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Call For Papers, Presentations, Workshops, Rituals and Performances

Mapping the Occult City: Exploring Magick and Esotericism in the Urban Utopia

A pre-conference for the Annual Meeting of the

American Academy of Religions in Chicago, 

Friday November 16, 2012,

presented by Phoenix Rising Academy and DePaul University.



In his classic essay, “Walking in the City,” ethnologist and historian Michel de Certeau distinguished between the “exaltation of a scopic and gnostic drive” that comes from viewing the city from a high vantage point and the quotidian negotiations of the walker at street level, who creates his or her own map, takes shortcuts and resists the strategies of typical urban planning. One perspective is totalizing and distancing, constructing an illusory, unified view of the metropolis, while the other seeks out hidden avenues of knowledge and intersections of stories, myths, and happenings. The occultist tends to shift between both views, sometimes spinning grand narratives of the city as a New Atlantis, a utopian civilization of knowledge and wonder, other times imagining a secret world of dark mysteries, unknown to most passersby, that lay just beyond the twilight of the streetlamps. Many esotericists, conspiracy theorists, and urban fantasy authors have speculated on the occult meaning of symbols, monuments, and architecture in major cities, from Cleopatra’s Needle in London to the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. Or they see powerful sigils in the neon signs, building facades and billboards. Some speak of urban ley lines and “energy centers” that bubble with occult power ready to be tapped into by those with the right sense and ability. These energy centers are focused on geometric street patterns or the lines created by the placement of sacred sites in the city, such as churches, temples, and cemeteries. Others speak of haunted places, charged with story and legend, often full of the sense of violence, trauma and the urgency of events that occurred there.

Historically, cities have been home to countless esoteric groups who have met, planned, and conducted ritual within the towering buildings that glitter the metropolitan skyline. For instance,  Chicago, the location of this year’s AAR conference, was once the home of the 32 floor Masonic Building, owned by the Illinois Freemasons, and the tallest building in the world in 1892. Prominent figures in the esoteric world have spoken, performed and offered their wisdom to the masses through the many salons, lectures, performances, congregations, conferences, and world’s fairs that have been either publicly advertised or available only to those with the right password and invitation.

Cities are where the ideas of Western esotericism spread to the masses through these public events and the many urban publishing houses. Cities are also home to public events and happenings that connect the esoteric, the theatrical and the political world through protest and public actions and happenings, such as the W.I.T.C.H. protests at Chicago’s Federal Building on Halloween 1969. Finally, cities are centers of diversity and diaspora and often become hothouses for the development of hybrid traditions based on immigrant cultures, such as Santeria and Vodun.

For scholars of magick and esotericism, cities like Chicago can offer up rich resources for tracking group activities and events through library archives and public records. Understanding occult life in the city, in both its historical and contemporary contexts, is crucial in mapping the proliferation of ideas and connections between practitioners and traditions. Popular practical texts have addressed how the practice of magick changes in an urban setting, especially when the magician or witch must adapt a nature-centered practice to a city-based practice. Investigating esoteric actions in the city can reveal the ways in which the practitioner is caught up and complicit with strategic structures of power while also offering possibilities for the occultist to resist those structures through the kind of tactical, magical  moves described by de Certeau. As the Occupy movement and other political protests proliferate, especially in America’s election year, what are the possibilities for harnessing and directing the energy of the occult city?

Phoenix Rising Academy would like to explore these intersections of the esoteric and the urban, focusing on the city as a locus for power and knowledge, both hidden and revealed. Are cities oppressive entities that stifle creative and esoteric drives or do they hold in their structures the  otential for powerful action? To this end, we invite scholars and practitioners to submit proposals for papers, presentations, rituals and performances that address these questions pertaining to the occult city. Though our focus is primarily on American cities, particularly Chicago, we welcome explorations in other prominent global metropolitan centers.



For this pre-conference, we plan on creating 2-3 panels of papers,

presentations, performances, rituals, workshops, roundtables, or

discussion groups. Possible topics may include (but are not limited to):

· The activities of certain groups, traditions, and communities, both historical and contemporary, in particular cities.

· The city life of prominent esoteric figures and how that city life shaped their ideas and practices.

· Particular events, meetings, lectures,  performances, happenings, protests whose urban setting featured prominently in their execution and influence.

· The mythology of the occult city, based on legend, occult symbolism, and esoteric symbolism of architecture and urban planning.

· A practical approach to working magick and ritual in the city, perhaps based on Urban Shamanism or Chaos Magick.

· Interpretations of the city and its occult power by urban fantasy authors.

· The intersections of the occult and the political through the use of ritualized protest actions, focusing on setting and urban scene.

· Though not focusing on hauntings per se, an investigation of spiritualism, mysticism and psychic practices prominent in urban settings.

· A study of how hereditary or hybridized indigenous practices survive, evolve and adapt in an urban setting.

With your submission, please include the following:

Presenter information (name, mailing and email addresses, phone number)

Type of presentation (paper, non-paper presentation, workshop,

performance, roundtable).

Note: if you are proposing a roundtable discussion, please submit info for all participants.

Title and affiliation (institution, organization, independent scholar,

or practitioner).

Proposal or abstract (not to exceed 250 words). Should include title of presentation and a clear description of the presentation’s intent, plus

any audio/visual needs. Biographical data (not to exceed 200 words).

Contact and submissions:

Please email all submissions by August 20th to:

Dr. Jason L. Winslade

DePaul University

Conference website:

Please include “PRA Pre-Conference” in the subject line. All submissions

will be reviewed and you will be notified of a decision one week after

the deadline.

Renouncing Rejected Knowledge: Again


Demons In The Academy?

Renouncing Rejected Knowledge, Again.


Many scholars of Western Esotericism support that its validation as a field within mainstream academia lies in the application of empiricism as the primary research method. Yet this perspective disregards a defining constituent of the object of study, namely, the symbolic perception which might also be termed imaginal epistemology. Pejoratively termed “religionism,” carrying connotations of inadequate scholarship, this formative element of esoteric thought has become the new pariah of the academic study of the field broadly termed Western Esotericism in its current form.

The concept of symbolic perception and interpretation is rooted in Western intellectual history, and its significance has been highlighted by a number of respected scholars who have proposed integrative models and approaches that combine scholarly rigour with imaginative and sympathetic

engagement. Other scholars have called for channels of dialogue and mutual understanding to be developed between scholars and practitioners in order to better understand the application and potentials of such epistemologies. However, this perspective is frequently repudiated, and scholars calling for more interdisciplinary approaches often find themselves marginalised, meeting with varying degrees of censure among their peers.

This approach is taking the field in a reductionist direction, with disquieting implications. More alarming still is the near-demonisation of such areas of inquiry in influential scholarly circles. Such interdictions have no place in centres of intellectual inquiry, and to support them with claims of “academic legitimacy” is to perpetuate the very reductionist and rationalist thinking that led to the separation of the sciences from the humanities and consigned the study of esoteric and initiatory philosophy to the backwaters of cultural and intellectual inquiry for the last three hundred years.

Even the most etic of approaches is not immune to subjectivity, and this begs the question of its adequacy for a subject whose very texts and images are directed towards inner, transformative work. Integrated approaches have been long established in many other areas of the humanities and social sciences, from art and performance, to ethnographic and behavioral perspectives. Thus the proscription of all but the most critical and rational methodologies necessarily fails to do justice to such a topic of study.

Phoenix Rising Academy wishes to explore the transdisciplinary options that may lead to more balanced and integrative approaches, while drawing attention to the very real dangers that we perceive in the insistence on objective and disinterested empiricism as the sole acceptable method for the study of these topics. To this end we invite interested parties to submit a proposal, or to join us for the discussion session at our symposium in connection with the:

Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR)

in San Francisco, California,

November 19-22, 2011.

Symposium Format

  • Five 15-20 minute keynote presentations [1.5 hrs]
  • Two video-link presentations [30 mins]
  • Up to eight five-minute statements [1 hr]
  • Panel discussion [30 mins]


Discussion tracks

  • Legitimate ways of knowing: the place of experiential knowledge and/or symbolic perception as a form of research.
  • What can we learn from each other? Bridging the practitioner-scholar divide
  • The esoteric polemic and rejected knowledge: a valid concern or a baseless claim?
  • Why are history and discourse analysis not enough?
  • Paradigms for integration and applied transdisciplinary methodology


Guidelines for proposal submission

Two keynote spots remain open, as do all the ‘statement’ segments. Precise timing will be kept, and speakers exceeding their allotted time will be asked to stop, regardless of whether they have completed their talk or not. Please help us to avoid this by ensuring that you do not exceed the allotted time.

  • Keynote lectures should not exceed an absolute maximum of 17 minutes.
  • Statements should not exceed an absolute maximum of 6 minutes.
  • Statements should consist of a clearly framed thesis and an outline of supporting detail relevant to the symposium topic.
  • Audience members will be invited to prepare one written statement or question during the symposium. These will be handed to the symposium coordinators during the intermission, and a selection will be read out during the discussion session.


With your submission please include the following:

1. Presenter information (name, mailing and e-mail addresses, phone number)
2. Type of presentation (keynote or statement)
3. Title and affiliation (institution or organization)
4. Proposal or abstract (in English, not to exceed 250 words, in PDF, or Word, or Office)
5. Biographical data (in English, not to exceed 200 words)
6. Selected track, or four keywords

Please email all submissions to

by July 15th 2011, marking “PRA Symposium”

in the subject line. All submissions will be reviewed promptly and you will be notified of the academic board’s decision within a maximum of one week after the deadline.

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