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.
So how do you make sure your pop culture magic works?
Whether I'm putting together a singular pop culture magic working or I'm creating and practicing a system of pop culture magic I ask myself 3 questions which help me determine if what I'm doing will be pop culture magic that works.
1. Does the pop culture have any explanation or mythology about magic in its canon?
When I ask this question, I'm not automatically ruling out pop culture that doesn't have any magic in its canon or an explanation. But what asking this question helps me do is figure out if there is any explanation or theory about how magic works in the pop culture I want to work with.
This is a good question to ask because if there is an existing explanation for how magic works in that pop culture canon, you'll want to know what it is, and whether or not its compatible with your approach to magic.
For instance, I would never create a pop culture magic working or system with the pop culture of Once Upon a Time, because in that show the core explanation about magic is that if you practice magic, you always pay a price and its usually a price with a twist. I don't want to bring that explanation of magic into my magical practice, so it wouldn't be something I use.
On the other hand, I found that the explanation for how magic works in the Deathgate Cycle was highly compatible with my own understanding of magic and could be used to develop viable magical practices.
Now if your pop culture doesn't have an explanation about magic, or even anything overtly magical about it, that doesn't rule it out. Your pop culture may have some other equivalent such as energy work or psychic powers or it may have nothing at all, but could still be viable.
For example, I know one person who developed an excellent pop culture magic system around working with Starscream from Transformers. I've also developed pop culture magic workings with pop culture that doesn't have any mention of magic. Afterall, pop culture can be adapted to magical practice if you already have a solid foundation in place to work with.
2. Do I connect with the pop culture and the spirits that are part of it (or do they connect with me)?
In my experience having a genuine spiritual connection with the pop culture plays an important role in developing pop culture magic workings. You can enjoy a T.V. show or a game or a book and not feel that connection and then you can enjoy something else and feel like the characters and the world itself speaks to you.
And sometimes you can have that pop culture reach out to you, and let you know that there's something to be worked with. The point is that if you're going to work with the pop culture, it should speak to you.
You don't necessarily need to work with every pop culture you like. In fact, that's one reason I came up with this particular criteria, because it allows me to carefully check what's really drawing me to work with a given pop culture. The simple fact is, there is so much pop culture you could work with, and trying to work with all of it will make you feel scattered. But if you ask yourself what's calling you to work with a particular pop culture, it can help you recognize if its a case of shiny object syndrome or if there's a genuine spiritual connection.
3. Can the pop culture be applied to traditional magical practices?
This is another useful question to ask, because if you're going to practice pop culture magic, you're going to be drawing on the experience you've had with magic. And if there isn't a way to mesh your pop culture with magical practices, then it's not going to be viable.
For example, a little while back I was drawn to work with Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn. I did some initial work, but I quickly found that there wasn't a lot for me to draw on that could be mapped to existing magical structures. I ended up ultimately choosing not to do any further work, at least at this time.
On the other hand, if I were to work with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I could map the Turtles to the classic 5 elements and use that as an initial structure for which to build a pop culture magical working or system.
When Storm Constantine started working on Dehara, which is the pop culture magic system for the Wraeththu series, Storm took the classic wheel of the year and applied the pop culture of Wraeththu to it, in order to create a wheel of the year for the Dehara system.
Chances are you've done some work with different magical structures and with that experience, you might ask yourself how you can take pop culture and apply it to those structures. Even with those structures in place, you'll still need to do some work to flesh out your pop culture, but the structures can help you develop pop culture magic workings. And part of what makes pop culture magic work is being able to apply what you already know about magic to the pop culture and using it to help you develop the initial workings, as you also continue to do your research and experiment with the pop culture.
Do I need to use these questions to do pop culture magic?
These questions are just my own criteria for determining what pop culture I'll work with. They can certainly be a useful tool, but ultimately you also have to call on your own experiences and develop your own criteria for what helps you decide what pop culture you'll work and how you'll apply magic to it. You can also, of course, refer to my books, Pop Culture Magick, Pop Culture Magic 2.0, and Pop Culture Magic Systems, all of which provide additional resources to help you with your magical work. In addition I'll point you to the video below where I offer some further insights on how to pick the pop culture your work with.