Published in Wakins Mind Body Spirit
This article begins with a brief history of Chaos Magic and then describes a recent production from two of its leading exponents, Peter J Carroll & Matt Kaybryn - their epic full colour hardbound book and accompanying oversize card deck, together called EPOCH, The Esotericon and Portals of Chaos.
Chaos Magic developed during the second of the recent magical revivals in the mid nineteen seventies, (the first recent revival having begun in the eighteen eighties).
The first revival largely grew from the work of Macgregor Mathers who synthesised all the magical and esoteric knowledge available to a western mage at the time into a huge corpus generally known as the Golden Dawn system. This system went on to inspire Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune, Gerald Gardiner, Austin Spare (to some extent), and it supplied material that influenced Theosophy and Druidical Revival.
In the second revival a new generation looked at what the first revival had produced and extended it to create variants of Neo-Paganism, Neo-Hermetics, Neo-Goetia, Neo-Wicca, Neo-Druidry, and Neo-Thelema and all the various admixtures of these traditions as we know them today.
However, one loosely defined group did something rather different.
The Chaos Magicians decided to steal any magical technique that worked from any tradition, without too much concern for the belief system and the symbol system and the ‘tradition’ from which it apparently came. Indeed Chaos Magicians came to regard belief or faith as mere tools for achieving effects, and not as an ends in themselves.
To the mystically inclined this approach could look like the most appalling blasphemy and black (materialistic) magic. Yet Chaos Magicians tend to view magic as a form of weird science rather than as an alternative religion, and to regard the techniques of religion as means to ends which await discovery.
Chaos Magicians take the view that Austin Spare’s method of making sigils and spells out of mangled vernacular language works just as well as glyphs and formulae derived from ancient books of magic, and that synthetic or ‘imaginary’ spirits and gods work just as well for evocation and invocation as so called ‘real’ or historical ones, so long as you construct them properly.
The works of Austin Spare had a seminal influence on Chaos Magic, Spare largely rejected the complex procedures of ritual and ceremonial magic and developed simpler ad-hoc techniques to cast spells and to unleash the creativity of his subconscious. Some have quipped that CHAOS means the Continuing Hagiography of Austin Osman Spare. 2014 represents the 110th anniversary of the publication of his Earth Inferno. See the accompanying anniversary image by Matt Kaybryn.
Chaos Magicians also take an instrumentalist view of mystical experiences and altered states of consciousness. Instead of regarding these as desirable side effects of ritual activity that lends additional validation to it, they deliberately design in ecstatic procedures into their spells and rituals with the technology of ‘Gnosis’, a variety of excitatory and inhibitory techniques of inducing ecstasy drawn from many traditions and cultures.
These radical innovations led to an explosion of ritual and magical creativity. Some participants formed themselves into The Magical Pact of the Illuminates of Thanateros, (The IOT or The Pact for short), others pursued the Chaos paradigm in smaller groups or alone, and some of the creative freedoms of the Chaos perspective seeped into many of the new Neo- Traditions of the second revival.
Just what Chaoists mean by Chaos remains a lively topic of debate. Platonism and particularly Neo-Platonism had underpinned the whole of the western esoteric and occult paradigm from the early centuries AD and it reached its zenith in the first modern revival in the eighteen eighties. However it came under severe scrutiny in the second revival. Some of the new Neo-Traditions accepted it, but Chaos Magicians increasingly sought explanations and theoretical models of how magic worked in the realms of psychology, parapsychology, the chaos mathematics of the butterfly effect, and in quantum physics.
Now quantum physics suggests that the universe ultimately runs on randomness and chance, so Chaos Magic has tended to focus more on nudging or forcing the hand of chance rather than anticipating it, and enchantment generally takes precedence over divination.
The esoteric wisdom of Chaos Magic tends to focus more on the Hidden Meaninglessness rather than on the Hidden Meaning of events. If events have no meaning other than that which we choose to ascribe to them, then at least we regain the freedom to choose.
To this extent a strong new current of Existentialism rather than a traditional current of Essentialism informs Chaoist thought.
Chaoists have little truck with conspiracy theories. Conspiracies plainly exist at all fractal levels from within families, social groups, businesses, within religions and within nations, and between nations, and all because conspiracies exist between various impulses within our own heads. Yet history teaches us that screw-ups and unforeseen circumstances rather than conspiracy usually define what actually happens in this great game of chance.
The classical pagans recognised the conflicting impulses within our own heads as Gods and Goddesses. These deities arose from Chaos and then multiplied amongst themselves. This seems a much more realistic picture of our psychology than the monotheist idea that a single deity endowed us with a single self, free will, a purpose, and a set of commandments that we could disobey on pain of eternal guilt and punishment.
The Chaos from which our headfull of conflicting impulses arises lies in the random processes of evolution, all our impulses have evolved for some sort of use for personal or group survival, and Chaos Magicians like to explore their whole pantheon and to play at life with a full deck of cards.
The Esotericon and Portals of Chaos explores the Chaoist Neo-Pagan pantheon of the multi-self in far greater depth than previously attempted in any single traditional mythology.
The book consists of three separate Grimoires separated by supplementary chapters on the history of magic, the history of cartomancy and tarot, aeonic theory, and technical chapters on cosmology and quantum-magical theory.
The first Elemental Grimoire deals with the classical concepts of earth, air, fire, water, and aether, and how these relate to more modern concepts and to the basic magical procedures of evocation, invocation, enchantment, divination, and illumination. See the accompanying depiction of Earth.
The second Planetery Grimoire deals with the extended Neo-Pagan pantheon of the gods and goddesses of the human condition. Plainly a mere seven classical archetypes such as Luna, Mercury, Venus, Sol, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn cannot suffice to express the richness of the worlds within us today. Chaos magicians have taken to adding an eighth, the octarine deity form of Ouranos, the god-form of magic itself, and in this Grimoire thirty six deities classified by a planetary and a bi-planetary scheme appear. The authors have selected representative deities on an eclectic and cross-cultural basis.
Thus for example, Odin fills the Saturnine-Ouranian slot, Jehovah’s wife Asherah takes the Lunar-Solar position, the demon Choronzon appears as Martial-Saturnine, Eris appears as Venusian-Martial, and the modern goddess Apophenia fills the Venusian-Ouranian slot. Each of the deities in this extended magical pantheon comes with an historical description and a contemporary interpretation of its use to the modern magician. See the accompanying depiction of Eris.
The third Stellar Grimoire presents the latest manifestation of the Astral Grimoire of the Elder Gods; what we Earthlings call ‘The Necronomicon’, the strange and disturbing knowledge that diffuses across the far reaches of time and space, and hints at the potentially awesome and potentially terrible secrets of life and mind and space and time and chaos that await our discovery. This Necronomicon gives detailed instructions for evoking and invoking the sources of knowledge that we call the Elder Gods using techniques drawn from Chaos Magic that offer the magician a fair chance of surviving with sanity intact. See the accompanying depiction of Cthulhu.
The Esotericon book contains a full colour illustration of each of the five Elemental forms and also of Baphomet, full colour illustrations of each of the thirty six Planetary forms, and also twelve full colour illustrations of the evocation and invocation forms of six Elder Gods, plus full colour diagrams and illustrations for other parts of the text.
The fifty four images of the god-forms in the Esotericon appear on the fifty four outsize cards of the Portals deck which accompany the book. The authors intend these cards primarily for use as meditative or ritual ‘altarpieces’ for works of invocation and evocation, perhaps leading to enchantment or illumination. However, although they do not follow the traditional structure of tarot they also serve well for cartomancy and divination.
The Esotericon and Portals of Chaos developed during a four year collaboration between Pete Carroll on texts and Matt Kaybryn on graphics, with help and feedback from Professor Ronald Hutton and the Staff and Alumni of Arcanorium College.
The Epoch is available from Watkins Books