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.

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