My only first-hand exposure to chaos magic has been listening to a few college-aged guys talk about how they do rituals based on the characters from Gilligan’s Island and Star Trek. I assumed they were being bizarre for the sake of being bizarre and went on with my studies and practice. But a couple months ago, I came across this very good guest essay on The Wild Hunt by writer and anthropologist Amy Hale. One of the books she recommended was Condensed Chaos by Phil Hind (1995). So I put it on my reading list, and I finished it last week while on vacation.
What I found was not absurdity or pleas for attention, but a very concise summary of magical workings and how to do them. The principles and techniques will be familiar to anyone with experience in Wicca, Qabbalism or other Western Occult traditions.
This appeals to both the universalist and the engineer in me. The universalist sees common magical concepts in a wide variety of religious and cultural settings. And the engineer just wants to know how it all works. Chaos magic strips away the traditional framework and leaves only the core principles. Hine lists five: 1) avoidance of dogmatism, 2) emphasis on personal experience, 3) technical excellence, 4) deconditioning, and 5) diverse approaches.
Chaos magicians ask why you should spend years studying a religious tradition when all you want to do is work some magic – to cause change in accordance with the will. I argue that without the years of religious practice, you won’t have a solid foundation to help you determine when you should work magic and what you should (and shouldn’t) work magic for. And for me, the meaning I get from my religious practice far exceeds whatever benefits I’ve obtained from the magic I’ve worked. In fairness, Hine details many of the dangers of practicing magic for the wrong reasons and the benefits of practicing it for the right reasons. But I’m not sure how well that will sink in with readers who just want to make something happen or do something cool.
Having said all that, the engineer in me is looking forward to trying out sigil magic.