Saturday, March 19, 2016

Spirit of Place: A Tentative Psychogeographical Map of Birmingham

In the (somewhat affected) tradition of Guy Debord and the Situationists, for several years I have been trying to construct a psychogeographic map of Birmingham, based on the one Debord did of Paris. Trying has been the operative word, because I’ve kept hitting the snag that I have simply been unable to. Paris and London, two of the cities par excellence for psychogeography, have been mapped to death, seemingly without the problems I have experienced doing the same for Birmingham. To adopt the language of witchcraft and use it in a psychogeographical context, I have completely failed to identify the energetic or vibrational centres of the city, the liminal places, and magical routes around the city. When trying to identify distinctive energetic areas of the city or natural routes through it, I have found these areas and routes disrupted over and over again, to the extent that up until now I have not been able to map these things out. This is despite the way in which I can clearly identify that, say, Eastside feels very different from the Jewellery Quarter. Which brings up a first problem in mapping the city: when you get off a train at New Street and see signs to Southside, the simple fact is that the Southside label has not long been coined for that area of the city. When I tell people where I live, if they want to be sarcy they can call it Highgate (itself a created area in the 1960s rebuilding of the city), and when the council write to me they address letters to Nechells, even though I’m nowhere near Nechells but live in Nechells electoral ward. In a similar way people make fun of the residents of the Jewellery Quarter by calling it Hockley or Newtown, and of Brindley Place residents by calling it Ladywood. The repeated rebuilding and relabeling has created something of a psychological chaos and I have been forced to conclude that what is said in this blog post is true:
' I had about 2 hours for a wander and just followed my nose, through China Town then the Gay district. I have a pretty awful sense of direction at the best of times but Birmingham seemed to completely fry my navigational circuits sending me in large loops around rubble strewn car parks and wholesale markets. Andy from Magic Cinema said this was the effect of the city’s ‘concrete collar’, the asphalt noose formed by a series of ring roads.' (
Therefore based on the assumption that the line of the former Inner Ring Road creates a psychological line around the city, and also that I personally still see the line of the ring road around the city centre (bit difficult to eradicate what Manzoni and Co did with their bulldozers all those years ago) I have started my psychogeographic map with a scan of the 1979 A to Z map of the city centre, because it shows the Inner Ring Road intact.
My first instinct was to draw a major division in the city centre along the line of the Inner Ring Road, but I resisted doing that because I realised that many of my personal psychological routes around the city lay outside its boundary. Since it is clearly evident on the map I decided just to let it stand as something that is just there.
I decided to start by dividing the city centre into areas as they feel different to me (shown in green lines on the map). I was expecting the Inner Ring Road area to be a single one but was surprised to find that I experienced the area as several different zones. I was not surprised to find that while not completely dictated by it, my personal zones were heavily influenced by the line of the Inner Ring Road.
I continued by drawing (in blue lines on the map) the routes around the city that I tend to find variously compelling. This is where I got a surprise. Perhaps influenced by the previous complete separation of traffic and pedestrians in the city centre, I found that many of my personal routes completely ignored the line of the Inner Ring Road and went across it in many places. The present or former existence of underpasses or pedestrian bridges would explain that in many places, but I was astonished to find that another pattern emerged in my psychological routes through the city.
My personal routes show my almost complete avoidance of certain parts of the city – remember that while I have been using the somewhat compressed map of the city centre which forms a single page at the back of the A to Z, it nonetheless shows a very small area in reality, one which could very easily be walked end to end. My personal routes have almost completely avoided the North-East and South-West of the map, a realisation which surprised me since I pride myself on knowing the city centre backwards (‘Where on earth are you taking me?’, said a friend as I took her down a concrete spiral staircase she didn’t know existed). Additionally, I was very gratified to notice that in addition to routes explained by underpasses or pedestrian bridges, many of my personal routes followed genuinely old roads (such as Newhall Street), ignoring the line of the Inner Ring Road completely, or else genuinely ancient roads such as the route from Deritend High Street up through the markets and into the High Street area. In fact, I was very gratified to realise that my psychogeographic map bears much more resemblance to the 18th century map of the town!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Urban Grimoire: Underpass Magic

I realise I have posted about tunnels and underpasses, and their chthonic significance, several times before, but this post is more about how to do it. It is natural also that themes recur in people's lives and magic.
The idea of 'underground' holds strong resonance for humans, with connotations of being the entrance to the 'underworld', being secret or hidden. Underground can even include connotations of the revolutionary or disrespectable: exactly the connotations of the witch word we apply to ourselves.
The placement of an object also has a strong resonance in some old -school magic. As a priest of Hecate I'm well used to leaving things at crossroads and in graveyards. In this instance the object has been left in an underpass, thus leaving the person it represents at the mercy of the underworld.
Zippy has been given to two degus to chew. For creatures who will normally eat anything they took an instant dislike to her (sensible chaps). They did chew her zip and eyes, but otherwise she has been lying on the bottom of the cage being soaked in urine and with faeces landing in her mouth periodically. I'm informed that the smell of urine will attract rather than repel the rodent denizens of the underworld, who will hopefully take her stuffing to make beds with. To encourage this she has been opened up and tasty rat treats stuffed in her. She has then been left in a pool of urine in an underpass for...who/whatever to find.
Bye bye Zippy.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Ten of Wands

My reflections on this tarot card have been prompted by drawing a card for a particular thing earlier this week, of which more anon.
The ten of Wands is one of the few cards which make me sympathise with the view that the Rider-Waite-Smith deck limits possible interpretations by only depicting certain events on the minor arcana cards.
So to flex ones interpretive muscles properly... At their most basic Wands are sticks or tree trunks. They come from the trees which are an essential part of our eco-system, and so provide for our life both when living and after cutting. Most of our uses either mean cutting or burning them: while Wands have the element of Fire attributed to them they become most useful in combination with Air (swords) which naturally increases their use. In many parts of the world they have garnered a great monetary (pentacles) value and yet their usefulness is diminished in the presence of the element of Water, when they begin to deteriorate very quickly. In addition to the uses of burning and building, humans also use them for holding things up or various forms of support, for hitting, and they can contain in the sense of building fences. The RWS image interestingly inverts the Roman image of the fasces, a bundle of rods or Wands denoting authority. If you have watched the state opening of parliament in the UK, you will have seen Black Rod. This use of Wands continues in ceremonial maces, and at further remove, in the 'wands' carried by bishops. I am deliberately downplaying the magical connotations of Wands since I think the meaning of the underlying element is better brought out by the more common uses of Wands. That said the wand often represents will, and if you consider the role 'wands' play in the rest of our lives, the connection between the two becomes apparent.
This tarot card is furthermore the ten (10 = 1+0) of this element or energy. Since ten reduces to one, it is both the utmost point of this energy and the point at which it begins again. I think what is shown in the RWS deck is that this element easily becomes unbearable and this card is the point at which it can't go on. If much of the point of the element is construction or support, this is the moment at which collapse is the only way ahead.
Which brings me nicely to the reading which made me reflect on this. I drew this card for what a friend's day was like. She reads tarot herself and since she had had a quiet day at work she couldn't see how this could refer to her day. The connection only became apparent when her bed collapsed (for the umpteenth time and terminally) in the night and she took it apart to take to the tip. It was only when the bed was reduced to a pile of planks that the connection with the tarot card became apparent!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Quality Determined by Enemies

I was recently talking with a witch friend about a muggle friend, and trying to decide what sort of witch he would be. Forget any usual categories: my perception of the witch world was changed permanently the next day when I discovered a quote by Noel Coward about liking long walks when they are taken by people he doesn't like. And it hit me - our mutual friend was a Noel Coward witch!
But what celebrity witch would I be?  I toyed with the idea of Dame Hilda Bracket for a while,  simply because Peter Lorre seemed too obvious. But I'm delighted to announce that I now identity as a Bette Davis witch!  In fact it was the quote which illustrates this post which decided it - I don't personally have a problem with conflict,  seeing it as good and necessary to move situations on and prevent the kind of clinging to the status quo I mentioned in my last post. Naturally this gets one enemies and I don't have a problem with that either. When I look around at the people who hate me, my sole emotion is relief that I have avoided being like them. I watch their (frankly quite psychopathic) games and world view, and I know for a fact I am on the right track.
Davis also talks about the way the weak vampirise the strong,  which makes me want to holler 'Comrade'! And of course she had an ongoing feud with Joan Crawford. I don't feel obliged to love or like people myself, I also don't feel obliged to play happy families or reconcile with these people. However I do agree with Davis that you should only speak good of the dead. The way she phrased this was 'Joan Crawford is dead. Good. '

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Black Magic

Some themes recur again and again in my life, and thus in this blog. I can get a bit dogmatic about them, but for me they form the major ascesis of my witching life.
One of them is that both the white magic and black magic brigades are on a hiding to nothing. An agency worker the other day was talking an impressive array of weird shit and ultimately said that her mother is 'a white witch '. I am not a white witch. Of course that is a statement which will have people up in arms. What I mean by that is that I am not a person who kids myself that all can only ever be positive and sweetness and light. Put like that it sounds ridiculous, but that is actually what white magic means. Personally I don't have time for all that - the real work of the witch calls and there are rapists out there needing erectile dysfunction.
Neither am I a black magician, although regular readers here will agree with me that my magic inclines towards the 'left hand path' of development by breaking taboos and conventions. The definition of black magic as being for purely selfish purposes is a parody of any magical system ever, and clearly originates in a fear of magic as well as an unquestioning acceptance of our society's equation of black with bad.
In fact any attempt to be all good or bad creates a dualism where the opposite springs into prominence. Hence the invention of the devil. A wholly good monotheistic deity leaves a vacuum which needs to be filled. Similarly attempts to ignore human impulses such as sex and hate creates a dualism where these impulses become the very devil.
I have been scouring the Internet and failed to find a definition I attribute to Crowley that the black magician is one who will not accept change (I'm doing this from memory and can't even remember where I read this so don't quote me). I'm guessing that he meant by that that that sort of magician misses the point of magic - for Crowley, the knowledge and conversation of ones Holy Guardian Angel - and instead aspires to some goal of his own devising. I'm interpreting this half-remembered quote therefore as meaning that 'black' magic misses the point completely. Interestingly in this view the black and white crowds actually fall into the same trap of setting their sights on the wrong thing and missing the point.
More of my little dogmatic opinions are that the Lady will always provide and the right resources will always appear at the right moment. One I think I've talked about less here is the paradox that the adventure of magic both keeps its practitioners young and also ages them. It ages people because magic works to move people on to the next thing, resulting in much illness and trouble in life. It keeps them young, because magic nurtures a childlike sense of play and adventure which the muggles just don't have. A sense of play combined with a matter of fact acceptance of the opportunities the universe sends ones way, is a recipe for a youthful resilience which can be extended well into old age.
The details are nowhere near sorted yet but a major opportunity seems to be arising in my work life. Away from Zippy permanently with excellent prospects for promotion and development. I have viewed my current difficult circumstances at work as an opportunity and so the universe has come up with the goods. Lucky I'm not one of those awful black magicians - damn, I've bitten my tongue, it's so far in my cheek - who set their minds on the wrong things and so don't accept the universe's gift!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

My Lent book

I have posted here each year on the practice I have borrowed from the Christians, of a Lent book: a practice I usually subvert by making it a completely unsuitable book, at least from a pious point of view. I see the practice is found as early as the Rule of St Benedict (eighth century, but codifying earlier custom):
' On the days of Lent, from morning until the end of the third hour let them apply themselves to their reading, and from then until the end of the tenth hour let them do the work assigned them. And in these days of Lent they shall each receive a book from the library, which they shall read straight through from the beginning. These books are to be given out at the beginning of Lent.' (
This custom is surprisingly easy to witchify. I suspect much of the point of it from a Christian point of view is that the book is given to the monk by some authority - for example the Archbishop of Canterbury selects a Lent book each year. As a witch my instinct would always be to let the book suggest itself, on the principle that the teacher will come along when the witch is ready. I was a bit perplexed this year because nothing was coming to hand. I want to read the new biography of Doreen Valiente, but it wasn't bringing itself to my attention in the way things do when they have something to say. Ultimately I resorted to going through the hard drive of my laptop and as a result my Lent book is Aleister Crowley's Moonchild, which I have read before, but a very long time ago when I was a very young witch who was reading his way through all the occult literature he could get his hands on. Certainly it seems suitable for my present circumstances, since it is about a war between two competing groups. Nor is it only fictional (as is so often the case with occult literature)  and I'm intrigued to see, which I had either forgotten or didn’t know to start off with, that the characters are based on real people!  I'm more intrigued than ever to see what Uncle Al has to say to me knowing that :
' In this work, numerous acquaintances of Crowley appear as thinly disguised fictional characters. Crowley portrays">MacGregor Mathers
 as the primary villain, including him as a character named SRMD, using the abbreviation of Mathers' magical name.">Arthur Edward Waite appears as a villain named Arthwaite, and the unseen head of the Inner Circle of which SRMD was a member, "A.B." is">theosophist">Annie Besant. Among Crowley's friends and allies">Allen Bennettappears as Mahatera Phang, the dancer">Isadora Duncan appears as Lavinia King, and her companion Mary D'Este (who helped Cowley write his magnum opus "Magick: Book 4"under her magical name 'Soror Virakam') appears as Lisa la Giuffria. Cyril Grey is Crowley himself, while Simon Iff is either an idealized version of an older and wiser Crowley or his friend Allen Bennett.' (