Psychogeography: An Interview with Julian Vayne

Having done a couple of highly enjoyable podcasts recently related to my new work Chaos Monk: Bringing Magical Creativity to the New Monastic Path I thought I would share those links (Here and Here) and a further excerpt from the book:

Art by Greg Humphries from Walking Backwards: The Magical Art of Psychedelic Psychogeography

In thinking further about how we might magically engage with movement in both the body and landscape, I recently interviewed my dear friend and magical co-conspirator Julian Vayne regarding his experiments in psychogeography and the role that it played within his own initiatory work:

  • For the uninitiated, could you briefly summarize what Psychogeography actually is?
    Psychogeography is an exploration of the relationship between the mind and space. The approach exists in various forms but the term itself was coined by the radical French artists of the Lettrist movement. The term is defined by Guy Debord as ‘the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.’ Since that time many practitioners of the arts and other disciplines have made use of this term and of course it can be linked to pilgrimage, vision quest and many other older practices. In practice I like to think of psychogeography as a series of approaches to landscape where we seek to reveal new aspects of a location and, in doing so, our minds. This could mean exploring a known locality, for example a city, but doing so in a way that disrupts our usual way of being that place. This could involve moving through an urban space while using the map of a different city. It could mean choosing which road to take with a toss of a coin, or some other technique designed to shake up our usual way of being in a place so we get to see it with fresh eyes. Psychogeography can also be about how we move through space, such as whether we walk slowly, whether we back-sight our route as we go, or what we focus our attention on. As an example, I once took a group of psychogeographers around the exterior of the British Museum in London. While we walked the roads around the building, we stopped to take photographs of the objects in the street, such as benches and traffic signs and generally interacted with the urban space around the museum in the way one might engage with the objects encountered within it.

  • What is your history with this practice and what drew you to it?
    As a child growing up, I had a deep and abiding love of the natural world. However, most of the ‘natural’ spaces I had access to were wastelands and building sites and I had the feeling that there was something wild, something magical in these liminal zones where human activity met the rowdy pioneer plants of bramble and nettle. As a young Pagan I spent plenty of time engaging with ancient stone circles and other prehistoric monuments, and the spirit of place has always been an important part of my practice. Slowly I was able to discern the magic in the fully urban context, helped by writers including Phil Hine’s notion of urban shamanism, the work of William Blake and others. I realized that for me landscape-based practices were about revealing the magic in every space, not just locations considered to be banner-headline ‘sacred’ places.
    It seemed clear to me that the process of the journey was important and that, if one could see things in a new way, hidden mysteries could be revealed. My early interest in folklore galvanized these ideas, as did my encounter with the book by Iain Sinclair Lud Heat (1975). In that book Sinclair explores the idea of a kind of ‘psychic heat’ emanating from some of the buildings in London, notably the churches designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor with alleged alchemical imagery in their construction. That and the vogue for ‘earth mysteries’ and even psychic questing in the final decades of the 20th century, encouraged me to explore a variety of psychogeographical practices and to undertake several pilgrimages.
    In 2018 Greg Humphries and I published our book Walking Backwards; Or The Magical Art of Psychedelic Psychogeography which explores the interface between esoteric practice, walking and a variety of magical substances. Greg and I have taken many walks together and combined psychogeographical practices with various psychedelic and psychoactives. The experience of taking psychedelic substances is often described in both contemporary vernacular and mythopoetic language as a journey or a trip. While combining these approaches does pose certain challenges the radical change in awareness that can be induced by substances such as LSD, DMT, psilocybin, or mescaline, certainly has the capacity to reveal the awesome, the weird, the sacred and the shadow in our environment to an unparalleled degree. I wrote a bit more about this in The Fool & The Mirror: Essays on Magic, Art & Identity.

    ‘The emerging field of psychedelic psychogeography blends together the inner mythic journey of the shaman with the physicality of wandering the landscape. This practice may take place in urban settings or indoors at ‘museum level’ but it may also become a way of interacting with wilder or more organic landscapes. This approach may be deployed as part of a ‘pilgrimage’ where participants walk between ‘sacred sites’ such as prehistoric megaliths, remarkable nature features—such as the confluence of rivers or unusual geological formations—or more modern locations (telecommunications masts or lighthouses) that are interpreted in symbolic, associative terms.

  • What might be the similarities and differences between Psychogeography and Pilgrimage?
    Pilgrimage is an act of moving through space in a way that is centered on the numinous. Psychogeography need not have a discovery of the sacred as part of its project, and may instead be primarily concerned with political, artistic or other processes. I think both are certainly way of moving where the act of walking takes on a meta, archetypal significance and a single walk can certainly have aspects of both.
    I once went for a walk with my son for a few days along the South West Coast Path. We camped out under the stars, listening to the waves. Was this just a walk? Was this a psychogeographical exploration of moving in a novel way to disrupt the usual power relationships? (At one point I had to ask him to take the big rucksack as I simply couldn’t carry it any further. A profound psychological moment of changed relationship perhaps?) Was this a pilgrimage? Well, we were not walking towards an identified sacred site or indeed along a road sanctified by religious association. However, was it in a sense a pilgrimage towards the revelation of my son as an adult alongside me? Yes, it certainly was that. My point is that the boundaries of these things are fluid. I’ve set out just to go for a walk, nothing special, and found myself plunged into a psychogeographical wonderland of the new by some simple quirk of fate. At other times I’ve found myself being a tourist at an attraction, most recently when visiting The Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona, and realised that I was actually on a pilgrimage.

    Find a place to go exploring and try simply to change how (and thereby why) you move in the space. Here are a few techniques that I’ve used to ‘break set’ and to help me see things anew:

    Try these ways of moving…

    • Walking very slowly (particularly in a city)
    • Walking between certain areas (from tree to tree, from one area in shadow or shade to the next).
    • Adopting a particular gait – such as limp, crouching low (to see the world as a child might).
    • Walking on the balls of the feet (rather than the heels). This way of walking is more common when we are barefoot and was common before hard soled shoes became ubiquitous.

    You can also try to bring your attention to certain elements in the landscape such as:

    • Simulacra.
    • Reflections.
    • Cracks, edges, breaks and interpenetrations.
    • Weather and its effects.
    • Animals (actual creatures, including humans and representations of animals).
    • The spaces between objects (in the Japanese the Ma), a‘gap‘, ‘space‘, ‘pause‘ or ‘the space between two structural parts‘ and other lacunae.
    • Seeking out a particular colour/other elements of the landscape.
    • Paying attention to smell, to other peoples’ conversations, to the sounds of the space (as such a humming of electrical equipment or the noise of car tyres on the road).
    • Patterns in architecture and other elsewhere in the space.

  • Given the limitations to health and movement that some folks might experience, are there any modifications that you would make to allow psychogeography to become more accessible?
    There are of course many versions of psychogeographical and pilgrimage related practice that can be done completely alone and indeed without walking about. The classic shamanic inner world journey, pathworking, imaginal meditative techniques for many spiritual traditions—all provide the opportunity to travel without moving. Reading, film and other media can do the same—they give us ways to access new worlds and, if we take the time to reflect, they can help us understand our own context in new ways. Then there is the use of psychedelics which can certainly provide many of the same effects as pilgrimage and psychogeography. Terrence McKenna famously said that travel and psychedelics were the two best ways to broaden the mind and I think he had a point. That said it’s also vital not to mistake neophilia for the numinous, we can travel deep into the mystery with a magnifying glass and some patience if we sit for a while to observe a pond, even if that pond is one we see every day.

Steve Dee

Coming up next….

Julian is teaching with Treadwell’s Books Chaos Magic online and in person, and two fully online workshops The Magick of Aleister Crowley and The Thoth Tarot. Julian is also lecturing on the tarot at The College of Psychic Studies.

In case you’ve not heard yet…Breaking Convention, Europe’s largest conference on psychedelic research and consciousness is back, this time at The University of Exeter in April 2023! Details here. Sign up to the newsletter for information on ticket sales, calls for exhibitors and paper and much more!

As The Psychedelic Press Journal migrates online, sign up for the latest psychedelic writing via Substack and the last few print editions visit

Witch on DMT – For Science!

DMT is an iconic substance; one of the central ingredients of the magical potion ayahuasca, fuel for the entrancing soliloquies of Terence McKenna and the beautiful art of Pablo Amaringo. This powerful psychedelic was also the one that the fabulous Nikki Wyrd was injected with at the winter solstice last year – for science!

Nikki was a participant in an experiment conducted at Imperial College, London. In due course I’m sure she will publish exactly what happened, but she can’t share much at the moment because the experiment is ongoing (and no one wants to mess up the data). Both physiological and psychological information was collected, as subjects had the chance to take this often highly visual psychedelic in a clinical setting. The aim is to understand more about how this substance operates, its potential to help us explore how the brain (and mind) works, and the mechanisms by which it exerts its possible therapeutic effects.


Actual pics of Ms Wyrd as psychonaut to follow once the research is complete!

Now anyone who has been paying attention to the fact that substances such as DMT have regularly proved (for millennia) both philosophically useful (in terms of helping people explore consciousness) and healing (in various ‘traditional’ psychedelic cultures) may wonder why we need such research? There are several answers to this, including the strategic one; that increased licensed use of psychedelics may lead to a wider social acceptance that these are valuable, rather than dangerous, substances. Another reason is that detailed scientific studies (this year will see researchers injecting people with DMT whilst inside fMRI brain scanners) can help us measure and understand exactly what happens to DMT in the body.

Science helps us to learn real data, supportable facts, which sometime challenge our assumptions. For instance; in the case of DMT it now considered something of ‘fact’ that it is produced in the pineal gland. The notion that this most visionary of chemicals is made in the third-eye chakra is a pretty cool one. This idea may have originated as a conversational suggestion from Rupert Sheldrake, and appears as a conjecture in Rick Strassman’s seminal DMT The Spirit Molecule. It’s an idea that is not without merit and it has to be said that today, 20 years after Strassman’s work, there is still research to be done on the chemistry of the pineal (at least judging by a kitchen conversation between Ben Sessa and David Luke I was party to a couple of weeks ago). However even if the pineal gland does make DMT, it appears unlikely that it could be the main source of endogenous DMT. That honour, it seems, belongs not to the ajna chakra but instead to the lungs.

A chemical cascade involving the enzyme INMT, which is always present in the lungs, could produce DMT in amounts  sufficient to create significant alterations in consciousness. The location of DMT production in the lungs also points towards an answer for why we have DMT in our bodies (and the bodies of many, many other living things) in the first place. It could be, as per the mythology, that DMT is there in order to let us crash into a universe of elves in order to impressed by their dazzling non-Euclidian architecture. It could perhaps have been encoded into us by some ancient alien race from Sirius or wherever, or sharpening Occam’s razor, or it could be something much more pragmatic and important to our biology.

What DMT is for in the body is the subject of some fascinating research by the charming Dr Ede Frecska. If you watch his video (filmed at Breaking Convention in 2015) you will get to hear what, for my money, is one of the best opening lines of any presentation on psychedelics: “I have a dream to have DMT in an ampule for IV use in every operating room, every intensive care unit, and every emergency vehicle.”

It appears that DMT acts to stop cells dying, it slows damage caused by oxidative stress and that’s why it is one of the few substances which are actively transported across the blood-brain barrier in humans (the others are glucose and vitamin C). As Ede explains in his engaging lecture there is a clear (and testable) chemical pathway, focused around the lungs, for our bodies to make DMT and for it to be rapidly absorbed by the brain for its neuroprotective benefits.

This scientific insight has lots of fascinating consequences. It means, for example, that we have a clear physiological mechanism by which the body could be flooded by psychedelic DMT at birth, perhaps at death, and when the body is under oxidative stress. Knowing this perhaps adds an additional layer to our understanding of the power of breathwork. Ritual practices such as full immersion baptism and many other body technologies for changing awareness may also make use of our endogenous DMT, encouraging the lungs to allow this psychedelic to persist in the bloodstream from where it is actively gobbled up by the brain.

I wonder whether the subjective effects of DMT echo what is going on at a cellular level? I wonder whether all those fractals, faces and, for some, the deep sense of the reality of the experience, is something that serves to stimulate us when we are in trouble? Small amounts of exogenous DMT certainly increase attentiveness, so maybe the call to ‘sit up and pay attention’ in the DMT trance is a turned up version of a biologically rooted ‘hey! Pull yourself together!’. At higher levels of endogenous DMT, the creation of an internal landscape, of the type we might encounter in the exogenous DMT trance, could be a property that serves to keep the operating system of consciousness running (i.e. awareness of an apparently objective external world) while the hardware (the brain) is under stress. Maybe DMT space is what the brain does until it can reboot, a hyperdimensional screensaver before normal consciousness comes back online? It is also interesting that current research suggests that DMT may have a directly healing effect on the brain (probably through its effect on the sigma-1 receptor).

Whether the effect of DMT on subjective experience is something that has been evolutionarily selected for, or whether it’s just one of those wacky epiphenomena (or the work of hyper-dimensional aliens…), is open to question. What is perhaps more certain, given recent research, is that those visitations by Guardian Angels, ancestors and other imaginal beings in moments of physical crisis (such as near drowning) could be visions made accessible by the production of DMT in the body. (Note, this isn’t the same as saying these things are not ‘real’ – whatever that means, see my article on the subject).

Many wonderful scientific insights into psychedelic substances will be presented later this year at the mother of all psychedelic conferences Breaking Convention. The lastest scientific investigations, funded by groups such as MAPS, The Beckley Foundation, and others, will bring cutting edge information to the conference. Add to this a goodly assortment of psychonauts, independent researchers, historians, shamans and others, and you’ve got a powerful psychedelic potion indeed! I’m pleased to know that some of the scientific data I’ll be hearing about will have been gathered with the help of practising spiritual psychonauts such as Ms Wyrd (who, probably, as a result of many years spent in meditation, was able to remain perfectly still during her DMT assay, producing electroencephalogram readings that were, according to the researchers, ‘impeccable’).

Finally, I hope and indeed pray that we can, as psychedelics ask us to do, keep our minds open as science and magic meet in our renewed quest to understand how best to use these marvelous substances.



STOP PRESS! More science news; a few hours before releasing this blogpost, a paper revealing the crystal structure of the human 5-HT2B receptor bound to LSD was published. Yet another speck to add to our ever-growing pile of knowledge.