I’ve been pondering of late the tendency for Chaos/Post-modern magickal practitioners to seek more meaningful depth within a specific spiritual paradigm. Folks who have previously focused their efforts on surfing the rapids of our ever shifting culture seem to be increasingly looking back to more ancient paths as a way of enriching their journeys.
Chaos Magic (CM) has been the form of Magic that in my view best embodies the Postmodern zeitgeist. Via its use of contemporary culture and the scientific method it has managed to boot out much of the stuffy pseudo-masonic baggage that pervaded much of the magical scene. In reflecting the Postmodern emphasis on relativity and adaptation many Magicians in the 80’s and 90’s felt freed by the realisation that belief itself was a magickal weapon. These budding psychonauts could add belief shifting to their personal arsenal without feeling that they had to abandon reason.
Yet increasingly it seems that this isn’t enough for many of us. Moving now to the second decade of the 21st century we see an ever increasing interest in “traditional” witchcraft, dusty tomes on Solomonic magic and various brands of radical traditionalism. With such a preoccupation concerning times and things past, one has to wonder whether Chaos Magick (like Punk Rock) is dead.
When I’ve sat down and talked to friends who’ve been involved in CM for any length of time (5 years+) I’ve noticed that many of us (if not most of us) have chosen to deepen our spiritual journeys by pursuing initiatory work within a specific historic tradition. Whether Heathenry, Tantra, Voudou or Wicca, people are obviously wanting more than Chaos Magick alone is (apparently) offering. Why?
At its worst the Chaos approach can not only reflect the flexibility of the postmodern but also its superficiality and implicit consumerism. As we push our trolley around the spiritual supermarket seeking to fill our Kia-shaped hole, do we stock up on the nutritious sustenance offered by deep reflection on the Upanishads or do we neck a pile of spiritual sugar highs that ultimately give us a gnostic hangover? People who were attracted to CM because it actually did something and sought to measure its effectiveness (results magick anyone?) began to long for something more. In the midst of all this paradigm shifting busyness, is there a place for “being” and soul development as well as doing and incessantly changing?
So why stay involved with Chaos Magick? After at least 12 years, bottom line, for me it’s the holism. CM for me manages to engage with culture in a manner that embodies Crowley’s project of scientific illuminism-“the method of science, the aim of religion”. When so many esoteric traditions seem bogged down in colloquialisms and the tenents of faith, CM seeks to strip things back so as to help identify the technologies used by traditions and the commonalities that exist between them. Like the Perennial philosophy and its contemporary Integral manifestations, CM seeks to hold a “Meta” position that steps back and notices. All our beliefs and practices are ultimately tools for awakening: “a finger pointing at the moon”. For me the Chaos approach helps me hold a bigger vision, and enables me to hold my obsessions more loosely.
The depth and romanticism that tradition provides may well be essential in avoiding some trendy but ultimately futile spiritual dead-end street. But if CM can become a tool that we use skilfully, it may be a key to developing inner poise. This poise allows us to be responsive to the changing world around us and to escape the pitfalls of faith commitments based on past certainties that can no longer be relied on.
Nice. I like reflections like these.
On a more mundane lever (social), have you read Bookchins critical essay on Hakim Bey? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifestyle_anarchism)
How do you avoid reducing CM to no more than life style anarchism? As one who finds meaning in politics, community and creating a better world for everyone I find this question deeply unsettling and, when in a good mood, interesting.
Thanks Joakim for the feedback and the link to the lifestyler critique-I think you’re right there’s always a danger of CM or any magical path becoming narcissistic and socially irrelevant-I think things like the Dragon network, Reclaiming and the Radical Faeries have sought to bring magick into the collective sphere-for now I think most of us get a “could do better” on the report card!
Time to comment on what you actually write:
If it hadn’t been for CM I would have left most magical/esoteric/religious traditions alone. CM seems to be the only reasonable stance in a world in which even the atheits are religious monotheists (their simplified and quite primitive version of science as stand in for God). And for all that love I have for osbcure tomes and witchcraft I just can’t stand viewing the world from just that angle.
At the same time, just accepting for example Peter Carrolls version of CM has never been possible for me. I find it too shallow. In a sense it lacks ‘mystery’ and a connection to the world of flesh, mud and mundane(?) activities like raising your kid or having to fire 25 people. That bare-bone CM lacks the sense of faith that other traditions offer. And by ‘faith’ I do not mean ‘belief’, but something you can put your trust in, something that carries you in the darkest of hours. I’m caught between a need for that kind of faith and not willing to accept crazy belief systems because of that need. CM offers a third alternativ and for that reason seems to be the only, as already stated, reasonable stance in this crazy, postmodern Beast we live in.
I really like this-at times the relativism of Postmodernism can feel like its very located “in the head”-I’m a big fan of Carroll’s but he definitely represents the magician/scientist model of CM-I think TOPY and Genesis P-Orridges work is brilliant as a complimentary artist/magician model. TOPY’s emphasis on body modification and subsequent pandrogeny project seems an important,viseral emboddied counter-point-we need blood and mud!
seems always there are them that create, those who maintain & others only following…. blessed be them what take it and do something new with it, “developing inner poise”, returning with a revelation… whatever
Interesting piece. I sat at a table discussing CM the other day, with three men… all of us born in a different generation. Although all of us still use/work with CM in one way or another, each of us remember a specific cycle or ‘boom’ per decade in CM. Our discussions took many paths from availability of information over the decades and social/media developments… to publications and ”trending systems.” Even discussions on evolution and the need for more in general. Luckily we came to no solid conclusions lol. How ever one thing agreed on was that maybe the question is not about how something is viewed or used, by why select people return repeatedly or stay true to CM. 🙂
but why select people** Gah typo’s… can’t find my glasses lol.
Any time there’s a qualifier attached to an objective, you’re referencing the objective rather than defining something new. Post-modernism is built on modernism, chaos magick is based on magick. Thus, modernism and magick are the objectives of study… and that leads us away from the qualifier.
“I’ve noticed that many of us (if not most of us) have chosen to deepen our spiritual journeys by pursuing initiatory work within a specific historic tradition”
I guess I don’t talk to many people any more about magic..but the opposite has seemed more true for me personally. I get tired of the “traditional” set, and how hard people seem to have to try to convince themselves that it is comforting. Not to say I don’t enjoy learning about them and allowing them to inspire ideas. I think humans are spiritual in nature anyways, it’s just a matter what label give it meaning for us. I am not sure that magic and spirituality have to be married though, you can have one without the other and you can have both that function independent of each other. Ugh…a long stream of thoughts on this one and it is difficult to write out. Will be curious to read more responses, a good article to think about.
Thanks for your replys- Personally when I see more Chaos orientated folks using trad. systems, they tend to be doing so from a more “meta” position-realising that the language adopted, however rich and informative is still pointing at a greater mystery beyond symbol systems.
….the more one points.the greater the mystery…..
I find your reply a little mysterious – care to explain what yoy mean?
yo; reply in 3 parts
– answer a question, get more questions
– every desiring 1 may see the manifest,
desireless, the mystery
– & to misquote Carl Jung ” the more one’s ego understands the unconscious, the vaster the unconscious becomes….”
– i could go on/does that explain ?
Yes it does. Thank you.
Needing that…. Thx.
Nice article. I think the trend in CM, where practitioners seem to be seeking out other paradigmatic systems, is less to do with anything inherent in CM specifically, and more to do with current perspectives and opportunities. Perhaps (and I’m writing off the cuff here) the proliferation of information made available to us today via internet, e mail, air travel, and the like, interacting with the postmodern tendency to view differences not in order of superiority (Tantra is ‘better’ than Hermeticism) but in terms of relativity to situation, has led to a whole new approach.
I think this is true in various fields, not just occultism. As a writer, musician and martial artist, I see fewer and fewer people I come into contact with sticking wholeheartedly to one style. Whether it’s jujitsu practitioners taking boxing or karate classes, reggae musicians listening to Bach, or copywriters learning how to use photoshop. I guess the days where there was no kwoon in your town offering white crane kung fu meaning you couldn’t study it are behind us.
Specific to CM, I think one of its greatest appeals has always been its apparent eclecticism and lack of dogma, so I’d always thought of Chaotes as people happy to draw from (and participate in) other esoteric systems. But then, I am one of the younger Chaotes myself, having missed out on the 80’s boom, so I don’t claim to be an authority.
If people in the CM current find it lacking meaning occasionally, and search for ‘something else’, then I guess that’s another thing they have in common with Existentialists.
Thanks Thunderfist-I think you’re right, the eclectic, hybrid approach pervades many fields not just the overtly spiritual/magical-what this points toward for me is that as existential heroes (Naths if you like!) we have to evolve our own path of liberation and accept responsibility for it-others may provide guidance but we’ve got to live it via direct experience.
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[…] their art just as much as any traditionalist and get every bit the results. Many of them study and even initiate into traditional systems in a careful and respectful manner, yet maintain the “core chaos” viewpoint which […]
[…] I’ve posted this one before but it bears repeating. The Blog of Baphomet explains why many Chaos Mages seek training in traditional systems. […]
Chaos Magic is a transition from the old to the new; it is not a place to remain. It is a feeling around for the elements that are needed to create the new. It is a path, not the destination.
Wouldn’t that be the case with any religion and/or spiritual tradition… that they are all paths, not the destination? I’m curious to understand your comment more fully. What is the “old”? What is the “new”? What do you mean by, “… it is not a place to remain”?
I’ve been a practicing Chaos Magician for nine years; knowingly at least. Longer if you count the years I’ve been utilizing the methods without knowledge of what these methods were. I find this path quite fulfilling, though not without it’s trials. But isn’t this the way it is with all religious and spiritual paths? We learn, we do, we fall down and go boom, get back up, learn more, do more, and reach closer to our goals, hopefully one of them being to become a more fully formed, whole, functional, self-actualized Being.
I discussed this very topic around the time this essay was penned with friends of mine, also Chaos practitioners. Some of them have moved into Wicca, Thelema, etc, but at their core, they remain Chaotes.
I began as a practicing Wiccan and shifted into Chaos Magic where I find complete spiritual freedom to experiment with all the various systems I encounter, respectfully incorporating beliefs and tech which resonates. To not consider Chaos Magic a form of spiritual practice in and of itself is something I still find difficult to understand.
It certainly isn’t for everyone, but that’s what makes life interesting, don’t you think? 😉
[…] When Chaos Magick Gets Deep…, por Steve Dee en The Blog of Baphomet (en inglés). Hay una traducción bastante decente en Habitantes del caos. […]