Dialectical Metaphor

There is a double-frustration in the practice of magic, a rock and a hard place.

The rock is this: there is a certain minimum level that a magical result needs to hit to really consider a spell or a ritual to be something that "worked." Below that level of result, you are down in the noise of everyday mystery- the random fluctuation of situations and events.

To charge a sigil, release it into the world, and feel, later, that it did it's job, one must expect results, and catalog those results. This, if for no other reason, is why many occultists insist that a strong magical practice includes the keeping of a magical journal in which to record praxis and payoff, a sort of objective catalog of which things worked and which things didn't.

But one must also not get bogged down in such details, and that is the hard place. To practice magic, fundamentally, is to open yourself up to the possibility of grand things. You dabble not with just a single fire, but with the entire elemental idea of fire. Cosmic winds sweep through your body, coalescing upon your magical instruments and shooting out into the world. You must act inside the realm of gods and spirits and the shooting, sparking planets that whirl endlessly across the sky.

One must be the tallest man (or woman), with the broadest shoulders, to bridge these two needs. To keep one's head in the sky and feet on the ground is to be a giant, a great huge curtain of  a creature, Mr. Fantastic and Atlas combined.

It is hard to hold two things in one's heart, but the magician must do it. She must think boldly, as if the marshaled forces of Eternity stand with her, and everything comes naturally and easily. But she must work as if all stand against her, as if magic didn't work and she was alone in the universe. She must be strong enough to work through the times that it seems as if she is alone, even if she is not, but bold enough to seize synchronicity when it flies past.

Baum-Centre Must Awaken!

Baum-Centre is a not-quite-neighborhood, a sort of no-man's-land between North Oakland, Shadyside, Bloomfield, Friendship, and East Liberty, which seems not to fit well with any of them. Baum and Centre run parallel across it, and in those long, thin blocks between them are all manner of businesses, many of them closed, and the strangest of houses nestled between and amongst.

It is a commercial corridor, but seemingly by accident. UPMC Shadyside takes it over for a block or so. Car dealerships come and go. Huge warehouse buildings lie empty.

Baum-Centre is shadowed in a valley to it's south by Train tracks and the East Busway, making connectivity from the south intermittent.

On the north of the corridor, Garfield, Bloomfield, and Friendship hit Baum askew by nearly 45 degrees, deriving their vague grid from the diagonal Liberty Ave (not to be confused with East Liberty Ave a mile East), Friendship Ave, and Penn Ave, rather than the nearly-East-West Baum-Centre.

In any case, Corridoria, as I like to call it, it very much its own weird place- a long thin strip of not-other-neighborhoods right on the edge of half a dozen contenders. It is a place that I wish to see awaken, a place which I wish to see become its own place, different from its neighbors, and a place I wish to see respected as different.

To work, then!

These are a handful of the small rolled-up sigils I have been quietly dropping all along the Baum-Centre corridor. I tried to make the sigil itself reflect the linear nature of the place.

Here they are wrapped up, outlining the rough shape of the place they serve.

The work continues!

The Game is Afoot

As alluded to in previous short post, things are happening in that Big Webpage we call the Real World. They are still happening. The words written herein have inspired real action, real motion, not just scholarly debate.

Temple Area Zero has been given siblings: a group ritual ignited Temple Area Two, the square of streets formed by the non-intersection of 56th Street and 56th Street. Seperately, a carpet-bombing of sigils is causing that great creature called Baum-Centre to rise and awaken.

More on these developments as time allows- for indeed somewhere in the river of action, there will be eddies of reflection, and at those points, I will post

Fear not!

More updates are on their way. Many Real-Life Ekistomantic things are occurring, and will be posted when they are completed.

Beautiful Ruin: Exfoliation of the Divine

Something that Pittsburgh "does" exceedingly well as a city is to have truly beautiful decay.

Broken windows, re-natured properties, rusting train tracks, all these things are of course terrible signs of the passage of time, the entropy of things, and the slow death of neighborhoods and lives. To the people who watched such places inside a city die over time, who saw the glory days and now see the destruction, such things are terrible.

But to come upon such a place knowing it only as a ruin is something different. Ruin seen without direct historical context is something humans find beauty in- just think of the Parthenon or the Pyramids- whose rounded edges and crumbling columns display proud scars of weather and chaos, cracks and breaks that show the ancient hand of time, that impress us rather than make us turn away.

The specifics of ruin- the way that concrete cracks and breaks and crumbles, the size-stages of a soon-to-be-rocks sidewalk, the tones and hues of rust, wet or dry, the varieties and shapes of plants that begin to grow through rooftops, the strange stew of plastic, metal, and organic trash that gathers in the corners and eddies around old courtyards- all of these shapes and forms are pregnant with meaning.

They stand in for whole webs of causality- how did the seeds for this specific plant end up in this exact sidewalk crack? Who left this ancient beer can? What kind of machine was this odd metal rust-ball part of? And even larger questions- How did this neighborhood die? Who specifically last lived in this apartment? Did they leave because the stairs caved in?

These objects drift together in the kind of striking pairings that only intense and lengthy neglect, combined with the elements, can produce. These discarded and abandoned places and objects have been given over to the City and the Land- no human force pushes or pulls them. It helps that most humans hate going to ruined parts of their own culture- most abandoned places are devoid of, well, stewards. They are some of the few places where one can be alone in the city, alone with the city. And sometimes it feels like through these ruins, the City speaks to you.

These feelings can be especially sharp when drifting- it feels as if the city has pulled you and these things and this place together specifically for your edification, especially if you are the only person around. The lay of the detritus, the broken angle of the rotting roofline, they are all signs just for you.

But doesn't decay also signal disease? Ill Health? Don't we think of Detroit, a city mostly-abandoned, as a failed city, a dead place?

Yes, yes, and yes. Decay is close to death. It is achingly beautiful, yes, but it is also a sign of change.

Is it the kind of change you want? Is it the kind of change the city needs? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes suburbs are unsustainable, and the healthy long-term thing is for the city to contract in area and rise in density. Sometimes industries die, and new industries must be found.

Ruin is thus a call to action- find what the city needs to right this ruin, and do it. Maybe it should be cleaned up and re-natured. Maybe it should be rebuilt. Maybe something in between. The ruin, and the city, will speak to you.

Go to the ruined places you know- the empty lots, the shuttered streets, the decaying industrial parks. Bring a friend. Explore! Look for the cracks in the pavement that are also cracks in reality!

As the Situationists once scrawled on walls across Paris,
Sous les pavés, la plage!
Under the streets, the beach!

A Survey of the Web Resources of the Field To Date

To contend with the printed word, I'd like to present a more ephemeral collection of references: a survey of the web resources related to Ekistomancy that I have found so far. For a more general magical link resource, Sk4p.net has an excellent one here.

(Note: Know, of course, that like any, pardon the pun, linked list, links may die and links may break. I intend on retroactively updating the list as time goes on, culling dead links to old branches of the web, and I shall mention when I most recently update down at the bottom of the post. In the future, then, there may therefore be some discrepancy between when this list was first posted and when I have most recently updated it. If this discrepancy irks me, I might even farm out the list to be its own page on the site, an event which shall also be retroactively noted in-post. I am, if anything, a thorough webcreature.)

One should note the paucity of direct Ekistomantic resources- this is not a long list, as it is a tiny, tiny field. I actually feel bad, as not a few of the links are to websites I myself have contributed to, lending a subtle air of self-congratulation to the list that evaporates only when one Googles the hell out of the iterations of city-magic keywords and comes up with little else. Such is the result, I guess, of original research and study, to be a self-reflective field.

Our first stops are two message board threads:

Barbelith Underground>>Temple>>Urban Occultism
Barbelith started soon after Grant Morrison began publishing The Invisibles, as a gathering-place for those interested in the comic and the issues/pursuits it discussed. It saved itself from the miseries of Eternal September (the massive increases in noise over signal during internet discussions that has happened since the web's inception) by requiring prospective posters to competently fill out a webform stating their interests and intents. Unfortunately, the day-to-day moderation of the place, including pawing through new apps and pushing fresh blood into the place, seems to have dried up in the last few years, and the board has had a number of outages and database explosions in 2009. The thread linked to above has not, for example, been updated since 2004. Most of the other threads one can find via google search haven't seen action since 2003.

Many of the more active posters on Barbelith's Temple section moved themselves over to Liminal Nation, where our second thread hails from:

Unreal Cities- Urbanomancy, urban shamanism, etc.
Liminal Nation, a forum specifically for offbeat magical practice, has been much more active than Barbelith as-of late, perhaps because it was set up by 'Lithers and specifically poached much of that board's magical conversation. This thread is more-than-representative of that activity. One might even be able to figure out who their beloved Ekistomancer posts as over there.

And some other things:

Megapolisomancy, Or Why All Cities Are Haunted
This post on the sci-fi blog io9 is a nice roundup of tangents to the field, if in the context of, well, being a blog about science fiction.

Unknown Armies net.magick Archive- Urbanomancy
Here is the earliest site I can find relating to the Urbanomancer character class presented in the quasi-magical RPG Unknown Armies. It is vaguely helpful to the practitioner, but is mostly game mechanics.

The Demon-Haunted World
The slides and notes to a great presentation on the interaction of cities, technology, and magic by Matt Jones, a designer at dopplr.

And tangentially related:

Urban Shamanism
The website of David Lang, advocate of modernized shamanistic practices, who lives in Oregon. Not strictly city magic, but certainly aware of the role Shamanism needs to play in modern life, and the need to reconnect many cities with their geography and environment. Ekistomancy is cousin to such practice, but not directly related.

Last updated October 19th, 2009

Temple Area Zero

Over the weekend, I set out to give life and material presence to what I call Pittsburgh's Temple Area Zero, the sacred site I feel is the heart of the city.

My goal was to outline the space physically, to inform the city that I considered this already-holy site worth further study and investigation, and that I wanted to make it's already-sacred nature more materially present. In short, I wanted to take a sacred site and make it a Temple.

The Name

I named it Temple Area Zero for two reasons: as a former computer science nerd, I index from zero, and so the most important temple should therefore be the zeroith one. Second, and more subtly, Temple Area Zero acronymates to TAZ, a reference to Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone.

The idea came to me last year, in Long Beach, that the space I already hold sacred (and have for quite a number of years) should be instantiated even more as a Temple. The idea also came to me that such a temple would need a guardian, a physical creature with a larger etheric body attatched, to protect it and protect those in it.

All of the Temple Areas i instantiate will have such guardians- and a few are already built.

The Guardian

The Guardian is not the first of his kind. Years ago I built a City Totem, a wire construct of different detritus I had found in the city. Its head is a rail spike. Its body, a property line marker, its arms more rail spikes. Its tissues are steel wire.

The Guardian is a smaller cousin of this City Totem, built of a rail spike, a rusty, decorative hinge, and steel wire. Long yards of thinner wire attaches him to a strange volcanic stone I found in my youth.

The Ritual

The ritual, briefly, consisted of the following steps:

Building the Guardian and sanctifying him with the city (happened months ago)
Taking the Guardian to the Temple Area
Using my City Key to open a way into the Other City.
Once in that magical medium, calling four city spirits (in this case, historical figures) for each direction
Walking the West, North, East, and South outlines of the Temple Area, speaking to each spirit in turn, asking it to watch over the site and lend it strength.
Going to the center of the Area and beseaching the City to continue to strengthen the site magically, especially within the Temple Area previously proscribed.
Asking each of the spirits to imbue the Guardian with something kin to them: life, motion, will, and temperance.
Placing the Guardian.
Dismissing the Spirits in reverse order.
Speaking directly to the City.

We'll see how well this Temple Area works out, but building it felt excellent.

City Yogas

No, not stretching in the middle of the street. Here I mean yoga in its most general sense: a discipline, regimen, or structured set of training goals. The well-honed City Mage must set goals in these areas, and take action to achieve those goals. As general areas, these things require not so much mastery as continual learning and growth. As with any spiritual practice, such training should engender a certain level of frustration and hard work, but just as much pleasure and joy.

The Knowledge

London taxicab drivers are known the world around as some of the most competent cabbies in existence, despite living in an old, confusingly laid out city whose streets are mostly one-way and non-rectangular. This is in no small part due to the elaborate, strict testing required to become licensed to drive a cab in London, called officially "The Knowledge of London" Examination System, or more informally, the Knowledge. The testing system was put into place in the 1860s, and has changed little since (save to update the road and route information).

Officially, the Knowledge of London is the memorization and internalization of 320 well-defined "Main Runs" or routes across London, the locations of all 25,000 streets in the Central London area, and the locations of and order of about 50,000 Points of Interest that appear along those routes and streets.

The study of the Knowledge culminates in passing an "Appearance", a sublimely simple test- one must, without looking at a map, identify the quickest route between any two points that the examiner names, and then describe in detail and in order all of the stops, turns, signals, and points of interest along that route. Most initiates Appear twelve times or more before passing, and the average time a beginner takes to master the Knowledge is around 34 months.

Recent studies have (of course) shown that pre-Knowledge and post-Knowledge brain scans differ quite a bit- when asked questions about maps and routes, post-Knowledge people access an entirely different brain area than pre-knowledge ones do.

But the Knowledge is not something that needs to be limited to London, or cab drivers.

Key understandings of a city's functioning can be garnered by extensively studying its street layout, and whether by car, bicycle, or boots, exploring the grid in person. Theoretical knowledge, for the most part, must bow before experiential study. Such study reveals information about geography, history, neighborhood relations, and the psychology of the city's inhabitants, as well as insight into the psychology and character of the city itself.

Not only does such Knowledge help in the day-to-day activities of errand-running and appointment-making, it elevates such activities into a form of prayer or practice- one is communing while one commutes. Stringing together those three shortcuts and in doing so routing around the normal world of traffic is a kind of magic itself, a playful interaction with the greater system of the city.

Exploration can also can lead to many magical experiences on its own, as there are any number of wonderful hidden gems scattered across a city- tiny public parks, beautiful houses, or enchanting stores or cafes, just to name a few examples.

If the city was a book, its pages and words would be its streets. If one wishes to know one's city, one must read it one avenue at a time, perhaps by...


As much as one should be familiar with nearly every street in the city, to the point of never being lost, it is equally important to surrender that control and structure sometimes. Indeed, sometimes in order to really learn the streets of a city, one must get lost in them.

Any physical map of the city will be wholly inadequate to describe what really exists in that city. Lines on paper can never transmit the feeling, the taste and sight of a place. It must be explored in person, in the most irrational and emotional ways, following scents or ideas or invisible forces through back lots and across busy streets.

In the mid-50s and 60s in France a group of artists known as the Situationists rediscovered this idea, and labeled it the dérive, or drift. Guy Debord, the key theoretician of the group, explains the purpose of the drift thusly:

The sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters; the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres; the path of least resistance that is automatically followed in aimless strolls (and which has no relation to the physical contour of the terrain); the appealing or repelling character of certain places — these phenomena all seem to be neglected. In any case they are never envisaged as depending on causes that can be uncovered by careful analysis and turned to account.
In City Magic, Christopher Penczak calls the drift experience sidewalking and recommends it as a sort of ambulatory meditation, an effort to engage with the physical world in a very magical mindset, as if was an outside observer, seeing physical objects from a vantage point that also showed their magical sides. Though we arrived at the thought independently, he and I both recommend drifting as an excellent way to find and acquire magical tools and materials.

The most I have ever physically drifted was a full day- I wandered about Pittsburgh for long enough that I managed to cross two rivers and three freeways. I took two bus lines all the way to their termini, and visited countless neighborhoods and subneighborhoods. I started in the early morning and ended the next morning; I ended up hanging outside a downtown coffee shop at 5 AM waiting for it to open, and then took a bus home.

This occurred at the apex of a week of mental drifting, with various smaller physical drifts leading up to this one long day of magical wandering.

Another Situationist, Ivan Chtcheglov, points to the danger of very long drifts.
The dérive (with its flow of acts, its gestures, its strolls, its encounters) was to the totality exactly what psychoanalysis (in the best sense) is to language. Let yourself go with the flow of words, says the psychoanalyst. He listens, until the moment when he rejects or modifies (one could say detourns) a word, an expression or a definition. The dérive is certainly a technique, almost a therapeutic one. But just as analysis unaccompanied with anything else is almost always contraindicated, so continual dériving is dangerous to the extent that the individual, having gone too far (not without bases, but...) without defenses, is threatened with explosion, dissolution, dissociation, disintegration. And thence the relapse into what is termed ‘ordinary life,’ that is to say, in reality, into ‘petrified life.’ In this regard I now repudiate my Formulary’s propaganda [Debord's propaganda] for a continuous dérive. It could be continuous like the poker game in Las Vegas, but only for a certain period, limited to a weekend for some people, to a week as a good average; a month is really pushing it. In 1953-1954 we dérived for three or four months straight. That’s the extreme limit. It’s a miracle it didn’t kill us.
He is correct. Drifting does push one towards boundary dissolution. After ten hours of following one's nose, so to speak, one begins to wonder what one this nose might actually belong to- the urges to turn left, to walk up or down a hill, stop seeming to come from within, or if they do come from within, it is some hidden part well below consciousness or ego. By surrendering discretion-of-direction, one becomes much like the oft-remarked-upon plastic bag from American Beauty- at the mercy of fate, and maybe the weather, without volition, but still acting.

I don't think that long drifts are a strict necessity to the practice, and if they are, once or twice is enough. Many of the drifts I have taken are probably better called "evening strolls" or "long walks". Robert Frost summed up the kind of walk I speak of, and drifts generally, better than any other, in the following:

Acquainted with the Night
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Though I don't advocate duration, I do advocate quantity- I probably have a few hundred hours of drifting under my ekistomantic belt. I'm betting Frost does as well.


When exploring the city, either as a drifter or in more mundane mindsets, one may sometimes come across something which evokes a magical feeling- something strange or uncanny or beautiful or scary. It is important that the practitioner recognizes these feelings for what they are- reactions to real magical occurrences.

Maybe such feelings arise from something as mundane as the quality of light in the area, or from something as supernatural as a ghostly presence or a recent, strong magical working, but in either case fostering a sensitivity for and recognition of such feelings and the places that cause them is vital to the practice.

Whether the feeling ultimately stems from some internal issue or an external, occult source, the practitioner would be wise to note such subtitles, and explore them further. It is always necessary to trace strangeness back to its source.


This may stem from my Chaos Magic training, but focus, whether the penetrating stare that frightens the normals, or an hour of zen meditation, or the gnosis sought by Chaos Mages and Thelemites alike as the will-concentrating heart of their practice,  being able to focus the mind on a particular task, object, or thought is a core skill to Urbanomancy.

Detailed explanations and exercises can be found in all manner of books, from Peter Caroll's Liber Null to Crowley's Magic (Book 4) to almost any book on zen meditation. The idea, though, is to empty the mind of thoughts, or to unify the mind behind a single thought, through any number of methods, from maintaining a still and empty death posture, to intense repetition of a mantra, to riding the mind-wiping bliss at the moment of orgasm.

Further posts will detail these ideas of focus, concentration, and gnosis, but for now, being able to quickly move from a general awareness to an intense concentration is the skill in abstract.

The First Lesson

... and maybe the last lesson.

So often is it cited as a core truth of almost any practice (law, medicine, sports, magic, or life) that I feel almost shameful mentioning it here: It is always the simplest pieces that take the longest to master.

They are always taught first, and always take the longest to teach. When I hear the word "fundamentals" I cannot help but hear it in the gravely, heavily accented voice of my high school water polo coach. He yelled that word at least once a practice for all four years of school, usually followed by "god damn it!" He was not wrong to make this a near-mantra.

In this respect, Ekistomancy is no different. The simplest action within the practice is the most vital.

Be present with the city.

That's it.

Be present with the city.

You live in it. So do thousands or maybe millions of others. It is the amalgamated physical result of billions of man-hours of thought and dream and action. The least you can do is acknowledge its being around you.

The city is an arcology of buildings: examine them from basement to roof-beam.

The city is a mass of people: chronicle them as if you were a writer hunting for characters.

The city is a wunderkammer of objects: take them home with you, recombine them, and push them back out into the world.

The city creates the air you breath and the (usually) concrete ground under your feet: feel them.

Look around you. Notice. Record. Wonder. Enjoy.

Possible Worldviews for the Practice

One fact I take for granted across my whole practice: cities contain within them a fair bit of magic.

But where does this magic come from? From what place does it extend? Are there other paradigms for magic that fit living in cities?

Another thing I take for granted is the notion that magic uses some kind of energy system to work. That is to say, places that are "very magical" I understand to have large concentrations of some kind of etheric energy, while places that are "magically dead" seem to lack this energy (I use the word etheric not in an effort to create circular logic, but in an effort to avoid it. I use the term as shorthand for "unknown to science and also seemingly unmeasurable". Whether this is Reich's orgone or some other invisible energy is, to use a pun, immaterial). Now, it is entirely possible that this energy model is wrong, that magic is more like a field of forces, or maybe something entirely different, but having experienced things like clear magical flows, fountains, and sinks, I feel that an energy model is, if not correct, a half-decent approximation.

In any case, I would like to present a couple of different sources of the magical energy I find in cities, as well as some of the traditional methods for manipulation the energy that might flow from these sources. For any given ritual, I tend to find one or more of these possibilities applicable. Some of them are mutually exclusive, but I like to think that when held in the kind of dialectic framework post-modern magic is known for, even mutual exclusivity can be reconciled vis-a-vis appeals to shared base principles, etc.

Ley Lines

Out of all the possibilities presented, this is perhaps the most direct decedent of neo-pagan thought. Ley Lines, or Dragon Lines, or Lines of Power, are roughly, a system of energy lines embedded within the earth, across and around local geographic points. They are most well-recognized in England and Ireland, and in China under the geomantic rigors of Feng Shui, though practitioners contend that they exist across the whole earth, a kind of extended web of transmitted and received geological etheric energy.

Ley lines tend to be easily visible in rural land- animals follow them, so do brooks and rivers. Some contend that they are not magic at all, but a certain kind of mapping-thought-onto-land that seems to be universal among humans, less an actual property of land than a way of seeing it.

In a city like Pittsburgh, the Ley Line model makes perfect sense, as the city is old enough to have been laid out not on a strict and rigorous grid, but on the kinds of cow-paths and "flat but winding" road systems that tend to go along ley lines. When I try to seek out ley lines for use in my work, nine out of ten of them run right down the middle of arterial Pittsburgh streets. The other one-in-ten happens either in a city park that lacks streets, or at places where the street system seems to have interrupted itself due to considerations of grade, previous land ownership, etc.

On the other hand, when I lived in Los Angeles I found exactly two ley lines in the whole city- an intersection atop Signal Hill (in Long Beach), which also seemed to mark that spot as the heart or belly button of that city (more on that later). Everywhere else, the grid seemed to have overtaken and eliminated whatever ley lines may have naturally occurred there, driven it, to pardon yet another pun, underground.

Which leads us to our second model:

The Grid

So if the natural lay and curve of the land in a city doesn't seem to hold (magical) water, one might turn to the next clear system of movement- the street grid. This certainly has non-magical bearing on the character of a city. Manhattan wouldn't be Manhattan without its rigorous grid of Avenues and Streets, nor would Los Angeles be LA without its mile-by-mile parceling of land, and such rigor seems to foster some amount of magical energy.

I would contend, however, that strict geometric city grids do not so much foster an etheric energy that flows (like blood through a body, or rivers across land), but rather heightens magic's resting state, at least when it concerns very geometric functions. I tend to imagine a very computer-simulation-esque kind of grid, all glowing green line floating out and above a boring plain. Structured city grids, I think, tend to be a good base on which to build highly structured magical forms, but a terrible place to build magic that has any sense of motion or life beyond, say, the level of a computer or an equation.

Part of the nature of a grid is its very Cartesian normalness- it equalizes all places it touches, making them all, in some sense, the same. Where the power of this comes from is in the forcefulness of its imposition upon the ungrided land, the replacement of more "natural" structures with the severe logic of mathematics. The cities where the grid has displaced the lay of the land as the guiding structure for building are cities that in some sense have abstracted themselves away from notions of place or land. They are mighty institutions, sure, but their non-integration with local spirit and character deadens them somehow.

Again, I seem to have built a nice segue into the next topic:

Genius Loci: Organizing Spirits, Local Ghosts, and the Shadows of History

The word "genius" in Latin means, literally, spirit. Where our word for applicable intelligence comes from is the roman notion that artists were not themselves creative, but rather were channels for the creative power of these sort of muse-creatures that hung out near them. So to speak of someone's genius was to speak of the shadowy entity that was constantly throwing them ideas and visions. It was not to flatter them; in fact is almost belittled the artist's own creative thoughts, and rather praised his ability to translate forms from etheric to physical.

A Genius Loci, then, is a "local spirit", not in the sense of "ghosts tied to a certain place", but rather "the sense of place" itself- a sort of guard and edifier of a particular location, a preexisting force or creature that shapes a location into what we see of it physically.

Ley lines seem tied to characteristics of the land around them, but the causality of that association is unclear. So it is with Genius Loci.

Here are the thoughts of Alexander Pope,  English Poet, on the subject (in verse, of course):

Consult the genius of the place in all;
That tells the waters or to rise, or fall;
Or helps th' ambitious hill the heav'ns to scale,
Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;
Calls in the country, catches opening glades,
Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades,
Now breaks, or now directs, th' intending lines;
Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.

What draws a genius to a certain place is unclear- they seem, when they are discovered, to have always been there. A neat trick.

An aside: in gardening and landscape design, the notion of the grid and the idea of a sense of place are the two guiding principles of the field, and the proper meshing of their interactions the mark of a true master.

I give, for you, the example of Mount Vernon's gardens. George Washington had two gardens built next to the house- the upper, or northern garden, and the lower, or southern garden.

The upper was a vegetable garden, meant to supply the house with food year round. As such, it was (and is) a testament to regime and order; it is rows and grids, a neat, nearly phylumological series of plant-types, careful gradients of soil-types and the botanical rigor of a textbook graph.

The lower garden, on the other hand, was meant to be a wilderness- to show plants not in neat rows but in natural clumpings, an artfully designed mini-paradise, bringing the wilderness right up to the foundation, but taming it as well, so that if one was to sit, one could look out and see the whole of the natural world unfolding and exposing itself like some delicate crystal.

The point, though, is that one garden was not whole without the other: Mount Vernon, and George Washington, needed both.

And so it is with urban spaces. As much as city magic is imposed by the grid of streets, the flows of people and traffic across the city-scape, it is also informed by the very specific, unique sense of place that different spots in the city engender.

Overlooks and vista points are wonderful places to work communication magic, as the very character of the place fosters the casting of a wide net, the spectacle and vision of looking out from the highest hill or the tallest tree.

Freeway underpasses, to take the opposite example, are a great gatherer of detritus and secrets, and an excellent place to work magic that requires things to be tossed aside, buried, and generally put underground. They are huge bridges, underwhich hide mighty trolls.

Some senses of place, though, come not from spirits far more ancient than man, but from the very human history of a place. Signal Hill, in Long Beach, CA, for example, might be such a magical spot because it is the highest (and really, only) hill for miles, but it was also the site of the first oil spout in town, the place where the city first had a reason-to-be.

These origin-places are sometimes called omphalae (singular omphalos), Greek for "navel", a literal center. Indeed, the usually-cited "omphalos" is the Greek one, just near Delphi, which is said to have been located by two eagles Zeus sent out to find it. Some legends say that they found not a navel, but the largest earth spirit ever seen, the Python for which the prophetic pythia, the Oracle at Delphi, is named. Apollo himself is said to have tamed it, and buried beneath a great rock, also called the omphalos.

In any case, more modern omphalae have much more human origins- they represent the seats of civilization in particular areas, the beginnings of settlement.

Other nexuses, not exactly omphalic but certainly central, might be formed through conflict or violence, or from the long shadows of historical action. It is these non-central locations whose sense-of-place might not draw from metaphysical spirits, but from real ones- ghosts and shadows of past human action. A site of great slaughter, an old market square, or the place where some great figure died, might all gather mystical forces about them pertinant to those past injuries or experiences.

Though some omphalos are simply central places, many of them really do seem to have a larger, central genius to them, one that perhaps is the emperor or organizer of its greater locality.

There is another school of thought derived from this hierarchical theory, the idea that perhaps whole cities are organized not by the mass collection of local spirits in the area, but by

The Living, Deified Heart of the City Itself

Or, as some might think of it, the metaphysical instantiation of the city as a centralized being, whose wants and wishes are reflected in the greater function and geography of the city.

Under this rubric, the city itself is a kind of localized god or deity. Different cities would be ruled by different gods, whether by the god gathering the city around it, or by a good adopting a settlement as a kind of patronage. The most direct and well known example of this later phenomenon is Athens, Greece, whose patron deity is, of course, Athena.

In my own case, I believe that Pittsburgh, the god, not the city, was formed much more recently, beginning during the first human habitation as a sort of organizing idea, and growing to incorporate in its own will and whim the desires and drives of the humans who settled (or conquered) the area, evolving its divinity organically with the population, but with a larger eye towards the future.

As such, these City-Gods are the rulers of their stated domains, and have a feudal or at least governmental relationship to the smaller spirits and forces under them. But that idea of hierarchy points to a further thought:

The All-City; The Ur-City

Perhaps there is not a separate god for Baltimore and one for Brooklyn. Perhaps, instead, there is just one god, the God of Cities generally. Perhaps the cities of the world are each facets of one archetypal city, the sort of city on a hill that near-mythical Golden Age Rome is supposed to have been.

Perhaps, though, there is a City Court, presided over by the most ancient of archetypes, with the cities of the world arranged in their respective standings, vying for a piece of the population pie. Maybe there is no central authority, just a loose brotherhood or pantheon of city gods.

Or maybe there are no gods per-say, just one great Platonic City, capital C, whose etheric shadow looms large over our physical dimension, instantiating itself repeatedly across our world, tying civilization to itself in one great Gordian knot of streets and cars and skyscrapers.


Or maybe all these things are true. Maybe the unseen realms from which magic emanates are just crammed to the brim with all sorts of idea-forms and godlings, smack full of ghosts and geniuses and gods, lousy with loci.

Maybe when tapping the street-power of some traffic artery to enforce some spell upon an area one is really calling the aid and attention of a genius loci, or maybe one is through supplication influencing the will of the unitary Great City, or maybe one is simply enforcing human will onto the local geomantic ley lines.

In the end, why ekistomancy works is less important than that it works at all.

In my own practice, I use whatever belief from the above set seems most appropriate and handy. They are all situationally valid, and in a way, they might all be the same thing- tools of thought.
Urbanomancy, megalopolisomancy, megapolisomancy, city magic, urban magic, urban occultism, neopagan, neo-pagan, urbomancy, Pittsburgh magic.