There’s only so many times you can read about the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram before you stop paying attention and start daydreaming about what the real Harlem Shuffle looks like. Magic only seems novel the first time you come across it. After that, it tends to just be the same concepts rehashed ad nauseum. Maybe it says something about my own attention span, but if I hear anyone mention the “Rule of Three” again, I’m liable to smash a Stevie Nicks record over their head (author’s note: I have never owned a Stevie Nicks record).
Finding a magician who’s interested in testing the boundaries and really experimenting with their practice is what draws my attention, and Taylor Ellwood has based his whole career on fooling around in territories no one else has touched. As he says on his website, “My focus as a magician is to innovate and experiment with what can be done magically.”
Taylor has studied Neoshamanism, Taoism, Hermetic philosophy, Ceremonial Magic, Buddhist meditation, and a number of other traditions. He is a spiritual coach and the prolific author of Inner Alchemy, Multi-Media Magic, Pop Culture Magick, Space/Time Magick, Magical Identity, among others. He has been a guest on numerous podcasts and has presented classes at PDX HARP and Essential Elements.
Taylor is currently the Managing Non-Fiction Editor of Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press. He lives in Portland, OR.
Isla: You’ve placed much focus on the concept of identity. What do you feel is the role of identity in the practice of magic?
Taylor: You know what’s really interesting is that I realized the other day that I’ve written about the concept of identity since I first wrote Pop Culture Magick. I hadn’t even realized how central identity is to my own work until I had that realization.
I’d argue that identity plays a pivotal role in the practice of magic. I’ve defined identity as the agreement a person has with the universe. If you want to change that agreement, then magic is one way you would do so. On the other hand, identity defines magic to the extent that a lot of magic is done precisely to create a change in identity. Say you have a problem in your life and you decide to use magic to help you solve the problem. You aren’t merely dealing with the problem, but also your role, your identity in relationship to the problem. An identity approach to magic acknowledges the role you play in any situation and seeks to explore and change that role so that whatever other changes occur are a permanent solution to the problem, because you’ve already established a different identity that supports the inclusion of your solution.
Is this similar in any way to Grant Morrison’s idea of the “memeplex” (deliberately inducing Multiple Personality Disorder as a practice to alter the Self)?
No, my approach to identity work is based much more on doing internal work via Taoist and Dzogchen meditation techniques. My work with those techniques has shown that in order to truly change the world around you, you first need to change your sense of self, space, and identity. Each person lives in a symbiotic relationship with the world. That symbiotic relationship shows that a person has some level of responsibility for his/her own experiences and in particular how s/he chooses to respond to those experiences. While a person can’t necessarily control every aspect of reality or the environment around him/herself, or how people will treat him/her due to factors such as race, gender, ableness or lack thereof, and age, what s/he can control is how s/he will respond to the environment, both internally and externally.
Internal work, as it applies to identity, involves the exploration via meditation of whether the internal reality, beliefs, values, etc. of the person really match up with how s/he is treated and/or how s/he interacts with the world. On a fundamental level, I believe it is our responsibility to create our own internal identity and reality, which then provides us a way to shape the external reality. Meditation allows us to dissolve societal constructs and cultural beliefs that have been imprinted on us by society, and then through the assumption of conscious identity, we can form our own cultural beliefs and societal constructs that we can inject into the external world around us. A lot of my work with Immanion Press is based on this principle.
On a different note, I actually do have a space/time technique I use, where I assign different avatars or “personalities” of myself to learn specific information (kinda of like the memeplex). For example I have a “self” specifically devoted to learning neuroscience. When I read books on neuroscience, that self comes to the surface, and afterwards takes the information and processes it and then brings it back to my overall sense of self, which then integrates it into my magical work. I do this with every area of learning I am interested in. By focusing specific “Selves” on specific topics it allows me to process information much faster, and then integrate that information into my life and work in a practical way.
Can you briefly explain your ideas surrounding space/time and the “Memory Box”?
I’ve always been fascinated with the elements of space and time. A lot of my own magical work is focused on those elements because I think that they have become as primal as the traditional elements of Earth, Air, Water, Fire, and Spirit. We measure our lives in terms of space and time, both in the space we inhabit as well as much time we spend on given activities, travel, etc.
The popular focus on space/time is oriented around Physics and what popular science books tell us about these two elements. However there is a wide variety of other material and ways to explore space and time. Edward T Hall’s works [he was an anthropologist], for example, provide a multicultural perspective about how people integrate space and time into their lives. This can be useful research material for exploring our own perspectives as well as providing possible avenues to work with these elements more meaningfully. Another example would be the cut-up technique that William S. Burroughs devised, which is good for cutting up time and space as well as words.
The memory box is a tool of my own devising, which really serves to focus the mind on exploring time and space through the use of memory and imagination. I actually think of imagination and memory as one and the same. The main difference is that memory is used to remember and rewrite the past, while the imagination is used to explore and shape the present and future. The memory box is used to access space and time and explore these elements using the imagination. At the center of the box is a silver web, which represents the confluence of space and time. The magician can work with the web to access different possibilities and bring them into reality, while also shifting his/her space to become that possibility. I’m currently exploring how movement and stillness fit into my paradigm of space/time magic, so this is changing.
I would hazard a guess that stillness is a valuable tool, as it places one’s awareness at a single point in both space and time. Am I anywhere close?
Stillness can be your awareness at a single point in time and space, but it can also be used to perceive the multiplicity of possibility. Think of stillness as the present, with an awareness of all the possibilities that inform that confluence of space and time and what it could be. Stillness allows you to perceive those possibilities, while movement allows you to manifest those possibilities into reality. Movement focuses possibility into reality, while stillness opens reality to the complexity of possibility.
That’s a very interesting idea that I’ll definitely have to mull over. In the meantime, I’d like to get your expert opinion on something.
We’re starting to see more magicians integrating pop culture into their work, stirring up all sorts of debate in the pagan community. Why do some feel threatened by these practices? Are we just witnessing the growing pains of a paradigm shift?
Pop culture magic has been around since the advent of Chaos Magic, but what I think we’re seeing now is a shift where people practicing it aren’t just focused on a results driven practice of magic. Instead, pop culture magic is becoming a genuine spiritual practice, and this is a threat for some people because they feel that it takes away from their own spiritual practices.
Additionally, I think that the idea of pop culture magic brings to light a different perspective about the concept of deity, one where deity is recognized as being derived in part from the beliefs and worship that people put toward a given godhead. Such a perspective argues that deities are reliant upon humans and that there is a symbiotic relationship. This is offensive to some people because it means that their deities aren’t necessarily as powerful as they’d like to think.
In my opinion, I think that pop culture magic is finally finding its stride. When I wrote Pop Culture Magick nine years ago, there were a lot of people, both in the chaos magic subculture and overall Pagan subculture who were hostile and felt that pop culture magic wasn’t a viable practice of magic. However, in the time since, more people have recognized that there is something valuable to be found in pop culture and how it can be integrated into both practical and spiritual applications of magic. What pop culture magic ultimately represents is the flexibility of spirituality, specifically the ability to find a meaningful spiritual connection in whatever a person chooses to connect with. And whether what you connect with is derived from an ancient culture or pop culture, what really matters is that the connection provides something meaningful to you. I think that’s true of magic in general. We don’t do magic out of rote ritual, but rather because of meaningful connections.
Are you working on any projects at the moment that you’d like to talk about?
I’m working on a co-written book with Bill Whitcomb, called the Book of Good Practices. I’m also wrapping up a book on Wealth Magic and doing research on my next book: Pop Culture Magic 2.0. I’m also putting together a new correspondence course for the Way of the Magician Mystery School.
To find out more about TAYLOR ELLWOOD, please visit www.magicalexperiments.com