Top Secret Occult Secrets

Dear readers, I have recently been enjoying Yvonne Aburrow’s excellent All Acts of Love & Pleasure: Inclusive Wicca published by Avalonia Press. What I have really enjoyed is Yvonne’s thoughtful and inspiring reflection on how a contemporary Pagan path (in this case Wicca) can evolve and become more conscious regarding issues around inclusivity and power. For our magic to be real, it needs to impact directly on issues regarding justice, freedom and seeking political change within society. To meet with the Gods means not only to access archetypal forces from times past, it can also ask that we engage with the on-going impulse of cultural transformation that fed into the Neo-Pagan revival.

Let Hir worship be within the heart that rejoiceth

Let Hir worship be within the heart that rejoiceth

Inspired by Julian’s recent musings on Priesthood, I’ve got to thinking about the exoteric dimensions of our occult or esoteric paths. As magicians it can be easy to get lost within the labyrinthine halls of our spooky clubs. In seeking to plumb the depths of mystery and our own process of psychological change we can be endlessly inventive in developing techniques and elaborate symbol systems. While folks may find value in roaming the paths of the Qliphoth or in liaising with denizens of the Nightside, it seems fair that at some point we should ask “and what difference does that actually make?”

Personally I think that the socio-political implications of our paganisms will be as diverse and complex as the religions themselves. It may well be that the libertarianism of a Setian and the eco-collectivism of a druid are equally valid ethical stances generated by their personal philosophies. To me what feels critical is that our claims to personal development or magical advancement need to birth something that contributes to the betterment of humanity.

This is not to suggest that we all need to be reduced to blanket prescriptions as to the focus and shape that our activism should take. The manifestation of our spiritual passion into the realm of Midgard can take many forms. Whether via writing, music, marching, advocacy or innovative financial investment, the forms of our engagement are rightly tailored to our personal preferences and drives.

In Yvonne’s book, we are given a really helpful overview of Wicca’s historical development and the wide variety of theological positions that initiates into that tradition might hold e.g. forms of monism, duotheism, polytheism and animism. These are rarely neatly delineated positions and there are often huge overlap and apparent inconsistency as people seek to live the reality of how they engage with their experience of the Gods.

As with all good books, Yvonne’s work triggered my own reflections as to how my own take on Pagan Theology might help shape my own attempts to evolve a deeper sense of engagement. This list is by no means definitive and each deserves a blog post of its own:

  1. Multiplicity: Even if one’s Paganism takes a decidedly scientific and monistic form, there is usually an engagement with the concept of Polytheism at a mythic/psychological level. The idea that we should understand the divine as a series of differing beings (or principles) that have an interaction or relationship with each other is appealing for many of us. While Polytheism can take many theological forms, what it does seem to entail is a move towards acknowledging the multiple, the complex and the relational nature of how we experience life and contemplate the numinous-what we might call “Pantheonic” consciousness.

In our devotional work we may well chose to focus our energies towards a specific deity within a given pantheon e.g. the God of consciousness, the female destroyer, the Son of new endeavours etc. but we remain conscious of the whole. Similarly in our activism we may focus on a given issue (Indeed we have only such much time and energy) but seek to resist becoming overly narrow in perspective.

In reflecting on this emphasis on theological interconnection, I couldn’t help but think about the general increase in awareness of intersectionality with regards both identity and social issues- issues rarely (if ever) stand in isolation, rather the parts effect the whole in a way that demonstrates the subtle ecology of any given situation. Such awareness helps us more fully appreciate both the weight of multiple struggles and also the positive impact that change in one sphere can have in creating larger scale change.

  1. Localised discourse: In my practice, much attention is given to location and what might loosely be called “the spirit of place”. As much as my being a magician is located somewhere my head and heart, it only really becomes activated within the context of “what’s out there”. I can only really focus and shape magical attention when I am in the place of doing it.

In many ways my activism (i.e. living my life in relationship with self and others) is profoundly shaped by the place I find myself in. Yes I am increasingly connected globally and engaged in struggling to evolve macro scale principles, but “small is beautiful” still has meaning. Yes I may contribute by signing numerous on-line petitions, but what am I willing to do within my immediate communities. How can I use a form of “social animism” to tune-in to how reflection and change might occur at a grass-roots level?

  1. Importance of human drives: In her book Yvonne helpfully seeks to examine ideas of what holiness, piety and sacredness might mean for the modern pagan. In contrasting an integrative Wiccan perspective with potentially more dualistic paths, we can begin to evolve ethical and spiritual positions that have sensuality at their core.

While issues such as sexual liberty and artistic expression may be seen as somewhat periphery when confronted by issues such as poverty, war and terrorism, it is my view that they are often at the very heart of why these conflicts take place. The drives to experience pleasure and to express creativity are central to humanities’ attempt to find meaning in life. Many conflicts and the resulting social inequalities seem to result from trying to overly police these passions via either religious or political means. In seeking such constraint and potential suppression, it is sadly all too common that that those threatened by their own humanity then project onto an “Other” who becomes demonised in the process. For our spiritual paths to take seriously the pursuit of sacredness in its fullest sense, it must call us back to the sensual and provide a challenge to thin-lipped piety.

While there are always dangers inherent in the process of seeking to evolve forms of religion that are more inclusive and liberal (consumerism and over-simplicity spring to mind!), they do offer the possibility of informing any process of social change. Yvonne’s book provides us with an excellent example of how religions can evolve. These are processes that rejoice in the way in which our ever inventive humanity interacts with the divine. To be open about this unfolding does not rob our religions of power, rather they ask us to seek and use power consciously.


The Typology of Magic

I was at a museum private view recently when a colleague from a partner organisation told me that she’s been looking me up on-line. ‘I didn’t realise you were a chaos magician,’ she remarked, and then ‘is it quite dark?’

I’m pretty lucky in that I’m out (as a Pagan and occultist) at work and am employed within a sector in which religious or philopshical beliefs (that don’t conflict with our policies about equality of opportunity, anti-racism, an LGBT-postive agenda and so on) shouldn’t be a problem. In fact in an area such as Northern Devon (where over 95% of the population identify as ‘white British’ of which the vast majority describe themselves as ‘Christian’) my own beliefs perhaps add somewhat to creating a more diverse culture.

In my brief explaination of chaos magic (CM) to my colleague I touched on ideas such as fractals and chaos mathematics (self similarity at different scales and the analogous observation that different spiritual traditions exhibit similar techniques of praxis even where their exoteric credo may appear very different). I mentioned the idea of Khaos in the ancient Greek sense of the term; the unknowable void from which arise the many formed manifestations of the universe.

Santa Maria Chaos

Santa Maria Chaos

CM can also be described in terms of its historical development, a particular approach of style of spiritual endeavour. One that developed from a confluence of late 20th century ideas; ceremonal magic, neo-paganism, Discordianism and more. As a style it was influenced by the punk, do-it-yourself approach; an intensely personal quest to discover magic for ourselves rather than having it filtered through the theology of Thelema or Wicca or whatever.

The use of the term ‘chaos’ does (in its modern sense) suggest, as my colleague had surmised, a certain darkness. But what in practice does this mean? One way of understanding this might be to consider CM as having a particular flavour, a style in the sense that there are styles of clothing, of music or martial arts.

As humans there are different trends that appeal more or less to each of us at certain points in our lives. As a younger man I experimented with dressing in punk, chapish, goth and other styles of clothing (and these days I’ve added museum professional, Freemason and crossdresser to the list). So while chaos magicians (in terms of their practice) might draw on different paradigms or expressions of spirituality (or other methods of esoteric investigation) there is, never the less, a certain style or flavour to something we designate as ‘chaos’ magic.

Of course humans being humans it’s pretty common to find some people (mostly those who are rather new to occultism in my experience) asserting the primacy of their own preferred style ‘CM is just superficial punkery’ or ‘Wicca is just fluffy faggotry’ or ‘Thelema is only for Crowley fan-boys’ etc etc. Yet more experienced practitioners tend to realise that while there are differences in forms of occultism these are outweighed by their similarities. Even apparently über-radical-traditionalist styles of magic (such as the rites described by groups such as the Order of Nine Angles or various forms of Traditional Witchcraft), when one drills down into the guts of the practice, one finds methods for changing consciousness, magic circles, spooky barbarous words and songs etc etc. As they say in the Orient: Same same but different.

Another way of thinking about the relationship between esoteric styles is that of music. Music comes in different genres. It typically consists of sounds (and the absence of sounds) placed into relationships and while it may be challenging to specify exactly what music is we can all recognise the various forms in which it appears (ie what it does).

All those are just labels we know that music is music

All those are just labels we know that music is music

As a former graphic designer one of my favourite ways to consider the relationship of different magicultures is as styles of lettering. A chosen font tells us something about the aspirations and sense of self of any given tradition. It also tells us how that tradition (especially in these days of self-publishing) would like to present iteself to the world. Thus the word ‘chaos’ in the example below is a bit alien/futurist/goth – this is a youthful font, wild and certainly ‘dark’. Then we have ‘Druid’; folkish and friendly. ‘Shaman’ is strong, ‘ethnic’, perhaps carved, delighing in the simplicity of only upper case. ‘Thelema’ is classic, authoritative; perfect for a religion with a sacred book and reams of texts catalogued into classes A, B, C etc. ‘Witch’ suggests a wildness (the letters don’t sit evenly on the line), perhaps a slightly retro feel with those serifs, and a human-scale sense that this writing may have been produced by hand.

Many faced magic

Many faced magic

Taking this method of analysis a little deeper we can focus our attention on just one sector of occulture and see how fonts reflect the various flavours which that style contains.

Mysterious writes

Mysterious writes

The first font (and yes it is actually called ‘Wiccan’) again suggests something very much at the human-scale, hand Crafted and simple (and the moon like ‘C’s may subtly allude to the the nocturnal aspect of witchcraft). The next reversed out text is more authoritative but maintains an olde worlde feel (the ‘W’ and ligature of the ‘f’ and ‘t’ put one in mind of early modern type). The more elaborate grey text on black goes for that spooky vibe. Based on an imagined late medieval Gothic illuminated lettering, this text has an additional sprinkling of fairy-dust scroll work. The lines ‘The quick brown fox’ is the kind of font one finds in the seminal book Witches by Erica Jong (illustrated by Joseph A. Smith) and similar texts. Again human-scale, romantic and with a suggestion of days of yore. Meanwhile the red lettering reprises the above observations, providing a font that is old skool, hand-written and gothy. By taking examples of fonts like this we can discern the things that appeal to people who like witchcraft.

Take a browse round the library, the bookshop or on-line and one can easily see how the fonts we choose reflect our identity and the spells we hope to cast (through writing) on the world.

So when people ask me ‘what is chaos magic?’, especially if they know something about occulture, the letter style analogy is one I often use. What we are all doing, in our different ways is ‘magic’, the wrapper we choose for our practice, like the selection of typefaces, is about the style we find most evocative and inspirational (at any given time) as we make our journey into the Mystery.


Adapting our Religions and our Pacts

I was told an amusing and instructive story recently by my Brother. He was relating an experience of a Mexican shaman we know who had been leading a ceremony in Miami. In the style of ceremony being performed it is conventional, after a person has finished speaking, to say ‘Aho‘. This is a contraction of the Lakota phrase ‘Aho Mitakuye Oyasin‘ which translates approximately as ‘I understand this [the prayer/offering/song etc] is for all my relations [ie all the beings of the universe], so be it! These ceremonies are typically very heart-felt, devotional and thanks-giving styled affairs, and so the presiding shaman felt he needed to find out what was going on with the Japanese guy in the circle. You see every time someone said ‘aho’, even if this was at the end of a powerful and emotional prayer, the Japanese man would giggle uncontrollably. The reason my shaman chum discovered was a simple trick of language. ‘Aho’ in Japanese means ‘stupid’ and that was the joke. Every time someone said something poignant or passionate they would finish by saying ‘stupid’! (And be echoed by all the rest of the circle.) Moreover when I checked this out the Japanese ‘aho’ (あほ), actually one of several possible ways of saying ‘stupid’; means something (as I understand it) less like ‘silly’ and more like ‘retard’!

This is just one of many examples we can find where particular religious customs don’t travel very well in our global culture. Another might be the fact that in British cities with high levels of immigration from the Middle East and North Africa traditional religious dress may be responsible for health problems. Long sleeves, robes and even veils mean that people (presumably especially women) don’t get sufficient exposure to the sun, and this means a lack of vitamin D. Various regional authorities have issued health guidance and, where necessary, vitamin supplements to address this problem.

alchemical sun-substance

alchemical sun-substance

Texts from religions which had their genesis in the arid regions of the world are of course full of prohibitions and practices which worked perfectly well there (and then) but make no sense, or are even actively dangerous, in other latitudes (and times). Not eating pork, keeping milk and meat separated when preparing food – these and other traditions made sense thousands of years ago, in the days before refrigeration, canning and many other inventions. But not when these behaviours are transplanted to places where rain and mould are more in evidence than blazing sun.

When we speak of tradition we’re always talking about something that imagines it’s conservative but, when considered over time and geography, is actually something highly diverse and adaptable. No matter how much literalist fanatics (and fantasists – since, as I said ‘traditional’ change is inevitable) claim that one must stick to some imagined letter of the law (be that law of Moses, Muhammad or even perhaps the Master Therion), praxis will and must adapt (or die).

Maybe the only issue (of the fitness of the belief ‘meme’) is whether that religious impulse – whatever inspired it and holds it as valuable in the mind of believers today – has the skills to adapt. The same may be said for beliefs such as Wicca or chaos magic. These traditions (which inevitably claim to be distinct and special – chaos magic for example claiming that it is not a belief but a ‘meta-paradigm’ and therefore super cool, and different, when compared to anything else…) inevitably have their roots in a specific time and place (in both cases cited – the 20th century British Isles). However these esoteric beliefs too must, perforce, adapt and change if they have, and are to have, any longevity and meaning.

In the case of Wicca this may mean the change from the apostolic succession of Gardnerian/Alexandrian lines and the absorption of a healthy dose of the earth-centred approach and pragmatic spell-craft of ‘Traditonal’ witchcraft and shamanism. In the case of chaos magic this may mean that new ‘Pacts’ (in the sense of ‘gentleman’s agreements’ to politeness and mutually beneficial working relationships) may be formed. (And of course ‘pacts’ are binding, like ‘religio‘ that binds us into our shared beliefs). While I have no doubt that Orders such as the IOT will remain useful networks for (primarily) in person group collaboration, other pacts (the full name of the IOT is actually ‘The Magical Pact of the Illuminates of Thanateros‘) are being created (especially where face-to-face interaction may not be possible or desired). A great example of this is within on-line communities such as the wonderful Chaos Magick Group (CMG) in Facebook.

The morphing banner of chaos

The morphing banner of chaos

In the (embrassingly recent) past I’d opined that I hadn’t seen much collaborative action emerging from such virtual groups. Sure there had been alliances within those spaces (including for shared ‘results’ workings) but nothing (that I’d seen) emerging beyond those groups to enrich wider occulture. However this is changing (or perhaps I’m finally noticing what’s happening and getting with the program…).

A recent collaboration within CMG has produce not one but two excellent albums of music (ranging from beautiful songs, through to ritual soundscapes). You can check these out HERE and HERE. There’s also a fabulous tarot deck which, through the power of the mighty Admins (in a manner reminiscent of herding numerous punk majix Nyan cats…), has been collectively produced by tens of artist/chaos magicians. This deck will be available for purchase soon, and details related to it, plus a sneak preview of a few cards, may be found HERE.

I’ve also been deeply impressed by the collective intelligence demonstrated in CMG and a number of other on-line chaos magic(k) pacts. CMG, for example generally maintains a wonderful level of ribald humour, deep respect for diversity, but also the strength of collective character to be able (even in such a liberal space) to eject people who are currently unable or unwilling to not be arse-holes when communicating with their peers. I’ve seen people (certainly including myself) learn in those this virtual space. Plan, plot and execute cooperative actions, have fun, argue (respectfully), fall in love and even find Illumination (as well as posting some hilarious cat/rabbit/boat/other memes…).

Let’s celebrate rather than bemoan these adaptations, of our religions, our beliefs, our practices, and our pacts as magicians. Let’s notice where we are, in different language communities, different lands on the earth and locations in cyberspace, and let these environments inform what we do. May these new forms of faith, and the pacts we make to explore them, flourish in all their exciting diversity!

Aho! 😉