Sunday, 1 June 2008

Psychogeography, Paganism and the Occult

Or – a romantic personal view of Manchester Psychogeography from a Pagan’s Perspective.

Todays event was great fun. We made and then followed fantastic maps updating the old surrealist game of exquisite corpses. The derive was preceeded by a really interesting debate - thanks to all who turned out despite the rain. This is the text from Sean's contribution (the rest of us weren't clever enough to write stuff down) The pictures are from the All Fools Day derive 2006 and all show Manchester icons, good, bad and esoteric...

One of the main tenets of Paganism as it is popularly understood is that it is a nature religion – which is true enough as far as it goes, but such a concept would exclude cities and city life. It doesn’t.

From my own perspective, the city – particularly an old and constantly evolving city, like Manchester - is where the two great occult qualities of life meet. The yang of buildings and streets meets the yin of rats, pigeons and slow evolution. One can visualise these qualities as the chaotic fire and ordered ice of Nordic mythology meeting in the great seething pot of Ginnungagap. The city is where mankind has used his natural creativity to go beyond himself and create something with a life and character all its own. The city is a living creature, made of the little lives of its residents and visitors, human, animal and plant.

When I was growing up in Radcliffe there were few people I could relate to. As in all small towns and suburbs conformity was the norm: a low education, a manual job and a life spent watching Coronation Street and going to the pub.
At 15 I discovered Manchester and, like many misfits before me, I also discovered kindred souls. The city drew them in and gave them a place, often many places. The city has always been a place for misfits and still is. There are meetings for Pagans organised by other Pagans in the centre of its magnetic whirlpool, there are occult shops, there are nightclubs for the darkly inclined. The heart of a city is made of its misfits, its oddities and its weirdoes. In the city they are normal.

It might be because the city is a place of learning and education that it draws the strange and occult to its bosom. It worked well for Doctor John Dee and for many others. Even some of the buildings have occult geometry hidden within their strata of history.

One of the most admired of all the traditional Pagan skills is that of Shamanism. The Shaman joins with the spirits of his land and intercedes on behalf of his tribe. He speaks to the Genius Loci, the Spirit of Place.

Manchester has it’s own Genius Loci, made of the Spirits of its various areas – the Northern Quarter, Chinatown, the Gay Village – like a beehive is made of workers, drones and honey – the Genius Loci of Manchester is the queen of that hive. Her hive is made of the spirits, lives and psychic energy of those who live in her, work in her and visit her.

The Shaman can feel these energies and speak to the ghosts they leave behind. The shaman psychogeographer walks the city with part of his spirit in the sky above it, part in the shops and apartments and part in the soil, tunnels and underground rivers on which Manchester sits like a huge, broody, dirty pigeon.

But it’s not just about buildings and psychic energy. There is nature in the city. The sun shines on Manchester like it shines on any field of waving corn, and the sky rains on it too – although possibly rather more so!

As well as the parks and gardens deliberately built to bring relief from stone, glass and concrete, and the planted street trees desperately trying to glean some breath from the petrol fumes, real nature has found a foothold.

Only the toughest survive, but survive they do and many thrive. Dandelion, plantain, chickweed and hairy bittercress sneak in despite the abuse of weedkiller sprays and tramping feet. But the greatest of all must be the Buddleia – the Butterfly Bush – our finest Chinese immigrant who has made Manchester his home. If the Bee is Manchester’s animal symbol, then the Buddleia should be its plant.

The animals also, (the small and tough) have made Manchester their home. Everyone knows about the pigeons, the rats and the mice, but what of the fox, the swan nesting under Victoria Bridge and the starlings which were once such a feature of a Manchester winter? The starlings have moved on now and their place has been taken by new residents, the Peregrine Falcons and the Sparrowhawks.

Finally there is that ultimate expression of Psychogeographic practice, the dérive.

What more Taoist and purposeless act could there be other than to leave one’s destination to the Gods themselves? With a die, a cup, or a magic plastic fish the will of Fate is revealed to those who will be still enough to listen.

Manchester, the Occult Pagan city, shows us where she wants us to go. We have but to obey her Genius.

Seán Fitton May 2008

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