Chaos Magick

by Ray Sherwin

Chaos Magick has its roots in every occult tradition and in the work of many individuals. If any one person can be said to have been responsible, albeit unintentionally, for the present climate of opinion that person would be Austin Osman Spare, whose magical system was based entirely on his image of himself and upon an egocentric model of the universe. He did not intend that the system he devised for his own use should be used by others since it was clear to him that no two individuals could benefit from the same system. Nor did he fall into the trap of presuming that the information revealed to or by him was pertinent to all mankind as all the messiahs did. Aleister Crowley came to look upon him as a "black brother" purely because he refused to accept Crowley's Law of Thelema, preferring instead to work beyond dogmas and rules, relying on intuition and information uprooted from the depths of self.

The most recent public expression of Chaos Magick has been through the work of the Illuminates of Thanateros, an order which Pete Carroll and I initiated in 1978. Our aim at that time was to inspire rather than lead magicians interested in the Chaos concept by publishing ideas of a practical nature. Our approach differed to Spare's only insamuch as we were interested in group as well as solo magick. The response to our writings was much greater than we anticipated and by 1982 there were groups working in England, Australia, America, Egypt and Germany as well as allied groups such as the "Circle of Chaos" and many individuals working alone.

The difficulties of running such an order soon became apparent. What seemed simple to us, both in concept and technique, was not simple to people who had not suffered the bizarre and arbitary intricacies of what is now referred to as "traditional magick." This put us in an awkward position because it meant that a magical concept which, by our own definition, could not be taught now needed to be taught. Both Pete and I held guruship and hierarchy as anathema yet now we were being expected not only to teach but also to lead.

It has been said that all systems of magick have the same end result. I doubt that this is true because so many systems restrict their practitioners within such narrow parameters of dogma and morality (even if there is no priesthood as such) that instinct and imagination are stifled by rules and doctrines. A path cannot be chosen sensibly until all paths have been examined for comparison and to restrict oneself to one path would, in any case, limit ones experience and modes of thinking.

A solution was eventually to the problem of how to reach that which could not be taught. No rules or instructions were ever given, only suggestions. No mention was made of notions best left for the individual to decide such as reincarnation and the existence or nature of god. Ideas of that nature have little bearing on the performance of practical magick anyway, and individuals practising the techniques rapidly came to their own conclusions. We knew that we were on the right track when we came to collating the information sent to us by individuals and groups. Without exception everyone who sent results to us considered the techniques they had used to be extremely potent but - and this was the important thing - they had all come to different conclusions on matters of philosophy. That they had come such varying conclusions and still wanted to remain within the loose organisation structure we had set up was more encouraging than anything else.

To detail the methods of Chaos Magick would be spurious since they are adequately dealt with in available publications. It would be useful however, to point out a popular misconception which has been unintentionally fostered by people writing in specialist magazines. There has been some confusion about the word 'chaos', some writers believing the word to have been used in this context to express the techniques themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whilst it is correct that some modes of gnosis are effective because they confuse the ratio-cinative functions they ultimately lead to clarity and magicians involved in the Chaos current tend to be meticulous in the way they organise their programme of work. This is a legacy inherited from the "93 system". We formulated the term "Chaos Magick" to indicate the randomness of the universe and the individuals relationship with it. The antithesis of chaos, cosmos, is the universe suitably defined by the successful magician for his own purposes and that definition is under constant scrutiny and may be regularly changed. Chaos is expressive of this philosophy and reinforces the idea that there is no permanent model for the individual's relationship with everything that he is not. The word encompasses not only those things we know to be true but also what we suspect may be true as well as the world of impressions, paranoias and possibilities.

If there were anything such as a Chaos Credo it would run on the following lines: I do not believe in anything. I know what I know (gnosis) and I postulate theories which may or may not enter my system of adopted beliefs when those theories have been tested. There are no gods or demons, except for those I have been conditioned into acknowledging and those I have created for myself. I create and destroy beliefs according to their usefulness. In the words of the wise "nothing is true, everything is permitted" - provided it interferes with no-one.

At the group level obviously a consensus of some sort must be reached. I use the word consensus advisedly because other descriptions such as "shared reality" would be quite misleading since no notion beyond the concrete can be shared. It can, at best, be appreciated. Guidance in technique is always useful but reliance on books, even books on Chaos Magick, is best kept to a minimum in favour of working by instinct.

Group workings usually fall into four categories - experimental, initiatory, repeated ritual and celebratory (for which several groups may come together) although by no means all groups include all four categories in their repertoire. More important for a group working any sort of magick is to build and maintain an atmosphere which excites and inspires the imagination. The groups already in existence have, to a large extent, moved away from the idea prevailing in the seventies that theatrical trappings are not necessary. They tend to use any device which will contribute to the magical atmosphere they wish to create. The traditional magical weapons are sometimes used but, more often than not, quite new weapons peculiar to each group are made. Masks and robes are effective and, therefore, widely used although nudity is not frowned upon (See the "Cardinal Rites of Chaos").

As far as experimental magick is concerned, sigilisation has been the most widely researched subject, but telekinesis, ESP and telepathy as well as many methods of raising power have been looked into in varying degrees of detail.

Chaos Magick is not looking for converts but anyone who is already inclined towards magical adventure and who is prepared to break new ground would be warmly accepted by the existing groups.