Sunday, 7 February 2016

Looking Beyond The Obvious: Psychogeography

Merry meet one and all!

Today I learnt a new word - who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks eh?  I was reading an article on Mookychick (a great site for anyone who walks their own path, though it is aimed at a much younger audience than I) and discovered the word psychogeography.

Psychogeography is basically the art of wandering around and seeing the world beneath the world, of exploring places to see how the environment influences the population, or vice versa, and basically viewing the world through witchy eyes.

I say that with confidence because this is something I have done all my life and I learnt it from my dad, though he called it going for a mooch.  I'll give you an example.  Picture your town centre on a Saturday afternoon.  It's going to be crowded and a bit of a sensory overload; people are probably rushing around, looking at shop window displays, billboards, sign posts, and most of this they are doing without really paying attention.  So far, so normal, and I'm guessing like me you have often been one of those people not paying attention but instead focused on getting to a particular shop, hoping they have what you want, and where the nearest coffee shop is to recharge your batteries.

Swan Lane, Guildford, Surrey.
Image www.guildford-dragon.com
Psychogeography, however, is about entering these spaces with a very different objective, so next time you go to town forget the shopping.  You are there to observe.  Truly observe. This is about gaining a better understanding of the environment and how it influences people.  How are the shoppers moving around?  Is it chaotic or does there appear to be a flow?  Do they look calm or stressed?  Happy or sad?  Now I want you to open up your third eye and sense the world around you. What do you detect?  It could be the sound of a river running under the street that you'd been filtering out, or the smell of the sea or even the tang of pollution.  It could even be a sense of calm or anxiety that permeates the area.

Now you are more honestly in tune with the area you will start to notice things for the first time.  This is when you can go for a wander and follow your intuition, what is known in psychogeographic circles as a dérive.  It is all about looking beyond the surface trappings and seeing what is really going on, which is why I think of this as a basic witchy skill because we tend to do this all the time anyway.  How is the public being controlled?  It could be pavements and pedestrian crossings, or instructions on the escalators to keep right, which keep people safe and control the environment.  But look again.  Where are the CCTV cameras, how many are there and where do they focus?  Do they reassure the population or are they still uneasy?

Ye Olde Mitre pub, Holborn, London
Image www.yeoldemitreholborn.co.uk
While you're doing this you will often find something that you have walked past for years without really seeing it.  It could be a little alleyway between old buildings, in which case where does it go? Sometimes these lead somewhere unexpected, like a little park or down to the river, or even a 400 year old pub.  Allow your curiosity to lead you and make a note of what you find and how you feel.

Look at other ways you and your fellow citizens are controlled.  Are there many places to sit or are you not encouraged to linger?  Is there rubbish on the floors or does it feel very clean?  If it's dirty how many bins are there?  I can remember many shopping centres removing bins because of the threat of terrorist activity after 9/11, though I am sure that wasn't the case during the 70s and 80s when the IRA were a threat in my community, so is that fear a factor and is it noticeable in the shoppers around you?
New York alley
Image Flickr/swampa

Another interesting element is graffiti.  Is there any?  What does it say?  Is some of it repeated often, such as tags marking territory, or is it just the bored scribblings in a bus shelter?  Don't be afraid to take notes and photographs and create your own map of the area, like a scrap book or journal, because understanding how a place ticks is, I think, a vital occult skill for a witch.

I always think of this process as a bit Orwellian; we know there is all this stuff going on but we are conditioned to ignore it, though to be honest the witch in me has always looked at the world a bit differently.  I've made it a point to see what others don't, to see what we are being told to ignore or what is apparently impossible and find the lie behind it.  However psychogeography is actually great fun.  Through this process of truly seeing I have discovered beautiful courtyards filled with flowers, explored Medieval cellars under Guildford High Street, climbed centuries-old stone staircases to explore ancient city walls and discovered side streets hiding fantastic occult shops, so I think I am going to practice my psychogeography skills a bit more and see what else I can discover about my community.

How about you?  Had you heard of psychogeography before?  Is this something that you too have found yourself doing even though you never knew there was a word for it?  I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences so share away in the comments!

With love and light - and happy exploring!

Blessed be )0(