Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Diana Rajchel, author of the new Urban Magick.
Pagan, to a lot of people, means “nature worship.” I’ve met many who resonate with this definition, and I do see where they’re coming from. But as someone who is both Pagan and joyfully urban, I would like to take this opportunity to explain why I advocate for a more city-inclusive definition.
For those that see Pagan as an umbrella term for multiple religions, we acknowledge that some of those religions center much more around daily human life especially activities of governance and shared community. Hellenism and Nova Roma most certainly have aspects of the urban within their reconstructions; for those of us that have a less structured relationship with the divine, we tend to see the immanent as everywhere and not just in a pristine wilderness. That does not mean that those that practice urban magick ignore natural forces: Mother Nature can eat us anytime, anywhere, whenever she’s ready. We haven’t forgotten. We simply remember that the ancients also appreciated the urban communities they built.
These aspects that the ancients celebrated reflected the values of their culture. Farming and fishing cultures had gods that connected to this; cities of the dead focused on death deities, and trade cities had pantheons of trade-related deities. A famous example of this: the goddess Athena, who receives worship to this day, is a goddess of wisdom. Athena is also the patron of Athens, Greece—she is urban in spirit and nature. Modern Pagans love their nature—and honor deities like Apollo, a god of music, joyous pan-sexuality, and healing. He is both a force of nature (the sun) and carries with him many aspects developed when humans began creating intentional communities. Cities were that first protection. While certainly arts and exploration happened before cities, cities and their attached temples became part of the preservation and elevation of these practices. To this day, artists especially flock to cities—because that’s where they meet others to form their communities.
This is not to say that cities, as we know them now, resemble the cities populated by ancestors of modern Pagans. The human population was smaller, and the most populated of ancient cities might barely break what counts as a mid-sized town in the modern-day. Despite smaller populations, humans packed together more, leading to serious pollution and disease issues.
While the conversations that led to such decisions are lost to history, based on what historians do know, the first cities were founded with the establishment of a temple to a god that aligned with that culture’s values. This god became the city spirit (and was sometimes also the land spirit.) The temple served as a catch-all: meeting hall, hospital, place of worship, arts center, and, with the invention of money, a bank. For many of these communities, the presence of some type of city consciousness was just a given, and temple activity fed that collective consciousness at a steady rate.
Paganism will always revere nature; nature is, after all, only ever conquered temporarily. But to honor the urban is also quite Pagan; to do so honors our ancestors and those that create our world in the here and now. The urban in no way excludes the natural.
Our thanks to Diana for her guest post! For more from Diana Rajchel, read her article “12 Mini-Spells City Witches Can Use to Ease Life in the City.”