Cities Of Life And Death

The following article was first published back in 2013, in volume two of the excellent Conjure Codex series from Hadean Press. While my writing had previously appeared on a number of smaller websites, it was the first work of mine to be printed in an actual physical anthology. I am still rather fond of it, even though the prose is a little verbose in light of my current writing style. As an essay it neatly offers an insight into my magickal path, as well as a viable alternative viewpoint for urban pagans to experiment with too.

Cities of Life and Death
The Nature Current as an Agent of Urban Decay
By Gavin Fox

City as Dominion
In a world that is increasingly losing it’s physical aspect in favour of something digital, something unreal and encoded, it is easy to overlook the very real forces of nature. Many who either work or dwell within the sterile marble and plate glass effigies to monetary gain and intellectual apartheid that pass brashly as the height of civilisation never notice how easily the wild and untamed slide stealthily back under their radar, or how even the most modern of urban sprawls soon becomes home to the very flora and fauna once thought to have been cleared in its construction. How soon the average citizen forgets that this entire world was once the sole domain of the Nature Current and for all of their protestations otherwise, their concrete and brick, their atomic fusion and God Particles, one day it will be again. It is this conflict that the Urban Magickian straddles, making the best of the modern while recognising the ancient, and if all goes to plan stopping every so often to learn a trick or two from both factions along the way.

Road as River
In looking to harness both the Magickal and mundane opportunities presented by a given concept, it is first necessary to understand the context in which it exists. Perhaps then it is to the Psychogeographers that we should initially turn, to explore ideas of the reciprocal relationship between man and his built environment, the living flesh of the city and the effect that its form and function have on the human mind. Through their efforts to walk within the urban landscape while concentrating upon the journey and not the destination, weaving a unique narrative as they go, such people share a common bond with the modern Magickian, a willingness to look beyond the mundane and to notice the intriguing where others might instead pass on by. Both feel the draw of the heartbeat of the city, finding themselves caught in its eddies and currents, tides and whirlpools, and in the case of those seeking to observe nature’s ongoing quest to reassert itself as mistress over the modern world all that is required is a willingness to look at the built environment with fresh, questioning eyes.

Thus the bruised and battered trees by the roadside become surrogate lungs of the city, and the cracks in the pavement its skin; rough, calloused and trod raw by the feet of those who never stop to give it a second thought, or notice the moss clinging defiantly to the gutters and drains around them. The seasonal rhythm of seeding and harvest in the rural landscape is replaced by autumnal falls of Horse-chestnuts and Acorns scattered frivolously over flagstones and muddy banks, each a small crystallised sliver of the Nature Current awaiting the knowing hand of the urban Mage who utilises them as ammunition in their Magickal arsenal as soon as they become available. And it is within the oldest areas of the most ancient of cities that the Nature Current waxes brightest, for it is here that the slow march of root and water has had time to make its decaying mark with an almost artistic zeal, forever scarring and altering buildings originally constructed to stand forever by people who understood the natural world well enough to seek safety from its darker edge.

Nature as Destroyer
Since the earliest ages man has huddled behind strong, sheltering walls and looked out mistrustfully upon the encroaching darkness that extends in all directions around his self appointed island of sanctuary. Protected from rival tribes and hungry predators, mankind’s innate desire to personify that which he feared soon extended to encompass the very processes of nature itself, and as such Gods and Demons of plague and flood, drought and tempest were born, given form and function by those lucky enough to live through the traumatic events associated with their conception. Thus insidious Pazuzu brought swarms of crop-eating locusts to the Babylonians, mighty Typhon hammered the world of the Ancient Greeks with storm-strength winds and stolen lightning, and dreaming Rūaumoko caused the seasonal earthquakes that greatly influenced Māori mythology and culture from within his mother’s womb deep beneath the earth.

It could be argued that the need for such personification points categorically to an innate understanding in earlier ages of the entropic and destructive underbelly of the Nature Current, one seemingly forgotten by modern civilisation now that the city boundaries stand not in stone but on paper, and our horizons have become vastly expanded by satellite mapping and GPS led exploration. Yet still, despite the godlike claims of science and society, nature endures, pushing its roots beneath pavements and buildings until it has the power to bring them down. Indeed, the skilled urban Magickian can actively seek out these places where the Nature Current becomes almost militant, locked in perpetual combat as it is with man’s obsessive compulsive need for abstract progress, and treat them as powerful Nodes or Wellsprings to empower his Works. Even in the most sterile of environments it is worth remembering that just as man is fleeting, so are his creations, while nature boasts an innate longevity that we can only ever dream of. As the flea-borne and rat-carried Great Plague of 1664 to 1666 amply shows, nature will always find a way to act upon its agenda.

Vermin as Totem
As with any place of large-scale congregation, the modern urban environment is in many ways defined by the mountains of waste that it heaps like necrotic offerings under smog-choked skies. We do not hunt our food, but purchase it pre-packaged in gaudily printed and barely biodegradable containers. Where once half-devoured carcasses returned their remaining nutrients to the earth, now we see only landfill; miles deep, miles wide and ready to pop like an over-ripe plague bubo should society refuse to see the error of its ways. Yet even here, in the shadow of our self-inflicted Hell, we find the Nature Current adapting to our cruel attentions and both plants and animals not only surviving but in most cases actively thriving upon the very things that we discard. Vermin, they are called. The unclean and shunned, the mice, rats and foxes, pigeons and crows, animals forever changed by their symbiosis with mankind. A fitting Totem for the outsider, the stray, taken by those who wait in the darkness between the street lights for the opportunity to strike.

Such Totemic associations, while perhaps considered by many to represent little more interesting than a modern re-imagining of ancient self-help techniques, can in fact offer much to the modern Magickian. There is strength to be gained on a purely psychological level from personifying your thoughts and deeds, actions and motivations, even those that are generally perceived to be negative by the wider community. Thus the fox becomes the Totem of the wily urban scavenger, the quiet survivor content to wait for his day to come while living well in the shadow of the ivory towers erected by his enemies. Even rats and mice, while initially unattractive, amply suit those with an interest in Cybermagick, personifying the hacker’s perennial preoccupation with finding ingenious ways into places thought impregnable. As these examples show, there is a vast difference between the urban and rural interpretation of Animal Totems, and said pragmatic shift in the fabric of the Nature Current is felt not only within the material world but also the spiritual, especially in places where the natural world is allowed to exert its influence with little or no interference by mankind.

Graveyard as Wellspring
While it may come as no real surprise to see many a Necromancer drawn moth-like to their local graveyard to commune with the dead for fun and profit, when it comes to others who adhere to more mainstream schools of Magick, including those that glibly claim the energies of nature as their personal sphere of influence, we find such places usually overlooked or worse, shunned as somehow unclean. Perhaps because of its association with those who have passed beyond the Veil, we see the graveyard ostracised and ignored, denied its rightful place in the universal pattern of worldwide Magickal practice. No Druid collects holly from within its broken stone walls, no Wiccan dare pluck wild flowers from within its cold, unbeating heart. Only the lonely Necromancer dare see the place for what it truly is, and dance in the energies released like a metaphysical updraft from every leaf, every open tomb, every twig and stone.

That the graveyard is not more widely recognised for its gifts is a crime of the basest ignorance, as not only do they number among the more wild and truly natural places within our oh so modern urban sprawl, but also boast a starkly unique energetic resonance all of their own. Such resonances are all-important to those amongst the modern Occult Community that can claim to have mastered the most basic of Magickal techniques: the absorption and projection of different forms of energy. Avoided by the mainstream or not, the fact remains that much can be gained from visiting your local burial place, especially if it is overgrown and desolate in aspect, as here you will find both the Death and Nature Currents flowing freely, and if you are lucky, something far more intriguing resonating in the space between the two.

Entropy as Magick
The enlightened among you who have already been drawn to your local graveyard to sit beneath gnarled, fungi-infested Oak trees or drift listlessly between ivy-choked and long forgotten burial plots know the pull of this ‘other’ energy all too well, and those who work with the Death Current, that most elusive and entropic of resonances, on a regular basis instantly notice the difference in taste with a dry smile and a grateful snarl. For it is here, where the evergreen and sombrely pleasant living world is actively encouraged to feast upon the decaying biological matter of the dead, that a unique Magickal process occurs: a mixing of the Nature and Death Currents intimate in its beauty. In the shadow of the brooding, acid rain-burned angels that tower forlornly over the graves of long-forgotten souls, opposites thought to be incompatible blend sweetly together and extend their bastard offspring to those with the Will to take it from them.

Any Magickian adept enough to harness this enhanced Nature and Death Current hybrid shall find such energy to be the true embodiment of the concept initially outlined in this essay, of the often denied entropic aspect of the green world. Encoded as it is with both the enlivening and vital essence of nature and the coldly consuming emptiness of death, the resulting cool Promethean fire can be utilised to eat away at the boundaries between the spiritual and the physical, with places that are particularly strong in this decaying warmth lending themselves admirably to psychic journeying and speedy access to the Otherworld. In this regard, the more overgrown and derelict the location the better, as such energetic gateways rarely resonate well within expertly manicured and landscaped gardens of human design, not even those overtly dedicated to the dead.

City as Muse
For those that prefer to keep their feet firmly on the ground, or who find such talk of encoded energy to be too fanciful to include within the main body of their Magickal practice, just walking through the average urban environment offers much for the practitioner of natural Magick to think about. How did mankind become so separated from the natural world? When did the desire to safely hide behind walls of stone and shelter under roofs of shale give way to an illusion of control over the very elemental energies that once governed our lives in simpler, if admittedly harsher, times? And what traces of our once proud monoliths to progress and assumed enlightenment will remain once we are gone and the natural world has once again scabbed over the bared bones of our concrete and plexiglass legacy? Only time will tell. What can be stated with some degree of certainty, however, is that nature is slowly working its way under the very flesh of our civilised world, much like the rivers we drive underground to become our sewers, and just like those silently flowing epitaphs to simpler times it cannot be stopped, only redirected and contained, as it eats our cities away from within.