As a latecomer to Chaos Magic in the mid-1990’s, Phil Hine’s Condensed Chaos provided an excellent guide to the Neophyte Steve Dee. Having been spiritually burnt out by my previous struggles with belief and attempts at religious faith, the iconoclastic approach of Chaos Magic articulated in that work felt like an invigorating breath of fresh air.
In this latest collection spanning over 40 years of magical practice and reflection, Phil has brought together not only a rich smorgasbord of his writing that has previously been featured in Zines, collections and his on-line presence, he also intersperses these pieces with illuminating snapshots of magical autobiography and reflections on his inspirations at the time they were written. In addition to Phil’s written work, the book also features evocative linocuts by Maria Strutz at the beginning of each of its major subsections.
He provides us with a vivid recollection of his own beginnings in Magic that reference the impact of Austin Osman Spare, Theosophy and some bold experimentation with the pantheon of HP Lovecraft. Early occult group work came in the form of a rather bumpy experience with a Wiccan Coven, and we also see him giving his playful and non-conformist streak expression via more experimental work with the Discordian Goddess Eris. Things clearly lit-up during his involvement in the vibrant Pagan/magical scene in the North of England during the 1980’s and his involvement with the enigmatic Lincoln Order of Neuromancers provides a Segway into the books first major section containing writing on Chaos Magic.
Even with the passing of time, Phil’s writing from this period still contains both a vibrancy and a relevance. Pieces such as the channelled Erisian Stupid Book and the brutally honest Fracture Lines provide clear insight into the magician both at work and struggling with the emotional realities of being a human being. In Cthulhu Madness he challenges the sanitised safety of our overly psychologised magic and our attempts at control. “Real Magic is Wild” insists Hine and yet he also asks us to use on whole of our beings in balancing magic and mysticism, work and play:
“Chaos Magic is a process of mutation…the deconstruction of Identity from the beleaguered Ego into the legion of Selves requiring only self-love”
In his section on Paganisms, we find Phil in full activist mode using both his writing and group ritual to challenge the hysteria of alleged satanic child abuse and the ecological threat posed by industrialisation. This a Paganism unbolted from the politeness of social conservatism and in his writing for Pagan News we see a clear embodiment of the magician-shaman as social disruptor. In his Must we Love the Golden Bough? I sensed the beginnings of Phil’s role as erudite historian of religion and critic of Western Occultisms lazy reliance on the Universalistic assumptions that reflect an insensitivity to cultural context.
Phil’s section on Practice provides some rich anecdotes and some very down-to-earth principles for magical practice. He provides valuable thoughts regarding the power dynamics present within the student-teacher relationship and how the paradigm of mentorship might provide a less lopsided model. I was especially struck by his piece on Leaving Magical Groups and was aware of the parallels in my own experience of how such departures can have long lasting impacts on friendships, personal psychology and the shape of on-going spiritual work.
Somewhat organically Hine takes us with him on a voyage into his exploration of Tantra. We are treated to tales of his meeting his Guru, involvement with the AMOOKOS tradition and a description of a deeply personal embodied Kundalini experience. Phil openly wrestles with what it might mean to let the complex traditions of South Asia speak for themselves and inform his efforts to create a “hybridised Tantra”. Through a number of nuanced pieces of writing he invites us to become detectives with him in trying to experience the complex layers of meaning of Tantra’s twilight language rather than coarsely pillaging concepts around rebellion, antinomianism and sacred sexuality. However these concepts are present, they need to be able to speak on their own terms.
His sub-section on Sexualities was a personal favourite of mine, as Phil provides a robust challenge to much of the heteronormativity and phallo-centrism that is still present within certain quarters of western occultism. In exploring the fluid and evolving concept of Queer Paganism we encounter Baphomet as an “unfinished” deity who contains “a multiplicity of shifting planes and horizons”. These aren’t merely theoretical constructs but rather profound explorations of when the personal is the political and pieces such Sodomy and Spiritual Fulfilment and Biography of a Kiss provide us with some truly tender insights on how we unfold in becoming more human.
The final two sections of the book are given over to Histories and Fiction and in this juxtaposition we see Hine in both his most incisive and playful modes. In his analysis of the work of Lobsang Rampa and Elizabeth Sharpe’s writing on The Secrets of the Kaula Circle we have Phil in full religious historian mode challenging us to stay sensitive to context and to appreciate the complexity of contributions within the timeline. In Fiction (probably the section that appealed to me least), we see the blurring of the lines between story and history and the weird tales described could quite feasibly be chapters from his own biography.
In his writing on Masters, Mentors, Teachers and Gurus Hine advises us to let go of our fixation in seeking parental authority figures and to “seek friendship instead”. Finding such magical mentors can take time but I feel that Phil has provided us with a warm and authentic version of this albeit in print. This collection provides us with a rare, raw and at times hilarious insight regarding what it might mean to be a magician in the 21st century. While playful and irreverent it also contains a moving story of the search for meaning, the fluid nature of identity and also a desire to find the Goddess in all their multiplicity of forms.
Book Launch of Hine’s Varieties
At Treadwell’s Books, London on 13th February.
Deep Magic Spring Retreat
Last few days to secure your place at the early-bird price. Details HERE