Now That's What I Call Chaos Magick
Julian Vayne & Greg Humphries, Mandrake of Oxford, 2004 ISBN 1869928-741, 188 pages, p/bk
It's been over 25 years since the first Chaos Magick book was published (Pete Carroll's Liber Null - even if the first edition didn't use the term). It's a current which has been hailed as revolutionary, and pronounced dead several times (again in this book, in fact). Can a magical approach of such uncertain status have anything new to say, long out of its adolescence and stumbling towards middle age? I guess this book is fairly placed to answer that question.
Unusually, this is two books in one, with sections from Julian Vayne and Greg Humphries respectively. I felt this was the first strength of the book, as multiple authors suggest a diversity of viewpoints, avoiding the trap of asserting a single, solitary "one right way".
The first section begins with an erudite introduction to the last century or so of Western Magick taking in Eliphas Levi, Crowley, Austin Spare and the innovations of the Chaos current. This is followed by four accounts of the authors' involvement in several different rituals. As might be expected from a chaos magician, an eclectic variety of approaches is given, with material deriving from Voodoun and Tantra alongside some more freeform approaches. However, surprisingly (depending on whose books you've been reading) we're given more than raw technique. Each of the sections is reasonably lengthy and more than just a "ritual rubric" - importantly, we're given context, in both the background and results of the rituals entered into, as opposed to a "now do this", nuts n' bolts approach. The "backstage" of these rituals takes in variously film-making, a punch-up, chats with kids and contemplations of mortality and fatherhood, amongst other things.
The second half of the book comes has 3 sections - Abstract, Theory and Practicum. Again, the personal and descriptive style comes to the fore, weaving an account of a love affair in with a description of a long term evocation. This style - again, the context - in both halves of the book, felt to me very much what it is like to actually stop reading and get down to doing magick - to take those tentative steps, and eventually to allow yourself to be caught up, inspired. To me, this is the real strength of this book, magick is shown as an involving, creative act, something that touches all areas of life, all concerns - it doesn't just stop at the edge of the circle.
The remaining two sections of the books second half give "bones" to the descriptive "flesh", giving details of theory and technique respectively. With regard to the former, I particularly liked the authors' description of the act of storytelling - addressing the ways in which we weave narratives around ourselves continuously and suggesting that we can step into new, empowering stories. The "technical " section gives details of various ideas borrowed and plundered, in true chaos magick style - NLP, the works of Mantak Chia, spontaneous art and the Holy Guardian Angel. "Plundered" they may be, but here I feel that they add up to more than the sum of their parts. This section contains much that could be bent to one's own design.
Now, I didn't like everything about this book - at moments I found the style a bit …breathless, and not all the rituals were to my taste - but this is a matter of just that, taste. A more serious criticism, one that can be applied to chaos magick in general, arose when reading the section on Tantric ritual - I wondered, was the symbolism here just a cool sounding gestalt, or had it been lived, felt and thought through? I'd argue for the latter over the former anytime. It's this kind of relentless eclecticism in CM that can feel like a lack of engagement, a kind of frothy post-modern shallowness. However, turning back to the introduction, I was pleased to find this statement, regarding contemporary practice: "depth and diversity seem to be the predominant approach rather than polymorphous paradigms with a few key principles". This is a sentiment I heartily agree with. To be eclectic does not necessarily equate with being superficial.
Overall, then, I found this an enjoyable and rewarding work with much to inspire, imitate (and rip off). I was left unsure whether chaos magick was alive or dead (and to be totally honest, I don't really care).- however, I am sure that people are continuing to practise exciting and creative magick, under whatever banner. - Danny Lowe