A reply to Rex Monday by Stokastikos.
Chaoists prefer to learn to dance upon the shifting sands rather than to build upon the rock which may confound them on the day it shatters. However, not everybody shares their neophilia. Many people look to the occult or to religion to support their neophobia. You only have to consider the symbolism, glamour, and fantasy of any tradition to determine which epoch its adherents want to retreat into:
· Shamanism - Late Neolithic
· Odinism - Dark Ages
· New Age - Medieval
· Hermetics/Wicca - Late Medieval
· Satanism - Renaissance or 1890s fin de siecle.
Taken out of their original contexts these revivals do not even merit the title of neo-shamanism or neo-odinism, and so on. We can at best call them pseudo shamanism, pseudo Odinism etc., for they consist only of what their contemporary adherents wish to project into them. In its original historical context, each system arose as a human creation in response to various challenges of the times: natural phenomena, wild animals, warfare, discovery, corrupt religion, and so on. however, none of these traditions, so far as we know, suffered from neophobia during its heyday. The revivalists of such traditions do not have to deal with the challenges that the traditions arose to address, and they try to live the present through a filter of a pseudo past of wishful thinking, combined with a pretence that the future, for which they have no agenda, will not happen. Here we see occultism at its worst. Where then should we look for esoterics at its infrequent best?
We can often more easily appreciate a new concept by looking at its obverse. Existentialism, for example, arose out of a deliberate negation of Essentialism, the doctrine that phenomena have an essence or spirit or soul or mana or whatever. Once you get rid of essences, out goes so much of the occult verbiage that has mixed up magick with mysticism, and prevented the development of useful magical theories and a proper science of experimental metaphysics. Clearly we cannot observe any phenomenon, ourselves included, consisting of anything other than the totality of what it does. Therefore we have no business supposing that anything has any form of 'being' separate from what it does. We should thus relegate 'being' to a category of superstition arising from faulty use of language.
Phenomena may well emit information about their doing which can act non-locally to fulfil some of the esoteric functions previously ascribed to essences; indeed both quantum and contemporary magical theories demand that they do this. The Information Paradigm, which has supplanted the rather loose and weak 'energy' paradigm at the cutting edge of esoteric theory, allows a much tighter definition of magick and allows us to model magical events which may seem quite incomprehensible within essence or energy paradigms (such as retroactive enchantment).
Now, Post Modernism embraces the basic insight of Existentialism, and adds to it the realization that whilst change rarely improves the human condition, as Modernism hoped it would, it certainly makes life less boring than stasis does.
The archetypical renaissance man (women did not count in those days) had a finger in every new pie that the rapidly expanding horizons of the fifteenth century served up. Renaissance magick may appear to have a superficial coherence but a loser look reveals its profound syncretism, containing, as it does, Hermeticism (itself syncretic), Kabbala, witchcraft and folklore, neo-Platonism, and xtian, Hebraic and Arabic demonology. Post Modernists do not shy away from the even greater electicism demanded of persons of this second renaissance.
Crowley fantasized that Kabbala, by which he meant the Kabbala 'improved' by Levi and the Golden Dawn, could provide an international language for magick. In practise, no two esoteric systems from widely differing cultures except possibly catholicism/Kardecism/Voudon will ever fit their metaphysics and symbolism comfortably together. However, all systems do use some practical techniques which occur in other traditions and which in total form an identifiable and quantifiable set of practical actions. By experiencing and mastering this body of techniques we can understand how any system or tradition functions and we can make any tradition work for us. You can call this the ultimate in dilettantism, if you wish-we call it illumination.
Chaoists strive to see beyond all cultural conditioning, and have little patience with occult notions of heritage, race, or the supposed sanctity of master to pupil transmission. Traditions which have collapsed or fallen into disuse or whose adherents have retreated into marginal lifestyles have little to teach us. For all the apparent blood-axe wielding charisma of Odinism, we must remember that it completely fell to pieces when confronted with mere Christianity. Monotheism beat paganism and shamanism, because it had better 'magic', and Modernism beat monotheism for the same reason. We use 'magic' here in the widest sense to indicate the power of a world-view and the technology and attitudes which it spawns.
Now, Modernism begins to falter when challenged by Post Modernism in the relentless war of the natural selection of ideas. We must applaud Post Modernism for the deathlessness of which it stands accused. Sufficient intelligent investigation usually reveals quite simple mechanisms underlying the most complex phenomena. Depth and mystery in any field usually indicate that we have not yet asked the right questions Astrology, for example, still exists because astrologers have persisted in asking the same questions that they first asked three thousand years ago, and still have not obtained any straight answers. How long will it take before everybody realizes that the question "what isconsciousness?", contains three preposterous assumptions which render it unaskable and deserving of only a facetious answer.
It seems that a little more effort will allow a complete explication of all the phenomena of mysticism and magick. Our own theories of gnosis, the equations of magick, and non-local information exchange in six-dimensional null paths provide, we hope, a preliminary theoretical structure for such an understanding. Knowledge does not make the known any less interesting for us, rather it enhances our appreciation of it. You can regard a tree either as a billion year old self-replicating message that turns starfire and stardust into gradually evolving copies of itself or you can see it as the physical manifestation of a dryad. Personally, we prefer the 'shallow' explanation to the dryad model.
When people actively create mystery and mystification, or seek those things out not for the purpose of investigating them objectively but for the purpose of subjective englamourment, we inevitably suspect a cover-up of either some contra intuitive stupidity (i.e., a belief), or a lack of ability, or just plain ignorance.
For example, the runic alphabet which arose in Germanic cultures only after the Roman Empire began to chafe up against it, has such a large and obvious overlap with Latin script that it can only have arisen as a bastardization of it. In the meagre remains of runic texts we can see a clear development from the use of the runes as magico-religious symbolic pictograms with esoteric connotations to their use as a purely esoteric phonetic script. If you do not believe this, go have a look at the rude runic graffiti in Maes Howe on the Orkneys. Having pinched the Latin characters, the Norse peoples industriously added 'mythical depth' to them. Modern revivalists have worked assiduously to add even more.
Esoteric ideas always evolve in this shambolic mix and match fashion. The result may have genuine value, but every justification exists for picking here and there at the bits which seem most useful, precisely because such systems accreted as a piecemeal basis anyway.
When we examine the 'traditions' of witchcraft and particularly Satanism, we find them rooted almost exclusively in the propagandist ravings of the Christian Church. The Church 'improved' folk beliefs to the extent that it invented witchcraft and Satanism in principle and in considerable fine detail, to justify its various prosecutions, to strengthen its social control, and to make money. Unusually, satanists have not been bothered to cobble together their system in the usual occult fashion; they have merely adopted the Church's version with a bit of Nietzsche and Hollywood thrown in.
Chaos Magick recognizes the syncretic manner in which each generation has accreted its magical philosophy, theory, and practice, and the dubious mechanisms by which esoteric 'depth' gets added Rather than try and pretend, Chaos Magick openly relishes this approach. Only when you admit that you wish to put together the ultimate meta pseudo-tradition do you gain the freedom to do so.
Chaos Magicians as a group do not subscribe to any particular political or ethical agenda, nor do they in general go for all that triumph of the will to power, so desperately sought after by satanic magicians; although a certain promethean and antinomian self sufficiency usually informs their personal philosophy to a greater degree that collectivist ideas, and self-employment features widely. Some seek knowledge, proficiency, and experience in magick for its own sake as an end in itself. Some look upon magick as a form oi life-enhancing fun which has its uses in almost every aspect of existence. When people ask us "what can you do with magick", we invariably reply: "look at it the other way round, identify what you want to do, and then find a way ot doing it more efficiently with magical enhancement". Very often you will find that such an analysis leads to far greater eventual achievement than any amount of ill-defined fascist/Thelemic/satanic fantasy about will and power.
In the human race, intelligence and cunning always beats bone-headed obstinacy in the end. Often the greater part of intelligence lies in identifying precisely what it is that you do not know.
Chaos Magick operates as perhaps the most intelligent system for investigating the esoteric, because it starts with but a single principle, itself subject to falsification: the meta-theory that 'Belief Can Structure Reality'. Chaoists seek to evaluate, adopt, or refuse beliefs on the basis of their Effects; not against some imagined standard of absolute truth. Advanced science proceeds on exactly the same basis nowadays. Modern, or perhaps we should say, Post Modem scientific theories have the status of formalisms or 'models' which scientists continually modify to yield predictions which match experimental values or which they can test. The quest for 'truth' proved particularly fruitless, especially in quantum physics, the most fundamental of the sciences, where 'reality' dissolves into probabilistic chaos described by abstract mathematics that permit no visual analogy. As we approach the secret of the universe we find it to consist of a mad swirl of equations which have few if any points of reference in our own psychology, and which we cannot even express to each other in words yet. However, such equations do strongly suggest that this universe does allow us to structure reality to some extent with our chosen beliefs and conjurations, as magicians have always known.
The theory and practice and popularity of magick tend to advance only during periods of revival rather than buy steady increment. Such revivals tend to occur whenever societies undergo an expansion of horizons. The revival of the 1890s arose largely from the impact of oriental esoterics on the west through the colonial connection. The revival of the 1970s arose as part of the general cultural explosion towards the end of the 60s, as western economies finally overcame the postwar austerities. We still inhabit the cultural paradigm which evolved in the 1970s. Art, music, dress codes, morality, and attitudes have changed only in detail, not in substance, since then. Few people under forty, can easily imagine the sort of top-down society which prevailed previously, in which almost everybody believed, behaved, and dressed as they were told by a very small elite.
In the twenty-five odd years since the last revival started, magick has developed enormously from the fragments of Thelema, pseudo wicca, and Golden Dawn with which it began. The rediscovery of the work of Austin Spare, the only mage to have effected a serious advance upon the insights of the 1890s revival, did much to push things forward, as did shamanic material brought to light by anthropological research. Interest in magick now shows every sign of falling back to its natural hardcore baseline of the committed few. Much of the New Age fluff at the lowbrow end of the market has now evaporated and few hardcore books are published as insufficient dilettantes remain to support the sales to serious seekers.
We have no idea what will initiate the next revival, but it seems likely that Chaos Magick will function as the vehicle of choice that takes contemporary magi to it and provides the initial charge to detonate it.
This essay was first published in Chaos International magazine No.20