Chaos magic is a relatively new form of ceremonial magic, generally involving paradigm shifting and empty-handed rituals.
Following the death of Aleister Crowley, magic as practiced by the still somewhat sparse occult subculture in Britain tended to become more experimentalist, personal and a lot less bound to the magical traditions of established magical orders. Main reasons for this might include the public availability of previously secret information on magic (especially in the published works of Crowley and Israel Regardie), the radically unorthodox magic of Austin Osman Spare's Zos Kia Cultus, the influence of Discordianism, the increasing popularity of magic caused by the success of the Wiccan faith and the use of psychedelic drugs.
The term chaos magic first appeared in print in the widely influential Liber Null by Peter Carroll, first published in 1978. In it, Carroll formulated several concepts on magic that were radically different from what was considered magical mysteries in the days of Crowley. This book, along with Psychonaut by the same author, remain important sourcebooks. Magicians who align themselves with these ideas call themselves Chaotes, Chaoists or sometimes Chaosites.
Carroll also co-founded the Magical Pact of the Illuminates of Thanateros, or in short form Illuminates of Thanateros or IOT, a magical (dis-)order that continues study and development of chaos magic to the present day. Most authors and otherwise well-known practitioners of chaos magic mention affiliation with it. However, chaos magic in general is, unsurprisingly, among the least organized branches of magic.
Magical paradigm shifting
Perhaps the most striking feat of chaos magic is the concept of the magical paradigm shift. Borrowing a term from philosopher Thomas Kuhn, Carroll made the technique of arbitrarily changing one's model (or paradigm) of magic a major concept of chaos magic. It has since found its way into the magical work of practitioners of many other magical traditions, but chaos magic remains the field where it is most developed.
The Gnostic state
Another major concept introduced by Carroll is the gnostic state, also referred to as gnosis. This is defined as a special state of consciousness that in his magic theory is what is necessary for working (most forms of) magic. This is a departure from older concepts that described energies, spirits or symbolic acts as the source of magical powers. The concept has an ancestor in the buddhist concept of Samadhi, made popular in western occultism by Aleister Crowley and further explored by Austin Osman Spare.
The gnostic state is when a person's mind is focused on only one point, thought, or goal and all other thoughts are thrust out. Users of chaos magic each develop their own ways of reaching this state. Some of the most prominent techniques are prolonged meditation, the use of mind-altering drugs, self-inflicted pain and orgasm. One theory is that a simple thought or direction experienced during the gnostic state and then forgotten quickly afterwards is sent to the subconscious rather than the conscious mind where it can be enacted through means unknown to the conscious mind.
Practitioners of chaos magic attempt to be outside of all categories - for them, worldviews, theories, beliefs, opinions, habits and even personalities are tools that may be chosen arbitrarily in order to understand or manipulate the world they see and create around themselves. Chaos magicians (a term sometimes called an oxymoron because it is a category for undefinable things) are frequently described as funny, extreme or very individualistic people. They also may see themselves as exceptionally tolerant people, remarking that whatever one might disagree over is merely an opinion, and hence interchangeable, anyway.
Notable individuals involved with the chaos current include:
While chaos magic has lost some of the popularity it had in the UK during the 1980s, it is still active and influential. Its ideas can be found to leak into modern shamanism in particular, and are common in occult Internet forums. Proponents assert that the growing individuality of occultism in informal, often Internet-based surroundings is a direct result of the success of chaos magic, while critics argue this informal occultism often lacks a well-developed understanding of gnosis and paradigm shifting and is therefore not rightfully called chaos magic.
In pop culture
Chaos magic has had name checks in such places as Marvel Comics and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However, the practices mentioned there have no basis in reality. However, real-life chaote Grant Morrison has afforded chaos magic a more accurate portrayal in his comic book epic The Invisibles. Perhaps through fictional representation the Chaos Current will one day enter into mainstream consciousness and gain popularity as Wicca has already done.
Last updated: 05-22-2005 15:16:34