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The Role of Contemporary Culture in Magic

Author: Taylor Ellwood [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: February 3rd. 2013
Times Viewed: 2,690

Since I first started practicing magic in the early 90's, I've always been fascinated by the idea of applying contemporary culture to magical practices. That fascination has resulted in a couple of books such as Pop Culture Magick, but when I think of contemporary culture I don't just think of cartoons, comics, and T.V. shows, and all the other viscera of pop culture. Certainly they are artifacts of contemporary culture, but they are just one perspective of contemporary culture, albeit a rich perspective.

I see contemporary culture in the fields of study that all of us have access to. I see it in books on stage magic and neuroscience, communication studies and literacy, financial advice and business strategies, to a name few areas of study. All of these different fields of study, these disciplines, also offer a perspective of contemporary culture that can be applied to your spiritual work, if it's something that you find relevant.

Many of the spiritual traditions in Paganism are focused on reclaiming a spiritual tradition from the past. You see this in the reconstructionist movements, Wicca, and most other spiritual traditions. There's nothing wrong with looking to the past to seek your spirituality or discover your connection to Deity but I sometimes think that the focus on the path is also a rejection of contemporary culture, as if to say "There's nothing spiritual here, nothing that can inform my magical work." It could be argued that such a rejection is really just a rejection of mainstream culture with its mainstream religious beliefs, but I think the rejection can go deeper than that and ultimately be a rejection of any perspective we could uncover in the various trappings of contemporary culture.

What contemporary culture has to offer can actually be beneficial to the various magical practices a person could get involved in. Contemporary culture provides a multitude of perspectives about the universe we live in and the magician as part of their magical work can employ those perspectives. Contemporary culture also provides a glimpse of what the world could be, for better or worse. We shouldn't turn our backs on what we've been gifted, but rather look at how we can make it part of our spiritual work.

The integration of contemporary culture into my own spiritual work involves recognizing that the fundamental principles of magic remain the same regardless of what paradigm you apply to them. Thus, when I look at Neuroscience as a discipline, I consider how I can take the information and apply it to magical principles in order to incorporate that into my spiritual work. As a result, I work with neurotransmitters, stomach bacteria, and a variety of other microbial life as spiritual entities that can be contacted in the pursuit of establishing a better relationship with my body. It's not very different from working with elemental spirits, angels, daimons, or other types of spiritual entities. The main difference is that I'm working with my body and the various entities that inhabit it. I could only do that because of the advances of contemporary culture, which provided a way to learn about the body, beyond what is visually apparent.

In a similar fashion, my work with space and time as elements of magic could draw on some elements of classic cultures and their own dealings with space and time, but was much enhanced by how relevant space and time are to contemporary culture. I drew on the obvious discipline of Physics, since there is a lot of focus on space and time, but there was just as much to learn from anthropological and cultural studies of space and time, and disciplines such as interior and city design. The choice to explore what these various disciplines had to offer about space and time has proven helpful in understanding and integrating those concepts into magical work.

One more example is warranted. I'm currently writing a book on wealth magic. A lot of the research for that book involved reading others book on wealth magic, but just as much research has gone into reading books on personal finance, job hunting, and business management because those various disciplines also inform what wealth is and how it is manifested. The book and its techniques wouldn't be effective if I didn't factor in the context of contemporary culture and what it has to offer on the subject at hand. That information is invaluable for pulling off effective wealth magic, in my opinion, because it provides the magician multiple vectors for bringing wealth into his/her life. When you are going to do an act of magic pulling on all of the available resources at your disposal is wise because it allows you to create a path of least resistance for the magic to work.

I could draw on other examples to illustrate further, but I think my point is clear. While it is good to value what came before and learn from it in order to understand how it effects your spiritual practices, it’s equally as important to understand and explore contemporary culture and what it can offer us as well. We live in this culture, and rejecting it because it's not ‘traditional’ or ‘classical’ is really a presumption on the part of people who romanticize past culture, traditions, and disciplines without considering the context of what life was like in previous times. We have it good in this contemporary culture we live in, and we have access to so much more information about the world and the universe as well. The choice to apply it to our spiritual work is recognition that what we have access to has value and can enhance our spiritual work.

If we ignore that value because it isn't old or doesn't come from a tradition or grimoire, what we are really shutting the door to is the context of our lives. That seems a bit hypocritical when we continue to rely on all the modern comforts that our contemporary culture provides us. So look around at what you have access to and then take it and make it part of your life and spiritual work. Its value is found in your own applications and in how you make it your own.

Copyright: Taylor Ellwood 2013


Taylor Ellwood

Location: Portland, Oregon


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