Magick and Esotericism in the Urban Utopia


This list is still under construction. Remaining abstracts and descriptions will be added soon.

Panel 1: Occult Chicago: An Urban History.

As the crossroads of America at the end of the 19th century, Chicago was the home of a burgeoning esoteric scene, launched by the infamous 1893 Columbian World Expo and World Parliament of Religions which introduced the West to yoga and Eastern wisdom. Through a series of colorful figures, such as William Walker Atkinson, Laurence de Laurence, and Emma Curtis Hopkins, groups like the Theosophical Society, the Choronzon Club, and the Ordo Adeptorum Invisiblum, publications like The Occult Digest and the Kybalion, and locations like the Masonic Temple Building, at one time the tallest building in the world, Chicago maintained its identity as an occult city through the 20th century and into the 21st. This presentation will feature the research of Dr. Jason Winslade and his first-year students from DePaul University, conducted as part of his Explore Chicago class, “Unveiling Occult Chicago: Secret Societies, Magicians and Alternative Spiritualities.” We will share stories and images from Chicago’s rich occult history.

Panel 2: The Occult City in Action 

  • David Wilson (University of Edinburgh), Portobello Spiritualist Church: A Spatial Analysis of an Urban Shamanism

    Portobello Spiritualist Church (Portobello SC) in Edinburgh, Scotland, was established in 1946 and is one of the largest Spiritualist centres in Scotland (measured in terms of attendance). PSC offers seven public services each week, four of which include demonstrations of mediumship, with the remaining three being healing services. Since 2001, the author has conducted an extended ethnography of this church based principally upon an apprentice-participation methodology.The characterization of Anglo-American Spiritualism as a traditional (or indigenous) urban shamanism relies in part upon a new perception of the spatial locations to which religious traditions belong, and to the ‘places’ to which they can be regarded as indigenous. In order to explore this further, the paper engages principally with Kim Knott’s monograph “The Location of Religion: A Spatial Analysis” (Equinox 2005).One of the general issues spatial approaches to religion have attempted to explore is the ability of religious traditions to persist (and in some cases prosper) in the increasingly secular culture of the modern west. In this paper, the ability of Portobello SC to continue to prosper in the twenty-first century is explored with reference to the church’s mediums (particularly the training of new mediums) and with reference to the church’s conservative congregation. This analysis of the church supports the contention that the conservatism of western religious traditions is among the factors enabling their continuing success in a contemporary urban (and often widely secular) environment.
  • Patricia Boyd (Arizona State University), The Possibilities of Leaky Cities: Sedona’s Vortexes as Sites for Challenging the Ordered City

    Sedona, Arizona widely known for its location in/around mystical vortexes, draws residents and tourists alike who want to experience a city that has magical forces. Sedona is replete with natural magic, but this “natural” magic is interspersed with built aspects that are “something special,” in a time that Michel de Certeau argues is often seen to have no special places except home (“Walking in the City” 163). Through its encouragement of multiple spiritual practices, Sedona is a space where the established order “is everywhere punched and torn open by ellipses, drifts and leaks of meaning” (de Certeau 163), thus offering promise of new inventions of spaces/experiences of wandering.The legends of/multiple uses of the spiritual vortexes create makeshift stories that allow residents and tourists to actively challenge the totalization of ordered, fixed city metaphors. As an occult city, Sedona is filled with “things extra and other” that “insert themselves into the accepted framework, the imposed order” (de Certeau 163). Studying places in Sedona where the natural and the built intersect—where helicopter tours, palm reading, spiritual hiking clubs, and public events all intersect–allows us to see the way the people’s use of the city situates it as the antithesis to the stylistic interpretation that “there are only ‘places in which one can no longer believe in anything’” (de Certeau 163). Studying Sedona can highlight possibilities for making “the other” not off-center, but a part of the common design of the city, central to stories of wandering paths through the built and “natural” spaces of magic.  
  • Hayes Hampton (University of South Carolina, Sumter), Liminal Hymns: Zones of Derangement in Coil and Crowley Aleister Crowley’s magick reveals tensions between rural and urban that, more than merely reflecting the places Crowley worked, actually shape his magical world view. Writings like The Book of Lies and Rex de Arte Regia are grounded in an urban(e), highly literate sensibility combined, in the latter, with ritual techniques that could only be deployed in the city, with its bars, bath houses, and street-corner commerce. Some of Crowley’s most intense, significant magickal practice, however, took place outside the city: his invocation of the Aethyrs in the Sahara, his “Star Sponge” vision in New Hampshire, and his sojourns at Boleskine and the Abbey of Thelema in Sicily.Popular music has also had its share of artists whose work, dependent for its very existence on urban structures of cultural dissemination, has flourished during rural hejiras. Often this work incorporates musical and lyrical nostalgia (e.g., Led Zeppelin III, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding, etc.).What happens when an avowedly urban, Crowleyan, “anti-rock and roll” band flees from London to the British countryside? I will examine Coil’s London career, their later, ex/urban career in North Somerset, and the intersections of their work with Crowley’s, elucidating common threads in Crowley’s and Coil’s magickal practices and the ways in which the city served as both muse and cacodaemon for both. I will pay particular attention to Coil’s and Crowley’s use of drugs and their sexual magicks.
  • Joseph Futerman (Chicago School of Professional Psychology), Who is the god of Chicago: An Archetypal Examination of Urban Fantasy and Today’s Cities   This paper examines the archetypal background of the recent genre of “urban fantasy” created by such author’s such as Andrews, Biggs, Butcher, Gaiman, Harris, Harrison, Kurtz, and others. In this genre the authors have brought the wizard of the Arthurian mythos into the gritty noir world of the modern Private Eye. The argument is presented that the protagonists of these tales offer a modern mythopoeic image of the archetype of the 21st century city.  Comparisons are drawn to the relationships between the city of Uruk and its ruler and destroyer/protector Gilgamesh and the tale of the Fisher King to illuminate the archetypal underpinnings of the experience of contemporary city dwellers.  Finally the archetypal nature of these images is explored in relationship to the Hero Trickster dynamic to expose the paradoxical nature of the city with regards to innovation and conservation in the contemporary setting.

Presentation: Touring Occult Chicago: Mapping the Urban Ley Lines

In this session, Rik Garrett, founder of the Occult Chicago blog and will discuss his encounters with Chicago’s occulture as an artist, photographer, researcher and blogger. Rik will present his approach to researching and sharing Chicago’s rich occult history, including his forays into archives, rare book sales, and street-level encounters. Ken Melvoin-Berg, of Weird Chicago tours, home of the city’s most popular ghost tour, will discuss his relationship with Chicago as a tour guide, psychic, ghost-hunter and “urban shaman,” demonstrating how he engages with the energies and spirits of the city through psychometry, clairvoyance and urban magick.


“My Chicago Occult Memories” with Michael Bertiaux

Legendary Chicago occultist Michael Bertiaux shares his stories and memories of Chicago’s occult scene based on his decades of experience in a rare discussion and q/a session.


Roundtable: Re-examining Psychic City: A Panel of Local Practitioners and Community Leaders Discuss Chicago’s Esoteric Scene

Journalist Brad Steiger, in his obscure 1976 book called Psychic City: ChicagoDoorway to Another Dimension, declared Chi-Town “North America’s most psychic city.” Due to a confluence of ley lines, astrological significance, and psychic energy, Steiger argues, Chicago has consistently been the headquarters for countless alternative religions, spiritual groups and organizations, and New Age-minded individuals. In this panel discussion, featuring several prominent practitioners and leaders representing some of Chicago’s varied esoteric and alternative spiritual movements, we will interrogate Chicago’s (deserved or not) reputation as an occult city. Panelists will discuss their experiences creating practice and organizing local communities and what lessons can be learned from forging a spiritual identity and establishing esoteric currents in the urban landscape. Joining us will be Angie Buchanan, founder of Earth Traditions and Pagan representative to the World’s Parliament of Religions, Joan Forest Mage, director of the Life Force Arts Foundation, Lisa Gruber of the Occult Bookstore, Preston Klik of Temple Synphorium, Ken Melvoin-Berg of Weird Chicago Tours, and M. Dionysius Rogers of the Aum Ha Lodge of the O.T.O. 

Performance: An Evening of Alchemy, Magick, and Steampunk

The Owen Society for Hermetic and Spiritual Enlightenment is delighted to present to a series of mini-lectures with musical and theatrical accompaniment for this conference. For our portion of the evening, we will explore Chicago’s occult history, journeying through captivating subjects of inquiry including ancient evil manuscripts, witchcraft, faeries and nature spirits, alchemy, and spiritual mediumship, all expounded upon (and enhanced by) Terra Mysterium’s original poems, theatrics, and songs, accompanied by cellist Marissa Deitz.


Professor Marius Mandragore (Keith Green) assisted by his apprentices Dolores Dion (Song Marshall) and Penelope Whitmore (Kat O’Connor)

Eitel August Wilhelm Adelbert Oskar Joachim Viktoria, Graf von Papenheim (James Kollenbroich)

Amber McCoy (Amy Christensen)

Dr. Xavier Day (Matthew Ellenwood)