Are You Innovating in Your Practice?

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Please note that this was written previously to the scandals involving Kevin Clash.  I won’t be commenting publicly on my opinions about the allegations as it’s a very sensitive and complicated issue but I am aware of them.

Innovation is something I struggle with in magic.  Because on one hand, I have strong feelings about not trying to turn one’s washing machine into a nuclear reactor.  On the other, at some point everything was someone’s UPG at one point. Where is that delicate line in the sand where you’re being innovative in your own personal practice that stops just before you’re invoking Oya and Yemaya in a closed circle because they’re both orishas so they must work together well, right?

Sidebar: Gordon and I had an interesting discussion during his Shen visit. People are quick to be like, oh no you mustn’t ever ever invoke Deity X from Y pantheon and Deity Z from A patheon! To me that’s never made sense and I couldn’t figure out why. I mean, yeah, they don’t know each other and may find each other offensive but it’s not like they’ve been to a million dinner parties together and had enough time to really work up a good hate-on for each other in all likelihood unless their customs run against each other’s. Gordon pointed out that when you invite two deities from the same pantheon, they likely already have an established feud whereas deities from two different pantheons (besides again, offensive behavior but even that most people/deities are willing to put up with a certain amount if it’s cross-cultural) haven’t had time to really get into it with each other. It’s the difference between a dinner party (two deities from two different cultures) and a family dinner (two deities from the same culture. Which is more likely to flip a table and start beating the crap out of each other? Family dinner, obv. I think it’s why Erzulie and Aphrodite work pretty well together for me but Oshun and Yemaya, less so.

The easy solution here is, as always, do basic research. Is one deity a vegetarian and the other demands a blood sacrifice from an animal? Not the best dinner party combination ever. Feuding sisters? Don’t put them in a locked room together because if they turn on you, you’re toast, bro.

Believe it or not, what I found really inspiring for this post was the movie Being Elmo which is a documentary about Kevin Clash and how he started out as a kid in high school who was mocked for making puppets to becoming an Executive Producer, Director and Puppet Captain for Jim Henson.  It’s a pretty short film and as a maker of anything – magic, artistry, writing, etc. – it’s incredibly exhilarating to watch.

The Hook

Because the hook brings you back/ I ain’t tellin’ you no lie/ The hook brings you back/ On that you can rely – Blues Traveler

Did you know that Miss Piggy’s hook is that she has the personality of a leader of a biker gang in a girly girl body?  Fozzy embodies Vaudeville and Elmo imbues Love.  Each Muppet has a hook.  In acting, you’re taught that every line you say should have a motivation behind it, no matter how great or small.    If you don’t know what your hook is in your craft, in your career, in your art, in how you present yourself to the world, you’re in trouble.  Because if you don’t know what you’re trying to do, how will anyone else know what you’re trying to do?  If your statement to yourself and the universe is clear then it’s much easier to accomplish, um, everything.    It’s okay if your hook changes, everyone needs to re-brand every now and then.   Take some time and clarify to yourself what your hook is.  Here’s a hint, it should be about a sentence long.  For example, my hook for La Sirene et Le Corbeau is “Every item offered by La Sirene et Le Corbeau is handcrafted in this old-world style setting from 100% local, sustainable sources. ”  My hook for my blog is “Radical Practicality” (coined by Gordon).  My hook for my book is “Bringing glamour back to ritual”.  And so on.


And you’re the DJ speaks to my insomnia/ And laughs at all I have to fear/ You always play the madmen poets/ Vinyl vision grungy bands/ You never know who’s still awake/ You never know who understands and/ Are you out there, can you hear this?” – Dar Williams

Do you have mentors in life?  If you don’t, you’re missing out.  Kevin Clash definitely wouldn’t have gotten anywhere any time soon if Jim Henson’s workshop didn’t focus on mentoring young kids with a passion.  Kermit Love met with Clash when he was just eighteen and in high school and only working for a local Baltimore television show at the time.  He answered his questions about what materials were used (fleece, which was revolutionary at the time) for the muppets and showed him The Jim Henson Stitch which gave puppets the appearance of being seamless, especially on television.  Love got Clash the introduction to Henson himself.  Love told Clash to say no to The Dark Crystal even though the scale of set building, artistry and puppetry had never been attempted before.  Clash could only make so much doing TDC as it was a one time movie, he had two steady gigs on major network television and it would be foolish practically speaking, though painfully tempting on an artistic level to quit those jobs.  Good mentors work to teach you new tech, push you to be your best you and reign you in as needed.  If you find yourself starting to think that you know too much to need a mentor, that’s exactly when you should get on ASAP.  There’s always a bigger fish than you, padawan.  Always.  If you’re lucky enough to have one or more mentors in your life, be sure they know how appreciative you are to have them.


You and me and everyone/ Throwing fire at the sun/ Blood is a river, ties you to me/ Blood is a river, ties everyone – Heather Nova

Are you in a place where you’ve learned enough tricks (a la The Cat in the Hat -A lot of good tricks, I will show them to you/ your mother will not mind at all if I do) and fucked up situations?  Have you been fired from your job and successfully gotten a new one?  Ticked off the gods?  Learned a daily practiced?  Figured out where to get $800 shoes for $100?  Opened your own business?  Closed your own business?  Learned how to put on make up correctly?  Closed book deals?  I doubt you pulled yourself entirely up by your own boot straps on that.  You don’t need to mindlessly pay it forward but you can pick a few special snowflakes to share this information with.  Or, you know, blog about it.  Sometimes your padawan will roll her eyes and be all, “Whatever!  I do what I want!”  and you’ll know that she’ll be getting into a bumper car head on collision but it’s part of the learning experience!  If it’s dumb enough, feel free to do the I told you so dance.  Look for special people with a lot of promise, cleverness and determination and give them a leg up.

Working Closely Together

“If you don’t love me now/ you will never love me again/ I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain.”  – Fleetwood Mac

If you think a band like Fleetwood Mac, who based their most famous album (Rumours) on the fuckery of being in a band together and everyone falling in and out of love with each other, had it rough with all the make ups and break ups, I encourage you to take a good look at how close puppeteers need to work together.  This clip shows it somewhat but gods help you if you’re working a big puppet together with several other people or worse, a small puppet with a lot of moving parts with four or five people (the “snake eyes” scene in Labyrinth took a bunch of people working one small puppet 29 takes.  29.  Takes.).  You need to be reeeeeallly good with the people working with you.  Not just in a cordial sort of way but, like, in a their-junk-is-in-your-butt sort of way and you better be really good at reading each other’s movements or it’s going to be a lot of takes.  It doesn’t have to be a good relationship, Melora Kreager from Rasputina once famously said of her first second-chair celloist that they had learned to read each other’s minds but neither had anything nice to say to each other.  But in order to be innovative in your craft, your life, your practice, your art, you need a few people in your life who you can move like this with.  On an animal brain level it’s reassuring to know you’ve got a couple pack mates who completely get what you’re trying to accomplish and can move simultaneously with you to accomplish this mutual goal.  On a practical level, more hands make less work.


“Just keep following the heartlines on your hands/ Because I am.”  – Florence + the Machine

Sometimes it’s nice just to do someone a solid.  The universe notices.  Liberty Mutual was smart enough to know what small kindnesses do for people and to make it into a PMS happy weep fest commercial.  It makes you feel better and more capable in your own work to know that you are in a position to help.  The ladies at the Farmer’s Market I just finished were amazing.  They fed me lemonaid, pasta, small bits of French feta cheese and house cured olives.  They brought their iPads over to show me crafts to add to my repertoire.  They gave me opportunities to teach spinning classes.  They brought me jars for my new candle projects.  They didn’t know me.  They just did this.  It was awe inspiring and encouraged me to show the same kindness to others.  When you help someone in small ways, it shows you have a lot to give.  Don’t clench up.

Ignore the Past

“There is no future/ there is no past/ I live each moment as my last.” – Rent

Not all of us were lucky enough to have a talent that was recognized and nurtured by others since a young age.  So what?  Okay so getting to the Olympics for gymnastics starting out as a newb at 30 seems improbable but that’s probably not actually what your dream is.  There is always a bigger fish anyway.  As my ex who was in the army told me once, “There’s always someone who was there in a war zone before you making IVs out of baggies and straws.  What are you going to do with your time there?”  What are you doing today, August 7th at 5:56PM EST in 2012 to make your dreams happen?   What are you supposed to be doing?  Writing?  Painting?  Making water and light offerings?  Meditating?  Get to work, yo.


“And I fear/ I have nothing to give/ I have so much to lose.” – Sarah MacLachlan

I notice that whenever I’m watching a documentary about someone mind-blowing or reading a bio about someone I want to emulate, I always sort of gloss over the fear aspect.  I guess it’s just easier and nicer to focus on the bits that led to fame and fortune.  But for 99% of the population, no one is really discovered overnight.  Kevin Clash wasn’t, he started in the late 70’s with his career.  Elmo didn’t even exist until 1984 in the way we know Elmo.  Elmo didn’t get popular until the 90’s.  It’s easy to gloss, but that was twenty years that Clash spent working on perfecting his game to have one signature character that would make him a big dog among the Henson puppeteers.  Yes, he worked fairly consistently during that time but he was always worried about getting canned and/or a show getting canceled.  Jim Henson and Frank Oz thought he couldn’t read lines because he was so terrified when he did a sketch sandwiched between them that he had to write the lines down.  If you don’t feel a little fear vomit rise up when you start to think about your life and where it’s going (I am v. fond of this Rory Gilmore line right now, “I’ve got about the next 2 and a half hours planned. . .then there’s just darkness. . .and possibly some dragons.” ), you’re not being innovative.  No one can be innovative at all times and that’s okay.  Pre-2007, I was seasonally innovative with SalonCon but other than that, I had a nice, comfortable, tidy little life.  But if your goal is to radically change your life then if fear isn’t your constant companion, you’re not doing this right.  Thing how completely mental that sounds.  Really think on it.  Fear wasn’t my constant companion until like 2007 and it was a quieter companion then.  By throwing myself completely into The Experiment this year, I can swear to you that if I’m given ten minutes I could reduce myself into a quivering panic attack.   This is part of the price of shaking up your ant farm.  It sounds minor on paper.  After your fourteenth sleepless night in a row and your twentieth complete mental break down in a year, it sounds a lot more minor.  Buy the ticket, take the ride.



“Keep walking and running and running for miles/ Keep walking and running and running for miles/ Ain’t going back to Barton HollowDevil gonna follow me e’er I go/ Won’t do me no good washing in the river/ Can’t no preacher man save my soul”  – The Civil Wars

The divorce rate is really high if one of the parties in the relationship works outside a 9-5, especially if the other partner(s) work a regular 9-5.  Working third shift, weekends, long hours, having to travel a lot all result in the breakdown of a relationship.   Clash got divorced as his star rose and his daughter was concerned about not spending enough time with him.  When you’re pursuing a dream, it can be very easy to be willing to sacrifice a lot on the altar.  I know I have.  I’ve lost three serious long term relationships due at least in part to career related issues.  It’s why it’s important for you to consider what you are and are not willing to give up in the name of greatness.  It’s no coincidence that many prominent magic users from the middle ages on have wound up dying broke and alone at best and executed at worst.  While you’re unlikely to be executed now for occult activities (and don’t even get me started on how unlikely you are to be committed for it in 2012, especially in America.  Insurance companies are super tight fisted with expenses like that) currently, dying penniless with not enough health care isn’t uncommon unfortunately.  Are you willing to sacrifice your time, your energy, your relationships, your health for what you’re trying to accomplish?  Draw your lines carefully, Charmers.

Deborah Castellano
Deborah Castellano's book Glamour Magic: The Witchcraft Revolution to Get What You Want is available for purchase through Amazon, Llewellyn and Barnes and Noble.
Her frequently updated catalogue of published work is available on Author Central.

She writes about Glamour Magic here at Charmed, I'm Sure. Her podcast appearances are available here.

Her craft shop, The Mermaid & The Crow specializes in old-world style workshop from 100% local, sustainable sources featuring tempting small batch ritual oils and hand-spun hand-dyed yarn in luxe fibers and more!

In a previous life, Deborah founded the first Neo-Victorian/Steampunk convention, SalonCon which received rave reviews from con-goers and interviews from the New York Times and MTV.

She resides in New Jersey with her husband, Jow and their cat, Max II. She has a terrible reality television habit she can't shake and likes St. Germain liquor, record players and typewriters.  


2 Responses

  1. This is such a great post. They’re all great posts, but I think I really needed to read some of that right now.

  2. Awesome post, and much on my mind lately thanks to the regular tai chi practice. Thanks!

    Pre-2007, I was seasonally innovative with SalonCon but other than that, I had a nice, comfortable, tidy little life. But if your goal is to radically change your life then if fear isn’t your constant companion, you’re not doing this right. Thing how completely mental that sounds. Really think on it. Fear wasn’t my constant companion until like 2007 and it was a quieter companion then. By throwing myself completely into The Experiment this year, I can swear to you that if I’m given ten minutes I could reduce myself into a quivering panic attack. This is part of the price of shaking up your ant farm. It sounds minor on paper.

    Yeah. This. I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to contribute much to the New Year/New You experiment… I was too busy doing it. But there were nights when I couldn’t sleep because so much was riding on the next day or the next week going well. Some days I think I’ve gone insane. But yeah, and I’m about to shake up the ant farm even more.
    Andrew B. Watt recently posted..Taiji Day 157: Reverse OrderMy Profile

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