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What is Chaos Magic?

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Subject: What is Chaos Magic?
    The words "Chaos Magic" reverberate with menace 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," I'm sure he was
   equally well aware of the same 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 darkside and "cyberpunk" connotations of the term tend to
   attract those same misanthropic types who were once 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 Chaos Stars and are calling themselves "Chaos Magicians"
   instead. Oh goody.
   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. To try to organize it into a "system" seems an obvious
   Chaos Magic is dangerous, awesome, full of potential and therefore
   highly compelling. It is "no-holds-barred magick". The rule is that
   there are no rules, besides learning what works for you and using it
   to accomplish your will.
   In the mystery and intrigue of Chaos Magic lies its power. 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
   So why is it called Chaos Magic? Well, general consensus more than
   anything else. But I can offer a few opinions:
   For one thing, there is the underlying assumption of the
   inter-relatedness of everything in the universe, for as Chaos
   Mathematics shows us, what seems random is in fact chaotic and has a
   higher kind of "order" that can be perceived from a great enough
   perspective. Chaos gives rise to reality itself, and in particular to
   the life force, the tendency for matter to accrue 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 modern English, this has been 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 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 nearly all 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. A good example in fluid dynamics is a vortex; 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. In magical
   terms, a strange attractor would be, say, astral projection, or energy
   centers aligned along the spinal column. Chaos Magicians look for
   these commonalties among seemingly different systems as clues to an
   underlying factor that can be stripped of its unnecessary symbolism
   and put to directly use. The intent is to reveal the practical
   techniques underlying the outer trappings.
   In cultural terms, Chaos Magic can be described as the vanguard of
   ceremonial magic. 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 magical traditions tend to turn their noses up at as being
   "primitive". 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 theroy. There are
   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, such as William
   Gibson and Michael Moorcock..
   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 itself is nothing more than a psychological state of mind,
   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 or she experiments
   practically to ascertain if there is any value in the postulates he or
   she 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 all believe that the chairs you are sitting in are
   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. 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 it is of paramount importance that no one
   particular set of beliefs is ever accepted as being ultimately true.
   This is summed up in the maxim, "Nothing is true, and everything is
   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 how
   benevolent they are. Even 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 "wholesome" 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, nor a rehash of older systems, nor any kind of
   system at all. It is an attitude. It's a different way of looking at
   the Art of Magic. It 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
   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 this influence, Chaos Magic is perhaps the first kind of
   ceremonial magic that doesn't approach the subject as an antique art.
   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 Rome.
   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. The primary goal of a Chaos Magic ritual is to bring
   about 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. Like a method actor, a Chaos
   Magician seeks to circumvent everyday reality and suspend disbelief.
   To do this s/he 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.
    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 gnosis
   can be achieved. 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
   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.
   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 self.
   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. As a result, Chaos Magicians tend toward pushing the
   extremes, finding balance by swinging from pole to pole, rather than
   seeking "moderation." 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."
   Being morally neutral, Chaos Magic is probably not for those who have
   not already come up with a well-developed code of personal ethics.
   In recent years, the ethical stance of the practitioners of magic 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
   Politics, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with Chaos Magic.
   Politics is the art of manipulating others into conforming to (or at
   least acknowledging the predominance of) a particular set of cultural
   values. Chaos Magic exposes the folly of politics by showing us that
   all our efforts to bring order to this dimension are foolhardy in the
   extreme. Attempts to organize are attempts to increase the certainty
   of existance. This is antiethical to Chaos Magic. Life-force is
   spontaneous as evolution itself is spontaneous. No political or social
   movement has ever followed the course laid out by its founders. It has
   either been altered almost beyond recognition, or disappeared.
   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?
   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, the other 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.
    Therefore, Chaos Magic is not concerned with such amorphous mystical
   goals as 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 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 Duke Ellington put it when asked about the nature of Jazz: "If I
   have to explain it to you, you'll never understand it anyway!"
   Being Chaos, the Void 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. 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 their own methodology -- which is the heart
   of Chaos Magic. Its description as a "system" simply underlines the
   trap humans fall into when needing to conceptualize.
    Chaos Magic has applied such concepts as postmodern deconstructionism
   to the study of the occult, and has achieved some remarkable insights,
   particularly the concept that all magical systems are sociologically
   derived and culturally biased. Within them all, however, lay the
   "strange attractors" that can be harvested from the morass of archaic
   symbolism and put to use by the canny magician.
   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.
   Copyright ©1996 by Joseph Max. All rights reserved.
	[contact the author:]


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