Properly Prepared – Initiations into Freemasonry and Chaos Witchcraft

This week I took my Third Degree initiation and became a Master Mason, which was nice.

As someone who has already gone through Wiccan, OTO, IOT and other initiatory rites I found the Masonic initiation process fascinating and deeply moving. As anyone who has been paying attention to the history of esotericism knows, many key elements of contemporary ‘western’ initiatory ritual (being blindfold and bound, actual or symbolic nakedness, a challenge with a weapon at the threshold of the sacred space) along with much of the specific language (such as ‘The Charge’, the formal presentation of ‘working tools’ and phrases such as ‘So Mote it Be!’) are derived from Freemasonry.

For those of a salacious (or insane) persuasion Freemasonry undoubtedly conjures up fantasies of a baby-eating, one-world governing, lizard brotherhood. The truth is rather less outré. Freemasonry exists primarily as an inclusive (ie multi-denominational) ritual structure at the core of something which is essentially an affinity group based on mutual aid. That’s why there were so many Freemasons (and indeed other organisations such as the Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, the Ancient Order of Druids and the Ancient Order of Foresters) in early modern Britain. These groups provided their members with financial and social support in times of trouble before the creation of welfare state and social security systems. (Which, it’s worth remembering, is a valuable all-inclusive structure: One my ancestors fought for having endured exploitation by the plutocratic class during the times of enclosure and the industrial revolution.)

Woodland regalia

Woodland regalia

The rituals within Freemasonry, whether they are the Three Degrees or the side-degrees (such as The Royal Arch) are typically initiations. This emphasis on initiation is continued by the Masonic-Thelemic mashup of practice provided by the OTO, and indeed this focus on initiation found in some styles of Wicca. (In its most curious manifestation this shades off into, in my view, a bizarre emphasis by some ‘hard Gard‘ practitioners on maintaining an imagined lineage of practice back to Gerald Gardner who, as any fule kno, along with Crowley, made up Wicca in the first place, predominately out of his own head.)

Freemasonic rituals are learnt by heart, and this is key to the practice. In a chaos magic sense the ‘esoteric tech’ being deployed is that of achieving memorisation, while at the same time, keeping the ritual sounding fresh and alive (especially when these words are spoken to the candidate during initiation).

The corpus of Masonic ritual texts is extensive, with much of the material being contained in The Blue Book (which naturally comes in many variations depending on the Lodge, region and nation in question). Unsurprisingly, given the period in history in which this system was developed (the United Grand Lodge in Britain is about to celebrate its 300th year anniversary) the art of memory is central to the system. I’ve met Freemasons who have memorised The Blue Book completely and, when examined, can recall the text, in any order, with >97% accuracy. Now that’s certainly one way to ‘build the temple’ (or pyramid, see below) of practice!

While Freemasonry relies on the cultivation of exact memory my own practice is usually quite different.

Another day, another initiation; This time with me as one of the initiators.

I was approached by a magician from London who asked if he could undergo an initiatory process within the envelope of Chaos Craft. His motivation wasn’t so much to be part of ‘our club’ but rather to use an approach to magic he digs (ie that witchcraft meets experimental magic vibe) as part of his own self-transformative process. Sometimes an initiation isn’t into something, as much as it is about a process; a desire for a ceremonial act that both recognises where we are at, and instigates a new cycle of change and development at an individual level.

Challenging times

Challenging times

Our candidate having completed his preparatory work, bravely made his way from the big city to deepest darkest Devon. That evening we read through the ritual, a variation of the one given in Chaos Craft. Since our candidate had also read the rite (and because we tend to favour an open source approach) we took a little time in my kitchen to run through the ceremonial plan with him present:

“So, we make the space. Do some stuff to open, maybe the chaosphere banishing.”

“What 8.1?”

“Or is it 1.8? Anyhow, yeah, up and down once, then 8 thingies at each direction widdershins”

“Then say some stuff about the wheel of the year and pull in the powers from each direction…”

Our informality was obvious. In our group (in this case me, Nikki Wyrd and Steve Dee) we’ve worked together for so many years we can use a simple short-hand. But as I explained to our guest and candidate:

“Don’t worry, we talk about this like it’s throw away stuff, but we’ll be using some serious focus when we’re in the temple.”

(And we did.)

Star system

Star system

At the end of the Chaos Craft initiation the new initiate is asked to declare an identity for themselves with a (magical) name and (personally chosen) title. In advance of the rite I could see our candidate diligently reading through this section of the text (and generally looking for those places in the order of ceremony where he had to say stuff), so I explained:

“Each piece of text here is a guide to what might be expressed at this point in the ritual. Don’t worry about the exact words. Think of the writing more like place-holders for what we hope will be expressed in each part of the ceremony”.

This free-form approach to ritual is much more common in (for want of better words) ‘shamanic’ styles of work, in contrast with the rote-learning Hermetic-Masonic styles of ceremony. While shamanic style rites may require memorisation (many archaic cultures have great traditions of learning stories, geologies and songs by heart, and the Chaos Craft initiation itself requires the memorisation of a Barbaric Invocation) the emphasis is on what I call ‘saying what needs to be said in the moment’. The words on the page are like guidance notes; serving suggestions for what happens as the ceremony unfolds. In terms of the esoteric tech this is a method-acting, spontaneous approach.

Obviously contrasting these approaches isn’t a value judgement; memorised ritual has it’s place, as does a more improvised style. And a good blend of both approaches is what the successful occultist aims to cultivate. Like Crowley says:”The Magician must build all that he has into his pyramid; and if that pyramid is to touch the stars, how broad must be the base!”

May your pyramid touch the stars!

JV

 

Chaos Craft Reviewed

Reviewed by Charles Barrie

Before reading Chaos Craft, my general perception of contemporary Chaos Magic was as a highly creative and practical, often amusing, yet more or less shallow philosophy; largely lacking a living relationship with the evolving world, biological and spiritual.

Chaos Craft, however, through a collection of essays on life, spiritual practice and ritual craft, conveys a far different sense of the chaos approach to magic. The perspective offered – which is presented as a journey around the wheel of seasons and colours of magic (after Peter Carroll) – is rooted in traditional magic, practice and craft; and is both politically and ecologically aware.

image004

Wheel of Chaos

Key to the inclusiveness of this perspective is the eclectic magical and philosophical pedigree of its two authors, Julian Vayne and Steve Dee. Both are active practitioners and researchers, and have many years of experience in a number of initiatory traditions, including AMOOKOS, the IOT and Wicca. Together with Nikki Wyrd, the pair also run the excellent Blog of Baphomet. Furthermore, Dee, for whom Chaos Craft is his first book, brings the unique approach of being both a working psychotherapist and a former Anglican priest in training.

From this position of research, initiated practice, and hard won experience, Vayne and Dee discuss a wide range of vital magical topics through a broad range of disciplines: witchcraft, Lovecraft’s mythos, shamanism, Buddhist praxis, western mysticism, alchemy, tantra, Gnosticism, pop-magic (love the Nina Simone working), ecstatic practice and psychotherapy (Israel Regardie would be pleased). The content explores, among other things: meditation and mindfulness, cognitive liberty, initiation, ritual practice, group work, applied animism, sexuality, and the family life of a magician.

The essays draw from Blog of Baphomet highlights, with new pieces and contributions from the work of Vayne and Dee’s magical group ‘The Western Watchtower’. They are presented as a revolution around the axis of the neo-pagan Sabbat festivals, each interval of the year viewed through the lens of one of Peter Carroll’s eight colours of magic. I found this musing on how the quality of magic changes as the earth turns the book’s greatest gift, as it encouraged me to find my own magical calendar, lift my head from books and pay attention to the outside world again.

Rather than a listing of techniques and ‘how to’s’ (though it is certainly full of interesting tips), Chaos Craft instead elucidates a living magical worldview; traditional yet totally dynamic, reflective and on the edge of one’s own experience. Through the approach of this ‘mongrel’ (their term) Book of Shadows, the need to integrate one’s spiritual path into daily life is made clear, and the discussion on ‘Slow Chaos’ encourages us to relax into the spheres of the seasons and days and experience life more deeply.

Chaos Craft, through its presentation of the group work of The Western Watchtower and their egalitarian, anarchistic approach to leadership, also reinforces the importance of sangha, community and sharing on the magical path, even as an otherwise lone practitioner. Living a magical life in the modern world involves knowing how to follow your own directive, whilst also being able to interact, navigate, and collaborate with those around you. Further to this, in presenting the magic of Chaos Craft, the Authors feel no need to attack muggles, or overly focus on the distinction between their approach and that of any other, allowing the content a wide relevance.

The responsiveness and creativity of the Chaos Craft perspective on magic gave me a timely prompt to take the next step in my own practice, and begin to freely design rituals that worked for me within the context of the landscape and seasons, and my reactions to them. I view the book as a muse rather than a manual and it strengthened my confidence in the fact that I had the capacity to generate my own ritual, and draw from my experiences a personal symbolic reference palette, a language that I know the spirits hear and understand, due to the deep feeling that it just makes sense.

Crafty chaos star

Crafty chaos star

Chaos craft is a context, a worldview which allows us to be fully present to the world around us, gaze us into the future to manifest our chosen reality, while having the full force of our collective ancestry and the powers of all spheres of existence as our allies. It speaks of the rebirth of a natural magical culture.

Through taking a very personal approach, Vayne and Dee create an intimacy that seems a more apt vehicle for conveying magical knowledge than a dry tome full of tables and charts. Personal secrets are perhaps more valuable, more useful than increasingly abstracted secrets held in tradition.

In contrast to politics and posturing, Chaos Craft brings a sense of service back to magic, which is a key aspect of what inspired me to the path in the first place; service to the unfolding, living, deep Earth.

Demonstrating the living vibrant nature of chaos magic, witchcraft and tantra, the book rests in balance between a traditionalist approach, an honoring of initiation and empowerment and the postmodern chaos understanding of magical technology and the power of paradigms. Bringing a chaos approach to traditional crafts supports an understanding of their underlying tech, allowing for colloquialisms; individual and shared dialects of practice stemming from timeless roots.

The book invites us to create our own magical form, one that is contingent with our traditions (of which it is but the latest iteration), and with the living magical landscape. A form that is thus able to draw power from the deep evolutionary process that has brought it into being. Such living traditions are able to evolve with time, connecting past and future; distinct and independent, yet forming a continuity with the living powers from which they spring.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking to find a more natural approach to magic, and those who are wishing to deepen their understanding of the connection between their practice and the greater cosmos of which they are a vital part.

Chaos Craft is now available on Amazon as well as direct from us.

Charles Barrie has explored his own magical context through a number of Western magic, masonic and yogic traditions. He currently works in conservation, community development and environmental education, and tries to live his magic in daily life through an active relationship with the Pandaemonic All and service to both earth and community. He also plays bass guitar for New Zealand band Bella Cajon, who can be found at www.bellacajon.com

Golden magick

Chaos gold

(Meanwhile more shameless self promotion proudly presents…)

Nikki Wyrd will be leading a workshop entitled Baphomet 101 at The Ecology, Cosmos and Consciousness Salon‘s event Neuro-Magica: Weaving Ecology, Cosmos & Consciousness: A three-day retreat exploring the liminal space bridging science and magic, from Thursday (evening) 8th – Sunday (evening) 11th September. This retreat has sold out! Keep an eye open for future exciting events on the ECC facebook page HERE.

On the 5th of November Julian Vayne will be leading a workshop at Treadwells, London on Altered States of Magic, details HERE and then a few days later on November 8th will be addressing the University of Kent Psychedelic Society on Psychedelics and Magic see Facebook and HERE.