Address presented at the 2nd annual Pantheacon Convention
February 18th, 1996 - Red Lion Inn, San Jose California
My name is Joseph Max. For the next hour we're going to discuss the great thing called Chaos Magic. I'll spend some time speaking about theory, giving you the best distillation I can of what I've learned in the past several years about it, then we'll try a bit of brains-on practice of a chaos ritual and talk about what a practicing Chaos Mage does. Because Chaos Magic is a VERB - it is something you DO.
Of course, this means by TALKING about it, especially since I'm obviously working from prepared notes, I'm contradicting myself. Fine. I don't make my living holding seminars on reclaiming your "inner child" or hawking crystal chakras resonators, so you'll have to excuse my crutch. At any rate, paradox and contradiction is the soul of chaos. Hopefully, I'll be able to impart something of value by proceeding from the position of "a hair on the dog that's biting you."
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 decree.
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 actually CHAOTIC and has a higher "order" that can be perceived from a great enough perspective. From this arises the life force, the tendency for matter to accrue intelligence. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "chaos" is Greek in origin. It's 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 order 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 by no means 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 applied to mystical interpretation. For example, it's obvious that many occult systems have many factors in common. In Chaos Mathematics, there is something called a "strange attractor", a certain type of coherency that arises in any turbulent system. A good example 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 it's 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 one of the newest inspirations among modern techno-shamans. It is the cutting edge of ceremonial magic. It generally involves more spontaneity and attempts to integrate shamanistic techniques a little more directly. It's influences are cyberpunk, quantum physics, chaos mathematics, psychedelia, Jung's synchronicity theory, Austin Osman Spare, Aleister Crowley, Taoism, Tibetan Buddhism, many forms of shamanism, and a host of writers, many of them fantasy/sci-fi writers.
To quote one writer, Peter Carroll: "If you want a one-line definition with which most Chaos magicians would not disagree, then I offer the following: Chaos Magicians 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 sometime 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."
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 are ever accepted as being ultimately true.
This gives an ultra-sinister aspect to it, because unlike older systems, there is no dogma to indoctrinate you into "good" or "wholesome" moral standards before getting the details of the technique. Therefore, at all times, in using Chaos Magic, you must choose what is ultimately "good" or ultimately "evil".
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 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 Current.
However, 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 reformulation of old magical traditions with trendy new labels.
The key to it is to attempt to deconstruct consensual belief systems and free the energy trapped by those beliefs, then use it to manipulate the quantum flux of reality. Chaos Magic is an assault on belief patterns. It is an attack on the mental status quo.
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 overly complicated, culturally bigoted and generally impotent, 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 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 religion. 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.
This is where the important difference lies between Chaos magic and what has gone before. It is a psycho-dramatic approach to ritual magic. It is actually quite similar to the Stanislavsky system of Method Acting. The goal of a Chaos Magic ritual is to subvert one's normal conscious identity and 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 projected into the quantum flux of the universe. Like a method actor, a Chaos Magician seeks to circumvent everyday reality and suspend disbelief. To do this we use the tools of the actor: setting, costumes, props, words, sounds, and especially what Stanislavsky called emotional memory. Any powerful, transformative experience can be utilized 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 brought about.
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 self-annihilation, so there is a lot in common with the Nagarjuna and Madhyamaka schools of Zen, 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 self.
Chaos magic does not discriminate between "white" or "black" magic, because all dualism is an illusion. 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 fact, most Chaos Magicians, though not all, would define themselves if held at gunpoint as "black 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.
In recent years, magic has been bound up to a large extent with political preference. Most 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 our universe. Most people require frameworks on which to peg their opinions and preferences, and a mix of magic and politics is a holistic system which makes more sense of our sense of our being here than politics alone. Politics, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with Chaos Magic. Politics is the art of manipulating others into a communal society, which adheres to the preferences of a dominant group.
Chaos Magic gives the lie to 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 our being. This is anti ethical to Chaos Magic. Life-force is spontaneous as evolution itself is spontaneous.
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 it's own choice and for it's 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.
Energies, whether good or bad, will always find a point of balance eventually, which is why good can come from evil and vice versa. Trying to constrict universal energies to our own narrow human requirements will always be fraught with failure. Consider the analogy of driving a car. No matter how safe we make the automobile, and regardless of the conditions of the road which we drive it upon, purely by being within a sphere of action, in this case driving, we are vulnerable to the caprice of spontaneity; all accidents occur when people have excused themselves by pleading their innocence with: "I didn't know what I was doing!" or "I didn't realize what effect it would have!" Phrases like this are common wisdom testimony to the fact that, try as we might with politics or social reform, all living things are subject to the flow of chaos. No political or social movement has ever followed the course laid out by it's founders. It has either been altered almost beyond recognition, or disappeared. Evolve or die.
And in any case, an over-politicized social group is invariably stultified and unable to cope with the swift changes in consciousness which can occur within the population, _especially_ when their consciousness develops in response to spiritual and magical considerations. How can we seriously expect a system which combines magic and politics to be anything but drastically unstable?
Therefore, Chaos Magic is not for those who like spending endless hours theorizing over points of moral law, or who need a forum for social or political expression. It is not about exalting the Mother Goddess. It is not about communing with your Holy Guardian Angel. It is not about finding your True Will. The religions of Wicca, Hermeticism and Thelema are available if you find such things important. The goal of Chaos Magic is developing _practical_ magical techniques , that create change in the outer world in conformity with the will of the magician, with producing results that are testable and can be repeated, that have profound and sometimes catastrophic effects on the psyche of the magician. 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 only just a new magical system. It is not a "system" at all. Don't ask others to define it for you in sociological or political terms, because although they may be able to construct a dogma which makes sense, it will not have anything to do with the Chaos current.
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!"
A person who wishes to explore Chaos Magic should attempt to overcome all such preconceptions by experiencing the Void by whatever means possible, not try to develop philosophical arguments in order to further refine a systematic approach, which is already unacceptable.
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 cheated even those who "originated" it by being so multifarious that its impetus will always be shrapnelled. 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."
It's practitioners see Chaos Magic as the culmination of other systems, not as replacement for them. Chaos Magic is an extension beyond our reality and beyond the traditionalist systems. If one is unsure how to proceed, one will find within the complexity and variety of traditionalist paths a mix of methodology which suits his or her nature, BUT 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 is neither this magic nor that magic. It is no-thing. One could say it is the no-thing from whence comes every-thing.
Chaos Magic has applied such concepts as postmodern deconstructionism to the study of the occult, and has achieved some remarkable insights.
To understand about rise of the Chaos current, it would be useful to examine what has happened in the several years since interest in Chaos Magic first began to gain momentum. A case can be made for the idea that the historical imperative was moving toward the emergence of Chaos Magic as the necessary next step in the evolution of western occult thought. To do this, we need to draw some comparisons with the growth of occultism following Aleister Crowley's pruning of Old Aeon Occult Renaissance-type Magic shortly after the turn of the century.
To his credit, Crowley synthesized the best of the pool of information gleaned from research and experiments undertaken by the Golden Dawn, and from his own experiences on magical pilgrimages. He cut out the crud, leaving a solid, cohesive magical system of consequence to the Western mind - perhaps the first one ever. If he can be faulted for anything in his synthesis, it is that he failed to disassociate magic from it's religious symbolism.
Synchronously, Austin Osman Spare, the first Western mind to bridge the gap between intellectualism and shamanism, develops his "freestyle obsessional system of magic" and delves into the Void concept. Spare is commonly held to be the first practitioner of Chaos Magic, and many subsequent practitioners, myself included, draw upon his work. Spare's Sigil Magic techniques fulfill the basic requirements of the working Chaos Magician: they are simple, completely free of dogmatic baggage and highly effective at achieving observable results.
In the contemporary scene, the burgeoning interest in occultism by regular folk means a good commercial climate for occult book publishers, and the dissemination of previously rare documents which demolish the secrets for secrets' sake syndrome. Popular demand and increased awareness sifts out misleading information, and modern books appear which are written by occultists who are experienced in the newly researched and synthesized techniques, many of which have been fueled by experimentation in drug culture.
Therefore, with all this going on, Chaos Magic was inevitable. Using cross-pollination, brilliant young occultists with no position to protect refined the old methods savagely and coupled them with new discoveries from established research areas - nuclear physics, neuroliguistics, quantum theory, chaos mathematics, etc. Works are written on the new Magic by Ray Sherwin, Lemuel Johnson, Lionel Snell, Peter J. Carroll, M. Phoenix, Frater U:.D:. Steven Wilson, Phil Hine and others, and treatises are privately printed and circulated which collate the disparate methodologies. Groups of like-minded psychonauts come together to explore these methods, revise them according to their own experience, then disperse to re-form in new combinations and disseminate them further in an ongoing evolution. The results seep through the planes from various independent, anarchistic Mages, and the new technologies of computer networks, electronic music production and desktop publishing spread the new memes around the planet.
And now, it has seeped through to you.
The new Current is as free as possible of all dogma and morality, a Current solely oriented to personal discovery - "The Warrior's Way". Because the system aims to surpass the limited dualistic approach to Magic which has hallmarked the traditions and shackles us to the physical dimension, it is by its nature beyond our comprehension: but its interface is Chaos, and by popular consensus, "Chaos Magic" is its name.
(A footnote: It is interesting to note that a commercial convention audio/visual company attempted to record this address and the tape came out mysteriously BLANK; and when I asked if I could have the original cassette they attempted to record it on, they reported it had dissappeared...)
(I would like to thank and acknowledge my friends and compatriots of Chaos - Ashton, Marik, Tzimon, Falcon, Hex and Kira for much words, inspiration and direction in the preparation of this little speech. I hope I didn't violate any copyright laws (hehehe). IO KAOS and pass the poi... - J:.M:.555)
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