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What is Chaos Magic?

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Subject: What is Chaos Magic?
   by Joseph Max
   The words "Chaos Magic" reverberate with mystery and intrigue.
   It's rather safe to assume that this was intentional on the part
   of those who originally coined the term. However, it's important
   to remember that when Gerald Gardener came up with his
   reconstruction of European Paganism in the 1950's and called it
   "witchcraft," he must have been equally well aware of the effect
   that that term would have on his contemporaries. There's nothing
   like a touch of the "forbidden" if you want to intrigue people.
   The label of "Chaos Magic" suffers from two inherent drawbacks.
   First, the "cyberpunk" connotations of the term tend to attract
   some of those misanthropic types who were attracted to the label
   "Satanist" for similar reasons. They see it as some kind of
   "Satanism Lite," as it were. This subclass of human used to use
   the term "witch" or "warlock" to describe themselves before the
   term "Chaos Magic" came into vogue, and "Chaos Magician" sounds
   so much cooler. Those who once might have painted upside-down
   pentagrams on their black leather jackets and called themselves
   "warlocks" have switched to eight-rayed stars and are calling
   themselves "Chaos Magicians" instead.
   The second (and more important) drawback is that the very idea of
   Chaos Magic inherently defies description. It is highly personal
   and experimental by its nature. Even those who claim to practice
   it are hard-pressed to define what it is, outside of their own
   personal version. But neither is it simply "eclectic witchcraft",
   though it's methods certainly are eclectic. It can only be
   defined by certain commonalities of thought among those who claim
   to practice it, and even among some who thought they were just
   "doing their own thing" and never knew it had a name.
   Chaos Magic is dangerous, awesome, full of potential and
   therefore highly compelling. It is "no-holds-barred magic". The
   rule is that there are no rules, besides learning what works for
   you and using it to accomplish your will, while avoiding getting
   stuck in rut of doing everything the same way all of the time.
   In the menace and fascination of the very concept of "chaos" lies
   the power of Chaos Magic. There is no way to accurately describe
   Chaos Magic, any more than one can accurately describe the Tao.
   "That which can be described is not the Tao", as the old sage
   said. In a way, I suppose that the Chaos Magicians are the
   ultimate "secret society," though it is inherent in Chaos Magic
   itself, rather than needing to be enforced by oath or decree.
   So why is it called Chaos Magic? Well, general consensus more
   than anything else!
   It is called "magic" since, like all other forms of Art of the
   Mages, it seeks to affect the course of events by paranormal
   means. Action at a distance. Events that defie logical causality.
   Non-normal states of consciousness. Arcane knowledge. Power.
   But what makes it Chaos Magic? (Or "magick" -- choose your
   spelling to taste.) It may be impossible to describe directly,
   but I can offer a few opinions on drawing the distinction.
   For one thing, there is the underlying assumption of the "random"
   and relativistic nature of life, the universe and everything.
   That we are a drift in a quantum world of uncertainty. Existance
   can not be completely described by either religion or it's
   philosophical successor, science.
   Chaos Mathematics shows us that what seems random is in fact
   chaotic and has a higher "order" that can be perceived from a
   great enough perspective. Chaos gives rise to reality itself. It
   might also give rise to the tendency for matter to accrue form
   and perhaps even intelligence.
   According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "chaos" is
   Greek in origin. Its original meaning was: "a vast gulf or chasm;
   the neither abyss, empty space, infinite darkness, the first
   state of the universe." In English, this was refined to mean "the
   formless void of primordial matter, the 'great deep' or 'abyss'
   out of which the cosmos or structure of the universe was
   evolved." The popular modern interpretation of the word as being
   a synonym for "disorder" is a recent and somewhat misleading
   development. Both order and disorder are themselves
   manifestations of the Primal Chaos. The original meaning had more
   in common with what the Eastern mystics call the Tao. I think
   this is not at all accidental.
   So we Chaosists call this primal connectivity "Chaos" instead of
   "God" or some other traditional name to remove any
   anthropomorphic ideas from something that is so totally un-human
   as to defy comprehension -- at least by intellectual means.
   Another reason behind the name is that many of the concepts of
   modern Chaos Theory can be given metaphysical interpretation. For
   example, it's obvious that various occult systems have many
   factors in common. In Chaos Theory, there is something called a
   "strange attractor," a certain type of coherency that arises in
   any turbulent system. Mathematically speaking, it merely
   represents certain range of numbers that tend to fall into a
   recycling set of values when certain formula are applied. What
   makes it more than a mere arithmetic game is that when computers
   were allowed to crank endlessly through the calculations, certain
   geometric patterns emerged that bear a striking resmblence to our
   perceptions of various real world phenomena. Therefore it can be
   used as tool to make predictions (in this case, how turbulent
   systems will behave), which elevates it to the realm of science
   -- where it is properly referred to as Non-Linear Dynamics.
   A good example of a strange attractor in the physical world is a
   vortex; given the right conditions, it will arise in air
   currents, running water, dust storms -- anything from the Great
   Red Spot of Jupiter to the whirlpool in your bathtub drain. But
   regardless of the medium, a vortex willl always assume a similar
   To apply this concept to the occult, assume any given magical
   "system" is the medium in which certain patterns (practices,
   concepts, formulae, etc.) will emerge -- strange attractors --
   that will be strikingly similar to each other.
   In magical terms, a strange attractor would be, say, astral
   projection, or energy centers aligned along the spinal column. Or
   the interaction with non-corpreal intelligences (gods, demons,
   spirits, etc.) A kind of pattern that always seems to arise
   regardless of the particular belief-set that goes along with the
   actual techniques. Within them all lay the "strange attractors"
   that can be harvested from the morass of archaic symbolism and
   put to use by the canny magician.
   Chaos Magicians look for these commonalties among seemingly
   different systems as clues to an underlying factor that can be
   stripped of its unnecessary symbolism if desired and put to
   directly use with any chosen set of symbols. The intent is to
   reveal the practical techniques that underly the outer trappings
   and (one would hope) turn the symbolism into a personal
   expression of Art. Chaos Magic has applied such artistic concepts
   as postmodernism and deconstructionism to the study of the
   occult, and has achieved some remarkable insights, particularly
   the idea that all magical systems are sociologically derived and
   culturally biased. This is not an indictment, but simply a
   recognition of the facts.
   In cultural terms, Chaos Magic can be described as the vanguard
   of Western esoteric practice. Unlike it's predesesors, it
   involves more spontaneity and eschews a rigid framework of
   rituals and procedures. It also explores the techniques of
   shamanism and sorcery, something most Western magical traditions
   have always tended to shun as being "beneath" them. It is
   influenced by many modern cultural trends, such as cyberpunk,
   postmodernism and deconstructionism. It tries to integrate many
   of the current theories in science and philosophy like quantum
   physics, synchronicity and, of course, chaos theory with occult
   phenomena. There are even influences from occult history, such as
   Aleister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare, Taoism, Tibetian Buddhism,
   many forms of native shamanism and even certain science fiction
   and fantasy writers, like H.P. Lovecraft and William Gibson.
   To quote one writer, Peter Carroll: "If you want a one-line
   definition with which most Chaosists would not disagree, then I
   offer the following: Chaosists usually accept the meta-belief
   that belief itself is only a tool for achieving effects; it is
   not an end in itself."
   Meta-belief is an important concept in Chaos Magic. It is the
   idea that belief is nothing more than a psychological state of
   mind, and as such, can be manipulated by the will. Belief can be
   delberately self-manipulated, although it has the power to shape
   our own reality, and sometimes other people's reality as well. It
   is the means, not the end; the vehicle, not the destination.
   In The Theatre Of Magick, Ray Sherwin wrote: "The [Chaos]
   Magician believes nothing in the sense of having faith. He
   experiments practically to ascertain if there is any value in the
   postulates he has either originated or borrowed from elsewhere.
   It is a fact that we all must hold certain organic beliefs for
   the sake of convenience. You believe that the chair you are
   sitting in is real -- most of the time. This is not however a
   mental process, but rather an instinctive or organic one without
   which life would be impossible." This level of belief is not what
   meta-belief is concerned with. Rather, it concerns the level of
   belief that is attained by faith.
   The practice of meta-belief confers an awful freedom and an awful
   responsibility. Practicing Chaos Magic involves the temporary
   adoption of an obsessive belief system that allows for the
   possibility of magic to accomplish specific effects, and then the
   abandonment of that belief system upon the completion of the
   work. Subsequent, and even contradictory belief systems are
   adopted in turn as need or desire may dictate. To do this (and
   not go completely insane) it is of paramount importance that no
   one particular set of beliefs is ever accepted as being
   ultimately true.
   This rejection of absolutism, more than anything else, accounts
   for the sinister reputation of Chaos Magic in modern occultism.
   Nearly all previous revivals of occult philosophy, regardless of
   their public reputation, have been maniacal about proclaiming
   their "high moral standards." Gerald Gardner, in his 'revival' of
   Witchcraft, formulated nearly 200 moral "laws" to govern the
   activities of his followers, who to this day fight a never ending
   battle to convince the world of their benevolence. Aleister
   Crowley and his successors have churned out reams of prose
   defending the Thelemic maxim of "Do what thou wilt shall be the
   whole of the law" as being a 'greater' system of morality.
   Whether it is or not is beside the point. Chaos Magic bypasses
   the issue entirely; there is no dogma to indoctrinate you into
   "good" or "positive" moral standards before getting the details
   of the technique. When you practice Chaos Magic, you must choose
   what is ultimately "good" or ultimately "evil".
   As a result, Chaos Magic is magic without limitations. Chaos
   magic is not a new system, or a rehash of older systems, or any
   kind of system at all. It's a new attitude. It's a different way
   of looking at the Art of Magic -- as an expression of Art above
   all other considerations. Like all Artists, Chaos Mages tend
   toward an attitude of elitism, since a great part of the creation
   of Art is the pursuit of excellence, and pride in one's creations
   when excellence is achieved. An elitist attitude (as long as it's
   balanced with compassion and doesn't desend into bigotry) is
   forgivable in the Artist, for without it no great work of Art
   would ever be realized.
   While it is a fact that certain misanthropic types could seize
   upon the freedom of magical expression inherent in such an
   approach and use it to the detriment of their fellow humans, such
   sociopaths will always find a way to inflict an equal amount of
   misery on others whether they practice magic or not. They're very
   clever that way.
   Chaos Magic isn't "new", because every ancient adept who ever
   struck out on his or her own heretical path was, in effect,
   responding to the call of Chaos. But when a system grows out of
   any path, when holy books are written, when rituals and manners
   and moralities are prescribed for "the followers," it has ceased
   to be Chaos Magic. It is only by pushing our selves out on a limb
   that we encounter the Chaos Current, and touch the spark that
   makes magic a reality.
   However, it is not the same as simply grabbing on to whatever
   happens to strike your fancy. Bits and pieces of various and
   sundry old rituals and belief structures, kludged together by a
   given individual and molded into a "system," albeit a personal
   one, is not Chaos Magic either. Locked-in belief is locked-in
   belief. It is far more important to be free to push the envelope
   than it is to be "correct" -- or even consistent. Chaos magic is
   not simply a reformulated mishmash of old magical traditions with
   trendy new labels.
   Chaos Magic as commonly defined today derives primarily from the
   work of Austin Osman Spare and Peter J. Carroll. Both rejected
   most of traditional magical practice as being unnecessarily
   complicated, culturally bigoted and generally ineffective, and
   fearful of the powerful but dangerous techniques of sorcery and
   shamanism. Both also considered traditional occult teaching to be
   far more concerned with imparting a system of morality than
   anything else, making them in actual fact religions. Spare was
   the first one to draw the connection between magic and (in his
   time) the relatively new field of psychology, freeing occult
   practice from the necessity of a religious world-view. Carroll,
   along with Sherwin, founded the Illuminates of Thanateros (IOT)
   and attempted to also integrate the concepts of Chaos Theory and
   Quantum Mechanics with the occult and paranormal.
   Due to these influences, Chaos Magic is perhaps the first kind of
   ceremonial magic that doesn't approach the subject as an antique
   art. Magic need not be handed down from ancient adepts to be
   "real". Instead, Magic is something to be experimented with and
   improved upon. Virtually all other systems (they don't call them
   "traditions" for nothing) assume that "The Ancient Masters"
   already uncovered all of the secrets of magic long ago, and all
   we poor moderns can hope to do is recapture a glimmer of the
   glories of the past. This antiquarian attitude has unfortunately
   hamstrung the development of the Art of Magic since the fall of
   Chaos Magic is further distinguished from the "systems" of the
   past by its approach. It sees ritual magic as psychodrama, rather
   than worship. As such, it is quite similar to the Stanislavsky
   system of Method Acting. One carefully defines the role one will
   enact during a magical ritual (including as part of the
   "character" a belief in the existance of magic itself) and,
   surrounded by a setting condusive to that role, throws oneself in
   to as inspired of a performance as one can muster.
   Like a method actor, a Chaos Magician seeks to circumvent
   everyday reality and suspend disbelief. To do this he or she uses
   the tools of the actor: setting, costumes, props, words, sounds,
   and especially what Stanislavsky called emotional memory. Any
   powerful, transformative experience can be used to tap into the
   emotional memory, including sex, pain, confusion, elation,
   disgust and ecstasy -- especially in paradoxical combinations.
   The purpose of a Chaos Magic ritual is to induce and utilize a
   mental state we call "gnosis". This application of the term is
   similar to the meaning used by the Tantrists, where the
   discursive mind is short-circuited and the magician's intention
   can be imprinted onto the quantum flux of the universe. Even the
   briefest moment of gnosis, attained at a point when the will is
   being channelled through the subconscious mind, can be enough to
   bring about a magical result.
   Chaos Magicians use sigils (magical intentions that have been
   rendered into symbolic glyphs or mantras), ritual techniques from
   any source, especially original ones, and artifacts of any chosen
   culture to form a magical space, a temporary autonomous zone in
   which the subconscious mind can be directed. Gnosis is the
   gateway to effective magic. It is the moment of timelessness, the
   state of magical trance where the mind interfaces directly with
   the acausal interconnectivity of the universe. Powerful emotional
   reaction is the most accessible key to unlock the gates of
   gnosis. Psycho-dramatic ritual that uses emotional memory to call
   up the desired reactions is the hand that holds that key.
   A ritual is traditionally a map of consciousness, and therefore
   can be useful as a map of the trail one has blazed into one's own
   psyche. However, prescribed rituals, along with such contrivances
   as "books of shadows", "holy books", "publications in class A"
   and the like, are precisely devised to protect the operant from
   Chaos. In short, there is always room for new Chaos Magic
   methods, but none whatsoever for Chaos Magic systems.
   Philosophically, Chaos Magic bears a resemblance to Taoism,
   except for the Taoist's total quietism. Success hinges on
   ego-annihilation, so there is a lot in common with the Buddhist
   Nagarjuna and Madhyamaka schools, and perhaps even more so with
   the Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism. An examination of the
   Chod rituals of Tibetan Buddhists will yield valuable clues as to
   the formulation of effective Chaos rites. The effect of a Zen
   Buddhist koan on the discursive mind is a small taste of what a
   Chaos Magician seeks.
   The practice of Chaos Magic can be destablizing, because it's
   designed to deconstruct belief. Like psychedelic drugs, it can
   drastically alter your reality. So it's not for the squeamish, or
   for those who fear what lurks in their deepest selves, for it is
   from those deep selves that the Chaos Mage forges his or her gods
   and demons.
   Such dualistic concepts as "white" or "black" magic are not
   applicable to Chaos Magic, at least not in the sense of being
   good or evil. Magic is a force, like electromagnetism, and has no
   inherent moral qualities. Peter Carroll wrote in Liber Null, "The
   end results of either path are likely not to be dissimilar, for
   the paths meet in a way that is impossible to describe. The
   so-called 'middle way', or path of knowledge, consisting of the
   mere second hand acquisition of ideas, is an excuse to do neither
   and leads nowhere." As a result, Chaos Magicians tend toward
   pushing the extremes, finding balance by swinging from pole to
   pole, rather than seeking "moderation."
   Being morally neutral, Chaos Magic is probably not for those who
   haven't already come up with a well-developed code of personal
   ethics. In fact, most Chaos Magicians, though not all, would
   define themselves (if held at gunpoint) as "black" or at least
   "grey" magicians, but not as defined by those who see the dark
   side of existence as merely "evil." If their magic is "black," it
   is because it deals with that which is dark and hidden, and drawn
   from the abyss of primal Chaos. People with no ethical standards
   of any kind whatsoever tend toward eventual self-annihilation
   anyway. Chaos magical practice only accelerates the process,
   usually ending in some form or another of spectacular insanity.
   But don't look to Chaos Magic to provide moral guidance. If one
   desires that, it simply must be sought elsewhere.
   It is also magic that dare not take itself too seriously. Chaotes
   are generally known for having a well developed sense of humor,
   and this is expressed in their magical work, from mock-serious
   invocations of Bugs Bunny as a trickster god, to the practice of
   ending every ceremony with a round of roaring laughter. Though
   the humor may tend toward the satirical, there is a large measure
   of genuine amusement at what a collossal joke the universe
   actually is, and how much fun it can be to laugh along with it.
   In recent times, occultism has been bound up to a large extent
   with political preference. Most people require some sort of
   framework on which to hang their opinions and preferences, which
   makes a mix of magic and politics in a holistic system much more
   attractive than politics alone. The emergent magical systems of
   the present day, such as Thelema and Neo-Paganism, are popular
   precisely because they combine a socio-political belief with a
   magical appreciation of reality. It gives their politics a
   "higher purpose". Politics, the art of manipulating others into
   conforming to (or at least acknowledging the predominance of) a
   particular set of cultural values, has nothing whatsoever to do
   with Chaos Magic. Chaos Magic exposes the folly of politics by
   showing us that all efforts to bring order to this dimension are
   ultimately futile. Attempts to organize around fixed belief
   structures are attempts to increase the certainty of existance.
   This is antiethical to the concept of Chaos, where belief is
   spontaneous, as life-force is spontaneous and evolution itself is
   And in any case, an over-politicized social group is invariably
   stultified and unable to cope with the swift changes in
   consciousness that can occur within the group, especially when
   their consciousness develops in response to spiritual and magical
   considerations. How can we seriously expect a system that
   combines magic and politics to be anything but drastically
   unstable? This is why virtually all attempts at "pagan
   eco-politics", "feminist spirituality" and other such
   cross-breeds have been such dismal failures, hardly raising a
   blip on the cultural radar screen before dissolving into scism
   and infighting.
   Similarly, it can be said that religion and Chaos Magic are
   fundamentally incompatible. The one restricts, the other
   liberates. The one requires that intellect be twisted to
   accommodate a prescribed ludicrous belief system and adhere to it
   perpetually, the other freely adopts ludicrous belief systems of
   its own choice and for its own purposes -- and then destroys
   them. Religion -- and most magical systems are and always have
   been essentially religious in nature -- requires a single
   mind-set for all people, for all times, in all circumstances.
   Chaos Magic demands personal, flexible tenets of belief; in other
   words, meta-belief. Religion requires certain thoughts and
   actions to be classified as good or evil. Chaos Magic attempts to
   understand and embrace all aspects of existence, with moral value
   to be judged only by the individual.
   Therefore, Chaos Magic is not concerned with such amorphous
   mystical goals as attaining Nirvana, finding your True Will or
   crossing the Abyss, at least not directly. If you wish to worship
   the Goddess or commune with your Holy Guardian Angel, you would
   do better to look elsewhere; modern Neo-Paganism offers a vast
   smorgasbord of various amalgamtions of religion and magic, from
   Wicca to Thelema, from White Light Brotherhoods to the Church of
   Satan. The goal of Chaos Magic is developing practical magical
   techniques, that create real, perceptable changes according to
   the will of the magician. This is not limited to external
   physical effects, but also (and perhaps more importantly)
   includes operations designed to alter the psyche of the magician
   in profound ways -- but in ways the magician has chosen or wishes
   to explore, rather than in a predordained manner. The "structure"
   of Chaos Magic, if it can be said to even have one, is a
   non-structure. It is vehemently non-hierarchical. Chaos Magic is
   magical anarchy, but in the true sense of the word -- it is magic
   without leaders.
   With Chaos Magic, the principle is that you can experience
   anything you wish as you wish it; this is the Chaosists take on
   "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." Therefore it
   is up to you where and when, and with what you involve yourself.
   In short then, Chaos Magic is Chaos Magic. It is not a new
   religion, nor is it just a new magical system. It is not a
   "system" at all. Don't ask others to define it for you in
   sociological, political or religious terms. Although they may be
   able to construct a dogma that makes sense, it will not have
   anything to do with Chaos.
   Or as Louis Armstrong put it when asked about the nature of Jazz:
   "If I have to explain it to you, you'll never understand it
   Chaos, being Chaos, has no attributes save itself. This leaves
   the difficulty of describing it, because it is not an "it". Chaos
   Magic is a non-dualistic gateway, which has confounded even those
   who "originated" it by being so multifarious that its development
   will always advance in unpredictable directions. Chaos Magic will
   always grow independently of any one source. No one can "teach"
   you Chaos Magic. To paraphrase Austin Spare, "All a teacher can
   ever do is show you your own magnificence."
   Chaos Magic is an extension beyond our reality and beyond the
   traditionalist systems. Its description as a "system" simply
   underlines the trap humans fall into when needing to
   conceptualize. If one is unsure how to proceed, and has no
   experience in magic at all, one is sure to find within the
   complexity and variety of traditional paths a mix of methods that
   suits his or her nature. However when he or she has honed their
   talents on these tried and tested systems, the next step must be
   the Void and the necessary development of new methodologies --
   which is the heart of Chaos Magic, and that which will propel the
   Art of the Mage into the 21st century, free at last from the
   constraints and superstitions of the past.
   This new way of practicing the Art of Magic is as free as
   possible of all moral dogma, a way solely oriented to personal
   discovery. Because the practice aims to assimilate and then
   surpass the limited dualistic approaches to Magic which has
   hallmarked the traditions and shackles us to the past, it is by
   its nature beyond our comprehension, and beyond our ability to
   predict what direction it will take.
   But its interface is Chaos, and by popular consensus, "Chaos
   Magic" is its name. And it can be described most succinctly in
   the words:
   "Nothing is true. Everything is permitted."
   Copyright 1997 by Joseph Max. All rights reserved.


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