The Magic of Chaos
by Peter J. Carroll
Crowley certainly helped put the boot in against monotheism but the process was already well advanced. Science, which had basically evolved out of renaissance magic, had more or less finished monotheism as a serious parasite on advanced cultures. Crowley was enthusiastic about science and appropriately so for his era, but in the work of Austin Spare we begin to detect a certain foreboding. However it is Spare's work that appears more austere and scientific when compared to some of Crowley's more baroque symbolic extravagances. Spare rejected the classical symbologies of forgotten ages and sought the magic of his own personal arcana. Using the minimum of hypotheses he evolved a magic from his own racial memories and subconscious. Independently of complex systems he developed effective techniques of enchantment and divination requiring only ordinary language and pictures.
Spare's work forms the bridge between an older style of magic brought to fruition by Crowley (which derived most of its appeal, power and liberating potential from its religious style of anti-religion) and the new magic. The new approach is characterised by a kind of scientific anti-science. This is increasingly becoming known as Chaos Magic. It would be no more useful to dub Chaos Magic as pseudo-science than it would be to dub Crowley's ideas as pseudo-religion. It is astrology as it is normally practised that is mere pseudo-science much as satanism and freemasonry are pseudo-religion.
Chaos Magic attempts to show that not only does magic fit comfortably within the interstices of science but that the higher reaches of scientific theory and empiricism actually demand that magic exists. This is somewhat analogous to the way in which many religious theories implied the possibility of theurgic or demonic magic.
The best magic has always had a strong antinomian flavour. The most remarkable magicians have invariably fought against prevailing cultural norms and obsessions. Their victories represent not only a personal liberation but also an advance for humanity. History bequeaths us no records of the renegade shamanist magicians who must have brought about the advent of paganism, but we know a little of the anti-pagan magicians who created monotheism: Akhenaton, Moshe, Gautam, and so on. As monotheism became a steadily more repressive and obscene force, a new generation of magicians arose and fought it. Some fought too openly and were destroyed; others were more subtle and planted effective seeds of destruction on a purely philosophical level, and others hastened its destruction by taking theological and theurgical ideas to outrageous conclusions. The roll of honour is here much larger, including such notables as Gordiano Bruno, Cornelius Agrippa, John Dee, Cagliostro, Eliphas Levi, and recently, Aleister Crowley.
Crowley's great achievement, apart from his mountaineering and futuristic morality was to unearth the power techniques from Tantra, Yoga, Gnosticism, Taoism and Shamanism. He had the courage to apply them to the rather dessicated, intellectualised and effete occultism of his age and created something of lasting value and interest. In my opinion Crowley's mistake was to accept his own mystical visions at face value and become dogmatic about them. He discovered techniques of unleashing the awesome powers and creativity of the right cerebral hemisphere and subconscious but was so surprised at the result that he assumed it was of inhuman origin, and all this despite his dictum that... there are no gods but man.
What Chaos Magicians are attempting to do is break the stranglehold of a very limited view of science and rationality exercise over our imaginations and to force science to mutate into something less oppressive.
To do this they select as weapons a number of very simple ideas. Chaos Magic concentrates upon technique. Underlying all systems from Witchcraft to Tibetan Sorcery, that the eclectically minded magician may use, there is a fundamental unity of practical technique depending on visualisation, the creation of thought entities and altered states of consciousness achieved by either quiescent or ecstatic meditations. The eclectic point of view implies that belief itself can be regarded as a technique for achieving one's aims. A further implication of the principle of relativity of belief is that all beliefs are considered to be arbitrary and contingent.
Consequently all notions of absolute truth only exist if we choose to believe them at any time. The obverse side of the principle that "nothing is true" is that "everything is permitted", and Chaos Magicians may often create unusual hyperscience and sorcery maps of reality as a theoretical framework for their magic.
Improved neurphysiological knowledge combined with the principle of relativity of belief should lead the modern magician to regard the revelation with fresh scepticism. Verily the previously unsuspected parts of our brains can be even more creative than the conscious parts, and no message from the gods, no matter how extraordinary and overwhelming, should be taken as proof of anything beyond our own extraordinary powers, even if accompanied by miracles.
The rejection of any absolute external reality, truth or meaning may seem a paradoxical or even horrific principle on which to base a spiritual quest. I personally do not think so. Absolute truth would be absolute tyranny and historically it has always been. I would rather the freedom to forge my own spiritual vision. The evidence of my senses suggests that the universe is basically random within arbitrary limits which themselves arise capriciously. Reality is a hierarchy of accidents ruled by pure chance. Even so-called "scientific laws" are only statistical approximations describing the most persistent types of accident. I am free, not because freedom was conferred upon me but as a consequence of my being a purely accidental creation with random behaviour patterns.
Chaos Magic necessarily implies a certain individualistic antipoliticism or even anarchy. It is plainly an illusion that people are ruled by politics. People are ruled by philosophies and fashions, and it is from this higher level that Chaos Magic launches its attack on reality. To practice magic implies that you are actively seeking to forge your own spiritual viewpoint often in contradiction to cultural norms.
Magic arises to prominence when the boundary of self is either expanding or contracting. For example, during times of innovation and discovery, or during times of repression. A profound magical renaissance is now in progress because the boundary of self is both expanding and contracting simultaneously. Science, drugs, psychology, communications networks and all the paraphernalia of late twentieth century life have expanded aspects of awareness to a degree inconceivable a century ago.
Conversely, many aspects of industrial civilisation oppress us and hence encroach on the territory of self. The childish allegories of religion have been rightfully jettisoned but the whole principle of the self as a mystic entity has taken a body-blow in the process. The natural environment is being rubbished to feed the industrial behemoth and our capacity to relate to it is diminishing. As the pace of life becomes more frantic the value of introspection becomes diminished except in art where it is encouraged to become grotesque. Consumerism and the prospect of thermonuclear armageddon (which it seems must inevitably accompany it) could diminish us all. Thus with all these pressures on self, magic has mushroomed and taken on a colouration distinct from its historical antecedents. At once there is an extraordinary necrophilia and eclecticism and at the same time a powerful feeling for anachronistic practices. Quantum physics rubs shoulders with nature shamanism and Tantric practices are employed for parapsychological purposes involving telepathy experiments arranged by satellite link between home microprocessors whilst ancient goetic incenses smoke away on the mantlepiece in homemade braziers.
A renaissance is marked by the presence of renaissance people, and the contemporary magician is very much a renaissance figure in the sense that the term is usually taken to imply. Contemptuous of the conventions and paradigms of his age, he looks both backward and forward in time for techniques to circumvent them. Religion, and the neo-religious magic that fought it, are dead or dying.
Arise the Sorceror Scientist!