Taylor Ellwood memoir

My high school years

I practiced magic for the majority of my high school years. I've already touched on how I first began studying magic and my first teacher. After what happened with him, I realized that I needed to look toward books and my own experiences to teach myself magic. I had a couple of friends who practiced, but all of them were in the same place I was...little to no experience. And I was the most focused of the bunch. I hungered for magic in a way the others did not, because for me magic was about empowerment, whereas for them it was more of a novel interest. In high school, I was one of the weird, unpopular kids, and that brought with it all the bullying and negative attention that arises. It probably didn't help that I purposely chose to stand out, but it also didn't help that I was a relative newcomer and as such didn't fit in with already well-established cliques. For me, magic was a way to empower myself, both in terms of doing an activity I was really good at, and in terms of doing an activity that intimidated others and sometimes caused them to back away from me. I was labeled a black magician and I'll admit I purposely chose to embrace that label. Ironically it was a label that would follow me into college.

I never got into Wicca. It was popular, and a lot of people practiced it, but I didn't care for it or the practices or the Wiccan rede. In truth, I felt it was too popular. I wanted to explore the more obscure practices and techniques (which still holds true to this day). What I found in the books on Wicca and encountered in the people who labeled themselves as such was more of a religious focus. I didn't want religion, already getting more than enough of it from my mother. I also didn't care for what I thought of as a narrowness in the Wiccans I met. I heard too much about what you couldn't do and I found that when such naysaying was going on, it was happening because people didn't want you looking into something. So I looked into what they didn't want me to look into.

In those years, I didn't experiment with magic for the most part. Instead I read the books and did the exercises faithfully, just trying to learn them. My studies focused on a combination of neoshamanism, elemental hermeticism, and Golden Dawn Ceremonial Magic, along with Crowley's Thelemic works. (yes you read that). I hadn't heard of chaos magic, or of the works of other magicians. For the most part, I understood magic to be a very formal, ritualistic activity. I knew I didn't have most of the tools, so I made do with what I had, but I did my best to faithfully replicate ceremonies and rituals. The neoshamanism was what taught me flexibility and a very practical, technique oriented approach to magic. It also introduced me to a lot of visualization exercises. The ceremonial work introduced me to discipline, vocalization, and planted the seed of my process oriented approach to magic (Ceremonial magic is very much a process).

There was one experiment I did however, and it was done because I knew it could work and that the benefits would outrank any consequences attached to it. Also I took and still take a very traditional perspective on body fluids, understanding them to be a conveyance of the power of the person. And also understanding that the land has power.

I lived in York, Pa at the time and there was this place called Reymeyer's Hollow. It was a cursed place, cursed by the magician who was murdered by another magician. It's a place where the air seems to stand still, where there's always something menacing...visiting it at night brings this sense of menace out even more and people will tell you they can see spirits there. It's a nexus of power.

One night I traveled there with a friend and I did an evocation of each of the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, and an evocation of spirit. I had a knife I used for ceremonial work and I took that knife and cut my right upper arm. It was a deep cut. I gave each of the elementals my blood in exchange for their essence and swore a pact of alliance with them. I'll admit, I got the idea from reading the Elric series by Michael Moorcock, but I also got it in part from some of the books on elemental hermeticism. From the beginning I understood that working with the spirits was best done as a collaboration. My reason for doing this working was that I wanted direct access to the elemental energies. I got that direct access with the ritual I did. It changed me profoundly, and changed my understanding of magic as well. It's fair to say that my concept of the elemental balancing ritual came in part from doing this working. It changed how I experienced the world and how I experienced magic. It changed how I interacted with the land.

It wasn't until College that I began to really experiment with magic, but that first experience taught me I could and inspired me to start thinking outside what the books were telling me.

My first experience with a teacher

I've only worked with a couple of people as teachers during my magical practice. None of the experiences were positive enough for me to keep looking and I came to the conclusion that I was better suited to teach myself and better suited to understand what I needed to learn. I still feel that way to this day. My first teacher was a fellow student in my high school. He was learning Shamanism (whether self-taught or taught by someone else I can't recall). He was half native American, but he didn't seem to mind that I wanted to learn. I'd met him shortly after I started practicing. Our student-teacher relationship didn't last long...perhaps a week or two. He recommended a few books and taught me a couple of exercises. I diligently reported back to him and then...

He called me up one day and told me he couldn't teach me magic and I shouldn't practice magic at all. When I asked why, he told me (drum rolls please): You have no soul! I'm not making this up and to this day it still amuses me because it was such a teenager thing to say. At the time, I was stunned, and hung up and momentarily thought about giving up the magic. Then I came to the conclusion that he feel threatened by me, and that inspired me. If he felt so threatened, I'd just have to show him there was good reason for it. Plus anytime someone has told me not to do something I want to do, it just makes me determined to prove the person wrong. This was no exception. I also figured I still had a soul.

I began reading even more books and doing the exercises in them and just practicing everyday, determined to prove to this person I could do magic better than he. It was admittedly a juvenile reason to practice magic, but I was a teenager and that's what motivated me then. And before long I felt I had surpassed him. I was diligent in my studies and I did everything I could to apply magic to my life. He and I never talked about what he'd said, but I could tell he knew I was still practicing.

I learned a really important lesson from him. Don't believe what anyone tells you about yourself or your fitness to do anything, until you've tested it yourself. To this day, its still a lesson I live by and one I try to pass on to my readers and the occasional person I take on as a student.