Don Webb has been a contributing editor for FringeWare Review since before clocks learned how to tick. He edited FWR #6(66) and writes for just about everbody.
Most people probably think of Chaos Magick as an entirely postmodern phenomena, a creation of the age of the PC and VCR. The magical system postulated by Peter Carroll (and other magical theorists, including Frater U.D.) certainly resonates with the postmodern state. Instead of a central, linguistically definable power source such as God, goddess, or Satan, Chaos magickians look toward an undifferentiated ether that longs to be formed into substance by the Will of the magickian -- a power source one might describe as the Unmanifest longing to be Manifest. Just as the postmodern thinker does not have exterior textual standards of Truth, the Chaos magickians has no standard save for praxis. If it Works, it partakes of the divine.
Although this concept of a numinous universe in continuous creation/destruction is "new" to people working under a Judeo-Christian paradigm, it was common to the more sophisticated views of our ancestors' ancestors. It is useful to return to these roots -- not only for the practical reason of checking on the experimental data that's already been collected, but for the arcane reason of discovering what magicks have already effected the evolution of our own souls. Chaos Magick represents a path that can lead to an expansion of knowledge and power, not only in the realm of matter, but in the realm of spirit as well. But all such expansions require transformation of the Self, and all transformation requires exact knowledge.
A good place to begin one's Quest for Chaos Magick is in the Seidhr (approximately pronounced "sayther") practices of the ancient Germanic peoples. I began my Quest with a talk with my friend Edred Thorsson, founder and Yrmin-Drighten of the Rune-Gild, Grandmaster of the Order of the Trapezoid of the Temple of Set, at his academy Woodharrow in the Lost Pines region of Texas -- which is also the location of his press:
Runa Raven Press
PO Box 557
Smithville TX 78957 USA
-- write for free catalog. Woodharrow lived up to its name: "The altar of inspiration"...
Mr E: Now it is generally imagined that Seidhr is a kind of evil magic practiced by Norse shamans -- especially female ones. Indeed, Seidhr is an ancient form of magic practiced by the Scandinavian peoples at least since the Viking Age. Seidhr is generally connected with the Gods and Goddesses, called the Vanir, and especially with Freyja, whose name is really the title "Lady".
Seidhr is also generally contrasted with another word for "magic" in the Northern tongue: Galdr. Seidhr is connected to the concept of "Chaos" in the sense that the theory upon which Seidhr works is very similar to that upon which Chaos Magic works. Both are based on a materialistic paradigm -- what Peter Carroll calls "Ether" and the ancient Germanic peoples called Ginnung, or Chaos. This paradigm is, by the way, to be contrasted with the essentially symbolic theory underlying Galdr -- a theory which is semiotic and linguistic in character, not substance-based. The underlying theory of Seidhr is pretty much the same as "the magical paradigm" described by Carroll in his Liber Kaos. However, that general theory does not account for Galdr, which is independent of the flows of the time/space continuum.
fwr: What is the cosmological model which Seidhr presupposes? Chaos Magickians represent the relationship between the ego-portion of the psyche and the rest of the Cosmos with a circle with eight arrows bursting forth -- an image copied from the fantasy works of Michael Moorcock. Do you suspect the resonance of this symbol to be a remanifestation of Seidhr practices?
Mr E: Yes, the symbol itself seems to be a noumenal atavism of the common Germanic cosmological map which is centered on the "earth" (or ego) and which radiates out in a total of eight "directions", only six of which can even by symbolically "located" in three-dimensional space. The other two -- Hel (the Realm of the Dead) and Asgard (the Realm of the Gods and Heroes of Awakened Intelligence) -- exist in hyper-space at acute angles to all the other axes of the map simultaneously. The cosmological model that is presupposed is that Ginnung is present in everything. The German scientist Karl Reichenbach coined the term "Odic Force" -- named after the Norse God Odin -- to represent this substance.
fwr: Didn't the term Ginnung, or Chaos, come to mean illusion or delusion? Is it related to the Indian word Maya? Isn't this supposed to be just plain "bad stuff"?
Mr E: Ginnung or Ginning becomes a word for "delusion" at a certain point in Old Norse. One of the sections of the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson is called the Gylfa-ginning, usually translated "Gylfi's Delusion". But in the Rig Veda we see that Maya is the creative power wielded by Varuna, who with his pashas ["bonds"] can bind or loosen, destroy or create anything he can imagine. In both cases what we are dealing with is the idea that this is "powerful stuff" -- and power can equal mortal danger. In essence Ginnung is the undifferentiated energy/matter which preexists creation, and which underlies the forms of all phenomena. What had been "magical power" to the trained elite, became "bad ju-ju" as its practices drifted down to the masses. The amount of training and discipline necessary to wield Ginnung in a reliable way is so great that the vast majority of humanity, when they try to "use" it, simply end up confusing themselves and devolving into a morass of illusion. Hence the use of the substance becomes more or less taboo.
fwr: How can the concepts of Ginnung (Chaos) and Futhark (Order) be creatively synthesized by an individual to produce the materials of his or her own life? What barriers are there to a creative synthesis?
Mr E: Well, first of all it must be emphasized that indeed such a synthesis must take place in order for the Will of the individual magician to rule. Order is a relatively rare event, and is one which is anterior to the existence of Ginnung. Order is something which is Willfully impressed upon, and out of, Chaos. It is the progressive impression of Order out of Chaos that characterizes self-development, or Initiation. The chief barriers to this process are that magicians may reject (demonize) either the Order or the Chaos, thus un-balancing themselves, or that they will succumb to the chaotic material within themselves -- which is by far the predominant mass of the self -- and begin to mistake the inherent patterns of the chaos for their own Wills. This latter path defines a sort of mysticism, but is to be distinguished from magic because the all-important component of the Will, or individual consciousness, has been negated. In Seidhr one temporarily loses consciousness in order to effect conscious aims -- but unconsciousness is not the aim in and of itself.
fwr: What mental/spiritual attitudes or moods help the Magickian to get the best results when dealing with Chaos?
Mr E: Interestingly enough, the mood of Seidhr is an extremely serene, tranquil and fearless one. In the face of psychic turmoil and what most would consider frightening imagery -- that of darkness, death and even dismemberment -- the seidh-man or seidh-wife often evidences moods diametrically opposed to the expected ones. In Seidhr the worker is often virtually in a state of suspended animation, and most always in a trance-state of some kind. But the worker of Seidhr is not a world-renouncing mystic. Seidhr is a magic of this world, for gaining effects in this world on the level plane of existence.
fwr: What would be a practical piece of Seidhr I could do?
Mr E: With a clear and urgent Need, and with a precise question, go to a graveyard where one of your family members is buried. It's better if the person is the most distant ancestor you can find. Sit on the grave and imagine yourself descending into the grave, to be with that family member in Hel -- or at least that part of the person which remains there. When you have a sense of the presence of the person, pose the question to him or her -- and listen for the answer.
From the outside, this could look like a nice visit to the cemetery, just like they used to do in the "good ol' days". Yes, but just how old?