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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Urbanomancy, megalopolisomancy, megapolisomancy, city magic, urban magic, urban occultism, neopagan, neo-pagan, urbomancy, Pittsburgh magic.