Sunday, August 25, 2013

Reflections on the Daimons of Space

I've been writing something else, which may appear elsewhere, on the subject of the Genius Loci or “spirits of [the] place.” I think I first tried to write an essay on the subject four years ago, but I was still in the process with experimenting with different techniques and meeting spirits.

Very quickly the earliest attempts to write that essay became failed and botched pieces focusing more on taxonomy than they should have; attempts to parse the incomprehensible, indescribable elements of
Daimons (or, in plenty of cases involving this topic, daimones) into something others could possibly understand.

Subsequently the attempts failed, and the more I discovered, the more I felt that I had no right even addressing the subject.

At the same time, this is a very old obsession of mine. Many of my earliest rituals were performed in the dead of night in Fresno, Ca. Those who have never visited that shithole during the winter probably don't realize that somewhere around 30% of all winter nights in Fresno are cloaked with fog. The fog rolls in, blanketing most of the city and the surrounding foothills in a dense layer of white. It almost never snows in Fresno; instead the town has a very different iteration of the idea of a “White Christmas” – and I don't mean
that, you goddamn perverts and deviants.

Very quickly I became used to taking long walks in the middle of the night, with almost no “tools of the trade” to speak of except what was absolutely necessary. I drifted between the cities of Fresno and Clovis, performing rituals in grape vineyards, at far-flung
trivium crossroads, and occasionally in or next to half-forgotten cemeteries dating back at least a hundred years.

The more I wandered, the more I performed, the more I became convinced that the pleasant distinctions between the world we inhabit and the world we imagine the spirits to inhabit were more “attached at the hip” than is typically realized. For months, during rituals, a single phrase was drilled into my head, whispered in my ear as I dreamed and meditated, and haunted me:

We don't own the Land. The Land Owns Us.

I noticed two folk Saints that seemed to be everywhere across back roads, but couldn't understand why they were there. It was only later that I learned that they'd been brought into California by “mopes,” a term cops use to refer the poor souls who are forced to aid in the drug trade, often under threat of violence to their family, and who work in “meth super-labs,” largely due to this coercion. The two folk Saints I'm referring to are Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde, and they were brought into California initially by those very same poor souls that I referred to. Both are considered to answer the prayers of
anyone who petitions them, regardless of their social class or whether they are “holy” or not. Both are fascinating in their own right, and seeing their presence spread throughout the region is even more fascinating to me.

After I came to Sacramento, I found myself repeating these tactics. These days I move through the downtown and midtown areas more often than along the edge of the city, but I began wandering through the “city of trees” and casting my eyes about. It began to dawn on me that one of the problems with discussions on spirits, and
spirits of nature, is that we like to cast them out of our cities.

Nature is something supposedly alien to us; it is “wild,” and “free,” and not at all alive in our cities. I know other magicians and witches that travel great distances to “reach nature.” They return with tales of how having returned to “nature,” they are revitalized! I can understand how such a thing may occur. I simply disagree with the walls we've built between ourselves and this so-called “nature.” True: different spirits, and even more active elemental spirits can be found outside our cities. But I am not convinced that this is for the reasons presumed by many.

I think we influence nature in the same way that we are influenced by it. That the presence of the numinous can be found within the city and outside it. Wandering aimlessly through the city, you are suddenly exposed to all the details that you've missed in your typical routines. The expected way we move through the city is from Point A to Point B. From home to work, work to restaurant for lunch, from restaurant back to work, and then back home from work (perhaps, one imagines, stopping to buy gas on the way home).

The city is lost in a blur of movement. The revelations of the spirits of the place within it are equally lost. It is forgotten that you can turn down a street you've never wandered through before, and you'll see before you the crumbling ruins of a Victorian home that's been overcome by weeds and who-knows-what-else. Hell, there might even be some henbane growing near such a home. You'd never know. You didn't bother to look.

The same goes for “city-slicker elementals,” of which my experience has taught me can be found in most cities. Wandering through the city in a state of light trance, sensing the subtle changes in the atmospheres, you suddenly realize that there is no place without a sense of “spirit.” That there is no place that has no gathering of men and spirits in equal repast.

At 1123 W. St. is one of the most haunted houses I've ever stumbled upon. I have no idea what,
precisely, lives at the place. Only that it is:
1. Sinister.
2. Most likely
pissed off.
3. Being barely contained by a few Angel statues, and a Virgin Mary, not to mention a fence decorated by more wrought-iron crosses than you can possibly imagine.

Sometimes, I stop and gaze at the place and consider trying to chat up the owners. Sometimes I consider trying to use automatic drawing to procure a sigil for the location. But mostly I wonder who lives there, and why the house is so cut off from the rest of the street. Is is because whatever is bound within cannot get free, is constrained under the weight of the beautiful statues of Angels with the swords pointed toward the earth?

Or was that someone's last ditch attempt to hold back a brewing storm?

When I wander by and stop, I wonder what would happen if I attempted to make contact. I'm fairly sure it would involve my getting my ass kicked again, though, and so I never both to. Eventually I turn on my heel, and continue wandering.


I'd just finished procuring a sigil for one of the older sections of town, along with a name that had been scribbled automatically beneath it – almost illegible – when I looked up to try and figure out why a shadow had fallen over me.

“Have you ever heard about the Last Duel in California?” He asked, in an extremely jittery manner.

“No,” I said quietly, used to this sort've encounter, “would you like to tell me about it?”

“Well, man, it's the reason that this state ended up being
Slave Free during the civil war!”

“That's interesting.”

“Yeah. Hey, man. Can I bum three bucks off you?”

I gave the man his money.

And then I went home and cracked open a few books and smiled slightly. It's very probable that near the area where I'd been sitting, near the second Capital (well, courthouse) to be built, had been the site where a man named David S. Terry had given a speech which instigated the so-called “last duel in California.”

In the aftermath of that duel, Californian Senators turned against the pro-slave stance of Terry and made California one of the Free States.


Before this was a city of European immigrants, Native American tribes already lived in the area. The Miwok and Maidu tribes are the two that are the easiest to point to. When John Sutter, one of the individuals at the heart of the Gold Rush that brought the area to national recognition, arrived he began a long-standing policy of enslaving or driving off the natives.

At 951 I. St. sits Sa' Cumn'e Plaza (“Big House” in the Miwok language), where a small monument emphasizes that before European settlers arrived, the Miwok had already had a village in the area. While procuring a sigil for the plaza and its attendant Genius Loci, I distinctly heard the words “Ghost Dance” whispered in my ear.

Later I began to look into the “Ghost Dance” phenomena and was shocked to discover that the phenomena had swept through California in the 1870s, almost twenty years before it arrived elsewhere in the United States. It evolved in several different “cults,” differentiated by interpretations of the tribes who encountered it. The Earth Lodge Cult, Big Head Cult, and Bole-Maru cults all evolved out of what had begun as the visions of one particular native American, and spread with increasing strength.

By the time that Sacramento was established, the Miwok and the Maidu had already been driven out of the area and were most likely being kept around Fort Bragg. Nonetheless the Ghost Dance – a form of ecstatic dances in which the native American cults often saw visions of the future and their ancestral dead gathering – was already in California and Oregon before it spread elsewhere.

Some of these visionary instances were characterized by apocalyptic dread. Others were not. In still others, a messianic Supreme Deity was thought to be forth-coming which would render all races equal and usher in a new era.

Then in 1874, a Methodist minister reported a rather fascinating turn of events at the area that the Native Americans he was watching over were confined to: they had ceased dancing ecstatically for the future, and converted to Christianity. The individual in question, Buchard, writes:
Four Hundred and Ninety have joined the Church, one Hundred of them having been baptized in the Christian faith. Very many of them give bright evidence of genuine conversion praying, and talking with an intelligence that astonishes and confounds us all, beyond measure.”

Somehow, the Ghost Dance – in its myriad forms – had paved the way for a microscale conversion. But this form of “Christian” revivalism continued beyond that.

Virginia P. Miller writes: “Dancing, gambling, quarreling, prostitution, and general “debauchery” among the Indians all stopped; with the consequent improved sanitary conditions, general health among the Indians also improved so that the number of live births began to show an increase...”

As fascinating as this is, I still won't pretend to even remotely understand what precisely took place, or how ecstatic dancing had lead to this situation. What I do know, both from the strange experience and my reading, is that it
appears to have worked. At least to a certain degree. Granted, Native Americans were still largely treated like crap, and you can still – today – visit Native American Reservations and occasionally see some of the most appalling conditions imaginable. But something, some whisper of something, shifted through California between 1870 and 1875, and changed conditions enough that at least one group wasn't forced into complete and utter cultural desolation.

Of course: we might just as well wish that conditions could have changed
without conversion.

I've had a number – perhaps a dozen or more – of such strange instances when wandering and working with the spirits of this city. I'll probably continue doing this work for as long as I live here. But what I've become convinced of is the notion that the past is not dead; it sits around us, whispering to us all the time. The spirits of
place, the daimons of space, are representative not only of the land itself but the events that have transpired in and around the space.

You don't need to visit some far-flung region of the globe, or the wilds outside the city, to encounter them. They are all around you, all the time. There are the
people of the street, and the wights, and the many ghosts. And there are the elementals.

And somewhere between all of them is the presence of that which inhabits place. It is all around you: you just need to know where to look.

And one last thing: we don't own the land. It owns us.



ginandjack said...

excellent commentary on land spirits and urban animism

Br Christopher said...

love this

Jake said...

top notch mate, encore.

Rachel Izabella said...

"The past is not dead. Hell, it's not even past."

Absalom, Absalom!

Lance Foster said...

A fantastic post, Jack. I am promoting it on my FB page too. I hope you continue to write more about the daimones of place, like you do here and like you have in the past. What is your favored technique for finding the sigil for a particular place?

mbarclay said...

Great post. Thanks.

Auntie Robyn said...

Yay for Sacramento! Though living out in the fields area, I mostly deal with the land spirits, not of the dead.

Auntie Robyn said...
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