Banish with Laughter

Laughter is the best medicine, at least that’s what some folks say and, in the tradition of chaos magic, laughter is certainly accorded important status. As well as the well known technique of Banishing with Laughter (BWL) chaos magic, since its early days, has tended to incorporate distinctly discordian elements; Eris, current 23, The Rev. Bob Dobbs and so on. Within The Illuminates of Thanateros there’s a specific role known as Insubordinate that acts to deploy (amongst other things) humour, to ensure that people within the Order in positions of authority don’t become too self-important.

There are many types of laughter, which in itself is part of the importance placed on it in BWL; laughter can be kindly or cruel, it can be a way of relaxing people and opening up playful possibilities or it can be a tool to ridicule, to silence and to harm.

If we look around the spiritual traditions on our planet we can see a wide variety of different ways of engaging with, and sometimes actively opposing humour. Take for example the pivotal and historically accurate role that laughter plays in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. (*Spoiler Alert)* A murder plot, set in a 14th century Italian monastery revolves around one Brother’s attempt to suppress a text by Aristotle about laughter. The dialogue below is taken from the 1986 movie:

William of Baskerville: My venerable brother, there are many books that speak of comedy. Why does this one fill you with such fear?

Jorge de Burgos: Because it’s by Aristotle.

William of Baskerville: [Chasing after Jorge who runs with the Second Book of Poetics by Aristotle intending to destroy it] But what is so alarming about laughter?

Jorge de Burgos: Laughter kills fear, and without fear there can be no faith because without fear of the Devil, there is no more need of God.

William of Baskerville: But you will not eliminate laughter by eliminating that book.

Jorge de Burgos: No, to be sure, laughter will remain the common man’s recreation. But what will happen if, because of this book, learned men were to pronounce it admissable to laugh at everything? Can we laugh at God? The world would relapse into chaos! Therefore, I seal that which was not to be said.

[he eats the poisoned pages of the book]

Jorge de Burgos: In the tomb I become.

[he tosses the book at the candle, which ignites a fire that destroys all the books in the abbey tower]

Consider other times and other spiritual traditions; where is the place of laughter in Islam? In Wicca? In Hindusim? In other styles and traditions (including  Scientism, humanism and atheism)? Zen of course has plenty of jokes (although it also maintains a hard-core warrior style too, showing that humour doesn’t necessarily equate with flakiness).

zen cat

Laughter about a tradition that emerges from within a tradition itself is perhaps the most healthy form of humour. The great tradition of Jewish jokes told about and by Jews themselves is one example of this. Perhaps the further we travel conceptually from what we ourselves identify as, the less our humour is likely to be kindly and funny (and the more it’s likely to be unkind and even to mask actual intention to harm).

Pagan and occult cultures in the English speaking world can be very variable in their ability to engage with humour. Some of this may be down to there being in-jokes which are shared within these cultures that wouldn’t be half as funny (or make any sense at all) to outsiders. For instance I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a ‘Chaos Song Book’ featuring classic sing-along-a-tunes such as ‘My Old Man’s A Magus’ (sung to the tune of ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’) within one chaos magic order I know. I assume there’s something similar in, for example, the Temple of Set but (as someone who’s not a member of that Order) I can’t say for certain.

Laughter can act as a great way to open up discussions, if it’s handled well. For instance in a Facebook chaos magick group throw away (and sometimes rather unkind) jokes about Wiccans might elicit calls of approval from some of the assembled multitude (especially folks from the USA where the perception and story of Wicca seems to be very different from that in the UK). Speaking as a Wiccan I could take offence at this but instead it provides an neat opportunity to challenge simplistic assumptions of the ‘All Wiccans are like/believe X’ variety. Unsurprisingly, views of the universe that begin ‘All Wiccans/Muslims/Chaos Magicians/Satanists/Jews/Muggles etc etc are like X’ are far from nuanced (or even accurate) descriptions of the world. But engaging with the humour in a gentle, generous spirit can make for some useful opportunities for discussion. The big mistake would be to become defensive about people making fun of Wicca per se. Indeed it is, in my view, very important that we’re able to make fun of ourselves (if nothing else if we’re not able to, it’s certainly the case that others will happily do thus for us!). An an example of this I posted the picture below to said Chaos Magick group (shortly after the Wiccan ribbing had taken place). The image incidentally was one I came across in The Pagan Federation (England & Wales) page.

Wiccan basket case

And so, in the spirit of generous humour here are a few offerings. A series of occult memes that have raised a few smiles on-line and a longer cut-up/mash-up I produced featuring the extraordinary work of E.A.Koetting (all that uber darkness demonic stuff seems in invite some playful humour).



Esoteric Misunderstandings 4

Esoteric Misunderstandings 8

Esoteric Misunderstandings 11

The original

The remix

3 thoughts on “Banish with Laughter

  1. kaitwm625 says:

    As the editor of the Chaos Songbook I can add that its third, international edition will be published just as soon as the Goddess thinks it’s funny.

  2. Proteus 619 says:

    “Laughter is that which is lost to discourse – the haemorrhaging of pragmatics into excitation and filth.” — Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

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