Librarian’s Nook: City Magick by Christopher Penczak

An absolute must-read for all street mages and urban shamans who want to put some real occult into their magic roleplay.

City Magick: Urban Rituals, Spells, and Shamanism by Christopher Penczak is another introduction to witchcraft – this time, thankfully, more of my speed. Penczak is a Neopagan and says that he mostly works with Celtic deities (having started in the Celtic witchcraft tradition), but his book is pleasantly agnostic, and deities are interchangeable with spirits, guardians, angels, and the general energy of the universe. I like this. I avoid dogma like the plague (and as I’m an immunocompromised introvert living in a tiny village in the middle of the forest and barely ever leave my house, you can imagine how much I avoid the plague).

And this book I like.

A big plush raven proudly presenting the softcover book while sitting on a soft, blue velvet blanket.
Raven approves of this book, so do I.

First, it’s a solid introduction to magic in general, guiding you through basic rituals and practices like meditation, grounding, centering, journeys, mentor spirits, etc.

Second, it brings a lot of freshness into the standard ‘be one with nature’ side of witchcraft, discussing in detail how nothing is unnatural – just more processed – on Earth, including cities, transportation, even internet. And it runs with this concept:

  • worldscraper / skyscraper as a metaphor of the world tree / mountain
  • machine spirits of public transportation
  • sidewalking as a way of walking meditation
  • putting on glamours when going to a nightclub
  • city vibe / city spirit
  • searching for sigils in graffiti
  • online covens & rituals
Plushie raven presenting a spread with sigils created from photographs of graffiti.
Drawing sigils from graffiti.

And a whole bunch more. I love it. I’m not much of a city person, but I love the idea of an urban shaman.

Third, this book fits my personal tradition.

But Anna, you’ll say. You don’t have a personal tradition, you have a mish-mash of Shadowrun magic mechanics and some overblown ideas about the ethics of magic.

And all I can answer is: ouch and fair, but this book fits it anyway. It has no weird content like Grimassi’s book on familiars, it comes with a bibliography, it doesn’t advise binding spirits into slavery, it doesn’t force me to connect with my inner goddess that I don’t believe in, and it’s so pleasantly non-dogmatic and focused on a personal experience! The exercises included are simple and workable, have no dodgy rhyming in them, and they don’t make me feel weird and self-conscious.

This is not at all influenced by the fact that – as much as one can tell from a single Twitter interaction – the author is a pretty cool person, also knowledgeable about Shadowrun. I’ve learnt it post-factum, but I admit it made me like the book more.

As a side note, the author mentions that the circle should be cast clockwise on the Northern Hemisphere and counterclockwise on the Southern, due to the ‘corollas effect.’ I assume he means the Coriolis effect. And he has some opinions on how the pyramids sharpen razor blades, which is incorrect – but it’s an old book, and we all know better now, with more sources of reliable information.

A raven plushie pointing to the entry on crows in the table.
Happy to be included.

All in all, this book is chock-full of good ideas that I want to test. I don’t live in a city anymore, but do I now have a mighty need to make myself a divination set of dice with carved modern runes? You betcha, full set of d4 to d20. I just need to buy wooden blanks somewhere. After reading a digital version, I’ve happily upgraded to a physical copy, because I know I’ll be referencing it quite often, both in my occult studies and in magic system design for the games.

Good one, highly recommended. Gotta check other books of Christopher Penczak, he wrote a whole bunch.

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