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Interview Taylor Ellwood, author of Pop Culture Magick, Space/Time Magick and Inner Alchemy

Taylor Ellwood is co-author of "Creating Magical Entities", author of" Pop Culture Magick" and "Space/Time Magic". This month will see his essays published in an anthology of contemporary magickal thinkers, "Magick on the Edge". In November of 2006, his fourth book, 'Inner Alchemy", on the shaping of physical neural paths will be published by Megalithica Books. In addition to these works, his sex magic text, "Kink Magic: Beyond Vanilla Sex Magic, will be published in 2007.

In addition to his writings, you can read Tylor's works at www.thegreenwolf.com, as well as his blog rolls, and his contributions to various pagan publishing circles. Taylor is a regularly invited speaker on everything from novel magical technologies like those found in his controversial "Pop Culture Magick"
to topics like sex magick, physiological paradigm shifts and time travel. Feature writer for semantikon #26 (October 2006), Taylor was kind enough to grant semantikon an interview on his works and his personal efforts to expand upon the story of magical transformation.

SMTK: For those unaware of magic (also spelled magick), please take a moment to explain the medium, the work you’re doing with it.

Taylor Ellwood: Magic, as I spell it, is making the improbable possible. In other words it’s learning how even the slightest change you make can have a radical effect on the internal system of your psychology, and the external system of the environment and universe we live in. Magic is the realization of an interdependent system of life that needs every part to bring forth the hidden potential. My work with magic is two-pronged. In one approach, I work on the semiotic domain via media and contemporary technology, seeking to adapt the use of magic to contemporary times and continue to fuel that evolution by showing how media and magic can be woven together. In my second approach I seek to wean myself off of reliance on symbols and media and experience states of consciousness that are highly conceptual and focused on a prescient shaping of past, present, and future, and the evolution of magic toward achieving and using those states as a way of increasing the innate ability of a person. In that context, symbols and media are a distraction that necessarily focus the human potential on trivialities. If the two prongs seem contradictory, they are actually not. One supplements the other as a system I have in mind to create and am creating in my already written works (I’d say more, but it’s a work in progress).

SMTK: In addition to the works discussed in your writers bio, we have not heard much about your sex magic text, Kink Magic: Beyond Vanilla Sex Magic which you and your wife worked on, or for that matter, creating magical systems after anime characters. Could you tell us some more about those works? The development of those works?

Taylor Ellwood: Kink Magic is a development of BDSM and sex magic. While there are some books already available on this subject, they all focus primarily on internal transformation of a person. Our book focuses on that as well, but also focuses on inducing practical changes in the life of the person using the stresses of BDSM conditioning.

As for anime characters, I am taking elements from anime series and incorporating them into how magic can be used. Most notably the transmutation circles of Full Metal Alchemist, and specifically the understanding of life as a circle…it’s a most useful teaching tool for people to contemplate the fullness of the impact their actions and intent have on themselves and others, as well as future choices made.

SMTK: It commonplace that many magical texts take a healthy license with the works of Carl Jung; his work on synchronicity (the meaning of coincidences, superstitions) and his work on archetypes of the collective unconscious. Notable, most magical authors expansion on the common themes related to the hero(Gilgamesh), the technological saviors (alien myths), the dying god king (odhinn, jesus, braveheart etc) You talk in Pop Culture Magick of developing yourself into a “Literate Mage” so you may sort the characters of immediate culture and focus in on their attributes for magickal application. Could you describe the point at which one becomes a Literate Mage? The point at which one is capable of sorting the archetypes, their historical significance and applying it to our contemporary? How does literary expression place in this process?

Taylor Ellwood: Becoming a literate Mage means developing an understanding of not only how magic seems to work, but how other facets of life work. No one, myself included will ever be a fully literate mage, because we are always learning and evolving. What stands out to me however, is how much ignorance is cultivated about various aspects of life, while focusing on one particular aspect as a specialty. For instance a person’s choice to focus on magic, or anarchy, or some other aspect of life to ignorance of any and everything else. Then later these same people rail against the way of the world, failing in the mean time to contemplate how much they have reinforced their own positions and the positions of others by closing themselves to probability, and more importantly openness of experience. To be a literate mage is to be able to step outside the boundaries of society and move where you will, as you will, learning what you need. As a personal example, I am learning more about finances and how they work and in doing so learning more about how this society functions and runs as a system. While none of that may seem very magical, understanding leads to the ability to manipulate and move through the system as needed. Sorting archetypes for their historical significance is understanding the placement of them within any given system and how they function to keep that system in place and/or evolve it. My purpose for using archetypes is really to recognize just how stasis-inducing they can be…recognize the patterns of behavior, emotion, and thought that guide people and you recognize the foundation for culture and why it’s used to create a static life for people. Literary expression is an expression of that stasis, an expression of particular values and beliefs held out as a promised means of advancement, and yet really only offering an illusion of such advancement. Literary expression might be best thought of as both a cage to trap people, and a key to let people out of the illusions they grant themselves when they believe too deeply in the mythology of humans.

SMTK: Pop Culture Magick, published to 2004 by Immanion Press was said to be a welcome magickal text for the younger current generation of magic practitioners. At the same time, its premise was held to the fire of fierce rebuttals from those who might be called traditional practitioners who rejected its methods and dismissed its rationale as Jennifer Emick who wrote:

“[…] this ‘pop magic’ bullshit is the worst, like giving gasoline and matches to children. There’s a reason this is an initiatory tradition”

What is it that you see behind how people have reacted to your works?

Taylor Ellwood: Those people react that way because they feel their stasis threatened, the sacred cow of their beliefs revealed as just a living, breathing beast that will die someday. The idea that someone can take pop culture and use it as a form of magic is a threat because it threatens the illusion of power that such people cultivate by relying on an initiatory tradition. What they fail to realize is that everything is an initiation, any experience can offer change and evolution and to limit experiences to pa particular dogma is to think only in the short term, selfishly of the self, while limiting human potential and growth to a path that could be a dead-end. However if they opened themselves to the notion that any experience, any culture could be adapted toward magical practice they might just realize that human potential can’t be limited to one path or one view, but most
be open to all avenues, to increase the probability of evolution.

SMTK: In Fall of 2005 you gave a presentation on magickal technologies at the annual Witches Ball in Columbus Ohio. Take a moment to describe what is meant by magickal technologies, how it applies to the use of mundane objects for the purpose of magickal transformation.

Taylor Ellwood: Contemporary technology is the new ritual tools of magic. Mundane objects can have alternative uses, such as making a video game controller into a charging mechanism for a symbol, charging through each push of the button, intent and a desire to win…a desire to manifest a specific reality. Magical technology is the adaptation of mundane tools into magical uses, but also the recognition that as technology evolves, so must magic as well. The tools are still tools, the user is the ultimate transformative process in and of himself, nonetheless the tools offer such a person insight into how to transform the self. In other words the tools are interaction with the world and reality, so the user doesn’t grow too self-absorbed, but recognizes through the use of technology an idea of intent impacting reality around her

SMTK: You’ve said in previous interviews that Pop Culture Magick was a work developed from an awareness of the rich world of symbols and message we live in. In subsequent works, you’ve taken up time travel and neural modification, where have you seen personal grown since Pop Culture Magick as you continue to apply it, in your works overall, in your life?

Taylor Ellwood: Well my next book Media Magic is intended as an evolution of pop culture magic, an extension of where it can go. My work with Media Magic is a testing of the particular stresses that symbolic reality introduces to a person and how that person adapts too those stresses. It is also an evolution of magical techniques, expanding them beyond more traditional approaches, partially as a result of the understanding that media is about communication and networking and magic increasingly can be seen as a way communicating and networking with a variety of life forms (human and otherwise).

SMTK: In her 1995 book, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, Sherry Turkle, suggests at least one scientific approach to understanding self in the internet medium is to approach self as being a in a state of constantly ready, or valenced simultaneities. You discuss similar themes in Space/Time Magick, what is it about realizing simultaneous manifestation of self that can be a powerful realization for people?

Taylor Ellwood: The realization of simultaneous selves is the realization of the flexibility of the self in choosing how life is lived. It’s a recognition of boundless potential that is really not bound by choices we make…that’s just an illusion we give to ourselves to keep a version of societal approved sanity. The simultaneity of the self can also be seen as a network, a connection to multiple versions of you, but also multiple potentialities that exercise the function of keeping a person on her toes, for such a potentiality challenges everything the person holds dear, demanding that the person experience all facets of the self, as opposed to just the imagined ideal version of the self.

SMTK: You speak often on the use of information and communication technology as they may be applied to developing magickal awareness, for application as magickal tools. This thinking goes back to H.G. Wells and has been advanced more recently by William Gibson and the Cyberpunk movement; the ecstatic lifestyle theology of performance artist Genesis P. Orridge. Where is it most obvious that these technologies are shifting the way we think of ourselves, our places in society, our ability to transform our lives where their work left off?

Taylor Ellwood: Well I’d say it’s obvious in how people conceive of technology. Unfortunately I’m not convinced that most of the work out there has really broadened human potential with these technologies so much as steered humans toward one perspective of it. Gibson’s work is a classic example…in that how he portrays the internet is primarily as a combination of communication and entertainment. That is what it’s primarily conceived as, and yet there are possibilities of consciousness expansion which could be explored provided the perspective on such technologies isn’t limited to what’s been presented. A lot of my work with technology is focused on the conscious altering aspects that technology can provide, the recognition that technology provides new interfaces that enable experiences beyond anything humanity has experienced. I think currently, the use of technology is mainly to limit people, to provide an imperfect view at best of what can be achieved. People focus too much on the tool and not enough on what they themselves bring to the tool.

SMTK: Based on what you shared at a speaking engagement at the Witches Ball in Fall of 2005, your forthcoming text, Inner Alchemy deals with the work of re-training, even, re-wiring your own neurological system to enjoy a healthier and more productive life. Can you discuss where this works usefulness manifested itself in your own life and led you to share it? Why this topic now?

Taylor Ellwood: I first started this kind of work when I was eighteen. I was diagnoses with Bipolar 2 disorder and instead of looking to drugs as an answer I wanted to understand how my own body worked. As for why now, why not? I’d worked with the concepts enough that it was time to write about them, and offer them to other people looking for more than a medicated condition.

SMTK: You’ve been outspoken about the re-appropriation of so called “old deities” by modern day pagans. The fact that the current pagan paradigm is based on beliefs developed from an incomplete awareness of the language, the customs, the cultural worldview of cultures pagans will make cultural and spiritual claim to. What do you see at the heart of the pagan movement’s current thinking as is related to it’s survival? What do you anticipate future generations might expect to draw from?

Taylor Ellwood: Any movement, seeks as an affirmation of their existence, a connection to the past that insures a kind of immortality to the movement, because there is also a secret fear that the movement will not survive and every thing that was done will be futile. The pagan movement, is for the most part rootless…It currently is trying to establish roots, as it has been for some time. In some venues this has been a little successful, specifically in the form of reconstructionist beliefs. The problem though is the desire to have roots is not grounded in historical accuracy or an awareness of how people acted when they did long ago and why they acted. What I see is a movement that is in love with the idea of the past, but doesn’t necessarily know what that past was. The reconstructionist movements are a move in the right direction an attempt to reconstruct how people actually did deal with their gods and culture so long ago. But the notion that survival will be found in the past is for the most part inaccurate. Any roots that are needed must be developed in the present moment, but with an eye toward long range development. In other words, the people in such a movement want rituals, but a critical awareness of what the function of those rituals is and how they will build and maintain community is important for establishing a sense of connection with other people (which in truth is what a movement is about). I anticipate that future generations will draw from a variety of works, but will ultimately have to determine why they do what they do in order to really get anything out of it.

SMTK: One reviewer of Space/Time Magick said:

“…this book is definitely not for people who are used to the pop-wicca books that are mostly just regurgitated from some source like Raymond Buckland or even Aleister Crowley.”

You’ve studied Ceremonial magic, Heathenry (Northern European Paganism), shamanism and the eastern religions, not uncommon for most pagans. At stake though, an eclecticism, often not respected in the pagan community. Where do you see the pejorative tone toward eclecticism coming from within the pagan community and what do you think our generation has to offer the generation before this, the generation after?

Taylor Ellwood:  I’ve studied ceremonial and chaos magic, shamanism, Taoism, Tantra, Far Eastern philosophies on war and culture and some Heathenry. If eclecticism is disliked, I think it is disliked because it doesn’t represent something which is static or seemingly stable. On the other hand it does represent questioning and a desire to know, something which is always good and needed. As for what this generation has to offer…a beginning or a continuation of the beginning anyway, so that the past can know it did something that had an effect and the future can be grounded in the work of today.

SMTK: In each of your works, you adopt a stance that one’s inborn imagination, creativity, problem solving attitude and approach to learning are all that is required for one to transform their lives, their situation. This seems to speak of a humanistic tradition, or even sound new age-y. It is implied that the individual here is juxtaposed as primary over the group. The apparitions of Protestant Christianity carried through the works we reference as the age of reason and carried by any of its recent respondents. Is it your view that now, or in some near future, the humanistic tradition will be abandoned and people will begin the work of developing some new ethic, some novel moral paradigm where the failures of before will be transcended?

Taylor Ellwood: I’d like to think that as people explore the potential in themselves and consequently in others they will recognize a sense of interconnection and reliance with each other and with the environment they live in. I think that sense of interconnection is currently lacking among people and that there’s a subtle sense of dissatisfaction with so much focus on the individual. There’s no sense of a community, of belonging, of creating a connection with other people that is meaningful and valuable as a connection to who the person is as opposed to what the person does for you. I think that as people recognize that they are interconnected to each other and the environment around them, they will develop a better sense of how their actions and thoughts impact everything else.

SMTK: You wrote a piece on SPAM sigils (symbols of power) Would you briefly describe the magical power behind creating sigils from everyday messages?

Taylor Ellwood: The power is that of language and using language to meaningfully connect with people, despite the randomness of it. It is meaning that people read into language that gives it power, and it is those meanings that we share with others that spread that power to others. Advertisement specialists know this very well. To take spam and turn it into a different purpose than what was intended is the will of the person to change the meaning into something that is useful for more than lining the pockets of other people. The power then is the artistic choice of subverting the intent of someone else and using language as something that conveys questions to a person’s realities, as opposed to gentle answers that provide comfort, but no harsh reality through which to test oneself.

 ---->Open Taylor Ellwood Literary Feature with audio, broadside poster and three new works.