I had become dissatisfied with my abilities at using a pendulum. The answers it gave were too often misleading or plain wrong. So I banished the spirit that controls the pendulum and invited in another that promised it would do better.
To build some rapport, I embarked on an exercise devised by Ramsey Dukes: asking the pendulum a question with no rational answer. This – says Dukes – prevents our expectations from interfering with the result, so we can use it to begin to sense the difference in feel between the pendulum speaking directly, or its message becoming distorted by our rational expectations of what it ought to say.
Among Dukes’ examples of irrational questions is, ‘Where is this region’s heart chakra?’ This is a question with no answer that could be considered correct or corroborative.
I decided I would use the pendulum to find all the city’s chakras, to see what this revealed about its spiritual composition and subtle energies. So I stuck together onto thick cardboard photocopies from my Brighton A to Z and attached lengths of string with drawing pins to the bottom left and right-hand corners. Once I’d negotiated with the pendulum which chakra we were setting off to find, it could pinpoint the location on the map by describing with its motion two intersecting vectors from the bottom corners. The strings could be used to record the vectors. Where the two strings crossed on the map would indicate the location of the chakra.
Often (but not always) the place indicated was an approximate location, and more divination on the ground was required to pinpoint it exactly. The first walk, to discover the root chakra, took place on September 7th, and the last – revealing the crown chakra – on November 28th. In the meantime, a mild autumn had given way to a wintry cold snap. I also moved home between the penultimate and the final walk. Not one of these expeditions failed to reveal something intriguing about the city.
The Lower Chakras
The first led me to an incongruous chapel in a residential area, signposted ‘The Chapel of the Holy Family’. Funny, that a catholic chapel should correspond to the site of the city’s muladhara chakra, the most basic and materialistic chakra, the predominant function of which is excretion. But further research revealed that the chapel belongs to the Society of St. Pius X, an ultra-traditionalist catholic organisation that was excommunicated by the Vatican in 1988 and has since attracted controversy for its alleged anti-semitism and support for extreme right-wing political positions. So this was the city’s anus; a place where it retains or vents its most atavistic impulses.
The search for swadisthana, the sex-organ chakra, led me to a spot in view of a dark and rounded road-tunnel under the railway. Perfectly vaginal, I thought. But, no, the pendulum pointed instead to another ecclesiastical building nearby. Formerly St Agnes’ Church, this redbrick structure was erected in 1913, de-consecrated in 1977, but saved from demolition by being converted into a gymnasium. It is the home of the city’s gymnastics club. Energy finds physical expression here, and thus it is also the site of the city’s sex organs.
Discovering manipura, the belly chakra, was the most awesome of these expeditions. The pendulum led me to the transmitter mast on top of Whitehawk Hill. A gale was blowing. The billowing sky and the roar of the air as it shredded itself through the giant mast was terrifying. My guts turned to water. I hardly dared look at the sky. Whitehawk Hill is a neolithic ceremonial landscape dating back to 3,500BC. The place that day was seething with a weird, barely controllable energy. No doubt, this was the centre of the city’s dynamism and power. The descendants of the neolithic hunter gatherers who first settled here had recognised it long ago.
Anahata, the heart chakra, posed a more ambiguous set of symbols. The pendulum led me to a quiet, affluent housing estate. It offered clear directions, but the spot was shielded by fences and roads that wound laborious detours around it. Eventually I discovered why: the place indicated was on private land, denied to casual explorers. But I found an entrance that seemed to have been left open by accident. At the end of a track was a disused clubhouse next to a former sports field that was spectacularly overgrown with chest-high weeds. Research revealed how this oasis of dereliction is the centre of an ongoing feud between potential developers and conservative residents. Has the city privatised its own heart and denied itself from itself? Or was the sports field a symbol of transcendent calm at the centre of competing tensions? It isn’t inappropriate that an ethical issue should predominate at the site of the city’s centre for compassion and self-transcendence.
Into Subtle Realms
What is intended when the pendulum leads somewhere that we wouldn’t ordinarily even consider a ‘place’? This was the question posed by vishuddha, the throat chakra, which the pendulum insisted was located in a strip of private backyards behind a row of houses bordering a fire station. There was no chance of gaining access; I had to content myself with glimpses between the houses of this piecemeal territory, comprising gardens, garages and lock-ups.
The higher towards spirit one attempts to ascend, the more subtle and abstract experience becomes. It’s natural to feel disappointed if a search for treasure leads to a rusted rivet on a lamppost, or some dog-pissed corner by a telephone box. But who says these aren’t places every bit as pregnant with meaning as an ancient site, a tourist attraction or a private address?
Surveying the area afterwards on Google Maps revealed how the houses are semi-detached. Each household shares its building with a neighbour on one side, but also shares its garden space with its neighbour on the other. This strip of territory is a living symbol of intercommunication and interdependency, each household bound to its neighbours through a double bond of building (inner) and garden (outer).
Vishuddha is evidently where higher, subtler realms of spirit begin. This place that wasn’t really a place was teaching me something about places. In one sense, there’s nothing ‘subtle’ about a city made of roads, buildings, stone and metal; but if we insist on asking it to show us something subtle, we have to be receptive to how this can manifest.
The expedition to uncover ajna, the brow chakra or ‘third eye’, looked at first as if it would yield a similar outcome. The pendulum led me to a soulless trading estate that I’d passed by countless times before, but then it took me down a featureless road towards a forbidding-looking fenced-off area, which turned out to be the city car pound. A forlorn collection of vehicles seemed to stare back at me from inside unscalable, spiked bars. Something told me this was far too tense and sensitive a place to be seen taking photographs, so I kept my distance. (A little research afterwards confirmed that I might have been right about this.)
The ajna chakra is the ‘organ’ that allows us to perceive emptiness, non-duality. The car, meanwhile, is a perfect symbol and manifestation of our culture’s current stage of evolution: materialistic, unsustainable, a metal excrescence that is fundamentally a projection of the ego on wheels. I don’t mean to imply that cars (and egos) don’t have their uses, but the car pound is certainly at the sharp end of the city’s spiritual evolution. Having our car towed currently feels like having our ego removed. On the day that this ceases to be such a terrifying ordeal, the city will have moved to a higher level of development.
On the day I set off in search of sahasrara I had moved all my belongings to a new place, and the home from which I’d launched all the previous expeditions was empty of everything except for the map and its pieces of string. The location for the chakra was quite specific: a youth hostel at the northernmost limits of the city. When I arrived, the building proved to have been out of use for some time, and was occupied only by security staff who were there to deter squatters. Only afterwards did I discover that the elegant, neo-classical mansion house to which I’d been led was Patcham Place. The building dates back to 1558, although it was totally rebuilt in 1764. It is rumoured to be haunted by a former resident, Anthony Stapley, who was a signatory to the execution warrant of King Charles I.
I’d been wondering how to follow up my Alone With Ghosts project, and where the next venue might be where I could spend a night meditating with spirits. I’d chanced across an article in a local newssheet on Brighton’s ‘forgotten’ haunting and wondered if the place mentioned – a mansion called Patcham Place – might be a candidate venue. I hadn’t a clue where it was, and hadn’t got around to finding out.
Seems I wouldn’t have to bother. The pendulum had led me directly there. So here was sahasrara, the chakra that manifests as pure consciousness, access point to the divine, announcing itself with a remarkable synchronicity and proving that Dukes’ pendulum exercise – to expel unconscious rational interference – had perhaps achieved its result.
‘Where is this?’
I was delighted to discover that the question ‘Where is this?’ is used as a koan in Zen Buddhism. Try meditating on it. ‘Where is this?’ Where is what? Well, this, of course. This arising of experience, this awareness. Surely it’s simply here where I am, isn’t it? My body. In this room. Here, at this address, in this town, in this country. Yes, but look more closely. Does that truly define your experience of where? Or isn’t that just a label, an idea – in effect, just more of ‘here’ arising. Isn’t it clear how any concept of location is just more of ‘here’ rather than a direct experience of where ‘here’ is?
But meditate on the koan for long enough and in the correct way, and eventually there will be a direct experience of the answer – which is outside words and concepts.
If anyone asks me what’s the point of psychogeographical exercises like the one described here, I’d suggest they’re all attempts to tackle that koan, ‘Where is this?’ Because in the exploration of our relationship to space lies a great and speedy vehicle for enlightenment.
Place and location are not the fixed entities they seem, but mental constructs. As such, they can be deconstructed, played around with, looked at from different perspectives, applied to other uses.
Was this exercise just a series of walks on which I fooled myself that something else was happening? Yes, it was. But I was fooling myself with awareness. Whereas on our daily journeys between home, work and the shops, we generally fool ourselves without awareness.
To properly engage with and explore the place we live in, let’s throw away the ordinary maps and make our own.
The Chakras of Brighton & Hove. A Google map showing the locations of the sites mentioned in the article.
Ramsey Dukes (2011). How to See Fairies: Discover Your Psychic Powers in Six Weeks. London: Aeon Books.
Susan Blackmore (2009). Ten Zen Questions. Oxford: Oneworld Publications.