Magic in the Landscape: Earth Mysteries & Geomancy, by Nigel Pennick
Destiny Books, 1620558799, 176 pages, May 2020

Magic in the Landscape: Earth Mysteries & Geomancy by Nigel Pennick is a history book about how magical practices and the routines of indigenous people are recorded in the present-day landscape – in this case, the landscape of Great Britain.  And though this is a book about looking to the past, with an introduction titled, “A Vanishing World in Need of Rescue,” Pennick makes it clear that his book is NOT an “attempt to reconstruct the past by creating a depiction of an ideal time when the writer perceives that the system under study was perfect or intake.” 1  Instead this book explores fragments of history where magic was present.

My favorite chapter came early on, Chapter two, “The Ensouled World,” where he talks about Land Wights, celebrated and offered autonomy in Iceland,2 and a haunting story about the DeLorean Factory (that classic sports car used as the time machine in the movie Back to the Future).  DeLorean’s are classic collectable cars because despite its slick appearance, the company was only around for three years before declaring bankruptcy.  According to Pennick, the DeLorean factory was constructed outside of Belfast in a field that was home to an enormous and aged hawthorn bush. The locals had long believed that bush had a soul of its own, yet it was cut down and dug up in order to build the DeLorean Factory.  Soooo why the did factory close after just three years?  Just a coincidence?  Pennick purports not.  About the subsequently abandoned factory, he says, “Blighted and derelict places where such establishments once existed are instances of the desacralized cosmos.”3

The violation of traditionally sacred spaces is a theme Pennick references frequently, whether it is highways being paved over an ensouled landscape or archeologists digging up sacred sites in the name of their research. Pennick makes a point that we may be unknowingly erasing a piece of not only cultural history, but of genuine magical presence. “If the sacred is not just a human construct, as some argue, but actually emanates from the power within the earth at particular places, then to dig there without traditional geomantic precautions runs the risk of destroying that power.”4

One part of this book which was unexpected, was Pennick’s thorough research on exorcisms and hauntings.  In the chapter simply titled “Boundaries” in the section titled Magic Circles and Conjuring Parsons, Pennick offers us many recorded examples of church ministers in small towns across England using magic to banish ghosts who were either haunting a site or haunting an individual parishioner.

“On January 9, [1965] [the Rev. William] Rudall made a secret journey to Exeter to visit the bishop…and having convinced him, was given official permission to ‘lay the ghost’.  When Rudell got back home, he worked out the astrological chart for the next morning and prepared his magical paraphernalia.” 5

The details Pennick has about these instances of “ghost-hunting’ in small-town English parishes are remarkable! Yet for me felt a little like a departure from the main trajectory of this book.  And that might be the thing: the main trajectory of this book might not have been what I was hoping for when I ordered it, not what I was hoping for when I picked it up, and not what I was hoping for as I devoured the first few chapters.

I absolutely love that Pennick is calling attention to the awareness of sacredness in the landscape – sacredness than might be inherent, such as an ancient tree or rock or even a scenic vista, or the sacredness of a Feng Shui inspired English garden planted in the late 1700’s — 200 years before Feng Shui was trending in the New Age community.6 I think it is also priceless to call attention to the ways in which modern development is literally plowing over ensouled landscapes, and in which common human secularized ignorance erases the filaments of magic offered to us by something vaster.  It is also priceless to consider that parish ministers practiced astrology, that Feng Shui’s influence over the West started much longer ago than most people think, and that forest spirits truly exist.

I guess my one disappointment though was that I wanted a little more of a “how-to” book.  I wanted to learn how to do something related to all the fascinating topics in this book.  This is not a criticism, but a praise in disguise.  For this book ignites the imagination and enchants the spirit in unexpected ways.

As someone who practices permaculture design – a spiritual philosophy of sustainable landscaping- it is inspiring to learn about how magical places and spaces have been understood in the past and in other cultures.  So now I might use those intentions, as well as sacred geometry and planet synergy in landscapes I’m working on, in hopes of infusing something sacred and enduring.  In the United States we don’t have the same history as Britain, yet the Native American people had profound magical sensibilities in their culture, so I can pay more careful attention as I stroll my neighborhood, knowing the land I live on once belonged to them.

Overall, Magic in the Landscape is a historical overview of different topics relating to the spiritual elevation of a place.  These topics span from the uplifting effects of scenic vista, beliefs that certain landscapes are home to magical beings, curiosity about spirits inherent in rocks, trees, fields and forests, awareness that the architecture of certain buildings contain magical intentions, the power of memorials and town commons to shape cultural narrative, and the craft of creating sacred space for safely interacting with the spirit world.