Tag Archives: urban wicca

You probably forgot this magick fundamental

Walking. Putting one leg in front of the other. If you’re inhibited from walking, still just getting outside if you can is good. In my case, with my allergies ratcheting up in severity every year even being outside is occasionally dangerous to me – so I find places to walk inside. My gym has a location with an indoor track. My city has indoor parks, huge museums, even schools that offer community ed programs that allow me to walk their halls at night for exercise. It may not always have the variety of image I might seek but it allows the possibility of engagement with fellow community members.

You do not need to be “in nature” – ie far from civilization – benefit from walking as part of magickal practice. When I go for walks in the city, I find awesome things – some I might still see in the woods. For instance, urbanized deer do some funny stuff during hunting season opener. Chickens are no longer just a hazard of farming life – neither are goats.

There’s also a lot of symbols and kismet generated by human hand that you might encounter, too, that can still bring you closer to divine encounter – or at least expose you to the synchronicity that happens as the result of successful practice. A healthy city has a strong balance between what rules nature has laid down and what human hand can do; maintaining this balance is a matter of constant vigilance. Walking in your city on a regular basis can tune you in to the state of that balance.

In order to share some of these encounters I’m making an effort to share more of the photos and images I collect from my own dear metropolis. You can see life and movement here, struggles for power and celebrations of tension. You can see history – and the love of it.

The following are all less than half a mile from my house now. I live in a mixed but mostly safe neighborhood with a strong artist population. I am definitely not the only witch in the area; I am probably not the only Wiccan.

If you name a culture, it’s represented in Nordeast Minneapolis. It’s all here, somewhere. If you watch carefully you can see it.

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A Shoe Tree Grows in Minneapolis (Two, actually)

shoe tree northeast minneapolis 2013
photo by author

Shoe trees, like fairy doors, seem to be growing in Minneapolis.

I discovered this one yesterday on an annual cemetery walk. Really, another photographer found it – I just wandered over, curious about what had her attention so long. Neither one of us knew the whole story.

But I did know of another shoe tree nearby.

The U of M has a shoe tree just off of Washington Avenue Bridge. Yes, it’s that same bridge that so many people have jumped off of over the years. According to the U  of M Admissions website, graduates throw their shoes on the tree in celebration. According to my partner – who, predictably, can’t tell me who told him this – if you get your shoes on the tree you won’t fail the semester.

University of Minnesota - shoe tree
University of Minnesota shoe tree – photo by Chapendra on flickr

Really, nobody knows why. It’s just something you do. Investigation 10 years ago turned up nothing – Minneapolis Parks and Recreation can’t even say for certain what kind of  tree it is. ((I am both amused and saddened that throwing the shoes to commemorate a first act of coitus is deemed by the author as “unpleasant.” Consensual congress most certain merits such a celebratory act – like giving up those shoes from your very first walk of not-shame.))

When you see a practice like that, you recognize something as folklore in progress. While answers from “randomness” to “indicates a drug dealer” have come up about what these are and where they come from, no one has settled on a solid answer even between Snopes or the Atlantic Monthly. There are spooky tales, memorializing death, an especially improbable one about serial killers marking their victims (with that many bodies to hide why in the hell would you take the time?) or just as some sort of odd sport. Getting them over wires is even called shoefiti – i.e. “graffiti” and “shoes.”

The one I found – it’s unlikely it marks a drug dealer. Too many shoes and it’s between a cemetery and a bike path. Not impossible, I suppose – maybe someone waylays bikers or joggers and throws up their shoes. But unlikely. Many of the shoes do not seem to be used.

A peculiar Americana travel site even has lists of “shoe trees” for intrepid, Supernatural style road trippers. While ancient in Internet years, it appears to be lovingly kept up to date.

Some soul cursed with a far more righteous Pagan in his or her life than myself posted about this reaction from one of our own to the shoe tree:

FireShot Screen Capture #003 - 'Search Results - RoadsideAmerica_com' - www_roadsideamerica_com_search_tip_offset=10&tip_Town=Minneapolis&tip_State=MNHonestly, I think the tree is fine – it’s continued to grow since the practice first started in the 70s. When a tree’s not cool with a situation, given 30+ years it works its stuff out or it dies. Not saying we need to start showing our consumerist excess by festooning every tree and powerline in sight, just saying that this one seems OK – especially since no one can even say what kind of tree it is.

While I have reasonable academic chops – thus the search for shoe trees to begin with – I’m more interested in “how can this modern folkway translate to my own magical practice?”

There are two keys to this behavior that stand out to me: one is herd behavior and the other is the good ol’ competition.

Herd Behavior:

To see this in action, take three friends to a mall or a university. Line up in front of something. Chances are, people will line up behind you. Especially if you tell them you’re waiting for Lorde or Katy Perry tickets. Wait to see how long until that person leaves.

From a magical perspective, if this is a herd behavior thing, I would ask: “What is it I need/really want lots of people to do?”

Or it’s …


I have this to a lesser degree than other humans – thus my career of doing interesting work that seemingly about five people know about. Once in awhile, though, I fixate on beating my Wii at tennis so I kind of get this one. You want to aim higher, break the record, walk away with the prize.

If that’s the case, to me it’s a less interesting possibility because nearly all magic involves this at some level, but: in what situation do you wish to emerge the victor? It could also apply with divination – will you succeed, won’t you? How well? The U of M tree is a straight shot across a bridge, same level. But the tree I encountered? Getting shoes up there takes some work – that’s a tall, old tree, maybe as old as the city itself.


There is a third, somewhat lesser possibility here since no one knows the exact reason for the shoe tossing. It may be a communal act – people did this together to commemorate an experience and thus through shared experience strengthen their group mind. This is different from the herd effect in that they are differentiating their group from other groups.

On a magical level, it’s a good exercise for a coven.

If I really wanted to tear this apart, I could look into folklore about shoes. This is a town that welcomes and gives fresh mythology to the elves and fairies that immigrated alongside its settlers. Shoes themselves give signal after signal about everything from our exact place in mythology to the condition of our health. But for now, it’s about shoe and tree and wire – now there’s quite the urban witch’s rune to chant!

Thoughts on nature in the urban

Minneapolis – Saint Paul
Minneapolis – Saint Paul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, snow falls persistently over the Twin Cities. It drifts. It obscures the snow, makes getting the mail in my slippers a toe-numbing business. It makes lousy snowmen. It gives us lots of reasons to post to Facebook and Twitter complaining about shoveling.

It’s one more reminder that the idea of urban life separating you from a city is a convenient lie. All the urban life does is brings you into an area where things that wish to eat you have to work harder to get at you. It’s still nature – just with less space between your human habitat and your neighbor’s. The idea of a farm as “nature” makes me slightly nuts.

Yes, that farm is full of life – animals pooping and bloody afterbirths, frosts and insects and weather as a primal decision maker – but it’s not nature. Those animals are domesticated or tamed.  Your pets and livestock might get eaten more by wild animals because their is more room for both of you, but let’s not pretend that the farm life isn’t just as artificial as the urban. The wilderness is, at this point, anywhere where we aren’t. If you’re manipulating the landscape in a significant, environment changing manner, you are separating yourself from the wild.

Nature will still find you. The wilderness has adapted – brown bears stumble into Saint Paul neighborhoods once every few years. At least once a year animal control has to remove a beehive from a downtown Minneapolis stoplight. Rabbits have learned to follow traffic lights to cross the street. A strangely large number of deer appear in Father Hennepin park during hunting season opener, once even staking out a mound between the other sunbathers.

According to the weather application on my Droid, the snow should linger through the end of the week. I hope this is one of those last, great final snowfalls that tend to happen in March. I’m still a bit scarred from 2011 when I got to May still waiting for the damn snow to stop.

It’s still strange to me. The memories are at last going vague, but I still have a few lingering from that faded life in Indiana, old images of a warmer, earlier season. I remember March being windy, but warm. Most snow disappeared by the last day of February, leaving muddy patches. I would revel in the warm weather, plant seeds, get muddy in my parent’s oversize backyard. Once my sister came at me with a garter snake on a stick. She meant to bully me with it, but I don’t fear snakes. She does. If I’d had a meaner spirit I’d have recognized that that gave me power over her. Some days I would try, and always fail, to fly a kite.

As an adult I’ve learned to count every day between each Solstice and Equinox. It’s powerful, how much difference one minute of light can make. Now even my partner counts it – the solar roofing has him fascinated with how much power we sell back to the power company, and on sun obscured days like this it means a lousy harvest for our home.

To deal with it this time I’ve ordered soy wax. I plan to make candles, stash them in the snow to cool, see what happens from there. I still have paraffin but it’s troublesome. First, there’s the guilt from using a petroleum product. Then there’s the other part: paraffin wax is a giant pain in the ass. You have to pierce, and pour, and pierce, and pour – and there is no perfect measure for getting a smooth topped candle.  I had hoped to get it from Amazon, with its faster shipping, but it only carries 1 pound bags of pillar friendly soy wax – or 50 pound bags. I settled on a place in Tennessee. Shipping is exorbitant but the price is fair.

I try not to judge my instincts, not the ones that prompt me to create things. I am making light to light the way to light. The snow falls heavy and dark – and I am making light of it.

It wouldn’t matter where I am in this part of Minnesota – farm, city, suburb – the sky is too cloudy, the snow too wet, the needs to great.

That’s nature.