It is impossible, in my view, to discuss Chaos Magic, without first acknowledging its roots. Austin Osman Spare is the best-known source - much of his thinking shapes aspects of Chaos Magic. However, it is important to note that Chaos Magic is influenced by Spare's writings, rather than mirroring his views exactly. Spare's magical writing (Microlagus, The Book of Pleasure, The Witches' Sabbath, Mind to Mind and How By A Sorcerer) can currently be found in a single volume published under the title of Ethos.
Spare felt that religion was nothing more than chains. He approved of neither religion nor science (in the latter case, it was more pure knowledge that he appears to disdain - Spare was interested only in 'practical' things). He suggested that any idea necessarily involved its opposite. For example, to call something beautiful was to acknowledge also its ugliness. He discusses in his work the concept of 'self love,' which can be difficult to describe. Spare portrays it as a state of laughter - in a sense it is a state of being satisfied with everything in oneself. He also denied the concept of identity, as we know it, which I will return to later in this primer, as it is a part of his thought that has carried through to Chaos Magic theory more or less intact. His approach to magic revolved around sigils - creating an abstract symbol over which to deliberately obsess, and therefore to occupy the main mind. Spare felt that the mind could only hinder magic (for example in normal ritual, Spare felt that one was only acknowledging the lack of the desired result, rather than achieving anything). Therefore the mind had to be silenced so that the magical Will could operate. This could be done by stilling the mind (e.g. meditation), or through exhaustion (which was Spare's preferred method). Sigilisation is also a large portion of Chaos Magic, although it is not the only technique within the 'tradition,' one aspect in which Spare's thoughts have been melded with other approaches.
The Golden Dawn and Aleister Crowley
Ironically given that Spare ridiculed the Ceremonial Magicians of his time (on page 39 of Ethos, for example, he refers to them as 'unemployed dandies'), the practices of Aleister Crowley and others have influenced the Chaos Magic approach. When I compared the first section within Aleister Crowley's Magick with some of the practices recommended by Peter Carroll, I noticed much resemblance. However, these influences are not particularly 'core,' and I therefore will not discuss them in detail. Aleister Crowley's attitude that it doesn't matter if it's real or not, if it achieves the desired result is often taken to heart, and probably characterises the approach to belief rather better than Spare's attitude (in that he advocated rejecting all belief).
As Spare is sometimes called the 'Grandfather' of Chaos Magic, Carroll is the father. In Liber Null and Psychonaut he includes a diagram in which he essentially attempts to trace the contribution of all previous occult practices to Chaos Magic. My attitude to the idea of magic 'progressing' through the ages is rather different to many published authors, but is not germane to this discussion. However, the diagram does sum up part of the spirit of Chaos Magic, in that it is entirely possible to be using the practices of other traditions, and still be true to the spirit of Chaos Magic. Peter Carroll's Chaos Magic, while strongly influenced by Ceremonial and Western occultism, has room for any practices (I heard once that Voodoo/ Vodou/ Vodun was popular amongst members of the IOT [Illuminati of Thanateros] in Germany). This is why Spare isn't the originator of Chaos Magic - his beliefs formed part of the foundation, but there's a lot of other stuff in there too.
In Chaos Magic, all sorts of ways are found of describing Chaos. I'm going to describe it as I see it. Chaos is a primal force, and it's what everything is made of. 'Chaos' in this sense is just a good a label for an all-encompassing force as 'God' is for others. It's not a source of mayhem and destruction. Well, it is, but it's the source of everything else as well. This is key to understanding many attitudes held by Chaotes (one of the labels practitioners of Chaos Magic adopt, but it is not the only label). Chaos is what you love, but it's also what you hate. Chaos is fire, and it's water, and it's those things whether that's good or bad. This doesn't just mean that it's objective, in that it is beyond good and bad (although it is held to be) - but it also contains the subjective aspects also. It contains all opposites. As everything is of chaos, so everyone mirrors it.
Chaos Magic does not really contain the notion of a soul. Certainly there is no 'true' you. The closest there is, is Kia. Think of it as a spark of essence or soul. The animating force. It does not contain any aspects of your identity however (as a side note, I also identify Kia with Will, but this is a personal interpretation). There is nothing about you that is sacred. If you are a liberal, than you must recognise that a different upbringing would have resulted in your being a conservative. If you are not a racist, know that had things been different, you might be a racist now. If you are bitter and depressed, this is not How Things Must Be - there's no law in the universe that says you could never have been joyful. In Chaos Magic, because the person is also a microcosm of chaos, the personality itself is seen as fluid and changeable. A variant belief among some Chaotes is that the individual possesses multiple 'selves' possessing different qualities, having different functions etc. For example, Carroll occasionally refers to the 'magician self,' as the personality that comes to the fore for magical workings and so forth. As magicians, Chaotes seek power over their own identity - not to forge one identity, but to have the freedom of options. Chaos magic is essentially about freedom. Peter Carroll includes 'metamorphosis' in Liber Null and Psychonaut as part of the basic curriculum.
As Chaotes strive to be able to change their personality and habits as they choose, they seek the same of their beliefs. In Chaos magic it is recognised that we only have subjective truths available. We don't know what is true, we only have beliefs. Of all beliefs available, some contradict, some outright disagree, and others accuse other beliefs of being heretical. However, in Chaos belief is seen as a tool. Any belief that helps may be adopted, and then changed for the next one that becomes useful. The belief is a disguise, if you will. The Chaote 'truly' believes, but only for a short duration, and therefore does not strictly speaking ever believe. Chaos magic is full of paradoxes. Peter Carroll's approach, for example, advocates randomly changing belief to get into the practice, where Spare would have argued to abandon all belief.
The consequence of this is that often Chaotes have a few 'favourite' paradigms that they work within, although there are some who do change between many. Thus a (known) ritual from another path may be used, although it is typical for the relevant paradigm to be adopted for the duration of the ritual. This is what marks Chaos magic apart from eclecticism. Where an eclectic magician or witch seeks to unite rituals or techniques and beliefs and so forth under a uniting theory or belief, a Chaote does not care. The effect of the ritual is the important element, and it is a simple enough task to become a [insert tradition label here] for the purpose of the ritual. There is no need to try to choose one option over another, or to try and work out a way two different things can be true at once. For the Chaote, it is enough that it is held to be true for a short duration.
An aphorism that can be said to give a sense of the Chaote perspective reads: 'Nothing is True, and Everything is Permitted.' The saying itself is found in William Burrough's writings, and is attributed to Hassan I Sabbah. There are different interpretations of what the saying means, but a common one is this: because there is no objective truth, or authority to tell us what is absolutely right or wrong, there are no rules. We are free to do absolutely anything. Naturally there are consequences to our actions, but essentially all that determines our actions once we realise our freedom, is our will. What stops anyone from turning on his fellow man? Well often it is the instinct not to, or the fear of consequences. Once freed from limitations such as these, the individual entirely owns the decision as to his or her own conduct. The aphorism has been interpreted on occasion as permission to do anything one wants. While this is within the spirit of the statement, one would be a fool not to realise that there are good reasons for behaving in a civilised manner. However, part of the ethos of Chaos Magic is to be aware of the actual freedom we have. An alternative interpretation has been to turn the first part of the phrase upside down, and to say that everything is true. The latter point of view might be held, without radically altering the practices of Chaos Magic.
As has been pointed out by Faerie K., who has helped produce this article, if 'nothing is true,' that includes the aphorism itself. This is not the only paradox within Chaos Magic. In the end, while authors have often claimed that Chaos Magic has no dogma, it actually does (even if there is relatively little). Although Chaos Magic is a meta-paradigm, a way of viewing other paradigms, it is also a paradigm in its own right. It doesn't take a lot of thought to see the potential head aches the theory can produce, so it is probably just as well that Choas Magic is strongly results oriented.
Sigils are one of the better known aspects of Chaos magic. Although Chaotes often do perform rituals as well as sigils (some preferring rituals to sigils altogether) - something that would no doubt vex Spare - I will only be discussing Sigils in this primer. To express it simply, the sigil is intended a way of bypassing the conscious mind (which is believed to hinder magical attempts). There are various ways of crafting a sigil. The most common method is to write out a statement of will - such as 'I will obtain the job I applied for.' In Spare's original method, one would form the letters into a design - possibly beginning by breaking it down into portions. One then simplifies the image until one is happy with the sigil created. Peter Carroll suggests removing letters that repeat in the statement. This certainly makes for simple sigils! In the statement that I used, 'I will obtain the job I applied for', the result would be 'I wl obtan he j pd fr.' This would then be made into a design (Carroll also suggests the option of turning it into a mantra. There is no reason this could not be chanted in conjunction with the visual technique). Then the individual must reach a state of gnosis (in Chaos magic this is a state of no mind. In Spare's writings this is described as the neither/ neither state). While in this state, one focuses on the sigil, so that the Will may act through it subconsciously (having made the desire abstract). This is sometimes referred to as 'firing the sigil.' Sometimes a Chaote may make many sigils in order to improve the chances of forgetting the 'meaning' of a sigil, and thereby 'charging' sigils randomly.
Because there is not a great deal of theory in Chaos Magic (what would the point be? Much of it is part of one paradigm or another), there is somewhat more experimentation. One of the better known aspects of this is the willingness of Chaotes to invoke Gods that are fictitious. The Chaote in this situation believes utterly in the God invoked until the ritual is up.
This is not the limit to experimentation. Since, in theory, the Chaote believes absolutely anything may be achieved, given the right tools, Will, belief, and so forth, magic may become a case of identifying problem and solution. Of course, there are practical limits - to the best of my knowledge, no Chaote has managed to launch a fireball, defy gravity, or the like. (I have, however, seen claims of these made on Chaote forums. I take these with a pinch of salt. Rest assured, if I develop god-like powers, everyone would become quickly aware). Using magic may then become a case of 'what do I want to do, what can I do? And how do I bridge that gap?'
For example, some time ago I saw a group of Chaotes talk about a scheme to spread magic into the popular consciousness, or to bring magic into more people's lives. The agreed method was that various individuals would, when firing some sigil in a relatively public space, link their magic to a further sigil, which had been agreed upon by all practitioners. The intended effect was that all the works of magic would be linked to one network, providing extra power to each location that would exert a subtle effect on the public. Whether this plan had any real effect would be difficult to say, at best, but it is an example of coming up with novel approaches.
Peter Carroll advanced a concept referred to as the 'Pandamonaeon.' Buying into the concept of magical/religious/spiritual ages in history (also seen in Blavatsky's, and later Crowley's writings) Carroll suggested that Chaos Magic theory, or 'Chaoist' (Carroll's preferred term for Chaos magicians) ideas would shape the next era of human history. This doesn't appear to have happened yet, but some Chaotes are keen for it to occur. It might be summed up as an era where the majority of people practice personal metamorphosis (of the personality), are able to utilise magic much like any other skill, and where belief is commonly utilised as a tool, rather than an end in itself. The example of experimental magic I gave might be considered as part of a larger intent to bring about the Pandamonaeon. However, there is not enough space to treat the topic with detail. It is referred to in a large number of Chaote websites, books, etc.
Thanks to Faerie K. for double-checking this article, and for contributing facts.
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