Pop Culture Magick

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.

Some of my current pop culture magic workings

Drake There's a lot of conversation going on right now about the validity of pop culture magic and spirituality in the blogosphere. If you want to see my response to it, go here. But I figure for this post I'll talk about some of my current work with pop culture magic. While my magical practice isn't as focused on pop culture anymore, it's still a significant component of how I practice magic. I'm pleased that more and more people are integrating pop culture into magic, as it is necessary for the evolution of magic. So below are a few case studies of what I've been up to.

Nathan Drake: Discoverer of lost items

At the beginning of this year I discovered the Uncharted video game series. While the first game was a bit lackluster in my opinion, the second and third game are amazing. You feel like you're in a movie. Even the musical score supports this feeling. In playing the game I felt like I got to make a connection with the main character and there were three traits I felt were useful: His ability to find artifacts that were lost (you collect them throughout the game), his problem solving abilities, and his luck. So I figured if I ever needed to I could call on his help for finding something I've lost. I've had three occasions where I've needed his help. Once was to find my phone (I'd left it in a restaurant) and the other two times were to find keys. Now I imagine that all of you know how frustrating it is to lose something and not be able to find it, especially when you need it. In each case, I started humming the theme song of Uncharted to evoke Nathan. Then I asked him to find the objects in question and show me a map of how to find them. Each time I did this, within a couple minutes I got a map that showed me where to go and each time I found the item in question.

I figure if I'm stumped about a problem I can also call on Nathan to help me discover possibilities for solving the problem. I haven't had to as of yet, but I'm sure I'll need to. And he's lucky...he's fighting scores of goons and who know's what else and he always comes out on top, so that's something else I figure I can draw on.

Kratos: Time and Time Again

If you're familiar with the God of War series then you know of Kratos. What's fascinating about Kratos isn't just the fact that he's the archetype of rage and vengeance (as well as the God of War), but the fact that in most of the games time is an element that he uses to his advantage. The most recent game, for example, allows the character to construct or deconstruct items, while in other games he is able to slow down time. Pretty nifty skills. While I already have some Time Dilation techniques I can use, I'm never one not to experiment or explore an idea that's presented in a different way. So in the case of Kratos its involved actually calling on him to slow or speed time up for me, which has been useful for reaching several business appointments. I could do it myself, but the point was to see what he could do. When he does it, he projects a cone of greenish energy that is used to either speed up or slow down time. It's projected into the environment, but doesn't effect me. And as with Nathan I hummed the theme music to evoke Kratos.

Those are examples of working with pop culture entities and I used them to show how such entities can be used to effect events as opposed to just personality traits. But I'd be remiss in not including a practical pop culture oriented technique that the magician could do him/herself.

Sharing Images

Something I've noticed with blogs is that if you include a picture its more likely to grab the attention of people and get them to go and read your blog. There's nothing inherently magical in that, but it's occurred to me that one way you can charge sigils is to simply share a picture of the sigil on social media. You can even embed the sigil into a picture if you'e got the right skills and then people can charge it up for you. Each sharing of the sigil fires it off while also charging it with the attention of the people who look at it, like it and comment on it.

So those are a few pop culture magic workings I've been working on. There's a few I haven't shared either and those will have to wait until I write the next Pop Culture Magic book. There's a lot to explore with pop culture magic if you have an open mind.



How I apply pop culture to the principles of magic

  My approach to integrating pop culture into magical work is one that is informed by my understanding of the principles of magic. When I think of the principles of magic I don't think of ceremonial magic or tools or other such things. I think of what makes magic work and then I think about how I can apply pop culture (or other interests) to those principles. I don't go with just any form of pop culture either.

With pop culture entities, the choice is dependent on what is really popular at the time. The truth is that most pop culture entities don't have the same staying power that your traditional entities have. They become popular for a while, hit a zenith, and then fade away. Some like Harry Potter have enough staying power that you can work with them for a while, but the majority are fads, liked one day and forgotten the next. My choice to work with a given pop culture entity is based on what that entity represents as well as what it can do. I make rare exceptions where I'll work with a pop culture entity regardless of how popular or not its, but that's based on a deeper recognition that speaks more to the influence of the entity in my life as opposed to the world at large. If I do work with a pop culture entity its because I recognize that entity has significance in a way that I find useful to further my own work.

With techniques, I get pickier. I won't draw on the description of a given technique in pop culture unless I think it'll actually connect with the principles of magic. For example, in the Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, they included appendices where they described in depth how magic was supposed to work and how it interacted with possibilities. What I read made sense and when I applied it to my own magical work, I found that it worked. On the other hand I wouldn't draw on the Harry Potter universe's approach to magic because its mostly based on a push button/spell approach to magic. There's some explanation of how specific types of magic are related to emotions, which could be useful, but for the most part magic is never really explained in depth. You wave a wand, you say a word, and it just happens.

I also don't always draw on explanations of magic in pop culture for my inspiration in magical work. The book Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud has nothing to do with magic, in an overt sense, but his explanation of how comics work, particularly how they are read and the space/time dynamics involved have inspired a couple of techniques on my part that have proven useful.

I don't use every single bit of pop culture that comes my way. There's a lot of it that I don't see as useful or relevant to magical work, but I figure the people who develop pop culture probably do some research and/or just happen to put a lot of effort into explaining their particular universe and how everything works. And I respect that and if I think it is actually relevant to how I can meaningfully practice my own magical work, I'll use it. What makes magic work isn't the tradition or ceremonies...its your understanding of how it works and your ability to implement that understanding in your life.

Are pop culture entities real?

In a recent blog post Jason wrote about Post Chaos Magic (sounds like Post modernism) he argues that fictional or pop culture entities don't have the same effect as more traditional gods, demons, entities, etc. He notes the following:

Some chaos magicians have claimed that in the modern, largely secular world, a figure like Superman receives more collective belief than a pagan deity like Mars, thus making comic book or pop culture characters even more viable for magic than traditional gods and spirits. Even if we accept that it is belief, rather than the object of belief, that holds the power to magic, this thinking confuses attention with belief. Attention and belief are not the same thing, there is a different quality to the experience all around.

Now I want to first issue a caveat. I have not ever identified as a chaos magician. I've always identified as an experimental magician (which is its own path).  I mention that because in my book Pop Culture Magick I made similar arguments to what is mentioned above. I have, however, distinguished between attention and belief. In my book, I acknowledged that attention was not the same as belief and that while a pop culture entity might get lots of attention what made it an effective force was the actual belief the practitioner had in its existence and abilities. And not just belief in the entity for the course of a ritual, but actual, honest to goodness belief that lasts longer than a moment.

Back in the late 1990s I had the privilege of connecting with Storm Constantine, author of the Wraeththu series. We've continued our contact over the years (In fact I co-run Immanion Press with her). We both worked on the Dehara system, which is a system of magic based on contact with "fictional" entities from the Wraeththu series. As we developed this system, other people got involved and what stood out to me was that none of us treated the entities as fictional entities, but rather as genuine spirits we'd contacted. To this day I continue to work with the Dehara as do other people who've chosen to believe in them and form a relationship with them. The impact the Dehara have had on my life has been just as real as the impact my work with with the Goetia or other more traditional entities has been.

Jason rightly points out that one of the core issues of Chaos Magic (and for that matter some forms of ceremonial magic) is a tendency to treat spiritual entities as psychological extensions of ourselves. But to me what has always made pop culture magic a viable magic is the ability to genuinely believe and interact with entities that may not date back to Ancient Greek or Celtic cultures, but nonetheless have a real and viable presence, provided the magician is willing to explore that presence. I think that what has stopped many magicians from doing so is a combination of the psychological model of magic and embarrassment about considering the possibility of forming a spiritual relationship with a pop culture entity. After all the Pagan/occult community can be fairly harsh with those people deemed fluffy, as I can attest to from my own experiences. Yet as someone who unashamedly does work with pop culture entities from a spiritual perspective, all I can really say is: Such relationships really can be as effective provided you invest them in as equally as you expect the entity to.

I will note that there is a difference when you're working with a pop culture entity in a manner that is driven more by getting a specific result as opposed to forming an ongoing relationship with it. I've certainly done that kind of work as well and while useful it's not quite the same as when you develop an ongoing spiritual relationship with an entity.



Game Sigil

The other day my family and I were playing a game of Triominos. This was the shape we'd put together toward the end of the game. As I looked at it, I was struck at how you could use the actual shape and tiles as part of a sigilistic working. The purpose of the game is to match tiles together by the numbers. You can get some interesting shapes as a result.

I figure you could approach this technique in two different ways. You could do a solo working where you lay all the pieces on the blank side and then start pulling pieces and matching them together until you get a shape that you can use for a sigil. Or you could do a group working, where instead of focusing on winning the game, everyone focuses their intent on building a sigil shape that they'll use for the magical working. The entire activity could be focused on the actual working you want to accomplish, with the goal being to use the pieces to create the shape or appearance for the sigil to work.

I know it's a little odd and different. Why not stick with the same old, same old, right? But I like having fun with magic and this has a lot of potential for fun as well as working as a focus tool.

Have you repurposed any games for magical purposes? If so, how?