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SPELLS, RITUALS, AND SYMBOLS FOR THE URBAN WITCH
By Christopher Penczak
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2012 Christopher Penczak
All rights reserved.
Welcome to the Concrete Jungle
Bright lights and big cities are taking over the world. Little hamlets are filling up, growing dangerously close to urban Meccas. Quaint little towns are birthing strip malls and quickie marts. Noise and light pollution dominate a formerly untainted land. Established metropolises, already vast, are brimming full and quickly swallowing up all the areas around them. New York, Los Angeles, London, and Hong Kong are capitals of industry and finance, and homes to the great world machine connecting everyone. Many of us find ourselves surrounded in these jungles of concrete, glass, and steel. They can be a bit overwhelming.
I have to imagine it's much like what ancient people felt, surrounded by the dark forests of Europe or the jungles of South America and Africa. As strange as it may sound, the two are very similar. Both are vast, overwhelming places that surround you on all sides. Familiar trails change daily, taking you into unknown territory. Perils may await you at any turn. If you know the landscape and the predators, you will probably survive, but there is always an element of danger. You have to put your natural fears on hold, because this is your home. This is all you know. You deal with it. Both city dwellers and forest folk live in the wild. The city, however, is of our own making. As modern society has destroyed so much natural landscape to build our so-called civilization, it has, in essence, re-created what it destroyed in these concrete jungles. Some of these archetypal images, tapping the forces of the unknown, are needed. We can't escape them. Even though we think we are conquering the land, subduing it as decreed by whatever collective gods we follow—the gods of industry and supposed progress—we are really being sucked in to a trap. Our creations try to subdue us in the name of the land. And they are doing a very good job, because we don't understand what they've become.
The city is the new primordial forest. Like the land, it is filled with danger, but can bring sustenance. People live there quite effectively and happily, finding what they need by living in harmony with and honoring all things. Both the concrete and natural jungles are filled with their own beauty. The theaters have plays unparalleled in the surrounding communities. Art and history are respected. Those who revere it create exhibits in museums to share the culture with every one. Merchants peddle their unusual items from around the world. Cities are like the groves of the forest and the oasis in the desert. Like the land, they are full of power.
Those of us in pagan and New Age communities find ourselves in an era that can usher us all back to the land. We are disconnected from the source spirit. We are separated into little compartments, like office cubicles, and have no sense of unity. We are stuck in a polarity of consciousness—"me vs. them," instead of "all of us together." We're all on one ship called Earth, sink or swim. All our fates are bound together. So get back to the land, we are told. Get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Listen to your inner child. Commune with nature spirits. Commune with the living Earth. Find your totem animal. Hug a tree today. The slogans are endless, and there is much truth to them, but I hate being preached to by any one group that claims to know the way. I trust groups more if they encourage me to find answers within or inspire me to search for my own. I am encouraging you do to that, no matter where you are. If you personally need to change your environment, then do so. Don't feel you have to move, however, to connect with natural forces. Finding them wherever you are may be the stronger lesson for you.
Nature is the heart of magick. The untouched forest is a place of high prana, or life energy. When we are close to it, we can attune ourselves to the natural cycles and hear the secret voices from the forest. These voices bring us knowledge, power, and wisdom. There, in the wild, it is easier to shut out the distractions of our normal lives. Our normal lives, however, are actually filled with nature. Nature comes in many forms. It finds a voice in anything created. All things are sacred. Everything—including concrete, glass, steel, and even plastic—come from the same source. Don't be fooled into thinking things are unnatural. Why is one thing, like honey, made from materials found on Earth natural, while another, like a compact disc, made from different materials found on the same planet, not natural? Both are made by other beings, bees and people respectively, from natural resources. The original materials go through a great change.
You can argue the merits of use, need, consumption, chemical change, and biodegradability, but neither item is more sacred than the other. Both bring enjoyment. Both are valued.
Prana is all around us, in different ways and amounts. Unsettled land does have a large amount of this spirit energy, but the city has its own flow of prana. The very creation of the city and its buildings diverts and redirects the prana streams as boulders divert a river. They may divert the flow, but they will not stop it. The pathways and side streets between skyscrapers feel almost riverlike as you walk them. Sidewalks are like the banks of a vast river. People flow, traffic flows, and even warm and cold currents of air flow through them. Spirit flows there, too. It flows with everything.
The city is a powerful landscape of magick, filled with secrets and energy for those who know where to look. Some people, longing for the woods to connect to spirit, put off exploring their magical path because they live in the city. They need to stay at their current job in the city to make enough money to buy that car, or house, or whatever. Then they will find someplace nice and quiet, where they can relax, meditate, set up an altar, and grow their own herb garden. Until then, they will hang out in New Age shops and read lots of books on magick, witchcraft, and crystals. They'll remain convinced, however, that magick won't work if they are distracted by the cars going by or the people in the apartment above, or are surrounded by "unliving" material. They won't try these practices in the comfort of their own apartments. It's not the desire to be all-natural that is talking here, however. Rather it is fear or laziness that has taken command. If you don't want to change your habits or practices, or even if you feel you are not ready, be honest with yourself. Don't make up an excuse. Don't think about what stops you. Don't blame your location. Just do it. You can be spiritual, magical, and pagan living in the city. You can recognize the sacred around you all the time. That is the true magick. This book helps you know where to look in the confused street mazes. You can start your sacred journey from your living room. Then you can bring it to the park. Soon, you will discover you can bring it anywhere, because it is a part of you. Magick is your perception, an active role you take in the creation of your own reality. Your point of view is more a function of magick than your environment. Magick is in every environment.
Our urban dwellings are built on the most natural forces of all—energy vortices. Each center draws people to it, both geographically and spiritually. A settled area may be near resources like fresh water, abundant food, or a port to the sea, but our attraction to it is more than physical. Some other force draws us there. Each city is a sacred site, whether we treat it that way or not. We should start to treat them this way, however. The planet is covered with different sets of energy lines and grids. They are like the nervous system and acupuncture meridians of Earth. Many of the lines cross at certain points in each grid, creating an energy zone, or vortex. Perhaps it is the other way around and the vortex creates the energy lines. The vortices of Sedona, Arizona, have become a popular New Age vacation spot, to the extent that many people believe it is the only such site on the planet. It is a wonderful energy site, but you can find a vortex almost anywhere. They come in all sizes, intensities, and personalities.
Each energy center is like a chakra for the planet, much like our human chakras on the body—the heart, crown, or third eye. Each one has a different personality, characteristics, and function. The quality of the vortex, as well as the way the energy flows through and around our man-made structures, gives each city its uniqueness. I am sure everyone here has noticed a city where they felt at home, or a city that had "bad vibes." Your own nature is reacting to the qualities, the personality—the vibe, if you will—of the city. You can instantly like one and dislike another, just as with people, because, in a sense, cities are alive.
Some cities are generally more inviting. Others seem inherently magical, like New Orleans or London. Psychologically, we feel this is because of our conscious association with magick in these locations—voodoo and ceremonial magick, respectively. We must ask, however, why magical practitioners were drawn there in the first place. I am told that something about New Orleans just promotes psychic abilities. The flow of spirit through the districts opens those with eyes to see the spirit world. More activities occur here because there is more of an opening between worlds. If you know this and feel comfortable there, and if you have a good relationship with the city and this flow of energy, then magick can be powerful indeed. This doesn't mean you have to move to New Orleans, London, or anywhere else to do magick. Every city has magick in it.
Some sacred sites, where a greater number of energy lines converge in a vortex, became temple sites for ancient peoples instead of actual cities. These energy centers are places of worship and power—Stonehenge, the pyramids of Egypt and South America, and the temples in Greece, among many others across the globe. No one settles on these sites, but cities gather close to them, even when the beliefs that fostered them have died out. Other energy vortices become our dwellings. The energy and spirit of the place invites human settlers. It is alive and embodies some form of consciousness, even if we do not readily recognize it. People are drawn to it. The physical benefits of food, water, and shelter are added benefits the spirit of the land manifests to make the area more enticing. As these resources have dwindled, however, we have created new reasons to draw others to this land. Our host vortex, in its own consciousness, may not have conceived of the city structure as our dwelling, but we have created it nonetheless. New cities often get built over the remains of older ones because the vortex draws new people there, even after disaster or war. Other vortices shift, move, or cease to be active at the end of a city's life. We, therefore, may have difficulty discovering its remains, because we are not drawn by the swirling energy.
We tend to romanticize ancient cities as beautiful and shining repositories of wisdom, while we demonize the ones we live with here and now. Modern cities are seen as dirty or as dens of corruption, twisting what we value as a society. I wonder how many ancient philosophers of Greece would marvel at Manhattan or Tokyo if we could transport them in time to the end of the 20th century. Quite a few, I think. After a while, however, they would probably begin to recognize problems here similar to those they had in the cities back in their own times. Perhaps they would be saddened that we had not solved them yet. Or they might be happy that if they couldn't find the answers, it appears that no one else could either. The essence of the city, good and bad, would probably have changed little from then to now.
All cities contain extremes. There are the rich and the poor, the safe areas and the places where you wouldn't want to be alone late at night. Even with the modern miracles of running water and plumbing, we still have garbage, sewage problems, and pollution. Many ancient cities that we romanticize had sewage flowing through the streets and animal dung on their doorsteps. Most were overpopulated, since so many people were drawn there. Political conspiracies were much more common in the ancient world, involving the outright assassination of those who stood in the way of the ruling party. We may have character assassination, but very rarely does it cross over to a physical act. They may have had their mystery schools and sacred learning centers, but we have amazing libraries and colleges. Our modern public access to information is vastly greater than that of an Old World commoner to access formal education. Formal education and college tuition can be difficult to attain now, but if you want to read a book, all you really need is a library card. As you can see, there is a certain amount of give and take in all urban worlds. I am sure even mythic cities in the Golden Ages of Atlantis and Lemuria had their problems, or they would still be here as shining examples for us, instead of sunk beneath the waves. On the other hand, perhaps they are myths of our future, of possibilities yet to come.
The cityscape beckoned and we heard the call, mostly through our subconscious and our intuition, but we came. We settled. We created. Others hear the call and continue to come. The vortices continue to draw new people to them, and to the cities. Hopefully we will become more co-creative with the land, instead of trying to dominate it. In our need to control everything, this new dark and mysterious landscape has created its own tricks, traps, and surprises to show us who is boss. Nature, in whatever form it takes, may be our partner, but we are not its master. We have not subdued the city any more than the forest. Make friends with it before it takes you over. Now the concrete jungles are the chosen home for some, evoking a new magical world mythology for our modern psyche. Archetypes have arisen in new forms, retelling ancient stories from our unconscious.
Our new mythic world is based on the popular culture around us. We fall in love with and adore our movie and rock stars, our politicians, and our sports heroes. When our culture is gone, will their names be read as a race of new gods and worshiped by those who follow us? We name Elvis our king, even if only of rock and roll, and mythically expect him to rise from the dead like some Osirian figure, instead of ending his life on the toilet. It is equally hard to believe that our modern-day Dionysus, Jim Morrison, of the Doors, god of poetry and excess, could have met his end in the bathtub. Of course, his death was faked and he's living out his life in some secret hideaway. His followers leave offerings of empty beer cans and used condoms at his gravesite in France. The rites of rock concerts have become the new sacraments and initiations into ecstatic mysteries. Children screamed hysterically for the Beatles, flailing about madly in a trance-like ceremony. From Alice Cooper, to Ozzy Osborne, and now Marilyn Manson, we have dark figures ushering our children into the primal unknown. Like Persephone, they take them to the lands where we tell them not to play. That earlier famous Marilyn, Marilyn Monroe, is the temptress goddess and minor figure in the downfall of the beloved leader of Camelot, John F. Kennedy. His spirit, however, will return, like King Arthur's, when we need the good king again. Sports figures turned wife-beaters and murderers haunt our television sets, our mighty oracle. We are told by this box to get magick shoes with a special name on them and we will run, jump, and play just like the sports gods. If we drink the right soda and eat the right candy, we will live forever, as if we imbibed a magical elixir. Urban legends leave us frightened that we will awaken someday in a hotel bathtub with a kidney removed, another victim of organ pirates. Bloody Mary will appear in our bathroom mirror if we summon her by chanting her name three times. Or very real irate wives will chop off their husbands' penises and be cheered onward, reliving the mythos of Set and Osiris in a slightly altered fashion. We have created new monsters to replace the ghosts and nosferatu. Undying maniacs in hockey masks will murder us at summer camp. Muamar Kadaffi, Sadam Hussein, or the next would-be conqueror of the Middle East become the devil incarnate, the root of all evil in this world, instead of just ordinary people trying to do what they think is right for themselves and their people. Our desert strikes and wars become the millennium's holy crusades, rallying the faithful as we wait for alien visitors to swoop down from the sky, finally revealing themselves and bringing us either our much-deserved enlightenment or our equally deserved destruction, depending on which book you read.
Our mythology is very rich and dark. There is a hope, however, from within. Although it appears that many of us are giving away our personal power, at the same time, we are going through such an amazing shift that it's hard to believe. I think of it as a "shamanizing" of the culture. Although the term originally referred to the medicine men of Siberian tribes, in general, a shaman is one who heals the spirit through making contact with the spirits of plants, animals, minerals, and other worlds. In modern lands and cultures, bereft as they are of true spirit healers who make contact with other worlds, we are reclaiming those powers little by little.
Excerpted from City Magick by Christopher Penczak. Copyright © 2012 Christopher Penczak. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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