by Taylor Ellwood
Over the last couple of years I’ve noted that few magicians capitalize on using popular culture as a method of working magic. Inevitably this seems to occur because of an ingrained belief that magic systems must come from a recognized lineage or old tradition. There’s an almost childish dislike of the idea of using popular culture as a means of working magic and this has sadly taken many mages away from the cutting edge of magical experimentation. Yet popular culture can provide the means and method of working magic. The purpose of this article is to introduce how popular culture can be used effectively.
Popular culture can be considered to be culture that deviates from the comfortable mainstream in a manner that opposes that mainstream or represents an alternative lifestyle/culture. A good example of popular culture is Buffy the Vampire slayer, seen on televisions the world over. Buffy slays vampires, has friends who practice magic and are lesbians, and lives a lifestyle that only links up to the mainstream culture tangentially. In short, Buffy is popular culture because what she represents goes against the safe and comfortable reality that mainstream cultures prefer. With popular culture you usually have a segment of society that is highly interested in the television show, pop star, or phenomena. These people can be considered cultish in the fanatical devotion and zeal they show a particular program, pop star, or whatever else.
Mainstream culture tolerates popular culture, but also in some manner or another either seeks to absorb the popular culture into itself or seeks to disparage it. That some magicians I know balk at the idea of using popular culture as a method of magic shows how successful mainstream culture is at influencing people. Mainstream culture may not always successfully absorb pop culture into it, but it seems to always successfully manipulate the perceptions of the majority of people in regards to pop culture.
Let’s put theory aside, however, and focus on the larger issue. There are a variety of ways to use pop culture in your workings, but I’m going to focus only on one. I direct interested readers to my book Pop Culture Magick, which focuses on some of the other methods of working with pp culture. Alternatively I hope you’ll be inspired to be creative with your approach toward magic and pop culture.
Harry Potter seems a fine example to use. He’s definitely part of the pop culture phenomena and he practices magic in his fantasy world. HP as we’ll call him from here out is part of pop culture when you consider how parts of the mainstream such as fundamentalist Christianity condemn and hate HP, seeing him as a threat to Christianity and its precious brainwashed masses. He’s a threat to Christianity and a boon to magic, if only because he represents magic to so many people. Children and adults read about his adventures and they want to be just like him. It doesn’t matter that the books or movie aren’t wholly accurate about the practice of magic. What matters is that HP represents, for the children and the adults who read him, access to the world of magic and all of its wonders. That in turn is a threat to any fundamentalist religion precisely because magic offers a way out of the dogmatic mindset of religion.
Around the time the first HP movie came out, David Cunningham and I came up with a pop culture working that revolved around HP. We’d both noted how upset many Christians were about HP, so much so that they were even burning the HP books. We’d also noticed with interest how many adults as well as children were reading the HP series. So we decided to do a working with HP entity, one that was mischievous and fun and would last a good long time.
The focus of the working centered around the idea of using the negativity the Christians focused toward HP in such a manner that the negative energy actually empowered HP to help realize the worst fear of the Christians, that people who read HP would show an interest in really learning about the occult. To do this we needed to construct a visualization that showed that worst fear. David and I did a lot of online searching for images of HP as well as some other images that we felt would be useful. We took the Hogwarts School of Magic that was used in movie poster and put it in the background of the image we were creating. Next we put a hoard of people rushing toward that same castle, eager to study the secrets of the occult. Then we placed an image of ruined church and an angry HP standing on the rubble, calling down energy. We placed a studious HP beside that image. He was reading a book and pouring potions into a black cauldron. We placed half of an image of a catholic priest in the cauldron. At the top of the image we had the phrase “Couldn’t we all use a little magic?” We then sent the image through email to other mages who were interested in our project so they could charge up the entities. Another thing I did was to print out the image and then place it in public areas. It would serve to either draw peoples’ attention to magic or it would get torn down by a disgruntled Christian or other kind of fundamentalist and in the process that would charge the entity up a bit.
The idea of the image was that HP’s school of magic and the people rushing toward that school to learn more about magic represented what we were seeking. HP standing over the church and boiling the Christian priest reflects the ultimate fear of Christianity, namely that HP will draw people from Christianity and thus destroy it. Those images were picked so as to emphasize that negativity and accordingly draw on the energy that Christians were focusing on HP. The overall result we are seeking with this working is one wherein that energy the Christians focus on HP will be used to help realize their worst fear, namely that people would become interested in learning about the occult. Note that I mention interest in learning, but not necessarily converting. We both felt it would go a little too far if we had the spell focus on converting people to the occult as opposed to instead learning about it because they suddenly found an interest in the idea of wielding magic themselves. A willing decision to practice magic is far better than an unwilling decision.
By having HP stir up the interest of the reader in the occult we don’t infringe on the free will of that person; rather we seek to stimulate the person. There’s obviously no guarantee that the person will start practicing magic, but even if he or she becomes interested enough to consider reading a book on the subject other than HP the goal has been accomplished in the sense that it is a start.
One thing David and I both noted with interest was the dynamic energy of the HP entity. I suspect this is due to the amount of attention and belief that goes into HP. Attention and belief are forms of energy and as such that energy can bring to life anything, including a character out of a fantasy series. If a magician chooses to believe in the reality of the pop culture entity s/he is able to access the energy of such an entity. This is remarkably similar to working with god forms, but it has the added benefit of having much more energy directed toward it. A pop culture entity such as HP has much more energy directed toward it because it’s in the media so much. The old god form may get some attention from people who choose to work with it, but it doesn’t have the ready supply of a large group of believers at its beck and call in contemporary times. The lack of attention and belief don’t destroy a god, but that lack does take away from the available resources it has.
Working with any pop culture entity has its benefits. While what I’ve listed above is one example of a working with the HP entity, it’s not the only way you can work with it. For instance, I’ve done pathworking (A form of meditation) with the HP entity to get answers for particular situations in my life. The HP entity could also be worked with as a teacher of magic. The possibilities are endless. The creativity and will of the mage determines how well the HP entity or any other entity will work for hir.
Of course the best way to work with a pop culture entity is to study it carefully. In working with HP, I first read all the books and saw the movies. I paid close attention to how fans and Christians talked about HP, as the attitudes would in part determine the attributes I assigned HP. Once I had all the data I needed I put that data into my visualization of HP. When David and I did the ritual we also empowered the HP visualization with some sex magic and then burned the image we had to release our intentions to the HP entity and set it on its task. We noted that for the next few months a sharp increase in anti HP rhetoric occurred, which rather pleased both of us because it meant the HP entity was drawing on the negative energy to start its task. We also noted an interesting occurrence when one of the magicians charged up the sigil/image.
This mage enjoyed charging up her spells by jogging and the one day she decided whimsically to listen to Christmas carols while charging up the HP image. The batteries in her walk man stopped half way through her jog and when she got back from her jog she felt ill. The next day her walk man worked fine and she no longer felt ill. What she hadn’t realized was that in listening to Christmas carols, which are associated with Christians, she’d instructed the HP entity to first drawing energy from the walk man and second from her self. The lesson to be learned is to always be careful when charging entities up, pop culture or otherwise, unless of course you want to become the entity’s dinner.
I’ve noted with a lot of interest the success of the HP entity with its task of stimulating interest in the occult. The Gray School run by Oberon Zell Ravenheart started up a couple years after the working with the entity. The school is modeled off of the school of the HP universe and has gotten a lot people interested in magic. I’ve also noted that both children and adults often talk about wanting to be like HP, casting magic, and that’s an encouraging sign.
I hope I’ve demonstrated that pop culture can be an effective tool of magic. There are endless possibilities within whatever you consider pop culture to be. The exploration of those possibilities is an opportunity for all of us to experiment with magic, in new directions.
I’d like to thank David Cunningham who co-created the initial working with the Harry Potter entity as well as doing most of the work in constructing the image we used to visualize HP. I’d also like to thank members of the Chaos-l list and the Geist project list for participating in the experiment.
Taylor Ellwood is the author of Pop Culture Magic, Space/Time Magic, Inner Alchemy, Multi-Media Magic (Forthcoming) and co-author of Kink Magic: Beyond Vanilla Sex Magic. He is also the non-fiction editor of Megalithica Books. For more information about him and his latest projects please visit http://www.thegreenwolf.com and http://teriel.livejournal.com