies and reading the comics. I've even given attention in the form of one shot magical workings designed to achieve a specific result. Yet I wouldn't say that I have a deep and intimate relationship with characters from the Marvel universe. I don't believe in them beyond the time I watch the movie or read the comic book and suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy what I'm doing. What I give them is attention.

This isn't to say I can't do some effective magical workings with them, as I can, but it's not the same as developing an intimate, deep, long term relationship. And that's where I think belief comes into play. Belief is a commitment, that goes beyond the surface level of attention and really allows you and the pop culture spirit to develop something for the long term.

My work with Thiede from the Wraeththu series is a good example. I first encountered Thiede when I read the Wraeththu series, but my relationship with him wasn't just for the duration of reading the books (though I've read them many times). I started doing magical workings with him, but it wasn't a one-shot deal. It was a relationship that developed because I chose to believe in him. The workings I've done with him have happened over the past 18 years and will more than likely continue to occur because he plays a significant role in my cosmology. There is an element of the sacred in my relationship with him and so I don't think that what I give him is just attention. It is belief...belief in the relationship, belief that he is real, belief that my relationship with him has significance and that it has changed my life.

To write that relationship off as if it was just attention, merely because Thiede is pop culture is to ignore the intention of creating and cultivating a relationship that lasts over an extended period of time. And my relationship isn't just with Thiede, but also the other Dehara I've discovered and worked with. I've deliberately built those relationships, cultivated in part by my intentional choice to believe in the Dehara. I've helped develop a system of magic around these beings and I make them a part of my daily life. This isn't attention...this is belief.

And it could happen with any other pop culture.

It depends on what type of relationship you want to develop with the pop culture spirits you want to work with. If you choose to make them part of your daily life, then its more than just attention at work and don't let anyone else tell you otherwise.


If you can't see it, It isn't real: A commentary on pop culture mythology

pop culture mythology I was recently reading an article about one of my favorite shows and the "death" of a character in that show. I put the word death in quotations, because the death happened off the T.V. screen, and the writer of the article noted that fans debated whether the character was really dead and as a result were coming up with their own alternatives to the "death" of the character. What fascinated me about it is that while the people creating the T.V. show will state that the character is dead, because the death happened off screen, there is room for interpretation.

The axiom in pop culture magic that describes this is: If you can't see it, it isn't real.

It probably doesn't help that you'll sometimes see shows where a character "dies" and the actor says that they won't be coming back to the show, and then in the next season, presto chango, the actor has reappeared. We've come to expect that the character will come back, especially if the death isn't shown. We've also gotten use to the misdirection that's put out there...we expect it and we see through it.

However even if the character never does come back onto the show, the fans still have their own say about characters. A character may die on a show, but if it isn't seen, the fans can interpret that and spin it in their own way. They can come up with fan fiction, where they share their own mythological take on what happened to the character. And what's important about that is that when fans start developing their own mythology around a character, they've brought that character to life beyond what occurred with the show. The relationship is no longer just the fan enjoying the show. The relationship is personal and intimate.

Pop culture mythology is never solely built by the creators or the companies that sponsor them. It's true that the creators set the canon and the companies support that canon, but the fans are the ones who bring the mythology alive. Whether you're watching a show or reading a book or listening to a song, you are more than just a passive receiver. Your imagination is what creates the connection between you and the characters you love and your imagination helps you develop the mythology you work with.

If you can't see it, it isn't real.

Pop culture mythology is flexible. The canon is important, but so are the fans and how they respond to the canon. And for the pop culture magician, its important to remember that the very act of doing pop culture magic is also a shaping of the mythology of the pop culture you are working with. So when a favorite character "dies" don't write them off. The pop culture mythology doesn't automatically end. It only ends when the fans stop contributing and believing in the mythology. So you decide...what is or isn't real in your pop culture mythology?


Living the Myth

Mythology In Magical Imagination by Nick Farrell shares a cautionary story of a magical group that made the Arthurian mythos a part of their identity and consequently ended up re-enacting that myth in their lives. The point that Nick makes is that too close of an identification with a mythos can cause you to manifest the themes and characters in your life in ways that aren't desirable. In the case of that magical group, the head of the group lost his wife when she ran off another person in the group (a Lancelot to the head's Arthur) and then had issues with other people who ended up replicating other aspects of the mythos. It's a good cautionary story that highlights the reality that when you work closely with a given mythology and identify with the entities in that mythology, it can take on a life of its own and effect your life both positively and negatively.

Pop culture mythology is no different than classical mythology, other than the fact that its contemporary mythology. If you look at a given mythology it has themes and values written into the story and it has characters that perform essential roles in moving the story along and relating the narrative to people. Most importantly the mythology establishes a shared sense of identity with the fan. That identity is what causes the fan to like the pop culture mythology and to either replicate it or create new myths within the mythology. This is why fan fiction of various types is written, because it allows the people writing it (and reading it) to contribute to the pop culture mythology and also interact with the characters they love.

If you want to magically work with the mythology of your favorite pop culture, it's worth while to do so carefully. You may find that you identify strongly with certain characters, but you don't want to identify so strongly that you take on their flaws. I once did some work with several characters from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms mythology and part of that work was influenced by how they were depicted in the Dynasty Warrior video game series. I identified strongly with the character Lu Bu, but ended up taking on some of his less desirable traits such as his anger and short-sightedness. Once I realized this I stopped working with him and those issues just as quickly ceased showing up in my behavior. What I've done since then is build in filters so that if I'm working with a given character closely, I'm only taking on the attributes that are helpful to me and the work I'm doing.

When you work with the pop culture mythology at large, you need to not only pay attention to the characters, but also the themes of the mythology itself so that you can be aware of how those themes are showing up in your life. That awareness can help you to build in appropriate filters while also drawing on the themes in a way that is helpful to the work you are doing. I also think it can be worthwhile to actually do some banishing if you find that the theme of a given pop culture mythology is replicating itself in your life too much. At the same time, its important to recognize that if the pop culture mythology is a central part of your practice, then part of accepting that mythology involves recognizing that the themes may need to occur in your life because of how you are making them central to your identity. However that doesn't mean you have to let those themes into your life in an unhealthy way, which is why it is so important to filter and focus on what relationship you really want to have with the mythology you are working with.

There is one other point to make and it is that when you choose to work closely with a mythology, pop culture or otherwise, you are inviting change into your life and you won't have complete control of that change. What you do have control over is how you respond to it and so it is very important to pay close attention to your behavior and interactions with other people. If you find that certain thematic elements are coming into your life, ask yourself how you will handle those elements and make sure that you are aware of how they show up in the lives of the people around you. That way you can be prepared for them and make sure that the themes show up in a way that is helpful to your life journey and spiritual practice.

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Magical Experiments Radio: Interview with Crystal Blanton about Racism and Cultural Appropriation in the Pagan Community.

Mad Max and Supernatural Values

Mad Max I am playing the new Mad Max video game and one of the aspects of the game that really stands out to me is how some of the characters talk about their cars, treating them as spiritual entities that can be worked with and bonded with through various driving activities. Why I think this is worthy of note is because I see it as a commentary on spiritual beliefs and how spiritual beliefs are formed around need and form. In Mad Max, you're dealing with a post apocalyptic society, where every person is on the edge of survival and cars are the significant form of transportation. Consequently it makes sense that the cars are invested with a supernatural meaning and authority because those cars are a significant part of what keeps those people alive.

Now granted this is fiction, but such a commentary is invaluable in that it can get us to consider our own spiritual needs and how those needs are shaped by the forms available to us. In the universe of Mad Max the form is the car, and the need it fulfills provides the impetus to invest supernatural authority in the car. For us, so fortunate to live in a world that is not post apocalyptic, spirituality takes many different forms. What prompts a person to identify with one form or another is partially dependent on what calls to that person and to the marketing around a given spirituality. The need of the person defines the form to some degree.

One of the reasons I've focused on pop culture magic is because I think its important to be open to different forms of spirituality. Conventional, mainstream religion never worked for me, and while I do find some value in traditional approaches to magical work, I also find a lot of value in expanding outward and drawing on other resources that don't fit in the traditional frameworks of occultism. Pop culture is one of those resources. It provides a wealth of context and is something more people are identifying with in a spiritual way.

Every so often I inevitably hear from people who try and knock pop culture magic as not being magic enough, authentic enough, or whatever else. I find it odd that they need to comment on why they don't like pop culture magic. It's OK that it doesn't fit their needs, but why knock people who do find spiritual value in pop culture magic? I personally find no value in such statements made usually out of ignorance. It is, perhaps, one of the reasons I find myself pessimistic at times about magic and occultism, because too often it seems people just want to get in each other's way instead of just accepting and supporting that there can be a variety of experiences that fall outside traditional paths.

What matters most isn't how you do magic. Certainly you do need to learn the fundamentals and knowing the tradition and history has its value. But what matters most is how we make the magic our own, how we personalize it and make it a part of our lives in a way that is useful. I figure if someone wants to perceive their car as being a supernatural mystery in its own right, there's really nothing wrong with it (provided that person isn't going around and harming others). It may not be anyone else's cup of tea, but its rather boring to insist that everyone be the same when it comes to the spiritual practices or anything else. Where I choose to ascribe meaning and how I let that effect me is what's important and that I might share it with others...well that can be important to, in terms of what a person can learn from others, but to quash what someone believes or practices because it doesn't fit your own paradigm. That's just stupid and ignorant. You don't need to agree with what someone practices or believes, but you don't need to bash them either. It serves little purpose beyond validating your own egoic frailties.

And for those inclined to trot out critical thinking and critique being open-minded, let me remind you that being close minded does not involve critical thinking. You can be open-minded and still use critical thinking. What you are doing by being open-minded is accepting the possible experience, but you can be critical in your experience and use that to help you determine if you wish to proceed further. When you are close minded, you aren't even open to having an experience and so it is much harder to be able to critique something, if you've already decided to be closed to it.

Magical Experiments radio: No show this week or last week due to a guest cancellation and technical difficulties but the show is continuing.

The Balance of Power

Courtesy of Wikimedia For my fun reading, I've been reading some Star Wars Fiction lately. The other day I was reading Visions of the Future by Timothy Zahn, and in it the characters Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade have a conversation about power versus guidance as it applies to the Force. Luke has been cutting back on how much he uses the Force, trying to rely on himself more and Mara points out that the resultant clarity he's gotten has occurred precisely because he's balanced the application of power. The Sith always use the power of the Force to excess, which is why it burns them out. Reading this got me to thinking about my magical practice and how its changed as a result of a similar realization I had years ago.

When I first started practicing magic, I used it for pretty much every problem I encountered. In fact I did that for about a good decade or so into my practice. A problem would come up, and inevitably I'd utilize magic to "solve" the problem. I enjoyed doing it, enjoyed seeing what I could do with it. But then something changed. I'd always integrated meditation into my practice, but I began doing a lot more internal work and I saw how much my practice was really reactive. A problem would occur and I would react to it. And what I didn't see was how many of those problems were similar to each other, nor did I acknowledge the one constant in those problems: Myself. Doing internal work helped me take a step back and ask myself what I really wanted from my magical practice and from myself.

Over the last decade and change, I've taken a different approach to my magical work. While I still occasionally utilize magic to solve problems, overall my focus has really been on doing the necessary internal work I need to do and as a result the need to do magic to solve problems has exponentially gone down. The majority of magical workings are proactive, focused on achieving specific designs or experimenting for the sake of learning something new. The power is there, but it is focused in a different way. And if anything I've found that by doing internal work and ironing out my issues, I've actually empowered myself in a much deeper way. I'm coming into my own as a person and my actions are guided by an awareness of who I want to be, instead of just reacting to my issues and whatever external variables have come together.

There is something to be said for approaching situations and seeing what you can do to resolve them without magic, or better yet to take a proactive approach with your magical work and create by design what you truly want. But I don't think you can really know what you want until you've stepped back and examined your choices and behaviors and discovered the patterns that speak to the tensions within you that need to be resolved. That's kind of self-discovery takes time. I only really started in my mid twenties and now in my late thirties I can still safely say that I have a ways to go, though I do feel more clarity in my choices and decisions than I previously had.

A measured approach to magical work, as it applies to practical changes, is wise to take. Ask yourself if you really need magic to resolve a situation or if there are other ways to handle it. And ask yourself what you really want out of the situation. Knowing what you want will help you pick the best process, magical or otherwise. It also help you knowingly accept any consequences and proactively plan your life to to help you achieve what you want. If you need to employ magic, you'll do it in a manner that fully respects the power of what you are working with, but also your power as a person.

Magical Experiments podcast: Interview with Laurie Pneumatikos about the Left Hand Path and the upcoming Left Hand Path Consortium in April 2016!

How to Develop a pop culture system of Magic

Courtesy of wikipedia One of the appeals of pop culture magic is that you can develop your own magical system around pop culture you like. However developing such a system does require some understanding of how magic works. Also a pop culture system of magic is different from a pop culture magic working. It's much more involved than just doing a working. Understanding that is important, especially if you choose to develop a system of pop culture magic. When you develop a pop culture system of magic, you are developing a framework for working pop culture magic regularly with the pop culture you are drawing from. You aren't just doing a working to solve a problem, but instead are integrating it into your life as a regular practice, a part of your spiritual and/or magical identity. The following are considerations to keep in mind when developing a system of magic around pop culture.

1. What pop culture will you use? Not every pop culture lends itself easily to being used in a system of magic. You want to pick pop culture that resonates with you, but is also something you can graft onto magical principles in a way that makes sense and isn't forced. Additionally if your pop culture lends itself to fitting into correspondences this can be helpful in the development of your system. With that said, what can be interesting with a pop culture system of magic is your choice to buck convention and do something different that doesn't necessarily fit into conventional frameworks of magic.

2. What is the mythology of the pop culture? The mythology of a given pop culture can also be an important aspect of your magical work. The mythology provides a cosmos to work with that helps to flesh out the frame work. In fact, you may find that the mythology plays a central role in the development of the magical system. For example, when Storm and I were developing the Dehara system, part of the work we did involved putting together a mythology that could be integrated into the framework of the Sabbats and consequently set up a way to meaningfully work with that system of magic year round. Having the mythology in place enhanced the Dehara system of magic.

3. What are the rules of your pop culture? Some pop culture has specific rules, which may consequently effect the system of magic you develop. Remember that the development of a system isn't just what you want in the system, but also whatever else is relevant to the pop culture you are drawing on. For example, if you were to put together a system of pop culture magic based on Once Upon a Time, one rule you'd have to deal with is Magic always has a price. That's an integral rule of the mythology of the show (and in my opinion, makes it less useful as a system of pop culture magic).

4. What does this pop culture mean to you? This last consideration is very personal, but important because of how personal it is. While you could work with any pop culture you come across, in my experience working with what has meaning to you, especially on an emotional level is helpful for really connecting with the pop culture spirits you work with. Regardless of whether the magical work is purely practical or devotional, its something which ought to resonate with you, at least if you're going to make a system out of it.

What are some other considerations you would apply to developing a pop culture system of magic? Why?

The latest episode of magical experiments podcast features Tara Miller discussing health and magic.

How to find useful pop culture magic artifacts

Copyright Taylor Ellwood 2015 The other day I stopped by my local Gamestop to reserve a copy of the new Assassin's Creed game. As a result of making that reservation I got a necklace with the assassin creed symbol. It got me thinking about how people go about finding pop culture artifacts to use in their pop culture magic workings. If you're a pop culture magic practitioner you're not going to necessarily everything you need at your local occult or Pagan shop. You need to go looking elsewhere to get whatever bling you're going to use in your pop magic workings.

In my case, I got the necklace as a result of reserving a game and sometimes with video games you can get other props. The clerk told me I could get a replica sword cane or one of the assassin wrist toys, which could be quite useful as possible items for a pop culture working, if Assassins Creed is a pop culture you want to do magic with. However not all pop culture is video games and even in the case when it is, you won't always get a promotional item for that game. So where else do you go to find pop culture items?

Conventions are one place you can go. A convention that's focused on your favorite pop culture will inevitably have vendors selling items that are relevant to that pop culture. You can buy those items and use them in your workings. But if you can't get to a convention, then you might go to a Target or Walmart and see what they have in the toy section. For that matter you may find clothing as well that has your favorite character on it. Barring that, you can also go online. for example you can find vendors online who make specialty lightsabers, which is perfect if you're integrating Star Wars into a pop culture system of magic.

However you might also opt for the creative route yourself. You could sew a costume of your favorite character to use in pop culture magic workings, or make replicas of particular tools and items. These skills aren't hard to learn and a visit to Youtube will likely help you find someone who is demonstrating how to make something you want to use for your pop culture magic workings. An additional benefit of making it yourself is that the act of creation is, in and of itself, a magical act that can greatly enhance whatever you create.

Pop culture magic tools aren't hard to find. And the most important ingredient to add to those tools is your imagination, which makes those tools come alive as something sacred and significant to the magical work you are doing.

Magical Experiments Podcast

This week I interviewed Bill Duvendack and Erik Roth about the spiritual significance of Astrology and how it can be integrated into magic and Paganism. Next week I'll be interviewing Emily Carlin about shadow magic and pop culture magic.

What Pop Culture teaches us about Objects of Power

Copyright 2015 Taylor Ellwood I recently finished playing the DLC for Shadow of Mordor. In one of the DLC's you get to play as the Elf Lord Celebrimbor, who according to the mythology of Lord of the Rings, forged the rings of power, and helped Sauron forge his Ring. Celebrimbor gets the Ring of Power at one point and is able to use it for a time., but eventually loses it when it leaves him. Playing the game got me to thinking about objects of power and how such objects might take on their own personality. According to LOTR lore, Sauron invests a significant amount of his own power into the ring, which ultimately leads to his downfall when the ring is destroyed, but in thinking about how the Ring is treated in the books and in Shadows of Mordor, I began thinking that the ring is its own entity.

The reason I think of the ring as its own entity is because of how it seeks to protect itself. It may find various people to wield it, but inevitably it leaves those people when their value is used up. According to the mythology, the ring is trying to get back to Sauron, but nonetheless I think in giving so much power over to the Ring, what Sauron also gave it was its own identity, desire, etc. And you might wonder what all this conjecture has to do with magic, here's my take: Investing a lot of your own power, personality, etc., into an object is a mistake that will come back to bite you, because it becomes its own being.

In another pop culture mythology, Once Upon a Time, Rumpelstiltskin, is the Dark One because he possesses a dagger that transfers the power to him, after he kills the previous dark one. Whoever holds the dagger can control the dark one or become the next dark one, but there is nothing about the person that indicates that they inherently have the power. Instead the power resides in the dagger, which makes me think that the dagger is ultimately its own being, perhaps the original dark one transformed into a dagger. But regardless of that you see a similar lesson in this mythology, namely that the power residing in the object, as opposed to the person, makes the person vulnerable.

Back when I started practicing magic, I had necklaces, rings, and a variety of tools that I used for magic, but something I learned along the way is that the power in those tools is at least partially derived from what people put into those tools. What that means is that you invest part of yourself in a given tool. You might think of it in terms of the meaning you derive from working with the tool, or something else to that effect. There might be something inherent to the tool, but a lot of what makes a tool useful in magical work is the meaning you put into it, the relationship you create with it. And by extension some of that can be taken and applied to yourself. William G. Gray talks about doing just that by recognizing what a magical tool represents and bringing it into yourself to make it part of who you are as a magician.

I think tools can be useful, but it is wise to consider what you invest in a tool and ask yourself if that's really where you want your magic to go or where you'll find it. You might discover that the best investment you could make involves recognizing and working with the magic within you. It's always part of you...and with that said, knowing wen to use a tool can also be as important as knowing not to overly rely upon it.

Podcast Interviews

Shauna Aura Knight and I were recently interviewed on Green Egg Radio about the Pagan Leadership anthology Immanion Press is publishing and Pagan Leadership.

I was also interviewed on the Pagan Variety Show about Inner Alchemy and internal work (you'll need to go in about an hour, in order to listen to that interview).

How Pop Culture becomes Mythology

Aghama2 In my previous post, I discussed how older mythology shows up in pop culture. However that's not the only mythology that's present in pop culture. Pop culture creates its own mythology, or rather the various people that interact with pop culture help to create new mythology, rooted in the cultural artifacts produced in this era. This mythology of the modern era is found in the stories that are told through modern media, such as comics, movies, television, radio, and the internet. What makes these stories mythological is how people interact with them, how the characters come to life and what those interactions mean to the people having them.

Pop culture creates myths for the modern time, based in contemporary culture, providing people in this culture something they can relate to because of the context to their lives, and yet nonetheless also an offering of something more. What that something more is depends on the person. For example, I find that pop culture mythology provides me a connection to the spirits of this era, and while these spirits may be birthed in Fiction, they nonetheless have a reality to them created by the needs that they embody for people. Other people will frame the mythology in terms of psychological terms and yet others will dismiss it altogether, arguing for specific standards and definitions based on their own biases about what constitutes a spirit.

In my experience of working with pop culture characters, I found that what makes them into mythology and for that matter what makes them spirits is the intent of the interaction. For example, in working with Thiede from the Wraeththu series, I found that what made him real was my recognition that in fact there is a spiritual resonance I share with the character. I could identify with the character and that identification helped to move the interaction from reading into actual spiritual work where I encountered him as a specific being within my pantheon. Continuing to work with him created a deeper relationship, which has continued to develop as I integrate him into my spiritual work. I imagine the same is true for anyone else working with a pop culture character. At some point, as continued spiritual work is done, the character becomes more than just a character. And that change shifts everything because the identification you have with that character calls for an investment on your part that allows the character to be real, regardless of what the origin of the character is.

Another example I can think of is Batman. For me, Batman is part of my mythology, moreso than Superman or some of the other heroes, in large part because what makes Batman so interesting is that he doesn't have any powers. He's rich, but his intelligence and his other skills are things he's had to hone and work with over a long period of time. More than that though is the actual calculation of the character in choosing in his fictional world to become a mythological being, utilizing the emotional responses to him as part of his way of creating such a mythology. The way the writers of the series have written about him, specifically in relationship to the mythological aspects he embodies in his fictional reality, shows a meta narrative that evokes that mythology into this reality because of the character's awareness of myth and his choice to make himself into a myth in the minds of the people who interact with him (both in the fiction world and in the mind of the readers/viewers). That kind of intention on the part of the character demonstrates to me a presence of being that moves beyond the narrow limitations and definitions humans try to impose on what is or isn't mythological.

If we open ourselves to the idea that pop culture can be mythological, then we also open ourselves to having meaningful interactions with the spirits of this time. We allow ourselves to work with those spirits, and in that process enter into a different relationship with this era and culture, one that may ultimately be more healing for us. The relationship we have with this culture and with what is important to us in it, is just as important as any relationship we have with older cultures and the spiritual forces of those cultures.

Book Review: The Secret Tradition of the Soul by Patrick Harpur

In his latest book, Harpur explores the connection of the soul to identity, daimonic reality and sacred imagination. Much like his previous works, he draws together a wide variety of sources to offer readers a multitude of perspectives on the subject area. What I enjoyed most about this book is how the author deftly explores the soul in context to the various traditions he refers to, defining in the process what the soul is and what role it plays in our lives. He also does a good job of building on his previous works while also differentiating this book from those works. If you are mystically inclined or want to understand the nature of the soul this book will be a thought-provoking read that will inspire your own spiritual work.

Book Review: Spreadable Media by Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green

This book examines the concept of viral media and argues for a different paradigm based on participatory culture and fandom, where people choose to spread ideas and their interests to other people. It's a fascinating book that presents an alternative perspective on marketing, but also on pop culture studies, bringing those studies to the 21st century by focusing on the role of social media within pop culture. If you are interested in pop culture, you'll find this book useful for understanding how pop culture spreads and if you are interested in marketing this book will provide a different perspective to the prevailing wisdom of the time.

Spiritual Discernment in Pop Culture Magic

  Spiritual discernment

In Unseen Worlds and Practical Aspects of Spiritual Discernment, Anastacia Nutt argues that its important for people to be careful about what kind of media they expose themselves to. She argues that modern media can pollute the imagination of the practitioner. R. J. Stewart makes a similar argument in his book, and they have a point, although I don't entirely agree with them on their perspective on modern media. It is true that modern media can capture the imagination, and as a result become something which distracts the practitioner's mind. For example, you can probably think of incidents where you got the theme song of a commercial or show stuck in your head. Your monkey mind replayed that theme song endlessly, and it may have been something you weren't consciously aware of. When this occurs, it can be an example of your mind getting fixated on the media, to the point that your imagination can't focus as easily on other topics, or for that matter on your spiritual work.

One of the reasons Stewart and Nutt make the argument they do about modern media is because they are part of a spiritual tradition which has specific imagery that is used in the imagination as part of the work a person does within that tradition. Thus it makes sense that they would make the argument they make because they are using specific imagery which has an effect on the imagination and it's important to preserve the focus of the imagination in context to the workings the practitioners are doing. With that said, I also think that modern media can be useful in magical work, provided you aren't working in a specific magical tradition.

I'm not working in a specific magical tradition and I find modern media to be a useful tool for my magical work. However, even in that work, I still need to be careful about what media I expose myself too. I don't expose myself to just any media, but am very careful about what media I draw on, because of the effect it can have on my imagination. For example, I don't watch horror shows. The reason I don't watch horror shows is because I don't want that type of imagery in my imagination. I feel it would adversely effect my ability to connect with the spirits because of how the spirits are portrayed in those movies. This standard may differ from person to person, but I think it's important to use spiritual discernment to recognize what type of media you'll watch and work with. If you know watching or playing something will influence your imagination you need to ask yourself how it will effect your imagination. If it's something where your imagination becomes fixated on the pop culture and you aren't going to use that pop culture in magical work, then you might consider whether its really the pop culture you want to focus on.

There's also something to be said for the fact that sometimes you can cultivate an unhealthy interest in a pop culture character. For example, a few years back the character of Sephiroth from Final Fantasy 7 was really popular, so much so that a number of fans claimed they were married to Sephiroth. They would share how they'd married him on the astral plane. Seemingly harmless right? But consider the mythology of Final Fantasy 7. In that game, Sephiroth is an insane character, with a mommy fixation and a desire to destroy the world. For all intents and purposes Sephiroth is a psychic vampire. The fixation on Sephiroth is an occupation of the imagination, on a entity that may not have the best interests of the people interested in him.

With pop culture, as with any kind of cultural tradition, its important to be selective about what you work with. Utilizing discernment is taking the time to do the research and determine what you'll work with and why.  It's recognizing that what you choose to work with is important because of how it shapes your imagination. I work with pop culture media but I choose the media carefully with a recognition of how it could effect my imagination. As my imagination is a powerful magical tool, I want to use it effectively in order to achieve the best possible outcome, so I'm going to choose what I feed my imagination carefully to make sure that what I'm putting into is something I can work with magically if I need to, as well as enjoy, without getting so fixated on it that I'm unable to remove it from my imagination if needed. Remember that what you choose to focus on does have an effect on your imagination. When you are working magic, choose what you draw on with an awareness of your imagination so that you can use it effectively when you need to.

I do feel that pop culture is the modern mythology of times and that working with it is useful. There is no reason not to consider working with pop culture, unless you are working in a specific spiritual path or tradition where there would be a conflict of interest. The principles of magic can be used to work with pop culture, and you can develop a spiritual tradition from that work. The system of Dehara, for example, which is based off Wraeththu is an example of such a system which people work with for both practical and spiritual purposes and it works for them because they have established a genuine spiritual connection with the Dehara. It's a modern mythology which nonetheless works because there is something there that is deeper that people connect to and work with.

I was interviewed by Lucian Pharoe. You can listen to it here.

Book Review: Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins

In this book, Jenkins explores how old and new media converge and shape pop culture as well as interactions people with have pop culture. It's a fascinating book which shows how fans are increasingly shaping the production of pop culture and how companies are reacting to that change. This book also shows the rots of social media and how the changing technology will continue to shape how media is produced. What is particularly important about this book is that it helps you understand how more than ever people have a role in pop culture and how the creation of pop culture is the creation of the modern mythology of our times. The author provides a variety of case studies that show how different mediums of technology are being used in the production of pop culture mythology. this is a must read book for culture studies, but also for anyone fascinated with how pop culture is shaping our time.

The Cultural Value of Pop Culture Magic

pop culture zeus Among other books I'm reading, I'm reading a lot of pop culture studies books as research for Pop Culture Magic 2.0. In several of the books the authors make some relevant points about how the concept of pop culture is treated. Pop culture is considered to be low culture, culture of the masses, something which is frowned upon as being not relevant or serious to our times, as compared to older works that are considered high culture. Shakespeare, for example is considered high culture, even though when he wrote the plays they were considered pop culture. The point to consider here is this: What makes one cultural artifact valid or another invalid as more to do with social agendas than the actual artifact. This is relevant to pop culture magic in the sense that the dismissal of pop culture magic is at least partially derived from cultural standards used to judge pop culture as not relevant because pop culture doesn't fit the agenda of the people deciding what is or isn't culturally valuable.

I admittedly have my own agenda. I find pop culture to be relevant and insightful in regards to the times we live in, and in the magical and spiritual work people do. I think that integrating pop culture into magical work makes a lot of sense because of how pop culture informs our awareness and experiences of the world. When I see the occasional negative reaction to pop culture magic, what I really see is a reactive reinforcement of cultural standards, usually done without being consciously aware of that reinforcement. And in cases where it is done with a consciousness awareness of that reinforcement, what strikes me most is what I perceive as fear on the part of the person. The fear that pop culture will overshadow and replace what they find to be culturally valuable.

What keeps culture alive and relevant is how people interact with it and make it a part of their lives. This is true for older cultural artifacts as well as contemporary cultural artifacts. Thus it can seem that pop culture is in competition with older cultures, and thus the response is to decry it, make it less valid and valuable. However I think that pop culture doesn't have to be in competition with older cultures and can actually inspire people to learn more about older cultures. For example, while Marvel's Thor is not the Thor of Norse mythology, he is derived from that Thor. People who enjoy the modern day presentation of Thor may become curious to learn more about the Norse version of Thor as a result. The same could be argued for Greek myths. The Zeus of Percy Jackson isn't the same as the Zeus of Greek Myths, but how many people have been exposed to Greek mythology as a result of Percy Jackson?

Another concern is that people might take cultural concepts from older cultures and corrupt them by applying them to contemporary culture. There is some validity to this argument. A cultural concept from an older culture will have contextual meanings and associations specific to that culture which may not carry over or apply to contemporary culture, let alone pop culture depictions of contemporary culture. On the other hand, something worth considering is if applying a classic cultural concept to contemporary culture might allow people to learn more about those values who might not otherwise be exposed to them. There aren't easy answers to this particular conundrum, but I'll admit that part of what I think pop culture can be is influenced by the cultures of the past and acknowledging and consciously bringing that influence to bear could be good for all of us.

I think it's useful to examine our own biases and recognize what informs them. The education system is slanted toward presenting "high" culture and valuing that culture over contemporary culture. How then does that effect our own biases and opinions when it comes to pop culture? If we value a certain type of culture over another, what are the standards and values informing that decision and how have we come to that decision? I'll admit that in my case I've always been fascinated by pop culture and its various expressions. I see value in it and through it discover new ideas for my magical work. That other people feel this way as well tells me that pop culture magic has more lasting value and can bring something to magical work and indeed spirituality that could be useful to explore. Knowing our biases as we go into that exploration is important, just as it is important to understand the biases that inform other people's perspectives and opinions about pop culture and its place in magical work.

How Pop Culture spreads Magic

cosmology In Spirit Speak by Ivo Dominguez Jr, the author shares an interesting cosmology of the different levels of Deity forms in a diagram, which also shows the context of where humans fit into the picture. At the top you have a unitary being, which you might think of as the universe. It encompasses everything. Then you have mediators of that being which include such beings as deities, angels etc, all of which perform specific functions and channel specific aspects of the unitary being into the universe in a manner that is more comprehensible to us. Then you have ancestors, dis incarnates, etc., and finally the humans at the bottom. It's a pretty fascinating cosmology and you see some of it in other models of esoteric practices, but what I really found fascinating is that I've seen the same model presented in Raymond Feist's Riftwar series.

The Riftwar series is a fantasy series written by Feist over the last 2 or 3 decades. He doesn't really get into the cosmology of it until the Serpent War Saga, but in that saga the characters discuss the nature of magic, the universe and deities and what's presented is fascinated because it discusses how the deities are mediators of the universe, while also being shaped to some degree by their interactions with mortals, and specifically by how the mortals mediate or comprehend them, which brings up an interesting point to consider about mediation. Mediation is a two way street. While we our opening ourselves up to mediate a force, we nonetheless are also bringing to bear our own perspectives about that mediation. In that sense mediation is an interpretation of the force being worked with.

In any case, as you read Feist's series more of the cosmology is revealed. The universe is treated as an entity in and of itself that learns from everything that exists within it, while the various deities are representative of forces and concepts mortals deal with. Some deities are further removed than others and as a result the mortals interact with the lesser deities in order to connect with the greater deities. All of this is similar to the cosmology that Ivo describes in his book. With that said, there is one distinct difference and it's this: Feist's work is a work of fiction, while what Ivo is describing is his actual system of spirituality. Nonetheless, there is a sharing of esoteric concepts in the fiction, and it is doen in a manner that plants seeds in the reader and helps them understand the concepts if they later encounter them in esoteric non-fiction. Certainly as  read Ivo's description of his cosmology, it made more sense to me because I saw certain elements of it expressed in what I'd read in Feist's fiction that were similar to what Ivo described.

Pop culture can be used to convey esoteric knowledge and secrets in a manner that may not be fully accurate, but nonetheless presents enough information for people to get something out of it. In Paranormal Media, Annette Hill notes that paranormal media such as books, shows, etc., is becomingly increasingly popular in mainstream culture, and certainly if you look at the profusion of television shows, paranormal books, and other types of esoteric themed media, what you see is an increasing interest in occult topics. Frankly, I think this a good thing, as it enables esoteric techniques and concepts to be shared with people who may not identify as occultists now, but may be open to exploring magic in their lives. And of course what you read in pop culture can also inspire magical experimentation, as it has in my case.

Pop culture is a viable medium for sharing esoteric concepts and secrets with people who aren't necessarily practicing magic at this time. That such information is becoming increasingly prevalent speaks to the fact that it fulfills a need for our society at large that likely can't be met through mainstream religious practices, which are less about empowering individuals and more about presenting a top down approach to spirituality that expects people to lessen themselves for the deity they worship.

Book Review: Paranormal Media: Audiences, Spirits, and Magic in Popular Culture by Annette Hill

In this book, the author discusses the growing interest in the paranormal and how the media has cultivated and fed this interest. She also examines the role of the audience in paranormal media and how that audience simultaneously provides skepticism and belief to paranormal media. It's a fascinating book which explores how contemporary culture is increasingly exploring the paranormal, magic, and other topics as a way of understanding the mysteries of the universe. If you're interested in paranormal studies or want to understand why the paranormal is becoming increasingly popular in mainstream culture, this book will provide some answers and also show how contemporary audiences are engaging with the paranormal.