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.
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.’
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:
- 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.
- A desire to engage as thoroughly as possible with the primary source material of whichever traditions or ideologies are being combined.
- 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.