It comes as a surprise to many people that you can practice tracking in urban environments as well as in the countryside. In fact town dwellers sometimes find it easier to begin learning tracking in town before moving on to the countryside. The reason for this is, as with the country dweller, their familiarity with their environment. As a Mexican Pagan I met in the Yucatan Peninsula said when he was showing me around some of the ‘lost’ pyramids that had yet to be explored by the archaeologists; “I live here” He explained. If someone moved things- even slightly- in your living room or yard you would notice. I stay, or pass by here, nearly every day, for me this is my home and I notice even small changes which makes it easy for me to track animals and people.”
The main change when tracking in the city is that you rely more on smell, sound, and touch than you would when tracking in the wild. The best way of demonstrating this is by example, so come with me now back in time to July 1994 to the Southampton Music Festival. To further set the scene I should also explain that in the 1980’s and early 1990’s I spent a lot of time investigating covens in the South of England. It quickly became obvious that most of them were just excuses to use drugs of various sorts. To quote from my article “Drugs and the Pagan Scene”
“Almost all of them were more likely to cast a circle with a joint as an Athame and, when questioned about their drug use, usually said “It’s a herb not a drug”(?!) or “It’s shamanic, people have been doing it for thousands of years”. They wondered why their magick wasn't getting results, and why any attempts at rituals turned into ‘bad trips’.”
The plan was to meet up with one of the group at the festival, supposedly by the entrance. Naturally, by the time we got there he was nowhere in sight. “We’ll never find him in all this” commented one of the group, as we looked out over the heaving throng of several thousand people. I thought for a moment, and decided to take a reasonable gamble, based on the fact that the person we were looking for had begun to smoke “Skunk” cannabis which had only recently been introduced into the UK. “Not really a problem” I said with a smile “Let’s get downwind”. The group followed me as I headed for the fence in the downwind direction exchanging puzzled glances as they went. These glances rapidly turned to alarm as I walked along the fence sniffing and commenting on the aromas as we walked.
“Red Leb, Northern Lights, ciggy smoke, ciggy smoke” I murmured, apparently oblivious to the expressions on the faces of the rest of the group*. I was renown in their little ‘set’ as the only non-drug user, except for the occasional aspirin when their stupidity gave me a headache. “Haze, Opium Wash- good grief are they still making that?! Bud, Tai Stick, Soap, Afghan..Ah! We have a wiener!” (apparently mispronouncing ‘winner’ but I knew what I meant). I turned into the crowd with the group still in tow and followed the scent upwind and straight to the missing group member puffing on his ‘joint’. Needless to say they were impressed, and not a little shocked, at the apparent ease with which I had found him. In truth there was an element of chance involved, but it was such a rare scent and had it not been my target I would have just gone back to the fence and sniffed out the next aroma of “Skunk”. Much as when you lose a physical trail you go back to the last spot where you were definitely on the right track and begin again.
In a pure urban environment of tarmac and concrete it is very difficult to follow old trails due to the high foot traffic, lack of anything to leave an impression on, and the possibility of the target transferring to a vehicle. But it is still do-able in some circumstances. I still remember occasions where I was chasing someone in Mexico City during the rainy season and being able to distinguish their tracks by the footprints in the damp pollution, bubbles in disturbed puddles and on the pavement itself. As with Tarot reading the most effective way of looking for these signs is with your peripheral vision, looking with the ‘corner of your eye’. It also means that you can be on the lookout for any dangers in the environment that focusing purely on the trail would make you oblivious to.
Using your peripheral vision in this way also engages your subconscious which can notice signs and traces in many ways better than the conscious mind. This connection can also activate your dowsing abilities, especially if you have been practicing this art as part of your Pagan development. I was once silly enough to leave my bag on view in my car in a multi-story car park while I visited a shop. When I came back a side window of my car had been broken and my bag was gone, in it was a pack of Tarot cards and my Psycards. It was a cool, clear dry day but I had a definite “feeling” which way the thieves had gone and followed my instincts. I don’t know whether I was following a scent trail, minute traces on the concrete, or just the Chi energy left by the perpetrators, but I picked my way through two levels of the very large multi-story to some back stairs. Here I found my bag opened and the Psycards exposed. Nothing else was touched, but from the way the acrid scent of fear hung in the air I suspect the thieves had learned the hard way to leave other people’s property alone.
Hopefully these tips on tracking will help you become more attuned to your environment and Pagan practices. If you want to take your training further many ‘Wilderness Schools’ and ‘Survival training camps’ have lessons or whole modules dedicated to this art and it is worth checking to see if those will help you develop your skills further.
*Ciggy smoke= cigarette smoke, all the other names are those of strains of Cannabis.