You consider yourself a Pagan, or a Magician, or a Witch, because you know there's more to this world than meets the mundane eye. You believe that magic can influence events in your own life and in the world around you.
But you don't live on some pastoral, isolated farm, living off the land, generating your own electricity and pumping your own water. No, you live in the urban jungle. You learned early on that money really doesn't grow on trees, and you don't have wads of extra cash to spend on elaborate ritual tools, custom spell ingredients, and stylish ritual attire. So what a modern urban Pagan to do? Learn how to live a magical life in the concrete jungle.
Whether you're a seasoned practitioner or you've never cast a spell before, this in-your-face guide to commando-style magic is for every urban primitive.
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Raven Kaldera is a pagan priest, intersex transgender activist, parent, astrologer, musician, homesteader, and the author of "Hermaphrodeities: The Transgender Spirituality Workbook" (XLibris Press). He is the founder and leader of the Pagan Kingdom of Asphodel, and the Asphodel Pagan Choir. He has been a neo-pagan since the age of 14, when he was converted by a "fam-trad" teen on a date. Since then, he's been through half a dozen traditions, including Gardnerian, Dianic, and granola paganism, Umbanda, Heithnir, and the Peasant Tradition. He is currently happily married to artist and eco-experimentalist Bella Kaldera, and they have founded the Institute for Heritage Skills.
...'Tis an ill wind that blows no minds.'
Contrary to popular legend, Tannin was not born in a log cabin in Springfield Illinois. She did, however, spend her entire childhood living on the Jersey Shore. It is in this notably non-New Age environment that her interest in Pagan/Occult matters began. Over the past 15 years, she has dedicated a significant part of her life in pursuit of various spiritual arts privately and professionally. Tannin has studied diverse practices and paths such as Gi Gong, Shamanistic energy techniques, Gnostisism, Afro-Caribbean religions, and even a pinch of Ceremonial Magick. Before she opened Bones and Flowers in the of 1997, she served as "Madame Espiritual" to two different Worcester Botanicas, a spiritual counselor in a New Age shop, as well as making countless house calls. At present, the proprietor of Worcester's only occult specialty store is also a crafter in diverse media ,and a legally ordained minister.
Lay oF the LanD
The Energy of the City
• • Most Pagan rituals, spells, and symbols stem from an older, agricultural era. The holidays follow the Wheel of the Year as seen by farmers dependent on it for their food; the rituals revolve around fertility and growing things. This is a difficult path for many city dwellers to follow, surrounded as they are by the energy of a different place and time.
Seasons pass differently in the city; although climatic changes are the same, there are less natural cues, short of the weather, to notice. Even moon cycles are harder to follow in the city. There is more obscuring light pollution, and tall buildings may block the moon when she is hanging lower in the sky.
Granted, it is important to know your roots, to connect with your ancestral patterns, and above all to understand where your food comes from. One thing that is artificial about living in a city is that the majority of food production necessarily happens far away, and urban dwellers are quite dependent on their rural neighbors for almost everything they put in their mouths. This connection is vital, and should be appreciated, and to that end we encourage all city dwellers to periodically take time away from the urban centers in order to connect with the spirit of the giving Earth. Find a farm, and pick apples or help cut cabbages. Acknowledge how dependent you are on rural people for your living, and be respectful of this.
On the other hand, the city has special energies all its own. First, there is so very much energy in a city, floating around everywhere, far more than in most rural places, where it’s more spread out or peaceful. The city is really a wild place, with much more in common with the unsettled wilderness than the tamed farmland. Most rural energy is that of growing things—it’s tame, agricultural, in cooperation with humankind. Just as the gods of the deep woods and thick swamps are much wilder than the gods of the fields, the city gods are wild creatures as well, with the swamp of urban energy swirling around like a whirlpool, like quicksand, like a vortex. And one should never live in a place for very long and not seek out and make a working relationship with the god/desses of that place. It’s important to do this.
The energy in a city, no matter what its size, is thick and soupy. People who live in a rural area may still create psychic pollution, but there are more natural filters, such as trees, rivers, and verdure, to absorb and transform it. Since concrete doesn’t ground energy well, the psychic pollution in a city tends to “bounce” and stay in the atmosphere. As you move about a city, you may feel overwhelmed by the great waves of energy that are washing over you; it’s like being in the ocean for the first time. Instead of fighting against the undertow, try to let yourself float about in it, like a cork on the surface of the sea.
One reason that there is so much uncontrolled energy in a city is the sheer number of people who live there and radiate their feelings and needs into the morass. There are more large, living creatures packed into less square footage in the cities than in the country; most of them simply happen to be human animals. The density of their combined auras creates a massive, smothering blanket of thinking, reasoning, feeling, hysterical energy. If you live in that city, you are a part of that mass aura, whether you realize it or not. You can learn to tap into this vortex and feel out how the general temperament of the city is doing.
More people die in cities, too, because of the population, the crime rate, and the multitude of hospitals. This means the ghosts are much thicker in urban areas than in rural or suburban ones. Many of these ghosts will choose to stay around. You may find them still haunting their old areas, or they may have been sucked into the vortex that is the “spirit of the city.” Yes, each city has its own guardian spirit, one whose character is shaped by the souls of its living and dead. The specific spirit of each city has a personality all its own; this internal nature may change over time, but it will be very slow to alter, as various groups and cultures of people may enter or flee. It will reflect the major attitudes and opinions of the population, including class differences, celebrations, depressions, poverty, and riches. Things that may change a city spirit’s nature over time are massive influxes of immigrants from foreign cultures, or the growth of new industries.
City spirits are, not surprisingly, quite social creatures, and they love to be acknowledged, so it’s worth your while to learn to speak to them. It may take a while at first; they have a lot to do and many voices to listen to, and you’re only one voice among many, but keep talking to them and they will eventually hear you and answer. After that, expect them to drop by quite frequently for psychic coffee and donuts, so to speak. They may also become possessive of you, and try to prevent you from moving away from them. You may actually want to hold off on contacting the city spirit if you intend to be leaving soon.
To introduce yourself to the city spirit, you’ll need to find the “heart” of the city, or its strongest location. The heart of the city isn’t necessarily where the city planners, or selectmen, or advertisers, or even neighborhood dwellers may tell you that it is. In very large and complex cities, such as New York, each borough may have its own heart, and then a central heart above and beyond that (for example, New York’s overall heart is located somewhere in Manhattan).
You might start by looking for a common, or the place where a common was when the city was founded. Anywhere that people gather almost automatically, instinctively, is a likely culprit. Look for busy parks, or the oldest building in a city. Sometimes the heart is so obvious that everybody knows where it is and can tell you—for example, the pit in the center of Harvard Square is the heart of Cambridge. Other times it may be more nebulous. Like a human heart where blood flows in and out again continuously, the heart of a city will be the place where the energy flows in and out the quickest.
When you’ve found it, if it has a predominant structure such as a statue or building, lean up against it. Sit on the step. In your mind, introduce yourself and ask it how it’s doing. Cities love the question, “What’s going on?” because their answer is always “Me.”
After you’ve made contact, sit quietly and breathe. Look around you and watch everything. Imagine that you are a living video camera, recording an image in your mind of everything that is going on around the city’s heart. Once you’ve contacted the city spirit and exchanged pleasantries, you’ll be able to talk to it anywhere inside city limits. You should periodically make offerings to it, and one of the most appropriate offerings is some food and drink that is traditional to the area. This might be, for example, Mexican food in San Antonio, Texas, or Italian food in Long Branch, New Jersey.
Another source of power is the power. There is more electrical energy in a city; we live surrounded by a web of power lines and grids that we take for granted. Contrary to what you might think, electricity isn’t “mundane” energy, as opposed to mana/prana/chi/ki or whatever you choose to call “psychic,” invisible energy. Energy is energy, whatever its form, and will affect you in some way. It’s now being discovered that people who live right next to power stations have a whole slew of health problems. The steel web that surrounds city dwellers does affect them—perhaps not as drastically, but on some level they are absorbing those vibrations, for good or ill.
Because of this, the first order of business for any city dweller is protection, both from physical and from psychic difficulties. In chapter 3, Defenses, we will cover this information in depth. Protection from physical predators is an obvious need; it’s easy to grasp the fear of muggers in dark alleys. But city dwellers need just as much to protect themselves from the constant swirl and fog of energy that billows and throbs in great glittering invisible clouds all around them. Effects of being immersed in that energy all the time range from fatigue to forgetfulness to depression. It’s as if your third eye is constantly exposed to a strobe light, with the resulting dull head-ache. You need to be able to escape from the city’s energy vortex, for your own health.
However, that same vortex can be useful as a source of power, if you know how to draw off it without hurting yourself. This is easier said than done, and requires careful practice, but one thing you won’t have to worry about is using it up. There’s more than enough for dozens of sorcerers in the average large urban sprawl. Once you learn how, you can tap into the whirl of power and draw off small amounts to use as workings.
What you will have to worry about is your health. If you take a glass tube and pour sewer water through it on a daily basis, after a while it will acquire a grimy residue and an unpleasant smell. If you do it long enough, it might even become permanently stained and discolored. Tiny scratches may develop on the inside, which catch filth and hold it. Eventually, it will become so disgusting that you’ll want to discard it for a new one. This is a pretty close metaphor of what will happen to you if you channel the energy of the city on a regular basis and don’t do periodic cleansing magics. Although those who are meant to live in the city will eventually develop something of a tolerance, it’s best to be safe. Purification is especially important to city magicians. A magic-worker living in the country can go for a walk close to nature every couple of days and find themselves rejuvenated, but in some areas of the city, stepping outside your door may contribute to, rather than help, the problem. We’ll discuss cleansing magics in chapter 4, Internal Hygiene.
This aforementioned sewer water problem is also why the city’s vortex shouldn’t be used as a source of vital energy. Don’t try to use it to live on. After a while, you couldn’t do enough purification rituals to keep up with the contamination. Urban energy should be used more like a tool than as food. Take it, channel it for a task, and then go clean up. Treat it as if you were using useful chemicals for a task: don’t eat it, wash your hands afterwards, and don’t leave a mess for someone else to step in later.
On the other hand, there are good points to utilizing urban energy. For instance, it tends to be very unfussy and nonjudgmental. This is not to say that some of the city’s denizens might not judge you or be prejudiced against you, but as long as you’re contributing, the city does not care.
The urban spirit’s energy is so noisy and cantankerous that it’s hard for one single person to disrupt it. Whatever kind of magic you may do—Christian, Pagan, Yoruba, Satanic—simply gets added to the morass without a blink. It’s good for people who need a lot of stimulation, and for people whose energy is just plain noisy and likely to disturb others. In these cases, the city’s blanket is so thick and strong that it will naturally flatten out and condense their auras with time and wear. It’s also easier for people who “stand out” psychically to actually have a chance to blend in and learn stealth.
If you’re especially sensitive, you will have to develop strong shields and learn how to handle those swirling crosscurrents more skillfully in order to keep from being overwhelmed. Although not everyone can handle this (and if you can’t, you should probably get out), developing psychic “callouses” can be very useful training.
Another useful city benefit is that there are often big “happenings” that are major sources of freely given, fresh energy, such as concerts, ball games, festivals, block parties, ethnic celebrations, and parades. People who are natural psychic vampires often need more energy than they can ethically achieve in the country or suburbs, and are attracted to urban overpopulation for this reason. However, as any public speaker will tell you, riding the energy of a crowd and harnessing it to your needs is a risky thing at best. When a lot of people get together, the mood is often like a wild thing, and the energy can go any way.
Living on wild city energy is life in the fast lane. You can do it, but make sure that you have a hole to crawl into when you’re tired out, and space to clean up in. Use moderation in all things. And above all, remember that the city is not everything. Urban dwellers often forget that theirs is not the only experience; that there is life outside the urban areas that demands respect, and indeed is where we all came from. Love your city, but get out occasionally. Remember your roots, and keep that link to Gaea strong.
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