Sunday, June 28, 2009

City Witch

In regards to specifically urban deities, new or old, most of the Pagans I spoke with had either never considered the possibility of such deities or could not conceiver of them at all. However, many spoke instead of a ‘spirit’ or ‘energy’ unique to a city or a portion thereof. Those who did not initialize discussion of this concept in the interview were able to identify such a spirit when directly asked. The spirit of the city, or a particular neighbourhood, is often considered to be an entity embodying a community of people. The modern Pagan understanding of a city spirit might also be identified as a manifestation of the Jungian collective unconsciousness. One interviewee defines it as “a compilation of everybody who’s lived here since its beginning and everything that’s happened here.” (Danny) Another interviewee states: “Theoretically, I believe all cities have some sort of underlying energy collection that feeds off the people and the people feed off of in turn.” (Kat Morgan) A third interviewee stated she could conceive of a city spirit “in the sort of Hegelian sense that the Spirit is something that emerges from people and their culture” (Mehtare). Finally, one interviewee described the spirit of the city as “the collective emotions of all the people of the city all at once. […] I mean, think about it: how did the city get there? Many people pouring their Harte and soul, using their hands and heads to make something to last forever, to stand as a beacon in the night to every thing that human kind has accomplished. How can that not have a spirit?” (Mike).

Two notable Pagan publications have equated various parts of the city with magical purposes such as subways systems functioning as underground energy channels and metaphors that equate skyscrapers with the more traditional Tree of Life. Many Pagans, especially so-called technopagans, speak of “energy” that can be sent through telephone, electrical, and modem wires. A repopulation of the environment with magical beings is another form of re-enchantment – bringing the sublime to the city. Faeries, who are associated with Nature, are also recognized to live in cities and to interact with humans, especially in playful ways. Totem animals of the city, such as dogs, pigeons and rats (Penczak 2001), instead of the traditional “wild animals” such as wolves, lions, and bears, are another example of enchanted (non-rational) urban denizens. These urban totems are often touted for their abilities to adapt and survive in the city.
The envisioning of these urban beings comes to its most creative fruition in the “finding” of new urban deities. Goddesses such as Asphalta (goddess of roads and those who travel them) who help drivers find a parking space and Digitalis – Goddess of computers – are two of the more well-known creations from the 1988 small book Found Goddesses. Barbara Ardinger, the author of a more recent publication titled Finding New Goddesses describes them as “the ones we make up to help us deal with modern life. The ancient and classical goddesses can help us with love, abundance and revenge, but whom do you ask for a good haircut…? To find a decent apartment…? What goddess is responsible for air conditioning? Which goddess do you go shopping with?” If the gods are beings who help Pagans in their daily lives, then it is appropriate that Pagans generate more deities to cover the range of modern conveniences and activities that were non-existent when the classical deities were born. Found gods and goddesses are often simultaneously humorous parodies and true reflections. They embody the light-hearted creativity found among many contemporary Pagans.

~From Urban Paganism: Envisioning the City as Sacred Space, © Mandy Furney, Paper presented to the Canadian Society for the Study of Religion, May 2004

Picture found here.


Anne Johnson said...

We at "The Gods Are Bored" endorse this essay with abundant enthusiasm!

clymela said...

I have always noticed that areas have a certain energy and if the energy is strong I believe that humans settle there. I also believe that human activity can corrupt this space or rather this is what I saw in a dream once.
I am saying "believe" but this is not a belief as in religion,etc but rather an awkward way of saying that I have noticed this in my time.

mamiel said...

The Romans were urban pagans, they had many gods like this. Concord made sure everyone in the city got along, I think there were others like that.

Teacats said...

Romans, Greeks and many ancient cultures were urban dwellers with gods and goddesses. Many dark fantasy writers (Charles de Lint; Simon R. Green (his brillant The Nightside series) to name but two) have created urban worlds with distinct spirits.

Jan at Rosemary Cottage (who spent many nights watching the worlds fly by on a subway train -- and wonders what she might have glimpsed on the way .....)

Thomas said...

On Heinlein's conception of Mars the spirits of cities, the collected emotions and experiences that worked their way into the space and the architecture, would eventually become so powerful that the citizens would abandon their urban centers every few generations in order to build new, fresh ones.

The old cities would stand as monuments, places of meditation where one could go to experience the essence of another place and time, to understand that which was extrinsic to one's self.

It's a beautiful idea, though not terribly practical.

Anonymous said...

Some cities *have* gods. Some, like London, can be treated pretty much *as* gods (though Old Father Thames is a deity in his own right).

Though of course much can happen with minor spirits and entities within a old magical town. Personally I think it's a mistake to try and map rural praxis onto urban life - approaches given in such widely-separated works as The Red Goddess and The Invisibles have much to offer alternate in this.

Mary LA said...

The psychogeography of Iain Sinclair helped me rediscover London as a labyrinth of leyines and harboured energies. And I walk Cape Town the same way.

Great post.