21 February 2015

Pop Culture Magick: Working with Villains

First off, a huge thank you to all who attended my workshop at Pantheacon! You people are the absolute best.  I really mean that.  There is nothing more rewarding than being able to share what I do and actually see the look of understanding on peoples faces as they find concepts that work for them.  It gives me all kinds of warm fuzzies :)

I've been asked by several people to do a more in-depth write-up of the material for folks who weren't there and for those who didn't take notes and this is it.  If you're not already familiar with the basics of Pop Culture Magick (PCM) I suggest you go over to my PCM index and read through my earlier articles.

Why Work With Villains?

When choosing what pop culture character you want to work with for any particular magickal act; the choice ultimately it comes down to figuring out what character you feel most comfortable with that can help you achieve your goal in the manner you want it achieved.  For most people most of the time, that character is going to be a hero because they're generally helpful, hardworking, and kind.  However, there are circumstances where the moral forthrightness of your average hero can hinder your goals more than help them (and not just when you're being naughty).

It is critical that you feel comfortable with whatever character you choose to work with.  The sympathy and connection we feel with a character is what makes PCM so effective.  For those of us that do the occasional bit of ethically grey or unambiguously black magick it can be difficult to achieve that kind of connection with your standard hero.  (I'm pretty sure Captain America would give me his disappointed face if I tried to work with him.)  Villains, on the other hand, tend to be very non-judgmental.  It's not like they can take the moral high ground with you, unless you've been a very naughty monkey indeed.  Not being overly burdened with morality, villains tend to embrace whomever can make their existence more entertaining.

Even if your magickal goal is a pure as the driven snow, sometimes you just don't have the time or energy to get all your moral ducks in a row before acting.  As they say, desperate times call for desperate measures.  Villains are generally unburdened by guilt and as a result will do whatever is necessary to achieve their goal.  Many of them tend to be ruthless, efficient, and thorough; though a goodly number are also insane, capricious, and flighty - choose your villain carefully.

For What Types of Workings are Villains Best Suited?

Surprisingly (or not), villains are good at a lot more than simply wreaking havoc upon the unsuspecting.  The following list contains some magickal goals you might consider working on with a villain.
  • Bringing hidden things into the light (often being dragged kicking and screaming)
    • Villains are exceptionally good at ferreting out hidden secrets and exposing them.  My favorite example of this is Sweet from Buffy the Vampire Slayer - a demon who reveals the truth of a situation by making the people involved sing.  (If you haven't seen the episode Once More With Feeling, I'm not sure we can be friends anymore.)
  • Shaking up stagnant energy (also known as "running amok")
    • There are many villains in pop culture whose goals involve "saving" society from itself, usually by tearing down the established order of things.  When things in your life have ground to a halt and you're willing to take more extreme measures to get energy moving again you can consider working with villains like Ra's Al Ghul from Batman or  Ozymandias from Watchmen.
  • Standing up for things frowned upon by society at large
    • As with the above, many villains are anti-establishment and are happy to work against prevailing societal mores.  A great example of this is Dracula - a character that in many of his incarnations represents an unleashing of forbidden desires and a threat to society (I'm particularly fond of the version from Carlos Fuentes's Vlad for this purpose). 
  • Persuasion (manipulation if we're being totally honest)
    • Many of the best villains are absolutely as slick as they come.  They could sell ice to an Eskimo, charm the pants off of your mother, and convince just about anyone to do just about anything.  Just a few of the many villains who can fit this bill are Hannibal Lector, Lex Luthor, Sher Kahn, Loki, etc.
  • Focus and single-minded pursuit of a goal (regardless of collateral damage or personal cost)
    • If you find yourself constantly being distracted from achieving your goals you can call on villains for help, as many of them are absolutely obsessed with achieving their own goals.  Just be careful, as you may end up just as obsessed as they are.  Some examples of this are: Voldemort, Amora (from the Thor comics), and Fiona Goode (from AHS: Coven).
  • Justice/Revenge
    • A lot of villains raison d'etre is to take revenge on those who they believed have wronged them and many would be only too happy to help you to do the same (as ruthlessly as possible).  A good example of this is the Penguin (particularly from Batman Returns).  It's also a good cause for a "villain for hire" like Moriarty from the BBC Sherlock.  Keop in mind that there are also a lot of totally ruthless anti-heros that would do just as good of a job such as The Punisher, Eric Draven (from The Crow), and the Bride (from the Kill Bill movies).
  • Hexing
    • There comes a time in every practitioner's life when they just need to hex the ever living fuck out of someone.  There are plenty of villains that would gleefully help you to do so.  Think Bellatrix Lestrange.  There are consequences to doing something like this.  Don't be stupid about it.

The Rules

Like any other kind of magick, there are rules (more like guidelines) for successfully working with villains.

Rule 1 - Version Control

I have a whole blog post from last year on versions control: Who's Your Doctor.  If you haven't read it yet I suggest you do so (that way I don't have to rehash everything). 

While version control is important in any kind of PCM, it's doubly so when working with villains.  One of the primary characteristics of many villains is that they are trixy bastards and generally enjoy making trouble. Being extremely careful and explicit about exactly which version of a character you want to work with can save you a lot of trouble.  Such specificity ensures that you get the version of the character that has exactly the attributes you want to work with and nothing extraneous or unexpected (but always expect the unexpected - we'll talk about that more in a little bit).

Rule 2 - Know Your Goal

Before working with a villain (or any other entity) it is important to know exactly what you want to accomplish - and what you do not want to accomplish as collateral damage.  Working with a villain is a lot like working with faeries or Goetic demons - they will do exactly what you say, rather than what you intend, and they will do whatever they want within the rules you set up for them.  You can't set up your rules if you don't know exactly what you want.

Rule 3 - Know Thyself

You've chosen to work with a villain. Why? Are you really OK with the methods your chosen villain is likely to employ in the pursuit of your goals? Are you willing to accept responsibility for the consequences of your actions? Are you confident you will be able to keep your villain in line or will it go rogue the second you let your guard down? Are you comfortable with the price the villain wants for doing your work? Unless you're comfortable with the answers to those questions then you need to rethink what you're doing.

Rule 4 - Healthy Limits

As mentioned above, it's important to give a villain very strict limits as to what they are allowed to do in your name. Most villains will walk all over you if given half the chance.  Be very, very careful to explicitly set down what they are and are not allowed to do, to whom, why, when, where, etc.  Write it down on physical paper.  Do not fuck around with this.   

Rule 5 - Expect the Unexpected

You are not perfect and most villains will mess with you if they can.  Even if you've set down perfect rules, even if your goals are in perfect alignment with the villain's character, even if you've given them everything they ask for, villains can usually find a way to do something you could not predict.  Think of your worst possible case scenario of working with a villain - it just might happen.  No matter how good you are it is always possible for something to go wrong.  If you're not OK with that, rethink what you're doing. 


Like working with any other spirit/metaphysical entity, villains should receive something from you in exchange for their help.  In fact, this is far more important when working with villains than when working with heroes.  You do not want to end up owing a villain a "favor" (think of it like owing a mob boss a favor - do not want!). 

What villains want in exchange for their help varies wildly from character to character.  For some being asked to cause a bit of trouble is a reward in and of itself, but most want a bit more.  Come prepared with what you're willing to pay them, you don't want to let them come up with something on their own.  Think of something that is very specific to the character you're working with.  You might offer Fiona Goode a nice dry martini and some cigarettes while you might offer Hannibal Lector a gourmet meal.  You might offer Dracula a bit of your own blood, while you might offer Sweet a painful truth of your own.  Be sure that you don't offer too much of yourself - if you give a villain an inch it might take rather more than you anticipated.

A Caveat

Villains are not nice.  Even if they like you, even if you've got a great working relationship with them, never forget that they are villains.  Trust cautiously.  Take the greatest of care in all your dealings with them and be prepared to accept the consequences.

Further, working with villains can affect who you are.  You are deliberately entangling your personal energies with theirs and that can have great impact on who you are.  It can change you.   If you decide to work with villains (particularly if you're being ethically...ambiguous), I highly recommend you do some unquestionably positive work to help balance things out.  Go out and do some volunteer work in your community, donate to charity, give blood, do something to make the world a better place.  You certainly don't have to, but it's a really good idea.  Think about the person you want to be and make sure that you're not moving away from that person.

Shameless Plug!

Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press (Stafford, U.K./Portland, OR, U.S.A) is seeking submissions for The Pop Culture Grimoire 2.0.

This anthology explores pop culture magic and Paganism in the 21st Century. We invite you to share your pop culture magic practice, pop culture Pagan spirituality, and your experiments, spells, and other workings that have integrated pop culture into your spiritual practice.

If you have an interesting idea, we need you to submit a first draft (of the idea, not necessarily the whole article) by March 15th.

Click here for more information

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