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.

JV

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! 😉

JV