What"is Chaos Magic? Good question. Since it burst upon the magical scene in the late '70's it has generated a great deal of debate about what it is, what it isn't, and who's doing it 'right' - such circular arguments being beloved of occultists, it seems. At this point, it would be tempting to launch into a lengthy discussion of the history of magic leading up to Chaos magic, but instead I'll confine it to a sweeping generalisation and say that before Chaos came kicking and screaming onto the scene, the dominant approach to 'doing magic' (and still is, to a great extent) was the 'Systems' approach.
So what is a magical system? Magical systems combine practical exercises for bringing about change with beliefs, attitudes, a conceptual model of the universe (if not several), a moral ethic, and a few other things besides. Examples of systems are Qabalah, the different Wiccan 'traditions', The Golden Dawn system of magic with all its grades, costumes, mottos etc, and the increasing number of westernised 'shamanic' paths that are proliferating nowadays. As far as most magical systems go, before you can start to wave your wand around or bounce up and down on your head 'til you reach enlightenment, you have to spend a good deal of time reading up on the beliefs associated with the system, learning its "do's and don'ts", committing to memory lists of symbols and correspondences, how to talk to your fellow magi, and in
Phil Hine some extreme cases, how to dress, walk, and chew gum at the same time. How does this come about? Well magic, like some of the great religious messages is essentially simple, but is prey to the process whereby simple ideas become extremely complicated beliefs which can lead you further and further away from doing any magic at all. Weave back through time to 'somewhere in the paleolithic era' to find a tribal shaman sitting on a rock gaping at the visions revealed by a soggy piece of toadstool. Fast-forwards a few millenia and you'll find a 'Magical System' that comprises of several hundred-thousand words, obscure diagrams and appendices which will probably state at some point, that drugs are a no-no.
The birth of Chaos magic came about in the late 70's, at about the time that punk rock was spitting out at the music industry and Chaos Science was beginning to be taken seriously by mathematicians, economists, and physicists. The two 'names' most associated with the birth of Chaos magic are Pete Carroll and Ray Sherwin, though there were others lurking in the background, such as the Stoke Newington Sorcerors (SNS) who later became entwined with the first stirrings of the Punk movement.
Some of Pete Carroll's early writings on Chaos was published in The New Equinox, published by Ray Sherwin, in which the first adverts proclaiming the advent of the Illuminates of Thanateros (IOT) magical order appeared. Interestingly enough, there is no mention of the term 'chaos' in the earliest versions of IOT material.
Ray Sherwin's Morton Press then issued Pete Carroll's Liber Null, and Sherwin's own The Book of Results, which expounded the very practical method of 'Sigilisation' as
Oven-Ready Chaos developed by Austin Osman Spare, which has become one of the core techniques associated with Chaos magic.
The early growth of Chaos magic was characterised by a loose network of informal groups who came together to experiment with the possibilities of the new current. With the demise of The New Equinox, the 'chaos kids' reported their results and heresies in the pages of Chris Bray's new magazine, The Lamp of Thoth. The early Chaos books were joined by two tapes 'The Chaos Concept' which discussed the basics of Chaos magic, and 'The Chaochamber', a science-fiction pathworking which combined elements of Star Trek, Michael Moorcock, and H.G. Wells. Chris Bray's 'Sorceror's Apprentice' Press then re-released, Liber Null, The Book of Results, as well as two new books, Pete Carroll's Psychonaut, and Ray Sherwin's The Theatre of magic. These, together with articles from the growing Chaos corpus in the LOT, drew more people into experimenting with the new approach. Thanks to the efforts of Ralph Tegtmeier, the Chaos approach was also receiving attention in continental Europe.
The basic message of Chaos magic is that, what is fundamental to magic is the actual doing of it - that like sex, no amount of theorising and intellectualisation can substitute for the actual experience. Pete Carroll's Liber Null, therefore, presented the bare bones of the magical techniques which can be employed to bring about change in one's circumstances. Liber Null concentrated on techniques, saying that the actual methods of magic are basically shared by the different systems, despite the differing symbols, beliefs and dogmas. What symbol systems you wish to employ is a matter of choice, and that the webs of belief which surround them are means to an end, rather than ends in themselves (more of which later).
An important influence on the development of Chaos magic was the writing of Robert Anton Wilson & co, particularly the Discordian Society who revered Eris, the Greek goddess of Chaos. The Discordians pointed out that humour, clowning about and general light-heartedness was conspiciously absent from magic, which had a tendency to become very 'serious and self-important'. There was (and to a certain extent remains) a tendency for occultists to think of themselves as an initiated 'elite' as opposed to the rest of humanity.
Unlike the variety of magical systems which are all based in some mythical or historically-derived past (such as Atlantis, Lemuria, Albion, etc), Chaos magic borrowed freely from Science Fiction, Quantum Physics, and anything else its practitioners chose to. Rather than trying to recover and maintain a tradition that links back to the past (and former glories), Chaos magic is an approach that enables the individual to use anything that s/he thinks is suitable as a temporary belief or symbol system. What matters is the results you get, not the 'authenticity' of the system used. So Chaos magic then, is not a system - it utilises systems and encourages adherents to devise their own, giving magic a truly Postmodernist flavour.
Needless to say, Chaos magic began to acquire a 'sinister' reputation. This was due to three factors; firstly that its "pick'n'mix/D.I.Y" approach to magic was frowned upon by the 'traditionalist' schools, secondly that many people associated chaos with 'anarchy' and other negative associations, and thirdly that some Chaos magic publications were hyped as being 'blasphemous, sinister, and dangerous' in a way that they were not, which proved all the same to be an attractive glamour for those who required such a boost to the ego.
The mid-Eighties gave rise to a 'second wave' of the Chaos Current. 1985 saw the publication of The Cardinal Rites of Chaos, by the pseudononymous 'Paula Pagani', which outlined a series of seasonal rituals as performed by the Yorkshire-based 'Circle of Chaos'. Alas, by this time, the early co-operation between exponents of Chaos had given rise to legal wrangles, literary sideswipes, and even magical battles. For some at least, Chaos magic = loadsa money while others discovered that they had a 'position' to hold onto as defenders of the title of spokesperson for a movement. True to its nature, Chaos splintered and began to re-evolve in different ways. Three different magazines emerged to continue the Chaos debate -Chaos International, Nox, and Joel Birroco's Chaos.
Chaos International was formed on the basis of networking, specifically the idea that the editorship would change hands with each issue. A good idea in principle, it gave rise to practical problems such as address changes, obtaining back copies, and meant that each issue had to be virtually self-supporting. Chaos International survived five different editorial changes, after which it passed into the hands of Ian Read, who has had the job of producing it ever since. Chaos International has now matured into one of the best all-round magazines of innovative magical ideas.
Nox magazine emerged out of the wilds of South Yorkshire to serve up a mixed brew of Chaos magic, Left-Hand path material and Thelemic experimentation, which matured into one of the best magazines publishing experimental magic from a wide variety of sources. Since its inception, it has grown from being an A5 'fanzine' to paperback book status.
Joel Birroco's Chaos introduced a Situationist perspective into the Chaos debate, predicted the glamour for Chaos-isms as experimentation turned inevitably into fashion accessory, and then proceeded to identify various magical 'leaders' and tear them apart with the eagerness of a whole pack of Greek cynics.
The debate over the progression of the Chaos Current raged throughout these 'zines and the aforementioned Lamp of Thoth. Arguments begun in one 'zine spilled over into another and sides were drawn up as some voices allied with others, though allying with Birroco's iconoclastic stance on Chaos turned out to be a tactical error, as he invariably massaged the egos of his 'allies' only to drag them down at a later date.
In ' 86 the S.A. Press released Julian Wilde's Grimoire of Chaos magic, the first book on Chaos magic outside the Sherwin/ Carroll circles. Despite heavy criticism from other Chaos factions, Mr. Wilde never came forth to explain his ideas, nor has much been heard from him since. Grimoire departed radically from the other approaches to Chaos, particularly with his assertion that Chaos magic was in itself, a 'system'. Grimoire was followed by a tape The Chaosphere, and later, another book The Apogeton, by Alawn Tickhill which was marketed as a 'Chaos Manual' although the book itself made little reference to Chaos magic. None of these releases were received very favourably by the other Chaos factions and this 'third wave' of Chaos development further rang to the sound of voices raised in acrimony, slanging matches in print, and behind-the-scenes bickering.
By late '87 one of the weirder Chaos groups, the Lincoln Order Of Neuromancers (L.O.O.N) had announced the 'death' of Chaos magic, asserting in their freely-circulated 'chainbook'
"Chaos magic is already dead, and the only debate is between the vultures over who gets the biggest bones."
This assertion was also made by Stephen Sennitt, the editor of Nox magazine. In retrospect, it seems less that Chaos magic 'died', and more that the furious debate which blew up around it for many years had become boring - it had hit the point where constructive criticism had degenerated into a mere slanging match. Perhaps some Chaos Magicians shook themselves and wondered, after all, what all the fuss had been about. By this time, Pete Carroll had begun to reformat the IOT into 'The Pact', setting up temples in the UK, USA, and Europe. The IOT is seen as the Order for 'serious' Chaos Magicians in the same way that the OTO exists for 'serious' Thelemites. At the time of writing, the IOT Pact has temples active in the UK, Europe and America and, despite the apparent hierarchical structure outlined in Pete Carroll's latest book "Liber Khaos/ The Psychonomnicon", there appears to be much scope for new growths and experimentation within its loose structure.
Having reviewed the development of Chaos magic, we can now turn to looking at its principles in greater depth.
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