Magickal Correspondences and Pop Culture Universes

my altar, with a mix of traditional, modern, techie, artsy, and pop culture influences

Every once in a while I feel like undertaking a massive research project where I would take tables of magical correspondences, such as this Witchipedia list or the entirety of Scott Cunningham’s work, and backtrace or fact-check each entry as far as I can go to see where and how those correspondences came to be. I have done similar fact-checking projects before (which I find both pretty fun and pretty frustrating) and it could be interesting to use those skills to see if these correspondences actually line up to historical record or if they’re the apocryphal results of some writer’s creativity or randomness.

That specific project would require either a Ph.D., which I’m not that keen on, or more money and resources than I have right now (though if you want to hire/fund me to do it I’m more than willing to accept!). It did get me thinking, however, about how collective understanding can give power to specific meanings even if that meaning is ahistorical.

Take the colour green, for instance, which is almost always associated with spells for prosperity and wealth. Some say this is because green is associated with growth, like grass and trees and other plants. However, how much of this association is due to U.S. currency solely being green (in contrast to international currencies usually being multi-coloured) and most big-name witchcraft writers being American? If contemporary witchcraft canon was mostly written by, say, Asians, would red become the archetypal prosperity colour because of its associations in Chinese culture?

Or take the associations built around zodiac signs (exemplified and sometimes parodied in a popular Tumblr meme). Libras are relationships-focused. Scorpios are sneaky and dodgy. Pisces(es) are dreamy and sometimes otherworldly. And so on. Though that’s mainly how Western astrology defines them — how about Vedic astrology, where they use the same signs but have different associated dates?

I grew up in the Equator, amongst syncretic hybrids of various Asian (and beyond) cultures, where our four seasons were hot and wet, hot and dry, cool and wet, and shopping. You could barely find fresh mint in the local grocery store, let alone more “exotic” witchy herbs like cinquefoil or St John’s Wort. Yet it’s hard for me to imagine seasonal observances that aren’t Imbolc or Yule, or get away from Green = Prosperity (in my defence, the Hari Raya Aidilfitri money packets are also green, mostly because green is a significant Muslim colour). Most of the resources available to me as a baby witchling in the early 2000s — or hell, even now — were written by Westerners for Westerners; I was just lucky not to be hauled up in school on suspicions of joining a black metal cult.

For me, personally, I find much more of a magickal connection in creativity and societal structures than I do in nature. Technopaganism and the Internet in general feels more in line with my spirituality than does most ideas around Mother Nature. Hearts and minds are connected across borders, creating shared meaning while contributing their own personal and local perspectives, close to the speed of light. Large-scale protests in one city inspire solidarity marches across the world; writing and music and videos are produced in collaboration across timezones; memes cross platforms and even jump from online to offline — such as the IRL Rickrolling at the Macy’s Day Parade.

This is also why I find pop culture paganism and pop culture magick especially fascinating, and really apt to my work. The concept was first made public over ten years ago by Pagan writer Taylor Ellwood, though it is currently enjoying a revival by young fans on Tumblr especially around very specific pop culture media properties such as Homestuck, Steven Universe, Harry Potter, and Pokemon. What draws me to pop culture magick in particular is the shared collective gnosis developed not just by the original media creators but also by the fans, viewers, readers, critics, and everyone else who comes into contact with that medium. In that shared agreement, that collective gnosis, these fictional stories hold some semblance of reality.

Indeed, the idea of a fandom-like collective giving the power of “reality” to fictional creations based on their shared understanding has been explored by other media forms. The Unwritten, a graphic novel series about a young man grappling with the aftereffects of being confused for the Harry Potter-esque protagonist of his father’s novels (that were based on him), explores the power of collective belief — especially in one scene where the overwhelming crowd of believers forms the Leviathan from Moby Dick:

Meanwhile, The Wicked + The Divine — which is practically Pop Culture Magick in graphic novel form — is all about the blending together of archetypes from both historical myth and pop culture, and the ways that fandom can itself be a form of faith. The main characters are granted their divine power from mysterious entities, but it’s their fans’ faith in them as Gods — sometimes to the loss of their humanity — that keeps them going. (Or, in poor Tara’s case, makes her eventually stop.)

The canon systems in many pop culture media makes them really strong sources for pop culture-based magickal correspondences. Any pop culture universe whose story has an inbuilt sorting system — Harry Potter’s Hogwarts houses, Pokemon Go teams, Hunger Games and Divergent’s population divisions — will have specific associations made between colours, animals, personality traits, and other symbols.

Homestuck, a self-described Video Game as Creation Myth, is an especially excellent example of this as its canon works with multiple correspondence systems. The in-story game assigns players to Aspects, elements such as Time, Rage, or Hope that are important for the formation of a universe, and also assigns Classes to signify the expression of such elements. These Aspects, as well as each main player character (around 34 of them not counting alternate-timeline versions), are associated with particular colours, symbols, and personality types. An entire race, the trolls, are associated with zodiac signs — which makes for an interesting base for astrological readings.

Meanwhile, most of the Steven Universe characters are named after real-life Earth gems but with very distinct personalities. The Crewniverse have taken some care in connecting each Gem’s personality with particular associations of their real-world counterpart — for instance, rose quartz is also often used in healing magick — while still giving them their own flair:

(On a side note, it’s interesting how some of the same colours and symbols share the same meanings across different media products. Blue is connected with intelligence, red with strength, yellow’s the fluffy team — except for Divergent where red and yellow are flipped — and green’s the dodgy villains. Hmm.)

If you’re a dedicated fan of any such pop culture universe — especially one that has strong demarcated symbolism — you may find more meaning and resonance with the associations made by that pop culture universe than by the more “traditional” or “classical” meanings, especially if you’re like me and find the “traditional” meanings inaccessible or senseless. Or you may find ways to hybridize the two universes: the historical real-world witchcraft universe, and the pop culture universe(s) of your choosing.

As an example, right now on both wrists I have handmade bracelets made out of peridot, amethyst, and fluorite:

There were two(ish) reasons I used those particular stones. Peridot and amethyst represent attributes that I want to bring into my life — prosperity, luck, protection. Fluorite, meanwhile, was an odd one: I felt a really strong buzz of energy when I held their original strand, and I remembered feeling the same about a handful of other fluorite crystals that are currently in storage elsewhere in the world which I missed. Upon research, I found that fluorite is sometimes used as an “amplifier” for other gems — which would make them a great addition to my bracelets!

The main reason, though, is because Peridot and Amethyst are my two favourite characters in Steven Universe, and probably my two most favourite characters ever. I fell hard for Peridot after her extremely brave heel turn in Message Received and loved how goofy and earnest she was about everything, especially learning. I deeply related to Amethyst’s feelings of not really belonging in one place or another, especially in On The Run where she sings “home’s a place that I have never known”. While I’ve had these bracelets for a few weeks, the latest Summer for Steven episodes have really solidified both characters’ connections to me: Peridot being as enthusiastic about making art as she is about tech (a combo I don’t see often enough!), Amethyst’s feelings of inadequacy about not living up to expectations and then finding a way to really own and harness those feelings into something powerful and novel (via Smoky Quartz).

(There’s also a deeply personal reason for Amethyst in particular: before I even actually started watching Steven Universe, I had a really intense shadow-self meditation where my Shadow took the form of a darker, more menacing version of Amethyst. In the meditation, she was beating up an abusive ex who ironically had amethyst as her power stone. I had only known of Amethyst the SU character from social media at that point, but knew that I had to learn more about her to figure out why she manifested so strongly and passionately in that meditation.)

The fluorite becomes interesting when viewed through the lens of pop culture magick: it’s connected to Vriska Serket, a highly polarizing character in Homestuck whose “weapon” is the Fluorite Octet, a set of 8 8-sided fluorite dice which can manifest different attacks and weapons based on the results of the roll. As the in-game Thief of Light, she is able to “steal” the luck from others for her own use. She is villain, hero, and anti-hero all at once, with an extremely high ego and the need to be the Most Important Character, even when it means manipulating and downright abusing her friends without much remorse.

Vriska unnerves me; she reminds me too much of other similarly manipulative people I know. At the same time, those luck-stealing powers would definitely be very useful for me right about now, and there is canon evidence for her overbearing energy actually bringing some benefit — which, as a fellow Too Much person, I appreciate. I felt the buzz from the fluorite before I knew what they were, and that’s why I wear them, but I can’t deny some latent association with Vriska since that’s who comes to mind when I think about fluorite.

And it’s those associations, from every other Homestuck fan who mainly knows about fluorite through Vriska or every Steven Universe fan who knows more about the cartoon Gems than the Earth gems, that charge the power of my bracelets. We share a collective gnosis, a mutual understanding of canon, peppered with our own interpretations, ideas, and correspondences. And since that pop culture gnosis resonates with me more than conventional sources, it can end up being a much more potent source of magickal power — because I feel more attuned to it, because I care about it more, because it’s more relatable to me.

Those of you who work with pop culture universes in your magick, whether exclusively or in conjunction with other sources: how do you select which correspondences work best for you? How do you deal with contradictions between “common wisdom” and pop culture suggestions? Do you have your own ways of coming up with correspondences?

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