Thursday, June 19, 2014

Occult Cartography

This is a first gesture towards developing a system to harness and direct the occult forces of a city or, perhaps better put, to manipulate the general nature of a city through occult means. In theory this could be applied to any environment but I live in a city and cities are likely the most complicated region for such a working so we may be able to get the full scope of the work in view by focusing here.

A Possible Framework:

Imagine a city is a body. It would consist of the following aspects, all of which contribute to its overall nature (the nature we wish to capture and to some extent control or at least channel). Such a body would have the following aspects, generally listed in order of increasing specificity and development:

1. A Bone structure: this would correspond to the geological aspects of the city. Is it an island? Built on a mountain? How does its geology differ from region to region? What is its shape? What is the ground on which it rests like? This would be the primary elemental level for any working.

2. A Cellular level: the analogy isn’t perfect (as bones are also cellular) but work with me. This would be the detailed specific level of the people who make up the city. What are the communities like? Where do different types of people live and work? What are the religious, ethnic and class distinctions and characteristics of different neighborhoods?

3. The Circulatory system: This would give rise to an internal distinction allowing for four main types of circulation:

I. Human Circulation: How are the roads, paths and subways arranged? How about railways, airports, shipping lanes? How does travel in the city flow? Where do people jog or bike? What are the busy or quiet thoroughfares?

II. Energy Circulation: Where are the power plants and sub-stations? Where do the power lines run? How is the electric grid organized? How is this energy consumed (what regions devour most, least, etc.)? 

III. Water Circulation: Where are the water purification plants? Sewage plants? Water company? What are the sewer and waterline system like?

IV. Communication Circulation: Where is the phone company? How do the phone, cable and internet lines run (where are these different or the same)? Where are the internet companies? Radio towers? Radio stations? How is the mail system organized? Where are the post offices? The private mail companies (UPS etc.)? What is the mail delivery network like?

4. The Immune System: Where are the police stations? The fire departments? What regions does each of these govern?

5. The Organs: Political and cultural landmarks and centers. Where is city hall? The courts? The business district? Arts district? Banks? Parks? Cemeteries? Churches, temples, etc? Schools? Universities? Libraries?  

6. The Soul: The city’s history. The layers of different characteristics for the various regions and landmarks. Invasions, battles, wars. For example, several parks in New York City used to be cemeteries (and bodies are still buried beneath their surface). Wall Street used to house a wall built to keep Native Americans out of the city (which mainly encompassed lower Manhattan). And so on. Included here, as well, might be the city’s astrological birth chart and charts of key moments in its history.  

Each of these six elements can clearly be organized in terms of elemental, planetary, astrological and divine aspects (as well as countless others). The Bone structure, as stated, is clearly more elemental and the Organ structure lends itself better to planetary interpretation but no bodily level need apply exclusively to a level of spiritual essence or authority.

Clearly a complete grasp of the city’s body is impossible and any number of specific bits of information might be unnecessary or unavailable, but this does lay out the general levels from which the project can be viewed. Notice, for example, how simply grasping the full occult nature of a given location would require some grasp of each of these layers.
The next question, and surely the most important, is that of the practical application of such information. How does one bridle the energies one maps? This will be unavoidably connected to a question of occult theory. What framework from, for example, Chaos Magic’s main models of occult theory does one apply in this work?

Any thoughts on this subject would be appreciated, as this is a project I have just begun brainstorming about. I recall a blog post somewhere concerning this subject and a remembrance of how Michael Bertiaux had a system of geographic magic that could manipulate the forces of Chicago but I can't, now, find the post. If anyone could direct me to it that would also be very helpful. More work on this to follow. 


  1. It occurs to me that crime statistics should also be included here.

  2. Before I begin, I've spoken with you at length under various pseudonyms over the years and I've always found your work refreshing. In this case, I believe our tastes are a bit different. I enjoyed reading this piece and I have some comments, but they go in a different grain from the one you're working with. You've never been upset by this in the past, but I thought it would be polite to preface my remarks.t.

    I find your approach an excellent sociological model. I'm much less interested in the sociological landscape when I consider cities, and statecraft generally, as this can change in an instant. Geography shapes the human experience, mostly, and then sociology -- in the Shakespearean sense -- plays out with a measure of influence. For example, most social programs including atrocities happen in valleys or other easily accessible pieces of land. The geography of mountains makes it difficult for social scientists -- and you could look at conquerors inter alia as social scientists -- to ply their craft.

    I'm not sure that you would consider the people inhabiting the city as cells; you might look at them more like bacteria. I'm saying this because DC was designed to repel a foreign invasion with a very small force (mostly artillery) along the wheel. So, the people are not really as important as the geography, weather patterns, buildings, streets, etc. Just like a whirlpool, where no water stays in it, no person stays in a city. People come and go in the same way food passes through your body. We may not see it that way because we are biological entities, but a city is made of geological entities -- even if the geology is artificial. Geology and biology work within different measures of time.

  3. Adamas, good to hear from you and thank you for your comment. I suspect I know who you are (do you go by another Latin name as well?) but a hint or confirmation might be nice either here or privately. No need for the preface to your remarks, I always welcome comments, questions, suggestions, criticisms, objections etc. That goes especially for this project into which I have only just barely begun to think my way. To a large extent what shows up above is just an attempt to get the potential scope of what may need to be considered in view. (Incidentally, thanks for mentioning weather, that should definitely be taken into account.)

    I suspect assessing my view versus the one you propose will rely heavily on what system or theory of magic one decides to utilize in the work. Speaking in terms of the models commonly proposed in Chaos Magic, the Spirit Model will likely prioritize different things than the Energy Model (Spirit likely will rely upon more human and symbolic aspects, and will tend towards an anthropomorphizing of natural aspects as well while the Energy Model may find something like power-lines and subways particularly important in a way the Spirit Model might not appreciate). I am planning, in the next few steps of thinking this (tentatively, very tentatively) through to offer something of a meta-perspective that proposes different approaches based on different models.

    In response to the details of your comment, people do indeed come and go but neighborhood characteristics are far more durable and long lasting (though, of course, also always in flux). You offer the analogy of food but I think the cell analogy still works here. The cells which make up most of your organs change constantly and rapidly, within a fairly short time most of your organs will be made out of almost entirely new cells, but the organization of what cells are where and how they behave is fairly stable. A lot hangs on this "fairly" however, which is why I actually suspect that the level of history might be one of the most important ones. It seems to me important that a given neighborhood is generally Irish but, five decades ago, was largely Italian and, five decades before that, was farm land then forest. I feel these layers when I am in a given location, call it energy signatures or spiritual resonance or whatever one likes. In the past, working with given geographical location has often (totally unexpectedly) given rise to rather robust interactions with parts of that area's history. I couldn't imagine a system like this that didn't to some extent have the capability of dealing with, even utilizing, strictly historical entities (call them ghosts, echoes, living memories, energy residues, or what not).

    I couldn't agree more that geology (whether natural or artificial) and biology (I would prefer culture or history here) have different tempos in time. I think this nicely lends itself to a hierarchical view which I only just barely began intimating above. There are "deep structures" (thus the bone analogy) and more swiftly changing surface structures (thus the cells) and a spectrum between (organs et al). However, each of these contributes to the formation and change of the others through various complex relations. Of course, as I mention above, the analogies break down in various important ways. Cells do not, on the model proposed above, constitute bone or even organs though they may create or change these.

    But really, don't you think the cultural aspects of an area have an occult effect? Surely what people are thinking and doing around you, what gods they are crying to or demons they are packing, what prayers they are saying or languages they are speaking, have some influence on a region's "occult" aspects (however we might wish to conceptualize this occult aspect). Surely there is a world of difference, to go to extremes, between New York and an abandoned city even if nothing geological has changed.

  4. I mentioned on an earlier post that I had a genus loci thing develop out of my work with the Enochian model. In the broadest strokes I start with the main intersection, the central crossroads of the place. I allow that intersection to divide the city into broad quarters and then repeat the process of quartering the quarters until the 'map' has been reduced to roughly neighbourhood sized chunks. This is not necessarily a linear process of division where every quarter is exactly the same size as the rest, I am using 'quarters' here in the metaphorical sense of direction or rulership.

    The general population is the lens through which potent spots can be perceived, we drive the hidden currents of water and electricity into a particular nexus. Generally speaking the central intersection will consume more water and power and emit more waste than the any or sometimes all of its surrounding area's. At the these points within the landscape I then look for a hidden or quiet place, perhaps underground, perhaps a parkette or graveyard tucked away or a lonely rooftop or hidden alleyway. Beginning with the spot with obvious primacy, I will leave offerings and utilize an evocation of the genus loci. Once this spirit is revealed to me I will utilize it in calling the whole of the remainder in their turn, which are respectfully treated as subject to the central figure. (Point of caution: we think of the wilderness when we think of predatorial manifestations but depending on where you are the urban landscape has a whole class of exceptionally dangerous predators which work such as this can summon to the surface.)

    As this grew up out of Enochian experimentation the quarters often had elemental themes. An old pumping station for water, and abandoned overflow or subway station for earth, the roof of a skyscraper for air, the oldest hottest smoke-belchingest (not a word) factory for fire. To use a few obvious examples, though often it could be more subtle than that, especially when I was looking at combined elements. The 'organs' you listed above each resonate differently but truly with this conceptualization.

    I respectfully disagree with the commenter above that the humanity of the place doesn't matter. Especially with cities, as they exist because of us. For many spots where one might tap a genus loci in the wilderness as a whole .. sure we are not the most relevant metric but within the urban landscape we are. The longer a city exists the more fixed it's character and the character of its inhabitants become, this can escape notice in N. American cities because they frankly are still teenagers in the global sense but becomes readily apparent when one travels abroad. New influxes of immigrants due to international pressures will often find a previously ignored corner of the city explode into activity and that area will remain tied to that particular cultural group forever. Lots of people stay in cities, the graveyards and morgues and crematoriums are full of individuals who will never leave, again the more fixed the identity of the city the more tied to it the lives of the individuals born there.

  5. Ryan, this is wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing the details of your method and for reminding me of our previous conversation on this topic. I have something very similar in mind as of now. Locating particularly important central locations and engaging in ritual on location to tap into those energies then, perhaps, crafting a network of my own via these trigger points.

    I have also been kicking around an Enochian connection through the 91 Parts of the Earth. This is as yet very tentative. I asked on twitter yesterday (without receiving any response) whether practitioners think that "As above, so below" applies to Enochian. It seems to me that the 91 Parts could be taken as archetypical elements of any structure that can be understood geographically. As such, any city could be made to fit them. There are, of course, huge challenges here since we know very little about the organization and structure of the 91 Parts so this will likely take rather a lot of work.

  6. It was the entirely fabricated nature of the 'watchtower' that drew me to use it this way, and Dee himself equated the governing spirits in a similar manner. Back then I made my extra scratch in the summer doing highrise suspension work and spent a lot of time at the top of the towers of Toronto, a city which is laid out in a remarkably orderly east-west, north-south grid and it felt like a very intuitive application of Dee's model which while elaborate always has seemed well engineered and efficient.

    It is a process i repeat in each new city I find myself in as I find the governing spirits to be highly potent in workings related to finding a nice place to live, work and money and more generally safety.

  7. I will definitely have to think about an application of the Watchtowers more fully here. I think I may just be a little resistant to the overly elemental aspects of the sub-quadrants of each tower, though the towers themselves as a whole are likely far better considering as directional more than elemental. In fact, considering the Parts of the Earth, it is possible I would have to move in this direction anyway since one of the few bits of information we have about the Parts is their specific location on the Watchtowers themselves. I have frequently kicked around the seemingly overly-literal idea of taking the Watchtowers as a map of the location of the Parts. Not much has come of this thus far, but it might be applicable through the method you suggest.

  8. Ya, I think of the elemental correspondences to be more of a guide post than a certainty, I found most often the spirits to manifest as animal totems, occasionally a crazy person, the elements were more useful to me in locating the 'home' of the spirit or its manifestation. Mileage may vary. :P