Chaos magic differs from other occult traditions such as Thelema or Wicca in that it rejects the existence of absolute truth, and views all occult systems as arbitrary symbol-systems that are only effective because of the belief of the practitioner. Chaos magic thus takes an explicitly agnostic position on whether or not magic exists as a supernatural force, with many chaos magicians expressing their acceptance of a psychological model as one possible explanation.
Chaos magic grew out of the desire to strip away all of these extraneous elements, leaving behind only the techniques for affecting change; hence the emphasis is on actually doing things – i.e., experimenting with different techniques, rather than memorising complex rules, symbols and correspondences – and then retaining those techniques that appear to produce results.
It is unknown when the term “chaos magic” first emerged, with the earliest texts on the subject referring only to “magic” or “the magical art” in general. Furthermore, they often claimed to state principles universal to magic, as opposed to a new specific style or tradition, describing their innovations as efforts to rid magic of superstitious and religious ideas.
The word chaos was first used in connection with magic by Peter J. Carroll in Liber Null & Psychonaut (1978), where it is described as “the ‘thing’ responsible for the origin and continued action of events.”
Since chaos magic is built around an experimental, D.I.Y. approach that involves stripping all magical techniques down to their barest essence, any practice from any magical tradition can be incorporated under the banner of chaos magic: from Satanic ritual, to Wiccan sabbats, to energy healing, to Tantric practices, etc. However, there are a few techniques that have been specifically developed by chaos magicians, and are unique to the tradition.
Most chaos magic techniques involve something called the gnostic state, or gnosis. This is described as an altered state of consciousness in which a person’s mind is focused on only one point, thought, or goal and all other thoughts are thrust out.
The gnostic state is used to bypass the “filter” of the conscious mind – something thought to be necessary for working most forms of magic.
Since it takes years of training to master this sort of Zen-like meditative ability, chaos magicians employ a variety of other ways to attain a “brief ‘no-mind’ state” in which to work magic.
Three main types of gnosis are described:
- Inhibitory gnosis is a form of deep meditation into a trance state of mind. This type of gnosis uses slow and regular breathing techniques, absent thought processes, progressive muscle relaxation, self-induction and self-hypnosistechniques. Means employed may also include fasting, sensory deprivation and hypnotic or trance-inducing drugs.
- Ecstatic gnosis describes a mindlessness reached through intense arousal. It is aimed to be reached through sexual excitation, intense emotions, flagellation, dance, drumming, chanting, sensory overload, hyperventilation and the use of disinhibitory or hallucinogenic drugs.
- Indifferent vacuity was described by Phil Hine and Jan Fries as a third method. Here the intended spell is cast parenthetically, so it does not raise much thought to suppress – “doodling sigils while listening to a talk which is boring, but you have to take notes on”, for example.
A shoal of sigils
A sigil is a picture or glyph that represents a particular desire or intention. They are most commonly created by writing out the intention, then condensing the letters of the statement down to form a sort of monogram. The chaos magician then uses the gnostic state to “launch” or “charge” the sigil – essentially bypassing the conscious mind to implant the desire in the unconscious.
To quote Ray Sherwin:
The magician acknowledges a desire, he lists the appropriate symbols and arranges them into an easily visualised glyph. Using any of the gnostic techniques he reifies the sigil and then, by force of will, hurls it into his subconscious from where the sigil can begin to work unencumbered by desire.(1)
After charging the sigil, it is considered necessary to repress all memory of it: there should be “a deliberate striving to forget it”, in Spare’s words.
In modern chaos magic, when a complex of thoughts, desires and intentions gains such a level of sophistication that it appears to operate autonomously from the magician’s consciousness, as if it were an independent being, then such a complex is referred to as a servitor.
When such a being becomes large enough that it exists independently of any one individual, as a form of “group mind”, then it is referred to as an egregore.
Gordon White developed the technique of shoaling, which involves launching a group of sigils for a set of related aims. For example, instead of sigilising for “money”, sigilising for a pay rise, new business clients, a promotion, influential new contacts, budget reallocation for your department, etc. – all of which help “shift the probability” towards the overall aim
White also developed the technique of the robofish, which consists of including a sigil for something that the chaos magician knows will definitely happen, to “lead” the rest of the shoal.