Strange Naturalisms: Reflections on Occult Geographies

Ankerwycke Yew 2

A few years ago I organised a half-day symposium on the themes of geography, nature and the occult under the name of Strange Naturalisms: Reflections on Occult Geographies. I was in my second year as a research student at the time and was feeling frustrated by the very few events taking place that were aimed at dealing with geographies of the strange and uncanny, not least because I knew from my own research that this was an of area cultural geography that was growing in popularity. After submitting a short proposal and projection of costs to my department, I was awarded a grant of £300 to invite speakers and pay for refreshments. I had previously met and was aware of other, more established scholars working in the field of the strange and so it made sense to try and get as many as I could together, given the small grant I had to work with, so as to establish some sort of cohesive school of thought around these geographies of the strange.

The symposium was fairly well attended for a Wednesday afternoon in late February and despite the winter weather a number of people made some heroic trips to come speak and take part in the event. As is so often the case with this sort of event I had planned on doing something productive with the speakers’ contributions but never actually got around to it. Earlier today I came across the recordings of the talks that I had taken during the session and I thought now to be as good a time as any to finally make them available.


The abstract for the day is below and the microsite for the symposium together with the abstracts for the talks can still be found here. The running order for the talks was as follows:

Julian Holloway (MMU) – The Strange Nature of Gef the Talking Mongoose
James Kneale (UCL) – London’s ‘lively unknown dead’: Maureen Duffy’s Capital
James Thurgill (RHUL) – Conjuring place: the strange case of the Ankerwycke Yew
Owain Jones (UWE) – Sylvan Spirits. Trees as makers and shapers of strange places
Steve Pile (OU) – Telepathy, affect and the strange nature of the human mind
Phil Crang (RHUL) – Discussant

‘Strange Naturalisms’ is a half day symposium aimed at collating discussions of the spectral, the fortean and the occult in geography; demonstrating that the very events and practices that we regard as supernatural are better viewed as instances of the vitality of nature. This event will bring together a number of geographic thinkers to discuss the uncanny formations of an occult landscape. Investigations into the fortean have proliferated within geography and cognate disciplines in recent years (See Holloway:2003,2006, Pile:2005, Dixon:2007). As such, the immateriality of place has come to rival the importance of material features in geographic writings. To this end, we have seen something of an occult turn in approaches to the landscape, with attention turning to uncovering the hidden or mystical properties of place. This session is dedicated to locating experiences of the strange; to elucidating those places that are perceived as anomalous, weird, and unnatural. There is much scope to develop understandings of the mystical, spectral and enchanted in relation to landscape, particularly in exploring the methods or ways in which we might encounter the uncanniness of N/nature. Through relations to place, landscape and the cultural practices and narratives that aid in their construction, each paper will provide an account of how our surroundings are bound up in a network of landscape mysticism.

Another call, another conference.

Call for Papers: Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers Annual Conference 2013

Occult Geographies: (im)material agents and the geographical imagination

London, 28-30 August 2013

Sponsored by the History and Philosophy of Geography Research Group (HPGRG).

Julian Holloway (Manchester Metropolitan University)
James Thurgill (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Over the last decade geography has turned its attention to engaging with those elements of place that remain unseen and to exploring the relationality between materiality, agency and the invisible as affect or spectrality.

This session seeks to explore the way that place not just affects us, but stirs, moves, disturbs, confuses and distorts our perception. In particular, the session focuses on the occult and occluded facets of various geographies. Here the occult pertains to that which is hidden or obscured from our perception but potentially not to that which is unknowable. The occult provides a way in which to enframe those uncanny aspects of place such as unseen agency, strange naturalisms, magic, ecologies of the spectral, and positions them within esoteric practice. As such, the occult as a movement represents a history of practice that seeks to work with and manipulate the invisible and unseen aspects of place; the occult in its various manifestations therefore signifies an often ignored, yet deliberately hidden, frontier in geographical practice.

The session invites papers that deal with occult and esoteric geographical imaginations and spatial practices. Furthermore, we seek papers that highlight new occult directions for the geographic imagination and explore how the occult can potentially be used to redefine the world around us. Therefore, we seek papers that both analyse occult movements and their geographies, and papers that aim to deal with the occult as an exploratory method in the study and development of geographic thinking that have the potential to reconfigure our understanding of place, materiality and agency.

Topics might include but are not limited to:

* Geomancy and arcane cartographics
* Magick and the esoteric manipulation of space and place
* Ambiguous materialites and their spaces
* UnNatural agents
* Occult movements and their geographies (Rosicrucian, Speculative Freemasonry, The Golden Dawn, The Illuminati, Hermeticism, Chaos Magick, etc.)
* Haunted and ghostly landscapes.
* Placing the occult
* Geopolitics and the occult
* Occult prophecies and apocalypticism
* Conspiracy culture and the ‘hidden control’ of geography.
* Popular culture and commodifying the occult imaginary (from Dan Brown to ghost tourism)

Please send abstracts (c.300 words) to both session organisers James Thurgill ( and Julian Holloway (
by Monday 4th February 2013.

For the Royal Geographical Society Conference page, click HERE