Friday, June 11, 2010

My Chaos Magic Re-look

Every so often I think its a good thing to go through old bathwater that you have thrown out and make sure that there are no babies in it. I am aware of how large movements do this, so I want to be extra aware of how I myself might do it, and I do.

After about three years of approaching magic through the lens of Chaos Magic (1992-1995 or there about) I found that by following its own logic about belief as tool, and also paying close attention to the results achieved by it, that it was a deeply flawed approach to magic. I wrote an article for Behutet called "Why Not Invoke Superman" which was my parting note to that particular point of view.

Lately however I started to note that I was reading the blogs of a few Chaos Magicians and loving what they had to say. More than that, several people had noted that my own work shares some similarity with Chaos Magic. Two were very surprised that I did not consider myself a Chaos Magician, as what they were reading in my books and course, seemed a lot like Chaos Magic to them.

I can understand this. I value experimentation, even wild or silly experimentation (I actually have converted two Dr Who Sonic Srewdriver replicas into psionic wands). I value the ability to deconstruct rituals down to their aggregate parts and use those subtle keys in different ways. I put a heavy emphasis on measurable results over astral attainment. I refuse to be tied down to ancient systems and draw upon the tools of multiple traditional systems in my magic. You can see my basic view in my essay the 9 Statements of Strategic Sorcery. I admit that my view is probably heavily influenced by my time as a Chaote.

Anyway, since I had been bumping up against the Chaos Magic Egregore so much lately, I issued a call out to modern Chaotes to bring me up to speed on whats the latest and greatest in the movement. I than shut my mouth for the most part and just listened. That post got 20 responses and generated several posts in other blogs.

I still hold by my criticisms of Chaos Magic, or at least what I and most others considered it to be at that time. I re-stated them in the post after my cal out to Chaos Mages. That post got exactly two comments. One from Gordon and another from Yuzuru, basically saying that he agrees.

What I learned from the responses to the first post, and the lack of responses to the second post, as well as several excellent posts on other blogs, is that for some at least Chaos Magic seems to have evolved away from the whole model-jumping, belief as tool, anti mystical, thing that it once was.

Pete J Carroll once wrote that: “…if you want a one-line definition with which most Chaoists would probably not disagree, then I offer the following. Chaoists usually accept the meta-belief that belief is a tool for achieving effects; it is not an end in itself.

So, given my 6 points of criticism of Chaos Magic, especially numbers 1-4, and the seeming lack of disagreement with them, my question is: Is the above definition still a good one?

If not, than what is the new definition?

If so, than has a new post-chaos magic paradigm emerged?

What shall it be called?

At the book release party for P&RM back in 2006, I was asked the following question: "Chaos Magic was the latest real movement in magic, but seems largely dead now, what is the next stage?"

My answer was that in response to some of the excesses of Chaos Magic (invocations of Scroodge McDuck, etc), people were re-examining older traditions that existed before the industrial age. These included: new translations of Grimoires that were still only just emerging at that time; attempts by people like Aaron Leitch and Joseph Lisiewski to recover pre-French Occult Revival European magic; interest in Witchcraft traditions like the Cultus Sabbati, Via Nocturne, and Clan of Tubal Cain that claimed to draw on pre-wiccan sources; interest in traditional Hoodoo; as well as people taking initiations into living magic/religious traditions like Tibetan Buddhism/Bon, Santeria and other ATR's, Peruvian and other types of traditional Shamanism.

Now, four years later, these explorations into traditional magics are producing three kinds of adepts. The first are people who basically are the magical equivalent of the Amish. They believe that all magic should be done as it was at X time, and everything after that is a corruption. Liesiewski is the most extreme example of this I can think of but there are others. Having recovered the babies that Levi, Mathers, and Crowley threw out with the bathwater of older magic, they are now throwing out babies of newer magic.

The second type of adept is the mage who is still working primarily with that pre French Revival Renaisance and even Hermetic material, but is leaving room for new information to arise from it and for adaptation to the modern world. You won't see these folks obsessing about finding thread spun by virgins. Instead they will be taking Agrippa and Trsimegistus in new directions. Frater R.O. is a shining example of this kind of mage.

The third is the mage who is not trying to skip any stage at all. Thankful to these folks for recovering some of the concepts abandoned during the industrial age we are not attempting to recover what is old and stick to it nor trying to be deliberately new just for the sake of seeming cutting edge. That is where I like to think that I fall in. All I want to do is find what is most effective for both thaumaturgic and illuminative work, and make it even more effective.

Gordons blog RuneSoup is subtitled "Adventures beyond Chaos Magic" which begs the question: What is beyond Chaos Magic? 

I am pretty sure we are there. Should we name it, or just leave it undefined?

If we name it as a new stage, and I am seriously suggesting to all who participated in the discussion that we do, there are a few things I would like to see:

I really hope is that we don't form magical Orders for it. I am all for work groups, and even have a very clearly defined type of group based on the structure of mastermind groups used by business professionals, that I will be offering up to people at the end of my Training Course, but I do hope that we don't need to found yet more magical orders with grand sounding titles and secret hand shakes. There are enough of them for those that love them and need them and love them. If we are going to move into a genuine new era with magic, it has to start with changing the matrix of how magic is conveyed.

Another thing I hope is that any new movement or paradigm is not tied to the idea of being young, such as the Psychik Youth and Chaos Kids and most recently in Disinfo's Generation Hex. There is nothing wrong with maturity, and a big part of why Chaos Magic seemed stuck in adolescence is its identity with youthfulness Everyone gets older, and if you are a good magician you get wiser, more powerful, and even more fluid in your thinking than when you were young. 

I want to thank Gordon, Jack, and Psyche for posting their thoughts on their blogs. I want to thank ChandraNova, EKB Balthazar, and others for illuminating comments. If nothing else I got turned on to a couple books that I am going to order (such as Advanced Magic for Beginners) and to a new blog


Alex Kennedy said...

I'd humbly suggest that what we may be entering now is a kind of "Western Mystery Shamanism." It's clearly not traditional shamanism, but there's no doubt that that kind of magic is having a long-overdue influence on people's practise. It's not the standard WMT either, since (I think) many people are getting very sick of being in highly authoritarian ritual groups... this is probably a beneficial effect (or serendipity) of all of the nonsense that's gone on between Golden Dawn orders over the last ten years.

So, what I think is happening is that people are trying to connect to the origins of magic more closely, down at the "atomic" (or, to use your excellent phrase, "subtle key") level, and from their building their own personal magical system based on what works for them.

We might say that magicians are moving through a phase of "radical subjectivity" on their way to "radical orthodoxy" (but that's so close to my personal beliefs that I'd be afraid of bias).

Whatever it is, thank God it's happening -- it's a healthy change.

Jack Faust said...

"I actually have converted two Dr Who Sonic Srewdriver replicas into psionic wands."

Dude. Do you have any texts on that? I've been working on doing something similar, but haven't gotten around to anything beyond hypothetical consideration at present...

openhandsorcery said...

Advanced Magic for Beginners is one of the best basic guides to magic I ever read. I much appreciate the work of Alan Chapman and Duncan Barford to bring mysticism back into Chaos Magic.

I think that their approach has some problems, but on the other hand they are able present their ideas clearly, based on their own direct experience and without unnecessary complexities.

- Fractal Based Life Form

Gordon said...

You know, Jason, if I could afford all the garlands we'd need, I'd probably build a very big statue of you somewhere in west london. (Pray that I don't. I can't even put an ikea bookshelf together.) This occurred to me when I read what you have just posted about avoiding orders.

I don't think we're at names yet. But we should all watch. very. carefully... See where this takes us.

Psyche said...

I've responded to your criticisms of chaos magick, as requested. Most of them don't sound like proper criticisms, but a misunderstanding of intent. You tell me. :)

That's one definition, pulled from my website, I imagine? There are more than a dozen others, and at the moment I'm inclined to favour Hakim Bey's:

"Chaos comes before all principles of order & entropy, it’s neither a god nor a maggot, its idiotic desires encompass & define every possible choreography, all meaningless aethers & phlogistons, its masks are crystallizations of its own facenessness, like clouds...Chaos never died."

You mention that contemporary magickians are looking back, digging up the old stuff, but they're still interpreting it in a postmodern way. We've still got chaos. In the immortal words of Nietzsche:

"I tell you: one must have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star. I tell you: you still have chaos in you.

Why rename something that hasn't changed?

(And thanks again for your kind comments regarding my blog!)

Jhonn Barghest said...

"I actually have converted two Dr Who Sonic Screwdriver replicas into psionic wands."

Uh, yeah, I'm going to have to remark on that too. Frankly, I just about pissed myself when I read that. I've been dreaming of using a Sonic Screwdriver, more or less, in that way for months now.

I'd love to know more, even if it were to be over my head for a while.

Partly, because I am a Doctor Who nerd.

Jack Faust said...

@Jhonn: Actually, DeusExMachina ("Mr. Chaos Technomage") visited me today, and we went over my desire for such a thing earlier today. I'll be designing something similar - to a degree - this weekend. If we can sort just the base components out, I'll send ya an email with what's what.

Jason Miller, said...


Thank you for resoponding to the critique post. I had to take my son to the ER tonight and have a bunch of things I need to get to over the weekend, but at some point over the next few days I will dig through my books and field notes and respond to your response.

yes, I pulled that definition off your site. I chose it for three reasons: I had read it before, it is from one of the movements founders, and he himself gives it as a definition that most would agree with.

I have also read most of the others. The Hakim Bey comment is not really about Chaos Magic persay, but about Chaos itself. I would say that there is a huge difference.

I would not be looking to rename something BTW. Only name something new if something new is indeed emerging.

Jason Miller, said...


Thank you for resoponding to the critique post. I had to take my son to the ER tonight and have a bunch of things I need to get to over the weekend, but at some point over the next few days I will dig through my books and field notes and respond to your response.

yes, I pulled that definition off your site. I chose it for three reasons: I had read it before, it is from one of the movements founders, and he himself gives it as a definition that most would agree with.

I have also read most of the others. The Hakim Bey comment is not really about Chaos Magic persay, but about Chaos itself. I would say that there is a huge difference.

I would not be looking to rename something BTW. Only name something new if something new is indeed emerging.

Jason Miller, said...

Sonic Screwdriver Officianados.

I will post the methods of my neo-gallifreyan sorcery tomorrow in a separate post.

Jack, will you do the same?

Jhonn Barghest said...

@Jack & Jason: That would be totally awesome, both of you.

@Jason: I hope the ER trip goes well enough for the little guy. :\

Psyche said...

I'm sorry to hear about your son! Hope it's nothing too serious, and that all goes well.

Regarding the Hakim Bey quote, yes, it is in reference to chaos in general, and comes from his essay of the same name published in T.A.Z. However, he wrote about chaos magick early in the movement for Joel Biroco's Kaos, and I believe Chaos International as well, and I think it can stand for chaos magick, in particular, as well.

Jason Miller, said...


I know where the quote come from. I came up in the late 80's and early 90's. Everyone knows TAZ. TAZ was a helpful concept when thinking about zone rites and the essays on Poetic Terrorism were wonderful inspiration for acts of magical political action. I even met him once at a Shambhala center in Chelsea.

That said, I am tend to like the stuff he releases at Peter Wilson better: Sacred Drift and Pirate Utopias specifically.

Kenaz Filan said...

Although I have never read your "why not invoke Superman" article, I might ask why it would be a horribly bad idea. I've read a few fairly convincing theses which suggested that comic books, anime, etc. were our modern-day myths.

I've had one Mexican spirit suggest I call on "Ogou El Santo," Ogou in his path as the great Mexican wrestler. This may sound amusing, but think about it. Hundreds of millions of people know who El Santo is: he is unfailingly moral and just and he is not afraid to teach evildoers a lesson by drop-kicking them around the room. If anyone were going to become a warrior spirit, honored ancestor and guardian of justice after their demise, it would be El Santo.

I might make a similar case for Superman. He wears Ogou's colors (red and blue): he is the "man of steel" (another connection with iron) and "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive" (again with the Ogou imagery). Is he a fictional character or is he a modern day spirit of iron,warfare and justice who speaks to us in our own language?

I'd add that the dividing line between "fiction" and "myth" may not be so clear-cut as many suppose. Snorri Sturlson was a devout Christian who thought that he was compiling old wives' tales and reshaping them into a nationalist myth a la G.I. Joe or Paul Bunyan -- yet many Asatraur treat his texts as Holy Writ. Ovid and many of the late classical writers obviously had their tongues firmly in cheek when they were writing their stories of gods and heroes, and yet their writing has been an enormous influence on Hellenic Paganism. (And while we're on the subject, I'd argue that Tolkien was more of an influence on the Neopagan worldview than Gerald Gardner...).

It's an interesting issue: I'm planning to talk about this at some length in my next book with Raven Kaldera.

Jack Faust said...

@Jason: I'll do my best, man.

Psyche said...

@Jason Not everyone seems to know. The blog of a Nu Kaos Kid I recently stumbled across seemed to confuse Hakim Bey with Hassan i-Sabbah, or assume that others did, in a way that made little sense.

I've not read your books and came across your blog via Rune Soup, and his blog via comments in Jack Faust's blog, and Jack Faust via our connection on Irreality, which was created by a mutual friend and Zee. The Internet is small. Even so I tend to jump into conversations when they interest me, regardless of how well I know the participants.

I'm not familiar with you or your background, and find myself correcting misconceptions from time to time (it's a bad? habit of mine). I've been enjoying your blog over the last week or so, though I've been confused by some of the things I've read (and commented on them for clarification). I've been told I can come across as abrupt, but please don't interpret that as rudeness, at least, not intentionally so.

My introduction to chaos magick was second wave, sparked online in the 90s, then carried on through conversation, reading, and of course practical experience.

That's cool that you've met Wilson, what was he like? Apart from his stuff as Hakim Bey, I've only read his contribution in Green Hermeticism, though I'd like to seek out more of his work.

Ron said...


You asked about a name for this new current of magick. It has been awhile since I looked at Dunn's book, but what about "Postmodern Magick" as a possibility?

A lot of the techniques (Human Potential Movement?) used to increase performance in the business and sports fields might be our modern Western culture's style of magick. Maybe the same could be said about the Manifestation and Law-of-Attraction stuff. The later could definitely be classed as "magical thinking." I tend to see and use them similarly to how I deal with Chaos Magick, take what appears useful and discard the rest.

Ultimately though, you may have already created the name by which the magic of this time will be known: Strategic Sorcery.

Jason Miller, said...

@ Psyche,

Actually I wanted to ping you back and apologize for even bringing up the "I came up in the 80's" and "I have met Hakim Bey bit". I have and I did, but I try to make it a practice not to flash credentials or drop names. That is not how I want to have discussions.

I was cranky because I was up late at the ER and because I felt that while innocent enough, in response to my questions of what is new in Chaos Magic, people were passing me things as if I had never heard of it before.

I still have to get to your counter points, but I will sometime before the end of the day on Monday (EST)

As to how Peter Wilson was, I couldn't honestly say anything other than: polite and witty. I was introduced to him by a member of the Anarchist Writers collective "The Unbearables" who were also publishing through Autonomedia at the time.

If you have any interest at all in the intersection of Sufism, Ismailism, Neo-Islamic mystical movements, you should definitely check out Sacred Drift.

Jason Miller, said...

Its not a horribly bad idea to invoke Superman in the sense that something bad will happen. I would argue that indeed there would be some success. The mind and the astral plane are such that someone with any gift at all will get some success doing just about anything.

My point is that invoking Superman is not the same as using a spirit, archangel, god, or other being traditionally invoked in magic.
In the case of Superman being a reasonable form for Ogou to take, I am right there with you. Just like the statue of Darth Vader is a reasonable thing to find on a Bizango altar (I am thinking of the picture in Sacred Arts of Vodou). In both cases though the figure is standing in for a being that IS believed to exist and IS held sacred.

I also follow you that modern day fiction is the way that we make myths in the modern world. The difference comes in that we are making those myths; using the same moral lessons, plot themes, and even archetypes that traditional myths use, but we are making them about beings that are specifically thought of as fictional. Jack Faust once argued that Batman gets a lot more "belief" these days than most spirits. I disagree. He gets more attention.

There is some psychic weight to attention for sure which is why those workings can get some results. However, there is no genuine belief that Batman is real in the way that a traditional priest would believe that Hekate is real, nor is he held sacred in the way that she would be. The difference is HUGE which is why when most Chaos magicians I have spoken to go back to working with traditional magical figures, they find an enormous improvement in the results.

To use another example, people in West Africa genuinely believed in a Trickster Diety that took the form of a Hare (Zomo?). When slaves came to America the being blends with the Cherokee Trickster Rabbit and the myths find their way into literature as Brer Rabbit. In the 20th Century, Brer Rabbit is the model for Bugs Bunny. What I am suggesting is that if you do an invocation of Zomo and use the symbol of Bugs Bunny as a tool to contact that being, it is WAY different than deciding that for the span of a ritual you are going to simply believe that Bugs Bunny exists. Would you agree?

Think about why you went through the trouble to get canzo'd and think about how real the Lwa are. You know it is not comparable to fictional characters.

That said, there is some fiction that arises as a response of dreams or geuinune spirit contact. Lovecraft, you could argue, would be an example of this. Most members of the EOD (and I am one) would approach the mythos beings as having some type of relative existence, same as any other spirit. Though they arose from fiction, the fiction arose from spiritual contact and onieric guidance. At least that is what such mages would claim. It is a far cry from invoking Superman.

Jason Miller, said...


I am deeply flattered, but even I would'nt place money on that. Strategic Sorcery is the name of the system and program of training that I have come up with, as well as a set of principals that are applicable to just about any type of magic.

A new paradigm is I think larger than that.

At least I hope so, otherwise I would have come up with a cooler name than Strategic Sorcery...:-)

Jason Miller, said...


I have answered your rebuttals.

Please see them here

Lycan said...

The beauty in all of this discussion in the blogosphere is the application of critical thinking. That's a skill that's been missing in Occult and Pagan circles for a long time.

I came up through the 90's in Chaos Magic. What I feel that did for me was refine techniques. Beyond that, I always found it lacking in the ways you outlined in your criticisms.

Concerning this new paradigm, I don't think it's new. It's becoming refined across the board regardless of path. I would say it's about nudging probabilities, scholarship, innovation, and actually doing the work.

Honestly, it appears to me like Chaos Magic with more meat on its bones.

Matt said...


Wasn't I the person who inspired your Beheutet article on Superman? I had come around to agreeing with your point of view since '99 or so, but for the last few months I've had absolutely mind-blowing experiences working with Merlin, a fictional character I've never felt any real affinity for, in the context of working with a modern lineage with a transparently, even absurdly fictional history.

So what does that mean? Is it back to Superman worship? Are all rules out?

220 said...

Having gotten into this whole chaos magic deal in the new millennium, I never quite cared much for the whole "chaos" part of things, must have been a nineties thing I missed out on...

Something new is definitely emerging yes, but I would certainly say we owe quite a bit to chaos magic for where we are now.

220 said...

I prefer Marvel Comics Thor myself.