A Critical Application of the Philosophy of Gilles Deleuze on Modern Occult Practice, with Specific Reference to Chaos Magic.
In order to experiment with and understand the flux of reality the magical practitioner, whom I shall refer to as the sorcerer, utilizes various practices. This essay will focus upon the ways in which the empiricist and vitalist interpretations of the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze apply to the conceptual basis of these practices, how and why they benefit from this re‐evaluation and the problems that arise from this.
I will argue that thanks to these interpretations we can find counter arguments to the claim that phenomena are independent. This then allows for the theory that sympathetic magic can be understood without having to refer to simple causal relationships. Instead the practice relies on creative acts in lieu of a fixed body of Truths. The sorcerer is therefore involved in a liberated process rather than the fixing of identities.
Central to this view is Deleuze’s particular idea of empiricist philosophy, which has two main elements. The first is his rejection of transcendence, and the second is the idea of empiricism as active and as primarily creative. Philosophy is creative in this sense in terms of the creation of concepts: ‘Empiricism is by no means a reaction against concepts…On the contrary, it undertakes the most insane creation of concepts ever seen or heard.’ (Deleuze, 2004 xix)
In the Ethics Benedict de Spinoza combines the two elements of this empiricism within a single movement, one that rejects transcendence with the thesis of a single substance within which all beings are modal expressions. For Deleuze this single substance is what he terms a ‘plane of immanence’, within which all that exists is situated (Deleuze, 1988 p.122). Beings, or modes, are defined by how they relate to each other, kinetically and dynamically. ‘A body can be anything’ (Deleuze, 1988 p.127), such entities are characterized in terms of ‘relations of motion…speeds and slownesses’ of the particles that compose them. This, and their power to affect and be affected by other entities, defines the threshold of their individuality (Deleuze, 1988 p.123, 125).
Through his reading of Spinoza, Deleuze wants to move us beyond thinking of isolated individuals with innate qualities that define their being (SPP p. 123‐124), toward an understanding of entities in constant flux through the creative play of interacting intensities bifrucating them as they become problematised through relation to one another (Deleuze, 2004 p.307).
Deleuze views individuality as an individuating process rather than a stable ontological unit. He conceives entities as complex networks of relations, therefore they are not to be thought of in isolation, but as developing in pre‐individual fields that exceed them and of which they are singular resolutions (Deleuze, 2004 p.307‐308). The path an individuation takes depends not only on the entity, but on the relations it has with the world around it. Thus, entities that appear to be be of similar constitution can be individuated in radically different ways depending on the problematic field to which they belong and relate (ibid).
Paralell to this philosophical emphasis on individuality, the basis of magical practice is an individuating sympathy. The detail of this practice is the princple of the connection of phenoema through Homeopathy, assosiation by similarity, ‘things which resemble each other are the same’, and Contagion, assosiation by contiguity, ‘things that have once been in contact with each other are always in contact’ (Frazer, 1960 p.15). In practice all facets must be creatively combined, to form firmer connections (ibid).
Traditionally a ‘mysterious’ non‐causal force that transcends the material, such as ‘Spirit’ (Vitebsky, 2001 p.12), ‘Goddess and God’ (De Angeles, 2004 p.53) or ‘Aether’ (Carroll, 1987 p.29), is thought to provide this connection between phenomena, with the sorcerer working through it via concepts such as ‘self‐love’ (Spare, 2002) or ‘will’ (Carroll, 1987 p.153, Crowley, 1973 p.xii).
However, if we return to Deleuze’s work on Spinoza and his study in Difference and Repetition of shifting networks of virtual intensity, where connections are already establishing continuously, an agent of transcendence is not required. Further, if we are no longer thinking of individuals freely acting upon the world, and instead of individuating process acting upon and being acted upon by sets of relations, it is through these that the sorcerer may divine, enchant, evoke and invoke1.
It is the connection between phenomena that is vital in such magical endevour, and it is such connection that Deleuze puts forward. Through similarity of intensity forming connection we find the homeopathic element, such contact also provides that required for contiguity, forming a strong degree of sympathy between phemonmena through preindividual fields, virtual potentials that exist in the actual (Deleuze, 2004 p.307‐308).
Through such connections we can say that when Matt Lee describes a woman ‘becoming‐bear’ (Lee, 2002), for Deleuze she would not be imitating or identifying with an 8 archytype or universal bear, ‘becoming is never imitating’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987 p.239). She would be invoking the affects she has in common with ‘all‐things‐bear’, individuating through the virtual intensities she shares with this idea (Deleuze, 1988 p.124), and through it becoming a creative and entirely singular expression.
However, it seems that these critical points against sorcery (and science in general with reference to causality) raise questions: how do we know Deleuze’s description of reality in terms of virtual/actual individuating processes is tenable? What is wrong with causal explanations? Or causal explanations allied to ones in terms of free will?
The answer to these questions about method and causality lie in Deleuze’s critique of abstract universals. Here we find that Deleuze is more radical than certain forms of magical practice.
Wiccan doctrine, amongst others, is in the habit of referring to universals as the conceptual basis for practice. For example it speaks of ‘that essential polarity which pervades and activates the whole universe’ (Farrar and Farrar, 1996 p.49) conceptually dividing reality so that one thing is only known with reference to another. Men and women are seen as ‘expressions of the God and Goddess aspects of the Ultimate Source’ (ibid), polarised abstractions that refer to conceptual ‘Truth’ that defines their identity.
For Deleuze, such abstract universals are misleading and dangerous, because ‘form will never inspire anything but conformities’ (Deleuze, 2004 p.170). Abstract universals are forms as they are essencial unchanging models, ‘true’ and ‘pure’, that we supposedly ‘discover’ through thought. But for Deleuze these ‘images of thought’ merely rediscover already established values, thus the conventions of the past become imposed upon the present (Deleuze, 2004 p.170‐172).
Through his exploration of presuposed postulates that provide the background for philosophical systems, Deleuze questions this notion of thoughts relation to truth. He then goes on to criticise identity when it is based upon this (Deleuze, 2004 p.207). For him truth is a relative, changeable consensus of opinion among a group (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994 p.146), such certainties, and even doubts, lack the ‘violence’ required to ‘force us to think’ (ibid).
For Deleuze, concepts ‘only ever designate possibilities’ (Deleuze, 2004 p.175). Thought is an encounter, a creative act, provoking us to create in order to cope (Deleuze, 2004 p.175‐176). As such concepts act and are affective, rather than simply conveying ideas. They are intensive, expressing the virtual existence of an event in thought; ‘as Nietzsche succeeded in making us understand, thought is creation, not will to truth’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994 p.54). Truth must be seen as a matter of value to be considered, as part of regimes of force, rather than viewed as an innate disposition (Deleuze, 1983 p.110).
Truth alters what we think is possible, according to Deleuze. Once we put aside the supposition that thought naturally recognises truth we attain a ‘thought without image’ (Deleuze, 2004 p.207‐208). This also applies to identities, which become determined by problems instead of finding their solution. We must ‘learn to forget our attachments to any particular self and body’ (Williams, 2003 p.10) through experimentation. This lack of defined individual identity is liberation.
Such creative participation is the hallmark of Chaos Magic, which claims that it requires only ‘the acceptance of a single belief to make someone a magician…the metabelief that belief is a tool for creating effects.’ (Carroll, 1992 p.77) To a Chaoist ‘nothing is true’ because concepts are merely instruments lived for effect, and as such ‘everything is permitted’ (Carroll, 1987 p.59).
Contrary to Wicca, and similar practices with intricate and highly regimented otherworld cosmologies and metaphysical theories alluding to dogmatic Truth, Chaos Magic is distinguished by its ‘cavalier’ approach to metaphysics and ‘puritanical devotion to empirical techniques’ (Carroll, 1992 p.191‐192). It is not a question of ‘what is true?’ for a Chaoist; it is a question of ‘which concept will be most effective?’ It is not a question of ‘who am I?’ but a question of ‘which “I” to become?’
But is this merely offering a relativist account of truth? Not in the simplistic sense of any one point of view being as valid as another. For Deleuze ‘relativism is not the relativity of truth but the truth of relation’ (Bova and Latour, 2006), it is an openness to shifts in perspective, the establishment of relations between frames of reference without any one fixed perception.
For Deleuze, any real experience is an experience of variations, as opposed to an experience of identity; it is of the world of virtual variations that lie beneath any illusory dentity (Deleuze, 2004 p.347). The plane of immanence is always there, but always in flux, under construction through concepts that are always creative rather than ‘true’ (Deleuze, 2004 p.175‐176).
This is the vital spark of Deleuze’s philosophy, a univocal ontology, unified becoming that proposes life that has nothing ‘beyond’ it, has no ‘duality’ and contains within itself its own means of development through process, through the repetition of difference (Deleuze, 2004 p.48‐49). Through this, life and thought are activities, always transforming and being transformed, always thresholds connecting to one another.
The ‘individual’ within this is ‘a thing where thought takes place’, and this need not be ‘the conscious thought of a human being’ in such a ‘series of processes that connect actual things, thoughts and sensations to the pure intensities and ideas implied by them’ (Williams, 2003 p.6). Not human‐centric and so connecting being fully with reality, it is through these we may experience a becoming‐bear, a becoming‐tree, a becoming‐stone. The difference between human beings and all else is pushed aside by Deleuze’s conception of thought as independent of consciousness (Deleuze, 2004 p.175‐176).
To attempt to stay the same, to hold on to a fixed idea of the self or a view of the world as static is a mistake. A change of perspective will show us that something that appears fixed is changing (Deleuze, 2004 p.271). Identity is always an illusion, a perspective. Through individuating processes there can be no distinct individuals, we are always becoming (Deleuze, 2004 p.307‐308, 320)
It is claimed that the archetypes of Wicca can never be destroyed, that they are as much a part of us as ‘bones or nerves’ (Farrar and Farrar, 1996 p.16). But to see, for example, all women as essentially expressions of the ‘Great Mother’ and men as unable to identify with this (Farrar and Farrar, 1996 p.18) is limiting to men and women.
From a Deleuzian perspective the concept of the ‘Great Mother’ changes with each application of it; any invocation of the ‘Great Mother’ should be a creative and singular xpression of a being, through which both are changed. A male experience of the ‘Great Mother’ would be no less singular on that account.
For Chaoists, as for Deleuze, this idea of a ‘true self’, through an archetype, through biology, through any claimed foundation, must be fully criticised to weaken its hold so it cannot place a limit on what a being can do (Carroll, 1987 p.45‐48)2. It is not enough to simply recognise our identifications and influences, or to attempt to abandon them, as we are ever part of processes involving them. We must expose them as utterly changeable through experimentation (ibid). It is only through this that the sorcerer is able to strive for ‘the meta‐identity of being able to be anything’ (Carroll, 1992 p.77).
Through his focus upon developing concepts of immanence and difference to put forward a univocal ontology, does Deleuze present us with a post‐structuralist theoretical anti‐humanism? Yes, it is an anti‐humanism, however, for Deleuze the human subject is not central or privileged in such networks of forces (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994 p.54). From this point of view the concept of an essential ‘human condition’ seems just as limiting as the concept of the ‘Great Mother’. Such forms are counter‐productive, imprisoning our creative process in an attempt to conform to fixed identities (Deleuze, 2004 p.170‐172).
Deleuze refers to an entity that is not defined by identity, but by process. This entity is referred to as an ‘embryonic subject’, a ‘nomadic subject’ and ultimately, in A Thousand Plateaus, ‘becoming’ (Due, 2007 p.10). This ‘nomad’ is inseparable from ‘territory’, from relations with the world around it, as in an individuating process. These networks of forces are subject to constant ‘deterritorialization’ and ‘reterritorialization’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987 p.381), or conceptual experimentation, invading ‘the individual psyche causing it to be directed in multiple directions’ (Green, 2001) which Deleuze and Guattari refer to as ‘lines of flight’. The figure of the sorcerer is approached as a ‘memory’ or conceptual personae, embodying the threshold of these experiences.
The sorcerer is ‘neither an individual nor a species; it has only affects; it has neither familiar or subjectified feelings, nor specific or significant characteristics’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987 p.244). The sorcerer personifies the pre‐individual in this context, multiple in the virtual possibilities it holds, anomalous and imperceptible through being without internalised identity, instead swarming with potential, aware of the potential, ‘nomadic’ in divining and directing it rather than being directed. ‘The ability to access this mode of multiplicity is what is meant by sorcery’ (Lee, 2002).
For Chaoists the very foundation of their practice is the awareness that with each passing ‘moment the consortium of “I” puts forward a new face. I am not who I was seconds ago, much less yesterday. Our name is multiple’ (Carroll, 1987 p.59). For both Deleuze and Chaoists the sorcerer has no centre; it is a transient assemblage of parts, adhering to as few fixed principles as possible (Carroll, 1992 p.59, 1987 p.48). ‘A human being, in its most active essence, alien and anomalous even to itself, is therefore most purely expressed in the sorcerer, the only successful madman’ (Kerslake, 2007b p.169). As even if ‘at the level of pathos…multiplicities are expressed by…schizophrenia. At the level of pragmatics, they are utilised by sorcery.’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987 p. 506)
Through this ‘sacrifice’ of ‘truth for freedom at every opportunity’ (Carroll, 1992 p.79) the Chaoist aims to not be limited by fixed concepts or identity, and it is precisely such liberation to which Deleuze would direct us. Chaoists see it as a mistake to view any one way of being as more liberated than another, for them the possibility of change is what is paramount. Liberating behaviour is ultimately that which aims to increase future possibility for action, not only for the Chaoist but also for all those with which they are interacting (Carroll, 1987 p.45).
For Deleuze the sorcerer is an experimental and destabilising figure; occult forces are focussed upon as promoting action, growth and liberation (Kerslake, 2007a)3. Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘schizophrenia…is about breakthrough and freedom rather than breakdown and despair’ (Green, 2001). This changes the role of philosophers to a creative one, rather than one of rediscovery, as Deleuze shifts the emphasis of philosophy from being to action. Thus sorcerers experiment with ideas in practice in order to promote further experimentation and growth.
Deleuze does not provide the sorcerer with a set of instructions, rather a philosophical basis for practical experimentation. Any system pertaining to ‘truth’ or stability would ultimately atrophy magical practice, by discouraging such experimentation. Therefore magical practice benefits more from drawing upon a philosophy that rejects images of thought, rather than any school of thought that claims access to objective knowledge and ‘truth’, though this remains useful in defining that which undergoes experimental scrutiny (Williams, 2003 p.194).
Through the empiricist and vitalist interpretations of his philosophy, Deleuze ‘offer[s] a model of matter that no longer needs concepts such as ‘aether’ to allow noncausal connections’ (Lee, 2002) through his conception of the relations between the virtual and the actual, pre‐individual and individuating process, making possible the claim that phenomena are not independent. Through this it is possible for the theory of sympathetic magic to be understood without having to refer to simple causal relationships.
Deleuze’s notion of thought as creative act provides a conceptual basis for ‘paradigm shifting’ that grounds the highly mystical notion of the ‘universe as [a] spontaneously magical…shambles’ that tends to confirm whatever beliefs we have (Carroll, 1992 p.191), including the potentially highly limiting notions of foundational subjects found in Wicca and Witchcraft.
Deleuze provides a practical and creative philosophical basis for the notion that ‘nothing is true’. Instead of ‘useful sarcasms’ (Carroll, 1992 p.78), he shows that philosophical ideas can and should be approached through experimentation and open structures, valuing knowledge as ‘an embodied, active process of experimental learning’ (Lee, 2002). Instead of relying on a fixed body of ‘truths’, the focus of sorcery becomes practical experimentation through creative acts, with the sorcerer participating in a liberated process rather than the fixing of identities.
1 Divination: practices aiming to extending perception by ‘magical means’, in order to
become aware of information or probabilities. Enchantment: practices aiming to impose ‘will
on reality’, in order to effect events. Evocation: practices aiming to call entities that ‘may be
regarded as independent spirits, fragments of the magicians subconscious, or the egregores
of various species of life forms, according to taste’. Invocation: practices aiming toward
‘deliberate attunement of consciousness’ with an ‘archetypal [entity] or significant nexus of
thought’ (Carroll, 1992 p.157‐158).
2 The specific practices suggested for this are: Sacrilege (acts of insurrection that break
through conditioning ‘Put a brick through your TV’), Heresy (seeking alternative ideas to
those thought reasonable in order to expose all as arbitrary), Iconoclasm (exposing the
disguised gulfs between theory and practice in human affairs), Bioaestheticism (listening to
and satisfying the simple needs of your body) and Anathemism (revealing the transitory and
contingent nature of all things by cutting down fixed principles, and holding to the fewest
possible). For more detail see Peter Carroll’s book Liber Null and Psychonaut.
3 For an interesting account of Deleuze’s possible connections to Occultism, see Christian
Kerslake’s article Deleuze and Johann Malfatti de Montereggio and Occultism (2007a), and
for further discussion see the section ‘The Occult Unconscious’ in his book Deleuze and the
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