Monday, June 7, 2010

In your blog yesterday, you wrote that you used to "talk smack about Chaos Magick". I hope you won't be offended, but a lot of what you write seems a lot like Chaos Magic. What are the things that you don't like about Chaos Magic?

I am answering this one out of order because it directly relates to my blog post from yesterday. If you haven't seen your question answered yet, be patient, I am getting to them all.

Now, as I said yesterday, there is quite a lot that I liked about the Chaos Magic movement: streamlining rituals, emphasis on practical results, experimental magic, reality as symbol set, etc. NONE of these are original to Chaos magic however. I do however credit Chaos Magic for promoting these ideas.

The things I dislike about chaos magic are what I have always considered to be it's most defining features. I will run through these one by one.

1. Chaos magic basically posits that the object of belief (or object of evocation, invocation, etc) is not important - it is the belief itself that is where the magic lies. This is actually a pretty logical explanation of how people all over the world who believe in different things can still do effective magic. After all if the Jankri believes that Tara is doing the healing, and the Christian faith healer believes that Jesus is doing the healing they can't both be right can they? Actually I think they can.

If you are looking for one simplistic grand theory for how all magic works, you can look to mind as the baseline and say that it is the level of belief, not the object of the belief that is doing the trick. I however am not looking for one theory that neatly explains everything. Besides, mind is the common denominator for ALL experience of any kind, so in the ultimate sense, yes, everything boils down to it nd it plays an enormous part in all magic, BUT in the more relative sense, it's a cop out.

To me I have no trouble conceiving of a universe that contains a Tara that the Jankri draws healing from AND a Jesus that the Faith Healer draws from as well. Rather than "Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted" as they Chaotes like to say, I am much more a "Everything is True AND Everything is Permitted" kind of guy.

2. Even if Chaos Magic was correct that belief is the key rather than what is believed in, by its own rules it will be the least powerful type of magic. Pete Carroll once wrote that "If Homoeopathists knew how Homeopathy worked, it wouldn't work." I could say the same thing about Magick.

If belief is the where the mojo lies, than I am sorry, you will never be able to psych yourself up to "temporarily believing" (or model adopting, or paradigm shifting, or whatever you want to call it) as someone who actually believes and has devoted themselves fully for their whole life to a path or diety. If you think that you can manage to whip up as much belief in Kali as the Baba in Dakshin Kali who has been serving her for his whole life, than you are just kidding yourself. Ergo, by its own measurements, Chaos Magic is probably one of the weakest methods of magic out there.

3. Chaos Magicians tend to confuse belief with attention. For instance, in many books you will see explanations of how Mr Spock is perhaps a better Mercurial figure to invoke than Mercury himself because more people "believe" in him. In an online discussion a couple years back, a Chaos Mage made a similar statement declaring that in the modern day there is way more belief aimed at Batman and Superman than there is at Set or Hercules. I agree that there is more attention paid to these figures in our modern secular culture, but unless you are mentally ill you do not believe in the literal existence of Mr Spock or Superman or Batman. There is no end to the ridiculous rituals that this has led to. I know of a German lodge that performed a wealth ritual invoking Scrooge Mc Duck a couple years back. Attention does not equal belief. There is an element of sacredness that has a role in magic, and while magic can be done without it (magic can be done without just about anything) it has its own role to play.

4. Chaos Magic claims to be a Meta-Model, in other words a model that can use all other models, OR runs behind all other models, depending upon which definition of "meta" we are using. In rejecting the idea of the reality of the forces behind the world's religions or magical systems AND in rejecting mysticism - what could genuinely be considered to be a binding force or common thread amongst all the worlds religions - it is NOT a meta model. It is just another moderl and one that actually cuts itself off from really engaging in any of these models more than most. Instead it settles for playing dress up with them.
5. Chaos Magic texts are very sloppy with the treatment of altered states of consciousness. The divisions of inhibitory and exhibitory states are very rudimentary and do not even begin to cover the gambit. It also treats all altered states as more or less equal and used the same way. You can empower your sigil by hyperventalating, doing LSD, masturbating, bunjee jumping, meditating, hypnosis etc. All of these activities will yield different states. Even with just one of these, there are various stages and nuances that are never touched upon. Seeing rituals that have a step which basically says "get into gnostic state", and leaving that open is just silly.

Furthermore almost all systems of mystecism the world over recognize that there is something different about the Gnostic State or a state of Enlightenment or Samadhi than simply an altered state of consciousness. Indeed most of the teachers from these traditions emphasize that the mystical state emphasizes that it is the most natural and primordial state. You can sometimes access it through the skilled use of these other states, but no where is such a nuanced approach even hinted at. Instead it is all treated like one big altered state that can be accessed by dropping acid, doing crack, meditating, or cliff diving.

6. The forgetting thing has always bugged me. Forgetting the meaning of your sigil is a trick for newbie's to get results. It's like claiming you need training wheels in order to ride a bike. If you are a real magician you are evolving your perception and consciousness not to have to rely upon such methods.

There are other points, but I have gone on longer than I wanted.

The point of my post yesterday was that I am running into people like Gordon and Jack Faust who are not really displaying any of these in their work, or at least doing it in such a way that I don't think they are dumb. I wanted to know if Chaos Magic has evolved and where the cool new stuff is. Pete Carroll and Phil Hine are ok, but there must be people pushing their work in better directions. I mean, that stuff is going on 30 years old now.


Gordon said...

These are all valid points.

And it brings me back around to the lack of senior management.

People form negative opinions of chaos magic based on "some guy they spoke to in a forum."

Well of course they would.

Because the catch-22 in going out of your way to remain unstructured is you don't end up with thought leaders who can speak for a group or movement.

The seminal texts are thirty years old and no one is wearing the chaos crown today. It's a very bad communication strategy.

I don't see any way around this. It obviously mustn't bother me much.

yuzuru said...

Perfect post. Thank you

Psyche said...

Cracking this apart, at your request in a later post.

Point the First

Could you please explain what you mean by the "level of belief"? It sounds an awful lot like The Secret and the "power" of "positive thinking": if I concentrate and wish really hard, it will come true.

I'm hoping this isn't what you mean, so could you please clarify? Thanks!

The rest of point one isn't against chaos magick, it's simply outlining that you agree with it. Everything/Nothing is true amounts to the same thing.

Paint the Second

You could say the same thing about magick, except that you'd be wrong. Homoeopathy works base on the placebo effect, would you suggest the same for magick? I wouldn't.

The second paragraph is speculation. "Psyching oneself up" isn't the point. Results are the point. Chaos magick is results magick. It all depends on what you're going for. If someone is working with Kali, to use your example, the end result of a particular working can indeed be the same, providing the result is not a life long devotional commitment to a single deity.

Print the Tree

No, they don't. You're generalizing again! What book on chaos magick suggests Spock is better than Mercury? An effective postmodern substitute, perhaps, but better? That's a sloppy judgment call.

Are you familiar with egregore theory? If the working the chaote was attempting was to harness the attention paid to Spock and perform some bit of work with its egregore, what objection could you have?

This one may be a conceptual misunderstanding.

Pony the Fourth Horse

Chaos magick claims nothing of the sort. It frequently utilizes a metamodel, and a chaos magickian, Frater U.:D.: defined the five models of magick, but that doesn't equate to the same thing.

Chaos magick is an approach to magickal practice, it is not a thing in and of itself. It's a loose set of philosophies based on the freedom to do what works, and nothing more.

Pin the Fifth Aeon

Wait, what now? There are three states (you forgot chemognosis), but I'm still not convinced you've made a case here.

Criticize chaotes for calling it gnosis - that's more than fair, it's not gnosis, and I frequently amend that to "chaote gnosis" (with quotation marks) when referring to it (yeah, even in speech, I'm hip that way).

The states themselves are not often described, it's true, but what the chaote "manual" is generally concerned with is getting you there: how you experience it and what you do with the state is left for the individual to decide.

Again, this may be a conceptual difference, or a misunderstanding of the goal: to achieve the state, not to proscribe the experience you should have while in it.

Prance the Seasoned

Yes, the forgetting method is for newbies, and it only applies to sigil magick. It's usually recommended within the first few chapters of the book as a cheap and dirty way to make magick work your first time. It's not intended for anything else. This is why good magickians keep diaries.

Final thoughts

These aren't personal criticisms. I'd love to hear your rebuttals. :)

Jason Miller, said...

Rebuttals to Psyche Part 1

First Point

One pretty common defining feature of Chaos Magic is the idea of Belief as Tool. If Belief is used in this way than it is not such a stretch to talk about depth or veracity of belief having an effect on outcome. That said, if you read the rest of that paragraph, I went on to point out that this is a cop out.

Most Chaotes like to say that Everything is true and Nothing is true mean the same thing. They do not. Really. I looked up the words in Merriam Webster and they don't mean the same thing. But thats ok because I was just being cheeky.

The point I was trying to make is that most Chaos Magic (it is too scattered a thing to say "all", which is something I try to avoid anyway) seems to take a stance that the object of belief is not real, only the belief itself. I find the stance to be dismissive and furthermore evidence has shown this to be incorrect, at least to me and many others.

Second Point

First, your flat out statement that Homeopathy works on Placebo, is evidence of the exact kind of dismissive attitude that Chaos Magic has towards traditional approaches to magic.

Second, the application of that statement only applies to the type of belief-as-tool Chaos Magic approach. Not to magic in general.

Your state, as if you were stating pure and verifiable fact, that the end result of a working invoking Kali by someone who is a lifelong devotee and trained shaman or tantrika vs that of a Chaos Magician would be the same unless the aim was to be a devotee. As someone who has been to Dakshin Kali and seen the results of some of this in person I can tell you that if you were to match to two against one another, I would not place too much money on the Chaos Mage.

Furthermore you state that "Chaos Magic is results magic". We will deal with this more below, but unless there is more to it than simply results magic, than it may as well be nothing at all.

Third Point

Actually I was quoting a post from Jack Faust from back on Fresno Magician on that one. There is an article where Phil Hine essentially states the same thing, but I cannot find it at the moment and do not have the time to do a search (father of twins, third book being worked on, weekly lessons for the course. I apologize for the lack of time. I will come accross it soon enough.)

Yes I am familiar with egregore theory. I find it lacking if applied to widely, but that is another post. In answer to your question, there is nothing wrong or harmful about invoking the attention paid to Spock. It is not however an acceptable substitute for Mercury or a traditional figure, because in those cases more than attention figures into it. Even if we are to stick with Egregore theory the factors of genuine belief and sacredness factor heavily into it.

Results in magic are not just a matter of working or not. Its a matter of working how well, how fast, how potently. The attention paid to Spock and the attention paid to Mercury are not the same kind of attention. It makes a large difference in the result you get.

Your accusation of conceptual misunderstanding is off base. Someone disagreeing or not buying into your way of thinking does not mean they misunderstand it. You do come off as rather condescending throughout this post.

Jason Miller, said...

Rebuttals to Psyche part 2

Fourth Point

If Chaos Magic is nothing more than the freedom to do what works, than it is nothing at all. Magicians, Siddhas, Yogis, Witches, and Sorcerers have been taking that freedom since the world began.

Fifth Point

To say that I "forgot" Chemognosis is just asinine and condescending. First of all Hine, Carroll, and most other writers on the subject have been using the inhibitory exhibitory division, did THEY "forget" Chemignosis? Of course not. The only person that adds that as a third division is Wetzel, who has had a minor impact over all. It is a silly way to look at it anyway as there are chemicals that produce inhibitory and exhibitory effects.

In my post I am addressing the use of these states to overcome the psychic censor, or to launch your magic. If you are going to place an emphasis on altered states in your approach to magic, than you should be way more detailed about it. You state that the goal is to achieve the state not proscibe the experiences you should have within it. Again, sloppy. Which state? You cant just treat "trance state" or "altered state" as one state. With just Shamatha/Vipassana meditation alone there are numerous altered states that one can reach.
Sixth Point

Glad we agree on something.

Psyche, I like your writing and I really enjoy the debate on the increasingly rare times that I have for it, but if you ever want to have another conversation with me again, please drop the condescending tone and stating opinion like its fact. You do not have to like me, my books, or agree with my positions, but I do ask for respect. I have been at this for over 20 years and while I am not the smartest guy in the game, I have been around and have reasons for thinking the way I do.


Psyche said...

First Point Encore

With this I would only argue that the distinction should be made that the object of belief doesn't matter rather than "not real". See the plurality of religions, for example.

Second Point Encore

Dismissed by some chaotes and science, if you like.

Chaos magick is hardly anything at all, a skeleton upon which to hang one's practice.

Third Point Encore

Ok, if this is the case, then I stand by my original assessment. Equating them is foolish, along the same lines as "all the gods are one god" sloppy thinking.

Fourth Point Encore

They do so within codified systems, chaos magick has no such system, therefore it appropriates from others or creates its own as required. Postmodern magick.

Fifth Point Encore

I find Wetzel's distinction useful for that very reason. Lumping the chemognostic approach into the other two muddles things as it's less self-directed.

But I agree, much of the writing on it is sloppy and could be done better.


The condescension you read into my response is unintentional. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I'm utterly unfamiliar with you or your work, only what I've read on your blog the past couple of weeks.

Most magickians aren't overly familiar with chaos magick, beyond biases they've acquired from secondhand sources.

You posted a question about chaos magick, I assumed you were unfamiliar with it at the time I wrote this post, and proceeded to respond under that assumption.

Jason Miller, said...


Plurality of religions is exactly why it does matter. For instance, even within one tradition, at different times one deity will be thought of as especially powerful and another less so. One might also be more demanding and another more forgiving.

In Tibet for instance, the Dharmapalas (guardians) Dorje Lekpa and Rahula essentially do the same thing. They are also approached in almost the exact same way and given the same offerings. Dorje Lekpa however is behaves in a very friendly and easy going manner and is not especially wrathful in how he gets the job done. Rahula is very difficult to interact with and is surrounded by spirits that are easily angered. He is also more wrathful in his work so if you "absolutely need to kill every last MF in the room, accept no substitute".

If we go along with Egregore theory than it also matters. Christ for instance would be immensely more powerful at this point in history and in this country than say, Cernunnos. Few would argue that he garners more less attention. Experience, at least those of many magesand witches however shows that
this is not as big a deal as you would think.

This also applies to your third point. No one is saying that all gods are one god. I would not even remotely go as far to say that all beings that are called Gods in english are even remotely the same thing. Some have deep cosmic and transcendent inner natures, some do not.

Lets move to the fourth point.

They did not do so within codified systems.Nothing in the PGM for instance is confined to a codified system. The mahasiddhas were known to move beyond the confines of their tradition which is why the same figured get claimed by Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and even Bon. Icelandic mages who wrote their Galdrabok's did not stick within a system. Crowley certainly did not stay confined to a system, touching (and sometimes screwing up) Yoga, Taoism, Hellenic magic, etc. Even the Golden Dawn made a system out of interfacing different systems together!

To say that Chaos magic is the first or only current to allow this, is just flat out false.

Chemognosis is not really less self directed than other methods. If you are really meditating you are not directing what is arising in the midnstream. If you are bunjee jumping than you are certainly not directing the experience. Sense Dep and other methods are again, no more self directed than an Acid Trip or Cocaine High. The experience is created and you move within it, period.

As to the tone, I do not want anyone to pay me any kindness or reverence because of years practicing, books published, or time spent in various magical orders. There are plenty of people with high titles and books that deserve to have a good argument thrown their way.

I re-read my questions however and there is no reason for anyone to assume I was new to Chaos Magic. I would think that since I specifically mentioned that I had a past with it, you might assume the opposite. If not than perhaps not assuming anything would be good.

Even if I were a complete newbie to it however, accusations of conceptual misunderstanding and corrections like "Wait, what now? There are three states (you forgot chemognosis)" are rude.

Psyche said...

What I meant by my statement was that no matter what religion or spirituality one practices, benefit and meaning are still derived from the experience - otherwise, what would be the point? In that sense, which one is not material.

In this country I'm not sure which you're referring to? Canada, where I live, or America, Australia, England, Wales...? Do you believe distance matters for the strength of connection one can achieve with an egregore?

My example of "all the gods..." was a correlative, not derived from something you've said, but from what I often read in other magickal and especially neo-Pagan blogs.

Agreed, to say that it was the first or only would be false, and I suggested nothing of the sort.

Re-reading Carroll's Liber Null & Psychonaut I was struck by how much he'd taken from Crowley, even example for example in at least one case.

Spare's often cited as the Grandfather of chaos magick, but Crowley's work could also stand for that had he not decided to create his own specific religious philosophy. Crowley advocated creating one's own symbol set in a way that was virtually unique at the time (see "You must construct your own Qabalah!" for relevant quotes).

While the Golden Dawn and Crowley's OTO borrow from a variety of traditions, they prefer to pretend that they're ultimately mystically related, usually be "ancient lineages" which are deemed essential to their authentication (less so today, perhaps, that in the previous century). Chaos magick allowed one to take contemporary icons and declare them valuable and meaningful in their own right, without an overall system collecting them for a specific intent.

Ok, we can agree to disagree about chemognosis. I can control when I come out of a meditative trance, but not when I come down from an artificially-induced high - that distinction is valuable to me, but it doesn't need to be important to you and isn't terribly important to the overall discussion.

I've already explained why I thought you might be new to the subject, these are the kind of dismissive questions that come up from time to time in forums and on blogs. Obviously I was mistaken.

I don't see "You forgot..." as being rude. This is a blog, an informal platform. I like Wetzel's distinction. Clearly you don't. That's fine.

Once again, conceptual misunderstandings are common, it's why I ask for - and provide - clarification for terms which may be unfamiliar to those not already enmeshed in this approach.

Though I'm not sure why we're still talking about this? I've explained myself twice, you keep mentioning that you shouldn't be due extra respect for books I haven't read, but you still seem to be taking offence. What can I do to help smooth things over?

Jason Miller, said...


Winding down the discussion.

You did not say "first and only" but you did say

"They do so within codified systems, chaos magick has no such system, therefore it appropriates from others or creates its own as required. Postmodern magick."

By saying that they (non Chaotes) do so within codified traditions amounts to the same thing. My examples (and many more) show that this has always been done. There is nothing particularly post modern about it.

As for constructing your own Khabbalah, I agree, but only after you have some attainment under your belt to do it with. To start off that way is kind of like saying you must hack your own way up a mountain rather than follow a trail. Once you are up there, you can construct your own better methods, but until then you just need to get up there.

Distance related to egregores? Hmmm good question. A few years ago I would have said yes. After having lived in nepal and seen how much more responsive those traditions are there, maybe it does have some effect. Of course, now that I am back in America I havent felt them diminish, so perhaps it was just the point of contact.

As to the tone issue, lets just let it go and chalk it up to a rocky start to an acquaintanceship.

friedscience said...

I stumbled upon this post. Very thought-provoking! I plan to read more of your blog (and your books), as it's been years since I've read something on the topic of magic that has genuinely provoked some serious thought. So thank you for that.


1. Not sure why you perceive this as a cop out. Could you elaborate?

3. Agreed.
Personally, though, I would attribute some level of sacredness to Superman, as an icon (not as an individual).

4. Hmm... My understanding was that in temporarily adopting a paradigm, most chaotes were choosing to believe in the reality of something (although, admittedly, with the mindset that they would later probably choose to un-believe it). In believing it's truth (however temporary), they would not be rejecting the reality of the adopted model outright.

5 and 6. Completely agree.