Good smug. Contentedly self-satisfied.
Anywhere else in the world and this would be unforgivably bourgeois but in Paris it seems less incongruous than if you were to try this in… say… Doncaster.
To be clear, it is very bourgeois, just not unforgivably so because France is a place of ideas.
Let me provide an example.
My pet gay Cuban/Brooklyn lawyer did end up moving here and on my first night he took me to the Bastille speakeasy where he was robbed of his wallet the week before. (It was great!)
Fortunately; in an act that caused a small stirring of patriotic pride when told about it; the thief was crash-tackled by the Australian barman and arrested a few minutes later.
After giving his statement at the police station, my friend asked for his wallet back. He was denied.
He will have to appear before a magistrate in a few weeks time because, at the time of the arrest, the wallet was in the thief’s possession and the State does not arbitrarily take things from its citizens. To be sure, he’ll get it back but in the meantime the Ideal supersedes the pragmatic. No one should be subject to having a police officer reallocate their possessions in a discretionary way. As solutions go, it’s expensive, bureaucratic, slow, convoluted and ultimately admirable… ie it’s extremely French.
Back to the cafe.
Assessing the constituent parts of my afternoon, we know where coffee came from, we know where Spinoza came from, we know where books came from… but the combination of all these lacks the vital situational force that weaves them together. For obvious reasons, we shall call this terroir.
Terroir; that unique mixing of sunshine, soil, skill and season; is a concept well-worth considering in the context of modern magic. When I look back over recent discussions about what paganism ‘is’, whether the gods are ‘real’ and -crucially- whether they should be ‘worshipped’, it all looks so… American.
So that I am not misunderstood, I don’t mean that in even the slightest negative way. It just really does look American. When one of my Australian friends -in Paris for his birthday- was posted to a client’s office in Wisconsin for three months, numerous people came up to and invited him to their church. The implication being that if he is away from home for three months he’s going to ‘need’ a church. Naturally, he was grateful for the open, sincere, friendliness behind all these offers but this guy… he… ahh… he’s not church material.
If France is a place of Ideas, the US is a place of Ideals. Where else have such minutely defined religious freedoms been such a cornerstone of political discourse? Anyone wishing to hold high office must vigorously exclaim his or her flavour of religiosity. Public exclamations of religious devotion are met with approval. Here, elected officials might go to Mass every damn day but they are quiet about it, apologetic even. (Piety for football replaces religion for those seeking British public office: you are magnificently fucked without it.)
And so it seems to me that an understanding of terroir is an antidote to unnecessary universalisms.
If you went to school in Australia, you would have read stories of postwar southern European migrants carrying juvenile vine cuttings in little pots on their laps for the entire, multi-stage plane ride over.
As a double migrant, I find this image deeply moving. But the wine from these vines is not Greek or Italian. It’s Australian. The vines may be from Puglia but, actually, the European grape vine originated in Central Asia. Does that mean my Negroamaro is really from Georgia?
Whilst there is certainly value in it, there is also an incomprehensible futility in following individual strands of modern magic and attempting to replicate them precisely. Either you follow them all the way back -in the example above this would be claiming that all grape-based booze is ‘really’ Georgian- or your decision to pick a specific time period is essentially arbitrary and ignores the temporal component of terroir. If you ask me, you’re better off just packing a few bottles in your suitcase. (Metaphorically, my first exposure to magic was a few bottles of Minnesotan wine grown from British vines, drunk in the heat of an Australian summer. Yikes, that sounds fucking awful, doesn’t it??)
Here’s my example.
Chakras and the Tuileries Gardens
Crunching through the gravel of the Tuileries Gardens, I think about the guy who designed part of them. Yes, central Paris was designed as a kind of Masonic map, but these ideas didn’t emerge out of a vacuum.
Le Nôtre’s first garden design was for Louis XIV’s Superintendent of Finances -his money watcher. Here’s an old salesman’s tip for you: never show up to a client meeting in too expensive a car or they’ll think they’re paying too much for whatever you’re selling. The same applies here. The King arrested Fouquet for embezzling and immediately asked fo Le Nôtre to design a bigger, better garden at Versailles.
These very obviously draw their inspiration from depictions of Karnak -Louis XIV was the Sun King after all. And Le Nôtre studied in post-Richelieu Paris… meaning he was kicking around the salons with all those hermeticists and Egyptophiles. He would have been repeatedly exposed to what passed for maps and diagrams of Ancient Egypt before Napoleon had an opportunity to cartograph like a boss 150 years later.
That may well have been the end of it were it not for me learning a couple of things from this guy:
- The incorporation of cannons into warfare led to the creation of earthmoving technology to build ramparts. Were it not for this tech, these enormous, precision boulevards filled with the trappings of ‘classic mythology’ (*cough* *cough*) could not have been created.
- Actually I already knew this but just thought it was me: the rigid, anal, total control shown in the precise angles and the rigorous trimming are an extension of the French national obsession/real reason French women don’t get fat: control. These gardens come from the same place that gives you those exquisite, small, perfectly arranged plates of delicious food. (Go to an Italian restaurant in France. It’s hilarious… like somebody sent linguine to military school.) Karnak was built in stone. Le Nôtre forced plants to build like stone.
And so, in some sense, the idea of a garden as both a map of and statement about political power could only have happened here and then. It required a specific terroir. It was an idea whose time had come. Laying out precise avenues for the Sun was the vine, France was everything else.
On my list of things to post about was a detailed description of how and why I am working the chakra system, but conveniently for me -lazy fuck that I am- Andrieh pretty much wrote it word-for-word. (I don’t actually use cards yet but I probably will. Taking suggestions on where to spend my money.)
Chakras, as I use them for modern energy work; which for the purposes of future scientific accuracy I will now only refer to as personal field management; are new the way the Tuileries Gardens are new. They certainly have Vedic elements (the vine) but the notion of the seven main ones and the full 777-style treatment they have subsequently received was largely grown in imperial, Orientalist soil (the terroir). Pause to enjoy the amusing sync with the name of the quoted researcher, by the way.
And you know what? The chakra system works and its wine tastes good. This is how recreationism should be.
This is not an exhortation for keeping specific traditions only in their native lands. Any argument to that effect very quickly descends into a weird form of genetic racism. (And besides, why can’t the gods expand their domains beyond classical borders in the twenty first century? Is there some sort of offside rule that keeps them inside little painted lines?)
In fact, it’s almost the complete opposite: don’t mistake the immediately preceding location for something’s origin.
There is a strange entanglement that comes when dealing with the terroir of an idea like chakras or Paris. Doubly so when these dealings are for magical reasons. You see, this last weekend was no mere minibreak. It was a bucket list trip.
Someone very close to me and unfortunately geographically very far away is dying. I’m hyper-conscious of how wizards engage with the dying because we hold all the cards. Firstly, we’re not actually dying, secondly, we presumably have a more expansive view of human expiration.
Had the discussions of verified NDEs happened in the baking heat of a Newcastle summer they would have been lessened… a palliative for a scared and grieving family. But standing on my balcony in snowy Paris at 2am, lit by the flares of one of the city’s many impromptu riots, these ideas are presented because they are ideas and assessed as such. There is an emotional distance inherent in the terroir that allows the vines to germinate and bear more useful fruit.
It was perfect. With all the money in the world I still would have chosen there and then.
The whole four days were actually filled with dozens of syncs and alignments so that it got to the point we were openly joking about the collapsing of different timelines. Most of them aren’t mine to tell but you may recall the card reading I gave my gay Cuban lawyer friend about moving to Paris? I said he’s going to move but he won’t see out his whole contract (which he disagreed with as he’s going for partner). But it seems I got my magical cooties all over that too because I was standing right next to him in the city he didn’t want to move to if it wasn’t long term when the exact scenario the cards described crashed all around him. (Relax, it’s good news.)
So there you have it. Intention plus location plus an awareness of historical context equals a very specific kind of enchantment.
Without an understanding of terroir, I will probably still drink it… but magic is otherwise just making wine in your bathtub.