Once Upon A Time, I hosted a blog called The Chaos Witch. I used to write a lot about chaos magic, and how I blended it with my own practices as a witch. Here, I am going to repost a series I did that laid it all out (and edited just a tiny bit); defining chaos magic, how I blended it with witchery, and how I disseminated these understandings with my own neopagan Wheel of the Year. Enjoy!
Part 1: What is Chaos Magic?
Chaos magic – it sounds mysterious, intriguing, edgy and gritty, like something straight out of an RPG game. In reality, it is simply one of many natural postmodern evolutions of magical thought that exist today. So where did it come from, and what does it actually entail? And what does the future hold for chaos? Let me give you a brief, sweet rundown.
Foundations in Western Occultism
You can’t talk about the origins of chaos magic without talking about the origins of Western occultism in general. Most modern magical practices owe a lot to Western occultism, and I won’t pretend to be an expert, but I can give you a bit of a summary.
Western occultism emerged as a set of principles and ideas about the spiritual universe apart from, and yet influenced by, science and religion in the 20th Century. Chaos magic in turn arose in earnest in the 1980s and combines a range of ideas from modern occultism:
- The Will as the most important tool of the magician: far more important than props or other mystical paraphernalia. In modern witchcraft this is often cited as intention. (‘Will’ and ‘intention’ aren’t exactly the same thing, but they do get used interchangeably).
- The existence of a supreme, pure dimension of reality sometimes known as God, Goddess, Spirit, Astral Light, the One, the All, the quantum vacuum, and so forth. This was labelled as ‘Chaos’ by Peter Carroll, a foundational proponent of chaos magic.
- The notion of like attracts like or sympathetic magic. Mentioned by Eliphas Levi (1810-1875) and significantly developed by the Golden Dawn. This is where as above, so below fits in.
- The imagination as a means to add substance and depth to one’s magic, via the use of symbols, keys, correspondences that inspire, and so on.
- Austin Osman Spare (1886 – 1956) and Aleister Crowley (1875 – 1947) advocated avoiding lust of result. In other words, the will interfering with the outcome of a magical act by detaching oneself from the outcome of the rite.
The Flavour of Chaos Magic
“Nothing is true, all is permitted”
– Hassan Ibn Sabbah
During the 1970s a lot of neo-pagan beliefs were coming into their own – it was a heady time for the emergence of paganism, witchcraft, occultism, new age thought and earth-based activism and spirituality, and all of these things were becoming more and more accessible. Amongst this melting pot of activity, the chaos magic current emerged.
Peter Carroll presented a series of ideas which culminated in Liber Null (1978) & Psychonaut (1981) as well as Ray Sherwin’s Book of Results (1978) which builds on Spare’s sigil creation methods. Both of these texts can be seen as an evolution from some of the ideas pulled from the exponents above and are very influential in the birth of chaos magic as its own thread of occult understandings.
Some of the chaos magic principles can be summarised as follows:
- The use of paradigms, or shifting of belief. Just as post-modernism during the same time period challenged belief structures by totally deconstructing them and rendering them meaningless, so did chaos magic point out that through experimentation it didn’t seem to matter what belief structure you held, as long as your tools and systems were effectively executed.One thing that is appealing about chaos magic is that it uses explicit systems. A try it and see approach is prevalent, and chaotes are amongst the most innovative and ingenious magic users in the occult scene. Chaos magic users avoid dogma and advocate diverse approaches – these are two of Phil Hine’s ‘Principles of Chaos Magic’ as described in Condensed Chaos (1995). Another two are technical excellence and deconditioning – actively working to deconstruct one’s belief framework in order to critically engage with it and see what really works. When one is ready to shift belief, you can then use belief as a tool in and of itself.
- The idea of gnosis within the chaos magic current – to deliberately alter consciousness in order to execute magical acts, and therefore avoid ‘lust of result’. Chaotes often experiment with various means of shifting consciousness and achieving different levels of brain activity and using one’s body to move energy and channel the forces that move within us to affect our selves as well as the world around us. This would be recognised as another form of ecstatic practice – but rather than being used to commune with a particular deity or spirit or something in another realm, it is used as a tool to shift consciousness
Today, both of these are common place is most modern magical practices. Some people see this as a sign that chaos magic is obsolete as many aspects of these principles illustrate the manner in which many eclectic magicians, witches and occultists practice today. For more on that, read on – but first…
Where does Discordianism fit in?
As a side note, a confusing sidecar that is closely associated with chaos magic is the Discordian philosophy.
Discordianism as a movement first emerged as a fictional society in the Principia Discordia (1973) by Greg Hill with Kerry Wendell Thornley, the two working under the pseudonyms Malaclypse the Younger and Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst, and also in the Illuminatus! Trilogy (1975) by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea.
Discordians advocate laughter in ritual and practice and the deconstruction of belief. They revere Eris, the Greek Goddess of Chaos, in a modern guise that transforms her into a lovable almost sitcom-like character. There are some interactions between Discordianism as well as other parody religions such as Pastafarianism.
Discordianism and Chaos Magic are separate movements that have closely informed each other, to the point that if you were to join a Chaos Magic group on Facebook, for example, it is more likely to be filled with Discordian-esque trolling rather than serious magical discussion. Chaos Magicians often borrow from strange and eclectic practices and Discordianism was one of the first of these and is still a persistent influence.
Post Chaos. What Happened?
As a post modern movement (and typical of many post-modern movements), chaos magic has rendered itself obsolete due to its co-option by many progressive and mainstream eclectic practices. Chaos magic has developed a reputation for being ‘pick & mix’ and attracting the wrong sort of magical practitioner, creating a community filled with dank memes, misogynist trolls, and practitioners obsessed with results rather than deep spiritual insight. Another trope associated with chaos magic is the use of psychedelic drugs and magical practice without spiritual significance and perforated with total, yet deliberate nonsense. A backlash against this has coincided with a migration today towards traditional magic steeped in authoritative dogma, reconstructionist polytheisms bogged down in fundamentalism, and an ‘oh you, chaos magic, I remember the 90s too’ sort of attitude amongst more experienced magicians. And, a lot of chaotes consider themselves as having ‘moved on’ or ‘grown up’ from the heady, exciting days of chaos.
Chaos is Dead – Long Live Chaos
Chaos has been picked up by millennials and the still valid points of belief have some resonance for magic users who are after paradigms where they can worship their favourite comic book characters as well as conform with fashion trends that have seen Tumblr blogs populated with open source sigils, galaxies and fractals. Everything 90s is cool again so while we are seeing X-Files and shows like Friends and Buffy make a comeback with the current teen generation, so we shall see Chaos come back into its own. But what will it look like once blended with feminism, social media, social justice, and post-post-modernism? Only time will tell. Perhaps chaos magic will finally come of age. Many of the original stalwarts of chaos magic are still publishing texts on the topic, and chaos magic is still in it’s infancy in many ways.
Check out some links below for more resources to learn about some of the above points in more detail.
Carroll, Peter. (1992). Liber kaos.
Caroll, Peter. (1987). Liber null & psychonaut.
Hine, Phil. (1995). Condensed chaos.
Hine, Phil. (1993). Prime chaos.
Humphries, Greg & Vayne, Julian. (2004). Now that’s what I call chaos magick.
Sherwin, Ray. (1978). Book of results.
Phil Hine’s archives http://www.philhine.org.uk/
Amazing archive of chaos knowledge http://www.chaosmatrix.org/
Spiral Nature magazine (look under the chaos magick tag) http://www.spiralnature.com/
Rune Soup http://runesoup.com/
Part 2: Chaos Magic + Witchcraft = Chaos Witchcraft
And now: what happens when you mix chaos magic with witchcraft? Will it blend?
Spoiler alert: it will, and it does.
I really wish I could remember the first time I came across chaos magic. But I just can’t. I have a feeling it was via the route of Discordianism, and I am almost dead sure it was the Hand of Eris that guided me, but unfortunately the ancient texts (my old Livejournal accounts) are a little silent on the matter (yeah, I checked) so pinpointing ain’t gonna happen.
I’ve identified as pagan for the entirety of my adult life. I first came ’round’ to it all via Unitarian Universalism and also Pantheism, as well as Panentheism, turning myself round and around in circles trying to justify to my pragmatic, historically atheist and cynical brain why I loved ritual and revelled in a deep connection to the cosmos, and that maybe it was okay to be spiritual – but I wanted to be religious. Religion called to me, even though my logic told me ‘nope, lol’. I felt a deep yearning for a spiritual path that was fulfilling and earth-based, I loved the trappings of Wicca and Witchcraft, but there was also so much of it that didn’t jive with me. An unease was there, and it persisted for quite some time even as I studied and circled with others as a pagan, until the ‘great click’ that has resonated with me ever since.
That click was chaos. After downing a couple of tomes on chaos magic 101 I knew I had found it – the thing that would make it all work. I couldn’t find many others who were jamming things quite the same way – so I kept reading, journalled a bunch, started a blog and the rest is history. A few years on and it is still jamming, in a good way! So here is a little treatise on how the blend of chaos magic with the current of witchcraft works for me.
Chaos magic has a lot going for it – it’s about doing what works, adopting a scientific approach, and deconstructing the self which leads to serious progression as far as what looks like ‘spellcraft’ and serious reality checks when it comes to self-actualization. You can’t take yourself too seriously and be a chaote at the same time, which was one of the things that attracted me to it – a no-nonsense, no holds barred approach that advocated personal development and a pragmatic approach.
The ‘flavour’ of chaos magic was missing something, though. But perhaps that is precisely the point – through the lens of paradigm adaptation, chaotes are encouraged to find their own jellies to mash with the peanut butter of chaos in order to give things a framework to make it all fit. I decided to stick with my existing poison (strawberry – or, witchcraft!) and make a good red hot go of it.
Strawberry & Peanuts
The tonality of chaos magic needed earthing, for me. Highly strung on imagery that included psychedelic drugs, boring 1970s sci-fi and unfunny middle-aged memes, it felt like that weird band your uncle was in in the 80s. But the theory draws you in and you so desperately want to make it work. I felt like I was cobbling together an apocalyptic heroine for the future – a wired up cyber punk fused with a tree worshipping Goddess who spat runes in the dirt, who could plant trees, smash the patriarchy and hook up your broadband router all at the same time. The Chaos Witch.
The thing is I feel being a witch to the very fibre of my being. I am as sure of my identity as a witch as I am as nothing else. This is a powerful affirmation, a talisman, a red thread that connects me to currents both new and old that sing and thrum and just fuckin’ HUM so deeply in my soul. It twangs true when I practice on my own in front of my altar, when I hold hands with my sisters, brothers and others in ritual, when I connect to my goddess, when I meditate, when I walk, when I breathe, when I connect. To me, being a witch is no mere paradigm – it is a statement of fact that permeates my practice. I might abandon chaos one day but I will never stop being a witch. And here I think is the fundamental difference between a chaos magician who simply uses Wicca as a paradigm to someone who is a chaos witch. Or maybe that is exactly the point and there is no difference at all, I’ve just bought into this paradigm, wholesale, and become a strawberry fundamentalist.
Double Rainbow All the Way
I don’t know many chaos witches, but the ones I have come across are anything but chaotic. They are meticulous, carefully considered, analytical, and could plan the shit out of the next ritual – with spreadsheets, files on cloud storage, and extended post reflection – what worked? What didn’t? What could be done to make it better next time? And what is just a god-damn waste of time, so let’s ditch it? To be in tune with the chaos current is to be in step with the universe – working with the flow, not against it. And there is nothing more witchy than that.
So what does it actually look like?
Mostly, it’s a behind the scenes type of deal, with not many aesthetic trappings to actually flavour my practice – this might seem strange to some, as it would appear I’m just your run of the mill neo-pagan witch going through not too unfamiliar motions. There aren’t chaos witch books, chaos witch altar pieces, chaos witch incense blends. However, given that there is a lot to be made of the ethics and principles that witches are supposed to follow, mine are very much influenced by Phil Hine’s ‘Core Principles’ as outlined in Condensed Chaos, as well as an emphasis on simple approaches. Chaos magic is like parkour – finding the quickest, simplest solution to problems rather than the long way around. So if paying your bills instead of buying a pony is going to solve your financial problems, or speaking to your boss instead of stuffing herbs into a charm bag is going to get you better outcomes at work, then that is what you’ll do.
My concept of deity hops from one magical model to the next – chaos magic texts talk about various approaches towards belief, including the psychological approach, one I stuck with at first – to the information approach – to the energy model, and sometimes the spirit model. My theology now sits in the gorgeous I Couldn’t Honestly Tell You, But She Will Fuck With Your Shit If You Diddle Around phase, which I guess is what happens when you work with Hekate.
I’m not gonna lie, sigils and servitors do play a bit of a role in my main practice. Sigils are all the rage right now so this doesn’t seem too jazzy, but it seemed like a point of difference and I hadn’t worked with them before I got it on with chaos magic. General eclecticism and chaos practice can seem one and the same at times. I have four servitors who embody and serve the energies of the four elements on my altar (and sometimes get to go on excursions!), and where necessary, I weave a little pop culture into how I understand mythos and at times, divinatory practices. Chaos magic ≠ pop culture paganism – but, there are commonalities, maybe, sometimes.
Peter Carroll’s eight colours of magic play a role in my own Wheel of the Year – something I have worked a fair bit on, and could write a bloody book on, but instead, you get the following…
Part 3: Seasonal Celebrations
When engaging with a spiritual practice that looks anything like paganism, witchcraft or Wicca, one of the first things a neophyte encounters is the omnipresent ‘Wheel of the Year’ and often seekers will either a.) start circling with a group who already observes these rituals and celebrations and then adopts these sabbats, developing a relationship to them, or b.) as a solitary practitioner, they begin their own research and determine their relationship to these celebrations.
Being a chaote, this Wheel is up for intensive scrutiny and certainly ripe for customisation, adaptation, and change. Being Australian, I am already halfway there, as Southern Hemisphere practitioners need to bend their understanding of the Wheel anyway as the seasons in the Northern Configuration do not fit, exactly, to what can be observed seasonally here, in nature. Some continue on with a Northern paradigm (a practice that used to baffle me personally, but is starting to make more sense these days), and others ‘flip the wheel’ and struggle on. Some construct their own compliment of observational rituals – more to the good! I think any self respecting magic user who observes the natural world as part of their spiritual framework, needs to create their own relationship with the Wheel of the Year, if they choose to keep one at all. We live on a diverse planet with a complex biosphere and a changing climate. Even the state that I live in, Wetsern Australia, does not share the same climate from one coast to another. The land is different. The spirits are different. I am different when I am on different parts of it. Anyone who is reading a book, or joining a group, and just goes through the motions of a Wheel with the Samhain and the Litha and the Mabon without any adaptation or at least critical thought, in my opinion, is missing out on a wonderful opportunity for both microcosmic and macrocosmic insight.
I have been incredibly dissatisfied with texts that seek to consolidate some sort of Southern Hemisphere practice with a Northern Hemisphere Wheel of the Year, as I have seen a lot of regurgitated information that had been ‘plonked’ into place in a disturbingly colonial fashion. Don’t get me wrong, we’re all immigrants here, but it indicated to me a lack of connection and perhaps a bit of laziness in haste to create a resource to fill a gaping void. Deep connection to the land is not something I claim to have (it’s a journey), but I have thought about all of this ‘stuff’ and cooked this thing up, taking an opportunity to turf some of the problematic gender binary crap in the original Wheel as well. I decided to do what other authors seem to hesitate to do, and that was throw the baby out along with the bathwater and just keep some of the plumbing.
TL;DR for the rest of this post: just change it. Change it for yourself. Change it for your group. Work with the stars, sky, sea and land, and change it. Here’s a pretty picture.
(Keep in mind this is a Southern Hemisphere diagram: you gotta go anti-clockwise! Also, I begin a circle casting with Air in the East, hence Spring Equinox at the top.)
I developed the above, and I called it ‘The Eight Spoked Wheel’. It was a prototype, and I set about working with this reworking of the sabbats for a while before I knew I would feel ready to unleash it on anyone beyond my own then-coven. This was something just for me, but every now and then when it was my ‘turn’ to run a sabbat in the coven I worked with, I used this liturgy, and I’ve considered each spoke from an internal perspective for each point. [Currently, I am revising it for a new tradition, and I have been maintaining a nature diary to re-establish a freshened version based on my workings here.]
Initially in my brainstorming sessions before finalising this prototype, I took a few things as inspiration, from the chaos current and other places:
- The Chaosphere, or the eight pointed symbol of chaos.
- The eight colours of magic as defined by Peter J Carroll.
- The eight entities from the DKMU current.
- The four axioms of the witch at each solar sabbat.
- The four elements at the quarters and the alchemy of their blending at each cross-quarter.
- The local seasons as observed by the Noongar peoples, the original custodians of the land where I live;
- The local secular practices and calendar points from the dominant cultural paradigm that I reside in.
Things that I deliberately eliminated from the commonly cited neo-pagan Wheel of the Year:
- Any fertility narrative, replacing it with the narrative of the seeker, who undergoes an initiatory archetypal journey.
- Any references to flora or fauna that were unfamiliar to my land and/or my practice.
- The titles such as Yule, Mabon, Lammas, etc, and many (although not all) of the practices associated with them.
Things I hope to add more of, as the Wheel turns and I continue to explore each of these spokes:
- Some practices found in Feri, Reclaiming and other forms of radical, progressive witchcraft.
- Deeper colour magic explorations as I sit with each energy.
- Sigil work.
- Work with both personal and coven egregores & servitors on astral territories through deep meditation and trance.
Just by contemplating the diagram above alone, a number of interesting patterns have arisen and a lot of tweaking has been necessary. Constructing a physical diagram resulted in something different to what I logically thought the correct correspondence would be. The thing about working with colour magic is that colours shimmer, and things happen when you shift them about; much as pushing colours on a palette. Both Black and Octarine have been interesting energies and in the end it only made sense for them to sit where the veils have been traditionally thinnest; the placement of the other colours may not jive with others who might look to this Wheel (that’s cool! Change it), but in the end I have chosen correspondences that fit for my own practice and perspective. As an artist I felt it was important to place the colours so that complimentary colours faced each other on opposite sides of the Wheel, but it is not a rigid configuration and I imagine it can be fiddled with quite a bit. The best part about this process was the sense of play that I brought to it.
Crafting my own Wheel was a valuable journey and one I would recommend to any chaos witch. When I originally published these materials, Julian Vayne commented and offered their text, Chaos Craft, which also works with the Wheel of the Year and the eight colours of magic, and it’s well worth checking out if you want to see a different way of doing things.
That’s a Wrap!
I still think of myself as a chaos witch, but I don’t really think about labels so much any more. I ditched the blog, I took some time off, and now I’m just a witch. Chaos magic still offers interesting tools, but my finger isn’t really on the pulse any more. I still wanted to dig these posts out and reblog them – I put a lot of effort into them and I think they might be useful as chaos witchery seems to be on the rise.
ADDENDUM! Here is a video blog I did recently with a bunch of recommended books and links! I misquoted here and there because it was off the cuff – but here it is in its unedited glory, and titles and links are in the description box for the actual video.
I hope you enjoyed this post since you made it to the very end. Be blessed on your path, wherever it may take you!