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?

Sigil for magical partners

One of the recent things in my life is that I’ve been developing a relationship with someone who shares an interest in being magical partners together. One aspect of this came up as a suggestion from my partner that we might have a sigil of some kind to represent the combination of our emergent effort.


I’ve done some work in the past with bind-runes and sigils for imaginal landscapes, among other things; so I started to think about a kind of bind-rune with the initials of our magical names. I was also reminded of the ring my father’s father had made in France during WWII that has the family initials on it.

First, I created a series of images with the initials of our magical names arranged in different relationships with each other, arranging them in a variety of ways that seemed interesting to look at and different than the others.

This was basically just a test file to see what I see in the shapes and their relationships. I think there’s some great possibilities there. I sent this to my partner also so she could gander as well as so we could talk about our Rorschach-like test results for these shapes; immediately I see stars in some, but lots of almost organic shapes, including the last which makes me think of a flower or rose and for which I added some colours to make the glyphs distinct in spite of much overlap. I also see ways that the Mem-Kappa can echo both the M(agdalene) and K(alokagathon) as well as the initials of our civil names K and G. But, from this there’s definitely some interesting shapes here to play with and work on!

But going through the glyph relationships:

1. I see a star in the middle. also the Mem at the bottom is like a partial top of a G glyph. K & G being our civil initials as well as Mem & Kappa being the initials of our magical names, in reverse order of our magical names.

2. I see the hint of a heart in the middle

4. I see a hint of a tree

6. Another heart is hinted to me in the place where the glyphs join

7 & 8 I actually see a shape of a map of the US in these two, which echoes the two coasts. I also see the Mem and the serif of the K in each forming an arabic M which hints at some possible initialisms like in 1

9 I see a stem and flower here, perhaps of a rose

Of course, the sigil needn’t be so literal about these letter shapes, and could go more for a graphical lamen or waxen seal design, with symbolic elements; but this was an initial experiment.

I sent the glyph study to my partner, and she send back what she saw in these relationships.

My Roschach test is below… I’m trying not to look at your answers until I do mine so I’m not influenced!

1. ummm nothing!

2. flower or sea creature shapes

3. old pacman designs

4. swing dancers

5. bullfighter with a swirling cape behind him

6. old rod iron fence outside a garden

7. someone in a hershey kiss costume dancing with someone in a kit kat costume (like hershey park when I was a kid)

8. similar to 7

9. not sure, the color was throwing me off

Oh my… I’m a bit off from what you saw!!! lol. I think its a great start.

So, looking at some of the features we came up with from the glyph arrangements, I did some more work playing with the sigil idea as an inked-in pencil illustration as a draft of one possible sigil, but I think it turned out pretty good.

I know the key and bee are derivative of The Magicians: A Novel, but it was in my mind associated with the two of us because that’s what we selected for our first bookclub selection. The rest of the illustration is of a Greek kappa and an Hebrew mem joined so that they form a five pointed star in the middle. Of course, “every man and every woman is a star” but also in Crowley’s star-sponge vision the relationships we form are also stars in their own right. Thus, I think the star in the middle is a reminder of both our individual sovereignty as well as what we are building together.

For myself I like the idea of the bee actually facing down into the Kappa, like a descending dove, but also because the Kappa could be more of a flower. The Mem could be more keyhole shaped, or even could hint of a beehive. The key is intentionally but only slightly phallic, but I suppose there could be some detail for it to be more serpent like, as in a rising serpent.

The kappa could be wider and less tall, and the star might be smaller. Also, I wonder if there’s a way to bring a square and a hexagram into this also, or if that’s too much.

Another thought is that I’d like the sigil to be something that can be both very detailed and also something that can be quickly drawn, say as if next to initials or in place of initials on a guestbook or epistle.

Further it’d be spiffy if there were an email version, some kind of emoticon. “BK*MF” might be too much of a stretch … maybe just “K*M” … or “M*K” … I kinda prefer the ordering Mem Kappa, but in the illustration the Kappa on top forms the star; of course, there’s no reason why it can’t be written “M*K” whatever the arrangement of the sigil.

Also, I keep wondering what could be on the right side of the star … maybe that’s something for later?

Well, it’s definitely a start, but with tweaks and more thought this could be pretty nice.

One thought we had originally was to create some jewelry with our sigil on it. Certainly necklaces or something, but when I think about how I’ve actually used my grandfather’s ring as a wax seal, though the initials come out mirrored; I think about how having the eventual sigil as a wax seal would be pretty fantastic for using as part of magical operations, as well as the grand nostalgia from using the wax seal of our sigil on letters we might send each other. When this sigil, or another if we replace it, is far enough along; that’ll be a time to start exploring options for getting something custom-made for us using the design.