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

Pilgrimage: Journeying in the body and landscape

Perhaps as a result of lockdown related ennui, I have been thinking about sacred journeys. 

(In order to avoid the frustrations of travel porn I will provide a link to a previous piece about taking inner journeys via pathworking techniques Walking the Narrow Road.)

When we scan the vast landscape of human religious experience and expression, the act of Pilgrimage is almost universal in its scope. Moving from our place of origin towards a sacred site is an undertaken in religions both theistic and non-theistic. Whether it is the ground zero of the Buddha’s enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, A Sufi Saint’s tomb or Canterbury Cathedral, the power and significance of a spiritually meaningful journey should not be underestimated.

In the introduction to their wonderful and encyclopedic guide Britain’s Pilgrim Places Nick Mayhew-Smith and Guy Hayward make the following observation:

“Meaningful journeys are one of the few universal patterns of human behavior, seeking out special places where communities share their memories, spill out their hopes and fears. They are places where all can find wholeness, be part of something bigger. They are open to all.”

Whatever the destination particular to our chosen religious or magical path, the Pilgrimage represents a very physical expression of our devotion and longings. We are no longer armchair aspirants, rather our internal journey, in pursuit of meaning, is gaining a very physical and spatial expression. Whether undertaken independently or with the support of others, we are acknowledging that staying-put is not enough, we need to hit the road. 

Our journey usually begins long before we step outside our front door. We may have spent months or years planning and anticipating this journey. Finding the time, the funds and the support of others to make this possible all contributes to casting a powerful spell upon such undertakings. Often the amount of sacrifice needed to make our pilgrimage happen, profoundly encapsulates the importance of that destination as an embodiment of our spiritual intentions. I have clear memories of what it has felt like as I began a journey to a large Pagan gathering, a road-trip to monastery and even my preparations to see a band like Fugazi whose music captured my politics and desire for authenticity. 

As we travel, our hopes and expectations sharpen our senses in a way that creates story. Aspects of my own Pilgrimages feel etched in my memory: what I drank in the airport, the challenges of negotiating a foreign public transport system and those meals with fellow pilgrims where time slowed down and deep connections were made.

Pilgrims at the Ka’ba in Mecca

On the road we often meet fellow travellers and we resonate with a shared knowledge that often remains unspoken. We connect with the perseverance needed, the aspirations shared and the badge of honor earned via the journey. We have a common mythology as someone who was willing to step-outside mundane time in pursuit of new truths. Symbols and shared songs while on the way add to the creation of a temporal community. Markers such the white robe of the Hajj pilgrim or the Scallop Shell of the Camino walkers, mark us as changed. 

Given that Pilgrimage often involves journey to the remains of a Saint or beloved spiritual teacher, as we travel we enter into a new relationship with both time and death. When we travel with intention we enter a liminal zone between life and death. We have uncoupled ourselves from our static, safe bases (if we ever had them) and we are forcing ourselves to face change and the finite nature our lives. In the light of our mortality how are we to live? What are we doing with the time we have left and how does the life of our saint exemplify how we might do things differently?

We might fantasize about the Pilgrim as being an embodiment of rugged individualism, but such ableism has little place in the reality of mobility and sensory challenges that many of us experience. Even if we travel alone most of us have benefited from the support of a community that has helped get us there. They become “a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) surrounding us and cheering us on in spirit via thoughts, spells and Instagram messages. 

Recent connections have been made here between bipedal movement through a landscape and the type of trauma processing that occurs via trauma therapies such as Eye-Movement Desensitizing Reprogramming (EMDR). In a way similar to the bilateral tapping or use of moving lights that encourages eye-movement, travelling through a landscapes creates a rhythm that seems to allow us to make sense of things in a way that linear problem-solving alone fails to do. The home-spun wisdom of “just go for a walk” may not be bad advice and in my own experience as a somewhat nominal runner, I often find that the rigors of a sweaty and breathless 5K run often allows access to previously unconsidered wisdom.

Discovering Wisdom: The Canterbury Tales

Sometimes the sense of magical space that we inhabited during pilgrimage can make the readjustment to normal life quite bumpy. Perhaps the expectations we had were too high and we are making sense of disappointment; perhaps the freedom of the road makes a return to our previous life impossible? Intentional journeys create change and no change is without a cost. 

Personally I am taking time to recollect my own past journeys and I am savoring the way in which their magical atmosphere changed me. With lockdown still a reality, I am breaking out the maps and my walking shoes and warming up my imagination for what is to come. ☺ 

Here’s some more inspiration from the brilliant British Pilgrim’s Trust to inspire you:

“Pilgrimage (n.): A journey with purpose on foot to holy/wholesome/special places.

People have made pilgrimage across countless geographies, cultures and eras.

To turn a walk into a pilgrimage, at the beginning set your private ‘intention’ – dedicate your journey to something that you want help with, or for which you want to give thanks.

Pilgrimage is for everyone, promoting holistic wellbeing via pilgrim practices and connecting you with yourself, others, nature and everything beyond.”

Steve Dee