Picture it: Houston, 2004.
One of my first forays into Paganism involved a local men’s circle that could never quite decide what it was. Some of the members understood it to be a social club, while others viewed it as a coven, and there were a couple of guys who honestly just hung around in the hopes that things would devolve into sex parties.
Our de facto leader (we usually met at his house, so he just kind of organically ended up in charge) firmly believed that Paganism was “whatever you want it to be,” which started to have a negative impact on our cohesiveness. Finally, a few of us sat down with him to talk about organization. Here’s a word-for-word excerpt from the conversation:
“So we were thinking that maybe we could establish some kind of structure.”
“Or, we could have no structure!”
“Okay, but what if we had a framework?”
“Ooh! What if we didn’t have a framework?”
That was our last meeting. Because in the long run, something that can be anything is really nothing, and that’s what we were getting out of the group. What we needed to survive, but never found, were guiding principles.
What is a principle?
According to Google’s dictionary feature, a principle can be defined as 1) “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning,” or 2) “a general scientific theorem or law that has numerous special applications across a wide field.” Both of these definitions work for our purposes, but I want to focus on the first one, since, defunct men’s groups aside, we’re going to be talking about Chaos Magic.
It’s tempting to write off principles as non-essential, especially since the “whatever we want it to be” mentality is still so pervasive in contemporary occultism. But even Discordianism, for all its inherent insanity, has principles in place to differentiate itself from other belief systems. Principles tell what a given practice is and isn’t, which in turn helps us approach and apply it efficiently.
Six Minus One Is Five. The Law of Fives Reigns Supreme!
- Avoidance of Dogma
- Personal Experience
- Technical Excellence
- Diverse Approaches
We’ll be taking deeper dives into the individual principles in upcoming posts, but for now, let’s look at their baseline meanings.
Avoidance of Dogma
Chaos Magic does not come with a set of built-in beliefs, nor is there a specific Higher Power overseeing Chaos Magic who dictates what we may or may not do with it. Beliefs are subjective, and we can change our minds regarding what we believe whenever we need to. There is no “right way” to practice Chaos Magic, and the big-time, unexpected benefit of this is that it is okay to be wrong — anytime we’re wrong about something, we can learn from it and shift our beliefs accordingly.
This is the “doing” aspect of Chaos Magic. Remember how I mentioned that Chaos Magic is results-driven? We get those results by actively practicing and experimenting with magic. Instead of just reading what other people (including me) have done and accepting it at face value, try things out, bend a few set “rules,” and find out what works for you.
Incidentally, another part of personal experience is documentation: That is, writing down all the things we’re doing. On one hand, this is so that we can track the results we’re getting, but it’s also so that we can have a record of the routes we took to get to those results (and so that we don’t overlook any variables along the way). If you want to practice Chaos Magic, invest in journals: This is my sage advice to you.
Maybe it’s because I’m a Virgo, or because I have OCD, but if I can’t do something perfectly on the first try, then I don’t want to do it at all. And this is something I’ve really had to struggle with throughout my occult career, because magic relies on both talent and skill, and skill takes time to develop.
None of us are going to be Master Chaos Magicians right out of the gate. But what we can do is figure out where our talents and interests lie, focus our efforts on those things, document the outcomes of the work we do (see above), and then start over and try again until we achieve the results we’re looking for. And then do it again and again until we get those results consistently.
This is the principle that most deserves its own full essay, but for the moment, I’ll just say this: Deconditioning is the process of becoming less attached to ingrained attitudes and beliefs, so that we can view the world around us more objectively. Our dominant society is based on Protestant Christian ethics, and whether or not we’re aware of it, those ethics have a massive influence on us. If we’re going to practice effective Chaos Magic, we’ve got to learn how to disengage from that conditioning. (More on this soon, I promise.)
We’ve already determined that there is no one way to practice Chaos Magic, and since our beliefs are (ideally) malleable, we shouldn’t be afraid to think outside of the box — or just burn the box down — and explore different techniques and systems to see which ones bring us the pay-offs we’re after. (The downside is that this can quickly lead into some sticky territory between cultural appropriation and open/closed practices, so there will be a lot more on this soon, too.)
Gnosis is the easiest principle to explain, but the toughest to put into practice. Long story short, in the context of Chaos Magic, gnosis is the altered state of consciousness necessary to work magic. We actually slip into gnosis all the time without realizing it — my personal favorite permutation being highway hypnosis — but the trick is being able to reach gnosis on command, versus accidentally.
There are people in this world who can snap their fingers, and bam, ritual trance, ready to go. I am not one of those people. Instead, I rely on what are called “inhibitory” (passive) and “excitatory” (active) exercises to get there. You know how, in every documentary about cults, they bring in a deprogrammer to talk about brainwashing? All of those techniques — chanting, sleep deprivation, diet restriction, etc. — are examples of things we can use as inhibitory and/or excitatory pathways to gnosis. Although maybe just try them out on your own, or with a friend who has healthy boundaries. Please don’t join a cult. That would be bad.
Hey, wait! What happened to the members of that men’s group?
I really don’t have a clue: We all mostly lost touch with one another after the group disintegrated. But a few years later, I fell in with some other guys. We came from different witchcraft backgrounds, but we quickly found a syncretic system we liked and that worked well for us, set up solid principles to act as our guidelines, and had some amazing experiences together. And while we eventually went our separate ways, we did so with a lot of earned knowledge and cool tech to serve us in the future.
Looking back, it’s almost as if we were practicing Chaos Magic without realizing it. And that makes me very happy to believe.