Pop Magic will eat itself!

In Feeding Part-Made Gods I got down to some speculative musing about how Vampire dynamics might be at play in our engagement with strange god-forms. As we feed on the magic they embody, so also their presence in the realm of ideas is strengthened as they sup on our attention. While some may be dismayed by such visceral metaphors and what they say about our universe, it was my contention that they can be helpful when worked with consciously.

This vampiric principle, while certainly susceptible to a degree of gothic excess, is also quite helpful in understanding how Chaos Magic (CM) seems to interact with other more ‘traditional’ religious paths. In seeking to describe the type of ragged, punk rock energy often associated with CM, we are presented with a current that has a rather irreverent, shifting and arguably consumerist engagement with the religious traditions they engage with. At best this relationship seems symbiotic, at worst it could be depicted as parasitic and vulnerable to accusations of cultural appropriation.

Culture vulture

Culture vulture

In a recent dialogue with some magical friends, one colleague observed that CM seemed to be like the serpent swallowing its own tail. What my friend was seeking to convey was that while it may have brought new energy to western occultism, without traditional material to engage with it would ultimately prove barren if its relentless deconstruction was eventually turned in on itself.

This question of what constitutes ‘tradition’ and ‘traditional religion’, is fraught with potential confusion and the construction of false dichotomies. If we start with the root concept that traditio (Latin) relates to that which is handed down from a group who have had a shared experience, then we are already faced with questions like ‘how long have they had to be engaged in doing it?’ and, ‘how many of them?’. If folks within pagan communities are pointing towards forms of ‘traditional Wicca’ and ‘traditional’ forms of Crowley’s Gnostic Mass, this illustrates the fairly recent time frames we are working within.

Many of us, in walking more ‘left-field’ spiritual paths, are in search of anchor points via which our self-narrative can feel more secure. Reference to historic precedents for what we are doing often feels appealing as we seek to legitimise the risks we are taking and the spiritual terrain that we are hoping to navigate. The prevalence of this tendency seems to provide some evidence for such myth-making to be a shared human need.

Chaos magicians are no different. Certainly in seeking to understand my own love for this approach, I have sought to locate the historic examples of magical practice that help me (somewhat ironically) to create my own sense of ‘historic’ Chaos magic. Whether it be appeals to the ‘dual-observance’ mash-ups of Cunning men, or Austin Osman Spares’ use of sigils and concept of Kia, I’m undoubtedly keen to find others ‘who did it like I do it.’

Ia! Ia! It's the Kia!

Ia! Ia! It’s the Kia!

What probably separates CM from most other magical paths is the way it seeks to engage with the concept of Truth. While many paganisms and magical philosophies tend to start with a certain mythic theology or religious revelation (e.g. Wicca or Thelema), CM in its Postmodernism is far more focused on the performance and practice of magical ‘doing’ in response to the cultures that it finds itself within. Rather than claiming a revelation of some great ‘truth’, it is openly symbiotic and relational in expressing itself in the terms of something that it is responding to.

For some this may seem shallow, rootless or overly adaptive, but at best I believe that such an approach openly highlights the syncretistic dynamic that is at work within culture anyway. As magicians the interface between ideas presents us with a liminal space, within which new ways of being can be explored.

For many the concept of syncretism has something of a bad name, it speaks of blurred boundaries, conceptual overlap and a dilution of tradition. Personally I believe syncretism is all of these things, and, that it is inevitable. In thinking about an ideology, be it a political or religious one, even those that make claims to being revealed rather than emergent, are reliant on context and the adaptation of or reaction to existing ideas. As I have written about elsewhere – Slow Chaos – it may be that our discomfort with syncretism is more about the pace at which it occurs rather than it happening it all. In contrast to a more organic process whereby two or more differing perspectives interact over time, perhaps our sense of psychic indigestion relates to the rate in which we are bombarded by a plethora of competing worldviews day in, day out.

Perhaps the beginnings of an answer to how the process of syncretism can be both slowed down and directed creatively can be found via the process of hybridisation. In trying to tease apart the possible differences between the process of syncretism and that of hybridisation, one of the primary differences seems to be the degree of consciousness brought to the activity. While syncretism often occurs unconsciously via proximity, hybridisation usually involves the deliberate splicing together of at least two differing perspectives in order to produce a new entity that functions more effectively within the context that it is developed. In reflecting on my own adventures in hybridising Zen sitting practice with Heathenry. I have begun my own process of trying to identify some of the common traits that might be shared by those engaging in conscious hybridisation. Some of my suggestions are as follows:

  1. A sense of vision related to the hybrid being proposed- rather than it being just an amusing ‘mash-up’ the individual or group involved feel that something important is being offered and that there is a sense of aesthetic coherence between the paths involved; for me the combining of Zen and Heathenry related to ideas around personal responsibility and stoicism, as well as my own perception of a more minimalist sensibility.
  2. A desire to engage as thoroughly as possible with the primary source material of whichever traditions or ideologies are being combined.
  3. A high degree of transparency with regards to both the sources being worked with and the process of combination itself.

Probably like any good art, the sacred technician seeking to work with these hybridising processes needs to combine both vision and discipline. Vision ensures that the endeavour itself is fuelled by the uprising of creative energy inspired by the need to contextualize spiritual ideals. Discipline hopefully reduces the likelihood of simply using religious buzz words in order to legitimise personal whim.


12 thoughts on “Pop Magic will eat itself!

  1. That’s a way of looking at it.

    Though I may have a bit of a problem with the way “pop”-anything is presented or “sold” as a “counter-culture” thing, one can not discount the possibility of nuances being introduced (like in how certain knowledge, tools, images, etc. can be further utilized in a practice), and how they can become building blocks towards a new(er) “tradition”. We sometimes wonder if exploring new ways to use the old basics and methods, may also be the inspiration for finding new ways of applying our tools and methods towards other goals. This is something like “repurposing” some of our craft to create newer realities. The human imagination is where newer concepts in magic, and magical practice, begin, often by re-examining some of the “Old Ways” with a newer perspective. Where the “pop” aspect comes in: Is when it is more driven by cultural popularity, rather than a genuine interest in exploring and learning.

    Great article.

    – Rev. Dragon’s Eye

  2. zenelf says:

    Glad you liked it Rev. For me the path is one of conscious symbiosis-I need both the energy of the “Pop” and the rootedness of a more “Slow”, emergent style. It’s always “both/and” rather than “either/or” 🙂

  3. Pete Carroll says:

    If by Pop-Magic we mean the popular magical ideas and practices used at any time by people who choose not to delve too deeply or explicitly into the metaphysics underlying or implied by such ideas and practices, then at present many varieties of pop-magic remain available.
    The metaphysical ideas underlying all traditional forms of pop and academic magic arise basically from shamanic, religious and mystical paradigms.
    In the 1880s a grand synthesis/syncretism arose, largely centred upon Macgregor Mathers and the Golden Dawn. This synthesis attempted to provide a comprehensive and inclusive magical paradigm based on Platonic-Pagan-Monotheism (from which kabala and hermetics derive), plus Astral Light as a sort of quasi-scientific mechanism, but minus the traditional magical practise of Necromancy which got side-lined as spiritualism.
    This new paradigm became as important for the tradition of magic as the shift to the Newtonian paradigm did for science. All contemporary forms of western pop magic can trace their roots back to this synthesis. If you want to enter into the theory and practise of any older form of western magic you will basically have to reconstruct it from books because it no longer exists as a living tradition, and you will probably find yourself using principles from the 1880s synthesis to reconstruct it.
    As Relativity grew out of Newtonianism, so did Chaos Magic eventually evolve out of the grand synthesis of the 1880s. The early chaos magicians did not suddenly switch en masse to a completely new set of ideas and practices, but rather an increasing dissatisfaction with the Platonic-Pagan-Monotheist metaphysic and the Astral Light theory led to the evolution of practices which didn’t rely on them and this in turn led to their replacement with a psychological model for the Paganism and Monotheism, and a quantum-parapsychological model to replace the Platonism and the Astral Light, plus the syncretism grew even more eclectic.
    Upon this new metaphysical basis, a lot of new pop-magic grew.
    Of course with a lot of the traditional beliefs becoming merely optional techniques, and with the range of practical techniques becoming greatly expanded under the psychological model, and with symbolism becoming merely a matter of taste, the new chaos magic ‘tradition’ can sometimes appear incoherent and unstructured and in danger of self-devourment by its own post-modernist meaninglessness.
    Many of those who attempted to use it failed to realise that as it had so few actual beliefs other than a belief in its own efficacy, it would require far more self-belief and far more of an effort of will and imagination to find or create personal meaning within it than within the older paradigms which tended to handout readymade belief systems as esoteric ‘religions’ in possession of mysterious ‘truths’.
    Chaos magic in pop or academic form can appear autophagous, yet its real ‘spiritual’ danger lies in the full on confrontation with radical materialism and deep humanism that it offers.

  4. zenelf says:

    Thanks Pete, this is a nice summary from someone who was at ground zero.
    I suppose that I have to “own” my predilication to the “art” end of Crowley’s “art and science” equation. While I similarly struggle with some of the baggage that comes with much pagan reconstructionism, I am also aware that CM in stripping back to the “what works” components of magical practice, arguably has not been so strong on is understanding the importance that Romantic sensibility plays in allowing soul and mood to permeate the practices in question.
    I like your observation:
    “it would require far more self-belief and far more of an effort of will and imagination to find or create personal meaning within it than within the older paradigms which tended to handout readymade belief systems as esoteric ‘religions’ in possession of mysterious ‘truths’.”

    While I feel that we need to develop deeper relationships with the paradigms that we engage with, I personally have no desire to adopt a faith position that minimises the need for existential bravery.

  5. zenelf says:

    I had a go at wrestling with this “fuzzy”, evocative sense of “tradition” in this blog post:


  6. Really great blog Baphomet you’ve certainly given me much food for thought. I’ve at times experimented with Chaos Magick with differering results. That’s because I believe that all types of Magick works differently for different people depending on their own studies, knowledge and actual practice within their own magical paradigm.
    I’ve found that Magick seems to be successful or not depending on the magical practItioner’s own inbuilt fears, faith, culture, upbringing, knowledge, studies, life experience, belief systems and gnosis at the particular time of their own magical working.
    I still find that for me working with ancient deity’s and elementals far more powerful than with something far more modern or something that I may have just made up at the time.
    I guess for me I think it’s because they (deities) have been part of Carl Jung’s “collective unconsciousness of humanity”for a very long time now. This to me is what makes these ancient deity’s so powerful to work with. Whether it be reconstructionist or in a more modern manner it what works best for me after many years of study and magical practice. I also find that re-enacting ancient rituals at times as accurately as possible can be an incredibly powerful way to really connect and makes most of my Magick really work for me that way.
    Trust me I love all the ideas in Chaos Magick and have read all of the books which are really great. It’s just that it doesn’t seem to really work for me very well. I thought it would and was quite disappointed that it really didn’t very much.
    However I agree with Pete Carroll’s comment that CM is in “real spiritual danger because of radical materialism and humanism” amongst other things.
    I also agree with Zenelf’s comment too that; “I have no desire to adopt a faith position that minimises the need for existential bravery”. It’s not that I don’t like CM. I just know that for me far more is needed not only for my mind but for my soul.
    Also as Pete Carroll mentioned that “necromancy has become sidelined as spiritualism”? I wonder why that is now in modern times now? I’ve actually had other Witches question me as to why I do it and how? It once used to be an essential part of being a Witch.
    However now if you practice necromancy in any of its many forms its seen as kind of taboo. I personally find that strange because one of the things that sets Witches and other magickal people apart from the mundanes is our ability to be able to practice Necromancy. However now nobody seems to teach or speak of it hardly ever anymore.
    I find that really sad especially for newer witch’s. They now have to read and search for it themselves from certain occult books to practice and learn about the seemingly lost Arte of Necromancy. As it seems to no longer be an essential part of a Witch’s training even within a Coven. I used to wonder why this is?
    However after reading Pete Carroll’s comment above I wonder why no longer. I totally agree that pop-magic along with lack of occult study IMHO is why the necromantic arcane Arte has been left behind these days by so many neopagans.
    Again great blog! 😀 I always enjoy your blogs Baphomet but this is the first time I’ve felt compelled to make a comment.
    Blessed Be,
    CazWytch )O(

  7. Thanks for your comments CazWytch. You may find the Chaos Craft material at this blog of interest (as a Witchcraft/CM mashup). We did (and do) use more ‘traditional’ spirits and deities on occasion. I have myself made use of word-for-word ‘classic’ ritual praxis when that seemed like an appropriate course of action.
    On the subject of necromancy, I guess it depends what one means by that term. If it’s about interacting with the Ancestors or other spirits of the dead I know plenty of folks who sometimes find that area of importance for them. I certainly work with Gardnerian witches who do this kind of work, so it’s by no means entirely absent from contemporary witchcrafts. JV

  8. DMS says:

    I sense a Gurdjieffian influence in the idea of a vampiric dynamic with god-forms: “As we feed on the magic they embody, so also their presence in the realm of ideas is strengthened as they sup on our attention.” I am not dismayed, but intrigued by such a visceral metaphor. Gurdjieff called this “reciprocal-feeding” or the “reciprocal-maintenance” of everything existing, or the “Trogoautoegocratic process” in The Tales. The finding and exploration of attention also plays a large role in the work. (I’m guessing that in the scenario of having one’s attention fed upon, what happens to the ‘I’ is union with a god-form?)

    Also, the attempt to formulate a sort of convincing syncretism is the reconciling force of the Law of 3. I suspect what many found valuable in the early CM texts was a boiling down of a vast array of ideas and techniques into more easily digestible chunks, for example by distinguishing between excitatory and inhibitory states of gnosis.

    Considering the Gurdjieffian elements in this blogpost, I thought I’d copy and paste this other blogpost, written from such a perspective about a similar topic, to your site:


    I myself am not decided on the issue. While I agree with the spirit that “It’s always “both/and” rather than “either/or”,” in the sense that in the realm of ideas things need not be mutually exclusive, in a practical/technical sense, one has to decide what they want to get good at given the limited amount of time we are given.

    Thanks for the food for thought.

  9. zenelf says:

    Thanks for your feedback-I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I find much in the 4th Way work that inspires. Here’s the first part in a series that I did on G’s inspiration:

    Personally I don’t run with the idea of spiritual monogamy that the link is alluding to- I think commitment to a school enhances the intensity of focus, but most traditions are ultimately the synthesis of several different currents. So perhaps spiritual polyamory is a better analogy- a number of spiritual loves, but being honest and open about our inspirations!

    • DMS says:

      As someone also “up to their eyeballs” in learning tai chi, I agree. And I find your guidelines for hybridization sound. As time seemingly consumes all, your ideas, to me, are a reminder of just how individual magical/mystical practices are, and like the author whose link I pasted above says elsewhere, ‘spirituality is a life and death struggle.’

  10. the Kite says:

    Steve, after ages trying to put a comment into words I gave up and wrote an essay. Rather than bung it late and unloved into your comments as a barely relevant aside, I put it on the Cradle as a post, if you’re still interested. Kite

  11. zenelf says:

    Thanks Kite-nice blog post/essay-love the inherent existential bravery: “Know Thyself, Create Thyself!”

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