DIY MAGIC : How to get lost in Paris on your bicycle

How to Get Lost in Paris on Your Bicycle

– or –

Randonneur Psychogeography

by Anthony Alvarado

That the environment should respond to human thought. That is the core of magic and the oldest dream of mankind.

The Death of Doctor Island, Gene Wolfe

Tools required:

a bicycle

a map of Paris

Here it is! I will tell you the big secret, what it all boils down to, the heart of the matter. I know, I know, this column is still pretty new and I should probably hold off on bringing out the big guns until later. But I feel (& hopefully acolytes of this periodic grimoire have already experimented with the lucid napping & Ganzfeld techniques, as proscribed in the previous two issues) you are ready to grasp the core issue here; the fundamental concept of magic to which we will return again and again.

That which is below is as that which is above, and that which is above is as that which is below.

That’s it. The quote is from Hermes Trismegestus. Rather then get side-tracked with an investigation into the musty pedigree of the quote (a rabbit trail that too many texts on magic become entangled in) we can take that statement — as above so below, and as below so above – as a jumping off point. On the surface it seems simple enough, almost a tautology. However, like all big truths, it grows in profundity as we approach it, and like Zeno’s arrow we are always only halfway to fully reaching the truth.

This idea of correspondence between the above and the below is of course referring to the link between the self and the world, the microcosm and the macrocosm, the interior/exterior. The accomplished magus is one who realizes that by changing the one, she changes the other. It is as simple and powerful as balancing algebraic equations – what is done on one side must be done on the other.

(In the realm of magic this law is as basic as Newton’s 3rd law of motion, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; it is likewise elegant. Interesting to note that Sir Isaac Newton was himself an alchemist and well familiar with the writings of Trismegestus – even writing his own translation of the Emerald Tablet!)

Now let’s begin with a basic example – if you were to walk around the block with a pebble in your shoe, it would change not only the way you walk, but also the way you think and feel. That’s too obvious perhaps. Let’s zoom out. Picture yourself commuting to work. Do you drive? Then imagine yourself taking the bus. Already take the bus? Imagine if your commute took place by subway or train. Would you like it better, less? If you currently ride the rails, then imagine what it would be like getting there by horse. Now imagine bicycle. Depending on the distance and route you travel daily, some of these means of transport might sound preferable, while others would totally suck. We are affected not only by our environment but by the way we navigate it, and of course it flows the other way around. Take your bicycle for example: what is healthy for us is also healthy for the environment. It is cheap, efficient and contributes 0% pollution – it bears mentioning that at this point in human history if everyone on earth used a bike as their main mode of transportation it just might save the ecosystem of the planet. That is the Macro level. We could also go down one level and talk about what your hometown or city would look like right now if every car was replaced with a bike – no roads, just trails! Picture how that would change the dynamics of day-to-day life. Roads would be replaced with what? Promenades? Parks? Goat trails? The change in infrastructure this would have on everything from grocery stores and markets to shopping and business centers would be beyond revolutionary.

My point is not to rally y’all to tear down urban blight … not just yet … but to consider the ramifications that change on the micro level proportionally affects the macro, i.e. more bikes = less pavement. The equals sign in the previous statement may be thought of as Psychogeography. A term which Guy Debord defined as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.”

Finally, let us consider the profound effects that biking–not driving–has upon oneself:  mind, spirit and body. You travel much more slowly on two wheels than four. You notice things. The spirit feels the freedom inherent in self-sufficiency as the body is strengthened rather than atrophied. With this in mind, I present today’s magic spell:

How to Get Lost in Paris Regardless of Where You Are

This experiment works just as well with a group as it does solo. It can of course be done on foot as a flanuer as well. It just depends on how much time you have. Really getting lost on foot, or at least finding yourself in a place you normally wouldn’t be, is hard. It’s easier on a bike since you travel faster. I can get lost on my bike in less than an hour! On foot, it takes all day. This spell will force you to see bits of your macrocosm (ergo yourself) that you are not used to seeing, as you don’t seek them out. If you can become completely lost while performing this spell, then consider yourself an adept – the trick of such magic is to be able to trick yourself.

There is of course a rich history to the art of the flanuer, the on-foot version of this exercise. It is the lost art of sauntering. Also known as going for a stroll. The potency of this magic is verified in that it is illegal – No Loitering signs are the most commonly posted law in the English language. “YOU MUST WALK WITH PURPOSE & DESTINATION; IT IS THE LAW,” sayeth the law. Therefore when riding or walking, we may meander and lolly-gag with mutinous anarchy in our steps. Take the time to experience just the “going” part without the “somewhere”.

For brevity’s sake, this tool for tweaking your psychogeography is focused on the art of the radonneur, which I am going to redefine for my own purposes as “sauntering on a bicycle”. The spell itself is quite simple.  Take your map of, say Paris, in honor of the Tour de France (or anywhere where you are not).  Now carefully consulting this map, choose a start location and an end location, e.g. the Champ-Elysees to the Eiffel Tower, and use the directions as dictated by the map to navigate your way from where you are, transposing the navigation of another place onto your current location.

Since you aren’t in Paris (if you are, use a map of Paris, Texas) you should hopefully be helplessly lost after a few turns. If not, keep going until you are. The map you choose and the directions are incidental, as long as you try to follow a route that is sufficiently complicated. You can even replace the map method with any number of means, such as rolling dice or flipping a coin at each intersection, or better yet, asking strangers for destinations rather than directions.

With a little bit of practice, you are ready to experience your environment as though you were a visitor. See it not as a place to traverse, but as an environ to explore and experience . . . go as slowly as possible. Unless you’d like to go fast; that’s good too.

* Have a burning question about magick? Email questions to for our upcoming Q&A issue.

Iain Sinclair: "Unconsciously, I had been operating, all along, as a disenfranchised psychogeographer."


Here’s a nice follow-on from the Raoul Vaneigem interview, posted earlier this week: British author/poet/journalist Iain Sinclair on what he’s discovered through the years from “motiveless walking” in London. From the Telegraph:

In London, from the first, I walked. As a film student, newly arrived in the early Sixties, I copied the poet John Clare on his feverish escape from Matthew Allen’s asylum in Epping Forest, when he navigated by lying down to sleep with his head to the north. Skull as compass: all the secret fluids and internal memory-oceans aligned by force of desire. Clare returned, as he thought, to Mary, his first love, his muse; to his heart-place, Helpston, beyond Peterborough, on the edge of the dark fens. My drag was cinema, Bergman seasons in Hampstead, Howard Hawks in Stockwell. Or art: the astonishing Francis Bacon gathering at the old Tate, at Millbank, former prison and panopticon. Bacon’s melting apes were robed like cardinals. Naked men, stitched from photographs, wrestled in glass cages.

Motiveless walking processed the unanchored images that infiltrated dreams of the shadow-belt on either side of the Northern Line. I lodged in West Norwood, a house on a hill, like the one I had left behind in Wales. I wandered through mysterious suburbs to the rooms above the butcher’s shop in Electric Avenue, Brixton, where the school was based. Street markets, I discovered, were a significant part of the substance of this place. Walking was a means of editing a city of free-floating fragments. I composed, privately, epic poems conflating the gilded Byzantium of W.B. Yeats with the slap and strut of Mickey Spillane’s California. London was an impossible relativity of historical periods and superimposed topographies.

After Dublin, where I enjoyed four years of apprentice exile, I came to Hackney: perched, settled, stayed. The modestly impoverished zone had the virtue of being unknown, even to itself. Submerging into a novel territory, as a casual labourer, I found both time and means to pursue my obsession with alignments, reforgotten writers, lost rivers, Hawksmoor churches, crime clusters. Street signs and spray-can slogans were a code to be broken. I had no idea, back then, that rogue Parisian intellectuals had already branded these strategies and given them a provocative title: psychogeography.

30 years later, assembling a collection of essays on London, which I called Lights Out for the Territory (after Mark Twain), I realised that, unconsciously, I had been operating, all along, as a disenfranchised psychogeographer. I stalked a defining urban narrative by sleepwalking through downriver reaches, sniffing after faded traces of Thomas De Quincey – and challenging the post-architectural infill of Docklands, the empty hubris of the Millennium Dome, with ritual expeditions that doubled as curses. Compulsive digressions disavowed the bullet-point banalities of developers and promoters. I wrote about pit bulls and satellite dishes. I attended the funeral of that mythical east London gangster Ronnie Kray: the godfather of the ghosted memoir, of mendacious boasts disguised as confessions. The pulp model for self-serving political autobiographies. I looked down on the glittering Thames from Lord Archer’s penthouse. London was revealed as a city of hidden connections and weird coincidences.

I had stumbled on a model for future projects: the walk as a narrative, as a moving film made from static images. This was a method of preparing the writer for an act of occult possession: in the way that William Blake was captured by the spirit of John Milton in the form of a star striking his heel. Considerations of the present Olympic Park in the Lower Lea Valley would begin by employing the Lights Out for the Territory template…

Read on at the Telegraph