• Patrice Miller

That's a sigil. What's a sigil?

Updated: May 13

In its current iteration, "I Ping the Body Electric" is a performance that is also a ritual incorporating aspects of modern and traditional Wicca and Witchcraft. These practices have many roots - some longer and older than others - and many branches. We created a piece heavily informed by our personal practices as well as anthropological and artistic scholarship and research, with a healthy amount of psycho-geographic practices in there too. Included in our performance is the drawing of a sigil as an act of protection and nurture.

The sigil will be drawn in chalk during the performance which takes place on the corner of West 14th Street and Washington Street in a neighborhood known as the Meatpacking District. I can't talk about the sigil without first ensuring that we acknowledge the full and complicated history of this land.

New York City is on the unceded territory of Lenapehoking. We acknowledge the traditional stewards of this land and the generations of trauma and genocide that have been forced on them first by settlers and perpetuated by individual privileges and systemically through the state. We are committed to following, uplifting, and supporting Indigenous voices, actions, and land care while recognizing that the United States was built on stolen land by stolen people taken through the Middle Passage.

The site we'll be honoring and asking to hold our performance in particular is very close to what was an Lenape trading station known eventually as Sapohanikan. This station stood on the other side of the literal wall of Wall Street, a wall erected by enslaved Africans some of whom would later attain a "half-free" status from the Dutch and settle not too far from the site in an area that become known as the Land of the Blacks - this land is currently called Greenwich Village. As Dutch and then British colonization continued the land became a tobacco farm, the Lenape were forced off of their land, and eventually the Land of the Blacks was no longer cared for by their Black families due to the stripping of rights under British colonization. Eventually, the area becomes a food manufacturing site - most notably of meat, but also of crackers and cookies. As is still true today, the work of slaughtering, cleaning, cutting, and preparing animals for meat was done by immigrants; those who came in waves from Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, often escaping persecution, famine, genocide, and other oppressions. The mid-twentieth century would see these places close and then (what we now call) New York City suffer a crippling economic blight (punctuated by a lovely note from President Ford - "Drop Dead" - American solidarity). The empty factories and lofts of Manhattan were frequently occupied by artists of all stripes and following that were of course bars and clubs. 432 West 14th Street was the site of Mother/Jackie 60 - an experimental, alternative club that embraced transgressions of all sorts and celebrated those at the margins (more on that hopefully soon!).

So, in brief, our little corner at 14th and Washington has always been a place of gathering, of tension, of escape, of vice. The ground beneath the cobblestones has absorbed centuries of pain and the blood of many. 432 West 14th Street is a sacred land, a crossroads.

The sigil we chose (or that found us?) honors the long roads that we walk when we walk towards justice. Oh, what's a sigil?

Sigils are basically magical diagrammatic drawings. The roots of sigil drawing are both very old in many places (think ancient ruin drawings, incantation bowls, all those weird medieval grimoires) and not too new (think Theosophy in Europe and America). A lot of modern sigil magic is based on the work of Austin Osman Spare, a British artistic and occultist from the late 19th and 20th century. Spare was an animal lover and member of the RSPCA as well, much befitting of a ritual in the Meatpacking District.

The practice I've been following and that we found to be a wonderful fit for our piece is from Laura Tempest Zakroff, a modern witch, writer, and performer. In 2019 Laura led a community sigil making workshop that resulted in the Root to Sky Sigil: For Long Term Change. I love that this sigil was communally made and all that is built into it resonates deeply with Tim, me, and our what we hope I Ping dances with, if only fleetingly.

Please read about this sigil and Laura's process here and know that when Tim draws this on the corner of West 14th Street and Washington Street, we are working to connect to the very deep roots of this place, to hold its difficult (and beautiful) history, to honor the resilience of so many, and to tend to the growing that we all must do on the path to justice.

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