As some of you may know, I live in Austin, Texas. While it’s not the biggest city, it is absolutely packed to the brim with people and takes it’s growth at a sprint. Being in such a busy, populated area can be a challenge for a witch. The traditional methods of doing rituals outdoors go right out the window (unless you’re into 4am parking garage rituals, uh… no thank you) and your ability to do witchcraft outside the home plummets because there are people EVERYWHERE.
I’m fortunate enough to live in a city that affords me a lot of green space to explore (if not much privacy while I do so), this isn’t the case for many major cities though. What’s a witch to do when stuck in an urban environment?! Urban witchcraft of course.
What Is Urban Witchcraft?
Urban witchcraft, like most branches of witchcraft, isn’t a formally organized religion or spiritual practice. Instead, it’s an amalgamation of all of the practices used by witches who base their practice in an urban environment. It has some overlap with tech magic and can often involve a deep relationship with genius loci (the spirit of a place). This practice of city witchcraft is a uniquely modern form of magic, prior to the modern age witches would either avoid cities or, if in a larger city, relegated their practices to divination, poppet work, and other such practices that were not dependent upon location.
With the advent of technology and the stark change in modern social norms, urban witchcraft has become a huge portion of the craft. More than 60% of people in the U.S. live in a city which means that more of us than ever are practicing witchcraft in an urban environment. It’s time that teachings on witchcraft catch up as well!
Aren’t cities the exact opposite of what witchcraft is about?
This idea often comes from a series of assumptions that don’t really hold up under scrutiny. The first is that witchcraft = nature. Many people feel that witches are “nature worshipers” and while I’m certain there are plenty of nature worshipers among our ranks, it is not an inherent part of the craft as a whole. Witchcraft is the practice of magic, often using folk methods but the term is also used to describe some methods of occult or ritualized magic as well. Nothing more, and nothing less.
The second assumption we have to deal with here is that urban environments, and truthfully modern human society as a whole, is somehow the opposite of nature. This is not true! Humans are a part of nature, inextricably. We are, at our core, animals. We may be exceedingly smart and creative animals and we may have built amazingly complex cities and social systems but we are still just animals. We don’t have to do anything to get BACK to nature, we ARE nature. Everything we build is still a part of nature. Would you look at a beaver dam and condemn it because the beaver built it? No! That would be absurd.
Humans have many wonderful qualities but we have our flaws as well. One of our bigger flaws is the tendency to see ourselves as separate. Separate from each other, separate from nature, separate from other nations or peoples. This feeling of separateness is a lie. We are all together on this planet and we are all a deeply ingrained part of nature. Practicing witchcraft in an urban environment is an entirely natural way to practice.
If you’re still not convinced, think about it like this. The energy that we harness as witches isn’t the power of some trees, or the power of an environment, or even the power of the earth. We can incorporate those energies into our magic but when you boil it down, the ability to do that is innate. It’s not something outside of ourselves, it’s us. This magical ability is an innate part of being a human and it doesn’t matter what environment we’re in, what tools we’re using, or what people we’re around. We are the magic.
So How Do I Practice Urban Witchcraft?
Ok, so now we’re getting into the fun stuff. How can witches actually incorporate an urban setting into the craft? City life is busy and crowded but an urban environment has a lot to offer to the crafty witch.
1. Work with what you find in your environment
We don’t often think about picking things up in an urban environment but cities can be a treasure trove to the well trained eye. Keep an eye out for weeds that you know you can use in your craft, flowers to press for spells, feathers from local birds, pretty packages or jars that you may be able to repurpose. All kinds of things get abandoned in cities as well and even if something isn’t just lying around, many places will willingly give you all kinds of stuff for free or almost free. Think wooden wine boxes, thrift sales at your local library, project leftovers, and more.
2. Learn to amend your craft for a smaller space
This can be absolutely vital for the city witch. Often living in an urban area means living in a teeny tiny space. You know what this witch doesn’t have room for? A cauldron, a besom, a large altar, or a huge collection of ritual items. Instead I have to make do with the space and the tools that I have. Use vertical space or already existing space that would otherwise be unusable. Create altars on shelves or maybe even just as wall hangings. Make the most out of windowsills, closet shelves, and if you’re really lucky, your balcony.
3. Turn your everyday items into magical items
This one is pretty straightforward. If it’s something you already own and use regularly, you can probably do magic with it. Turn your crockpot into a cauldron, use school supplies to craft sigils, charm your jewelry, cast magic on your makeup, and use your headphones to listen to meditations and witchy music while you’re on the go.
4. Use magic to help you navigate urban spaces
This is one of my favorite ways to use magic in the city. Learn spells that will help you with the more uncomfortable parts of city life. Use wards to create more space around you in crowded places. Charm your car to help you avoid traffic. Enchant your wristwatch so you’re never late for your bus or train. Cast glamours on yourself to avoid being noticed by solicitors and use protective magic to help keep you safe from pickpockets or muggers (and maybe carry some mace as well…).
5. Use the energies that are most powerfully present in your city
Think about your city. What energies can you identify that are always present? Electrical grids? Subways? Maybe your city has a bustling nightlife or an industrial sector. Do men in smart business suits march to and fro all day? What is your city known for? Each of these things can carry their own energy and be transformed into magic with a little practice.
6. Working with genius loci
Working with genius loci is one of my absolute favorite ways to use my craft in big cities. In rural environments, genius loci are the spirits of the land, perhaps the spirit of a particular mountain, a lake, or the spirit of a local landmark. Cities also have genius loci. They can be quite different from the genius loci of less urban environments but that does not mean that they won’t still have plenty to teach and offer you. Try tapping into that innate spirit in your city. Can you feel you cities “personality”, the thrum of life that transcends the individual parts that make up the whole? This is the genius loci of your city. Depending on where you live, this spirit can vary hugely. Every city is different, right? This spirit can help you find sources of energy, teach you about the place you live, and give you a lot of insight into the kind of magic available to you. You can speak with them, leave them offerings, and make petitions of them just as you would any other spirit.
7. Create your own green space
Green space can be hard to come by in a city so if you’re the kind of witch who desperately needs a little more green space, it’s time to figure out how to create it yourself. If you have a balcony, you can go crazy with container gardens. On my balcony, I grow tomatoes, kale, a whole bunch of herbs, hibiscus, marigolds, and a collection of carnivores plants (ok, so the carnivorous ones are my roommates, but still). If you’re short on cash, don’t worry about buying pots, plants will grow in just about anything. Reuse plastic containers, 5 gallon buckets, wooden boxes, pallets, canvas bags, jars, anything you can lay hands on that will hold dirt and not dry out too fast. Hell, I’ve even reused yogurt containers to grow plants in.
If you don’t have a balcony, look into window boxes, see what you can grow indoors, and set up hanging planters in your living room. If your house doesn’t get much natural light, consider opting for low light plants or investing in a small grow light.
8. Instead of seeking quiet, learn to tune into the “hum”
The “hum” can be a hard thing to describe to someone who has never experienced it. In part, it’s the cumulative sounds of a living place. The cars, the conversations, the birds, dripping water, all of it comes together into a symphony of life that conveys a great deal of auditory information. Underneath this however, there’s more. There’s the sound of life, the spiritual “noise” of people existing and animals and plants and the genius loci of the city itself. When you can tune in to this thrum of life and noise and spiritual energy you experience the true nature of the place in that single moment.
This is a powerful experience in many ways. For one, it can help those who feel out of place or out of alignment in an urban environment connect and find a sense of home in their surroundings. It can teach you a great many things about the magic of the place you live and it can also be used AS magic. The hum isn’t just a bunch of noise, it’s raw energy and you can harness this energetic cacophony to power your spells and rituals
9. Learn to tap into the magic of mechanical and electrical items
We touched on the fact that natural items and manmade items are not necessarily distinct earlier in this post and for this particular point, I want to revisit that. Tech magic is something that many traditionalists in witchcraft communities scoff at but technology is an irrevocable part of human existence in this day and age. Regardless of whether you believe it is inherently magical or not, with the extent to which we interface through it, it’s impossible that it has managed to remain inert and without magic. These items are brimming with human thought, emotion, drive, and will. Not to mention electricity and often sentient spirits all their own. You can absolutely incorporate them into your craft!
A few ideas to get you started on this: Get to know the spirit of your car/bike/other transportation. This relationship can be invaluable when you need to coax your battery into turning over just once to get your car off the side of the road. Use your phone to cast spells, create electronic sigils, and keep notes about magical happenings and doings. Your grimoire can even be digital! I have a digital version of my grimoire on Evernote which allows me to access my personal magical resources from every device I own.
Urban environments may seem like an unusual setting for witchcraft but more and more of us find ourselves in large cities. It’s time to learn how to make our homes work for us!