What Is Pop Culture Magic?
How some witches are swapping cauldrons and brooms for Tumblr and Netflix accounts.
Pop culture magic has nothing to do with Charmed, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, or the Harry Potter franchise — unless you want it to.
A type of modern-day witchcraft, it exists largely online in the form of magic-imbued GIFs and spells inspired by favorite cartoon shows, Disney songs, Lord of the Rings characters, indie rock bands, video games, and other popular and well-loved modern-day icons.
Looking for a spell to give you non-stop motivation? Check out this one related to the musical, Hamilton. To imbue your aura with “fuck off” vibes, there’s a spell inspired by Jessica Jones, and if you’re hoping to knock a few years off your appearance, the promise of youth can be yours with this Hocus Pocus hex.
Pop culture witches congregate mostly online, through sites like Tumblr, Twitter, and Pinterest, where they create “virtual altars” — or posts — relating to their favorite shows, bands, movies, and books. From Pokemon characters to Hayao Miyazaki films to mythical pirates, the internet is brimming with pop culture-inspired magic.
Emily Carlin is a witch who has been practicing this form of meta-paganism for almost three decades. Now in her 40s, she’s a lawyer by day in Seattle, Washington, but she’s been using pop culture magic since the 1990s when she was an undergraduate at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
Back then, she said, the practice was virtually unheard of. Nowadays, it’s still not something that’s often seen or discussed, even in occult circles, but it’s become far more popular and accepted with the help of the internet. In recent years, Carlin has penned books about pop culture magic to spread awareness of it, and she writes blogs about the subject for WitchesAndPagans.com.
If you're truly interested in pop culture magic, start doing research into the online communities where it is most prevalent, making sure to peruse the tags to find what interests you. As a community, pop culture magic practitioners tend to be disparate — a result of the practice being a highly individualized one, as most people will adapt their own fandoms to their own traditions. But within specific fan bases, Carlin said, people are often quite willing to share tips, tricks, spells and resources.
For those who want to learn more about pop culture magic, here is Carlin’s step-by-step guide to creating your first spell with the help of your favorite album, book, fictional character, or whatever.
1. Do your research
Most pop culture magic is adapted from older, more traditional forms of paganism and witchcraft. If you’re not already a seasoned witch with a background in a specific tradition, start by understanding the basics — which you can then adapt to pop culture magic.
For example, Carlin said that “one of the first things that a lot of [witchcraft books] will talk about is the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. That’s super abstract and nebulous. So instead, I decided that the four elements would be represented by the four members of Metallica.”
2. Pick a favorite character (or song, or line of poetry, or whatever else suits your needs)
Make sure it’s something you know well. “It’s always better to use something you have a deeper connection with than something that suits your goals perfectly that you don’t know as well,” Carlin advised. “It’s the difference between asking your best friend for a favor versus asking an acquaintance.”
If you’re going with a character, Carlin recommends starting with heroes, as they are often more reliable and predictable.
3. Start small, and focus on yourself
Want to hex the current political administration? So do many others, including the group Witches Against Trump. But it's probably best to deal with smaller stuff at first.
If you have something like a job interview coming up, try a good luck or a confidence spell. And rather than cast a spell on your hopeful employer to make them like you more, it's best to focus your energy on yourself instead. That way, you can more readily tell whether something is working and avoid any unintended consequences that would befall someone else. In other words, it’s better to use yourself as the Guinea pig — at least to start.
4. Always be prepared for unintended consequences
"When you're dealing with an entity that has a mind of its own," Carlin said, "sometimes things won't go exactly how you plan for them to. And if you pull one string, sometimes the web will come with it."
She recounted a time when she cast a spell to help herself learn a new style of coding more quickly and invoked Iron Man’s alter ego Tony Stark to do so.
"I was calling on his technical genius to help me out, to see if I could borrow his brain for a minute," she explained. "And it worked!”
But it worked in more ways than one. For a while afterwards, she wasn’t able to shake the nagging feeling of Tony Stark’s presence and it became a major distraction for her.
“Tony Stark [was] following me to work and bothering me all day," Carlin said.
She eventually managed to shake him off and get through her work days alone, but it was a good reminder that when you invite something into your life, it sometimes might be difficult to get it to leave.
5. Be open to your favorite characters trying to communicate with you
The fictional characters you use to channel your spells can manifest in different ways.
"I call on the Winter Soldier [from Captain America] as a sort of personal protector," Carlin said.
As a result, she receives protection and advice from him in a variety of ways, including through music.
"I have thousands of songs on my Spotify playlist, so if I'm listening and multiple songs from the Captain America soundtrack show up within, say, 15 minutes of each other, that's no longer a coincidence to me."
Other pop culture magic she’s experienced include clairpresence (the feeling of not being alone) and characters appearing in her dreams. She suggests divination (like reading tarot cards, playing with a ouija board, or interpreting tea leaves) as a good way to commune with them.
6. Finally, don't be afraid
Practice makes perfect, and, as with any skill, pop culture magic requires time and energy to learn and do it well. Don’t be fearful of what might happen if you cast a spell; try it out and see what happens.
At the end of the day, the only way to do magic is by actually doing it. If your intentions are good, the outcome probably will be, too.