Discovering the Occult Landscape

Over on my (even and ever still) experimental unbook site, I posted “Sigils of Imagination” where I explore my engagement with personal territory, my own landscapes. Inspired in part by the coursework I had at the time and my own outside reading of John Brinckerhoff Jackson, including Discovering the Vernacular Landscape, I developed a narrative of my personal travel and compared that with various representations of the landscape where that engagement occurred. Within that paper I suggest an addition of “imaginal landscape” to go with the set of “political landscape” and “vernacular landscape” developed in the work of Jackson.

In the essay “A pair of ideal landscapes,” Jackson, in addition to talking about odology, articulates a distinction between political and vernacular, or inhabited, landscapes. According to Jackson, the distinction must be made that the term landscape implies a place that has been changed by humans, a collection of “improved” lands. Once this distinction has been made, then the landscape can be further understood to be comprised of both those shared spaces that are political and those that are vernacular, or inhabited.

“… the political landscape is deliberately created in order to make it possible for men [sic] to live in a just society, the inhabited [vernacular] landscape merely evolves in the course opf our trying to live on harmonious terms with the natural world surrounding us.” (Jackson, 1984, p42)

I suggest further that there is also an imaginal landscape. Indeed Jackson appears to recognize not only the existence of the imaginal landscape but also the possible need for this landscape to inform and enrich a sustainable human relationship with the more than human. Jackson explains the way in which the imaginal informs the human relationship with the landscape:

“Any firmly held belief in the invisible, it seems to me, must somehow affect our attitude toward the visible world, and that might have been little more than a random plundering and destruction of the nearby wilderness became an exchange of benefits: those things which men took from the forest for their daily needs were repaid by our helping and protecting and loving the small, invisible creatures who lived there. They served as intermediaries, they reassured us that we were taking part in the natural order and were not entirely alien to it.” (Jackson, 1984, p53)

The political landscape is the realm of roads and sidewalks and crosswalks and monuments and historical markers. The vernacular landscape is the playground of worn grass paths, dérive, parkour and shortcuts. The imaginal landscape is the interaction the landscape has with us, territory with an agency of its own and place that is in relationship with us and our lives; places populated by a genius loci; offering liminality, twilight and borderlands. Certainly and likely these together could be the very model of a modern proper Popper fan.


Connecting with the link from the notion of an imaginal landscape to the dérive of Situationist International is Guy Debord’s Psychogeography which was to explore “precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals” [via, also].

The way that we engage the landscape is matched by the effect the landscape has on us. This relationship could also be subject to the method of engagement and our intentionality for the engagement. This relationship can also have synchronic and diachronic dimensions.

The method of engagement changes the nature of one’s engagement. A simple experiment around this is to travel the same route via different modes of transport, first via automobile, then via bicycle and finally by foot. Each reveals new and different features and obscures some previously seen, felt, heard and so on.

A way to view intentionality is as an answer to the question, “to what end?” The purpose, and the strength of that purpose, for which one is engaged in a particular landscape will likely and sometimes radically determine what one is able to plan for before, signify during and remember after.

Take for example the work Widdershins by Hermetic Library anthology artist The Psychogeographical Commission, which is a particular method of engagement for a particular purpose: “This recording documents the inner circle of the Glasgow Subway system which travels in an anticlockwise direction (widdershins), a constant banishing ritual performed daily upon the whole of the west side of Glasgow.” [via]

Connecting the past with the present and the future is to explore the diachronic dimensions of our explorations. For example, there are numerous projects which attempt to share images from the past of a place compared to the present of a place, such as Esoterica London which attempts “to draw connections between London now and London then, illuminating the correspondences between the city’s past and present.” On the other hand, objects like walls of clocks with times across multiple timezones and wistful thinking about what friends and family are doing, including connecting with them through now nearly instantaneous communication creates strong synchronic relationships that seem to span and shrink distance between places.


Recently, Rik Garrett, a frequent contributor to the Hermetic Library visual pool, who also created a blog specifically about Occult Chicago, started Occult Guide, “an interactive mapping website dedicated to locations of occult interest around the world”, and an attempt to develop a community around those activities.

Other projects that come to mind related to cataloging and creating community around wondrous, strange and occult places along our various landscapes are Altas Obscura, and the annual Altas Obscura Day; Julian Cope’s The Modern Antiquarian [HT catvincent]; and perhaps more imaginatively The Museum of Lost Wonder; to name a few.


There are numerous examples of personal pilgrimages and travel plans based on a desire to engage landscapes that participate in the wondrous, strange and occult; the sacred and religious, and transgressions of these same. Of course, there’s pilgrimages to holy sites, such as well-known and logistically boggling huge migrations to Mecca and such as small and lesser known places like the Well of the White Cow at Tara in Ireland. There’s also the profane and dark pilgrimages to places of iniquity like Las Vegas and those places in the world visited by the seedy sexploitation tourists. There’s also pilgrimages of personal liberation and inspiration, such as the flight of asylum seekers and those hopefuls who travel toward the bright lights of Broadway and Hollywood.

Specifically people choose how to engage various landscapes, and sometimes seek out the wondrous, strange and occult places where they can create for themselves personal narratives about themselves and those places. For example, Rodney Orpheus has a photo gallery of “Monday April 13 – the occult tour of London” in which is recorded for personal history some ephemeral moments along a group’s path of travel with notes narrating these now static stations. Consider also the personal narrative at “Occult Tour of London” that came from following the plan given in “An Esoteric guide to visiting London“. (Note that the personal narrative of that last tour points out a number of difficulties following the plan offered by the esoteric guide [also], which, I suppose, is quite a good reason to have such things in a community maintained dynamic guide instead of an individually maintained static one.)


Personally I’ve been flirting with the notion of trying to engage myself in writing about “travel, pilgrimage and magical retirement to far-distant countries, in exterior, interior and liminal landscapes” as part of what I hope to develop as a group blog, a collective of personal narratives, at Pilgrimage to Far-Distant Countries. (If only saying made it so, but the idea is still one I have in mind; one of a number of projects that require me to develop different and serious writing habits which may turn out to just not be in my nature.)


Do you know of any examples or have personal narratives of these things I’ve mentioned?