“Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.”—Aleister Crowley
In one sense, it’s poinless to write about chaos magick because the whole topic can be summed up in one line from Principia Discordia: “Do what you like and tell us about it or, if you prefer, don’t.” That’s the basic gist of chaos magick. There is no prescribed system or even a well-defined set of guidelines imposed on practitioners. They are free, and in fact encouraged, to experiment with whatever sorts of rituals to achieve whatever results as they see fit. One writer/practitioner even went so far as to say that it would not be unreasonable to say that there is no such thing as chaos magick since there is no real definition for what it is or is not. That’s about as Discordian as it gets. Fnord.
With that in mind, I’ll now make a half-hearted apology in advance for all of the times that I’m going to mention Discordianism in this piece, but the hard truth is that I’ve never read a treatise on chaos magick that didn’t make me think to myself that this is just a ceremonial magick version of Discordian philosophy. Even some of the terminology is the same. Naturally, I don’t think it’s an accident that one of the first Discordians, as well as two of his close friends (all now deceased), were members of the first occult order dedicated to the practice of chaos magick. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the founders of Discordianism were also members, but I don’t know if that’s the case. Greg Hill and Kerry Thornley weren’t famous enough for anyone to bother dropping their names to impress the masses.
Personally, I love the name chaos magick, but to some people it sounds ominous and destructive, like some dark collection of rituals from an H.P. Lovecraft tale. Naturally, it’s the chaos part that puts people off. Most non-Discordians have been brainwashed to associate chaos with negative forces while selectively ignoring all of the evil that has been done in the name of maintaining (aka imposing) order.
So anyway, now that I’ve pointed out that there is no real definition of chaos magick, I’m going to contradict myself and try to define it. Hail Eris.
Chaos magicians “believe” that belief is a tool to be used like any other and that dogma is disposable. A hammer is a useful thing, but if it’s the only tool in your box, you’re options are severely limited. Borrowing elements of different spiritual systems and/or invoking deities from various pantheons as deemed appropriate by the individual is encouraged. They emphasize the importance of experimentation and judging the value of any ritual based on the results. If dancing naked around a red candle while reciting an ode to Eros that you composed improves your love life, then who’s to say that your rite isn’t just as good as one devised a hundred years ago by some guy with a fancy title? It could be argued that yours is even better because you put the effort into creating it yourself rather than just memorizing his.
This isn’t entirely new. Aleister Crowley was doing this over a century ago and pissing off some purists in the process. In addition to being a gifted occultist, he was also an avid practitioner of yoga and a student of philosophy and comparative religion. He incorporated many of the elements from these various disciplines into to own magickal system, but therein lies the rub. He created a system which students were to adhere to within the context of an occult order. He never said “Here’s what I came up with. Use as much or as little of it as you like in your own endeavors.”
Another practice developed by Crowley that has influenced chaos magick is the concept that they refer to as the paradigm shift. This term was taken from scientific philosopher Thomas Kuhn and, in chaos magick, refers to the ability to shift from one belief system to another as needed. In Crowley’s more structured version, the student is instructed to devote every waking moment to invoking a particular deity or spiritual being until they receive some form of manifestation, at which point they immediately stop and begin invoking a completely different entity.
Chaos magicians are free to draw upon many different sources, though if they are honest, most of them would have to admit that traditional occultism plays a significant part in the structure, if not the actual content, of their workings. Some of their influences include Crowley and Austin Osman Spare, a member of Crowley’s occult order who broke ties with them to develop his own magickal path and is thus widely considered to be the first chaos magician. Other influences include shamanism, quantum physics, Taoism, Buddhism, chaos theory and, of course, Discordianism.
“Magicians, especially since the Gnostic and the Qabala influences, have sought higher consciousness through the assimilation and control of universal opposites – good/evil, positive/negative, male/female, etc. But due to the steadfast pomposity of ritualism inherited from ancient methods of the shaman, occultists have been blinded to what is perhaps the two most important pairs of apparent or earth-plane opposites: ORDER/DISORDER and SERIOUS/HUMOROUS.
Magicians, and their progeny the scientists, have always taken themselves and their subject in an orderly and sober manner, thereby disregarding an essential metaphysical balance. When magicians learn to approach philosophy as a malleable art instead of an immutable Truth, and learn to appreciate the absurdity of man’s endeavors, then they will be able to pursue their art with a lighter heart, and perhaps gain a clearer understanding of it, and therefore gain more effective magic. CHAOS IS ENERGY.
This is an essential challenge to the basic concepts of all western occult thought, and POEE is humbly pleased to offer the first major breakthrough in occultism since Solomon.”—Malaclypse the Younger, Principia Discordia
Humor is also a major component in the work of many chaos magicians, and some other influences include incorporating elements from fictional genres such as cyberpunk, sci-fi and fantasy. Among others, these may include borrowing from the writings of H.P Lovecraft, Wilson and Shea’s Illuminatus!, William Gibson, Michael Moorcock, and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. Even spells from the Harry Potter series have been borrowed by some of the more whimsical practitioners. One of their favorite quotes, and you see it again and again in the literature, is from Hassan i Sabbah: “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.”†
One chaos proponent made what I think is an interesting point and one that I had never considered. In some fields (and occultism is one of them), older is almost always considered better. The merit of ones’ magickal system is often based on its age, especially by its adherents, providing that its origin is reputed to be sufficiently archaic. However, magick is generally considered by its practitioners to be an art and a science. While the value of art may appreciate over time, one would be hard-pressed to find a scientist still using techniques from the 16th century based on the technology of the time. Hence the incorporation of more modern scientific theories in chaos magick.
Case in point: Many occultists suggest (and seem to believe) that Kabbalah and the Tarot can both be traced back to the ancient Egyptians (and possibly Atlantis) despite the fact that the evidence suggests that neither of them are anywhere near that old. It would seem that these people believe that this alleged antiquity gives them more credibility.
Similarly, lovers of old cars use phrases like “good old American craftsmanship” and “they don’t make ’em like this anymore,” when the truth is that most of today’s cars last longer, get better mileage and are much safer, although some of those old cars are pretty badass. Personally, I think that keeping both of these sorts of things in mind is a good idea when choosing (or synthesizing) the path (or paths) that you wish to travel.
On a more critical note, I confess that I cynically interpret much of the recent growth in popularity of chaos magick as being linked to the Millennial Generation’s inability to embrace anything that requires study, discipline and any sort of regard for the contributions of those who came before them. On the other hand, I also think that there’s an upside, at least from my point of view. Like the chaos crowd, I tend to think that the real power in any metaphysical system lies within the practitioner rather than the actual practices. This explains why effective results can be obtained from vastly different systems. The dogma doesn’t matter nearly as much as the belief in that dogma. It is the belief that gives them power, not the rituals and formulas. Knowing this allows one to get rid of true dogma altogether, which I consider to be a good thing. Some of the more notable occultists have broadly hinted at this, but they stop short of openly admitting that their system is no more or less valid than any other.
I’ve encountered several instances of noted practitioners of traditional occultism mentioning someone that they knew who achieved impressive results by just visualizing themselves performing various rituals. They all go on to say that this is more of an exception than a rule and that they don’t necessarily recommend it, but at least they acknowledge it. The most important thing that they are conceding is that all of the rituals and their trappings are just tools to focus the mind and direct the will. I won’t argue that such practices are useless, because I don’t believe that they are, but I can make the argument that they’re not absolutely necessary, just as the experts admit when recounting these instances.
Ironically, one of the originators of chaos magic formed an order called the Illuminates of Thanateros. One might think that an “order” of chaos freaks is an oxymoron, and I would tend to agree. Not surprisingly, this group has set up titles denoting degrees of advancement and other aspects that one might expect to find within any traditional organization. They have even had some internal strife over differing opinions as to what is the correct interpretation of their philosophy. Ironic indeed, but I suppose inevitable. No matter what they say their philosophy is, people just have a propensity for forming groups of like-minded individuals and setting up hierarchies. We are, after all, a predominantly social (and vain) species. Even Discordians have formed various sects throughout the years, although most of them are quite small, with an average membership of only slightly more than one. My own sect, the Disenchanted Disorder of the Carnivorous Chicken, has never had more than a single member, and most of the time, it was me.*
I hope that the majority of chaos magicians will take their cue from us and refuse to be a member of any chaos organization that would have them. I felt stupid even writing those two words together.
†However, it probably doesn’t help their credibility much that Hassan has the dual distinctions of being considered by many to be the father of terrorism and the leader of the world’s first religious cult.
*Although the DDotCC has existed for more than two decades, there have been instances when I have completely forgotten about it for long periods of time. Since it still manages to exist despite my negligence, I just assume that someone must be looking after it in my absence.