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.