I recently stumbled into an interesting discussion on a Chaos Magic forum, regarding the difference between a Chaos Magician and a Chaos Witch. Members offered some really good thoughts on the matter, and I added my own take, but one response in particular popped out as the most relevant:
“‘Chaos witch’ has become an aesthetic term within the online community for messy, I-do-what-I-want, I-have-adhd-lulz, yet these people have never heard of actual Chaos Magick. With the rise in popularity of the Scarlet Witch from WandaVision and Doctor Strange, we are now seeing even more misconstrued information on what Chaos actually entails within general witchcraft communities.”
Overall, I wholeheartedly agree with these sentiments. However, I would also submit that if we’re looking for a fictional role model on which to base our real-world magical practices, we couldn’t do much better than Wanda Maximoff.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has done a good job establishing Wanda’s backstory, creating an iconic character while dropping a ton of Easter eggs for die-hard comic fans like myself. But in the books, Wanda has a convoluted, 50-year history, with her past and powers being retconned every decade or so. I’m going to do my best to sum it all up succinctly, but I’mma need y’all to suspend a lot of disbelief while I try to do this in under 1500 words.
The Scarlet Witch first appeared in The X-Men in 1964, as part of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, along with her twin brother Pietro (a.k.a. Quicksilver). Her mutation granted her what was described as a Hex Power, meaning that she could cause unlikely, entropic things to happen. Originally, she didn’t have much control over her powers — she would wave her hands and probability would go unpredictably sideways, but she didn’t have any say as to what the effects would be.
Over time, Wanda developed a better grip on her powers, and she started studying Witchcraft to gain skills that would help her continue refining her control. It was also explained that she had a natural talent for magic that had been unknowingly granted to her by the demon Chthon (who was trapped under Mount Wundagore, where Wanda was born).
For a long while, Magneto was believed to be Wanda’s father, and it was understood that she had inherited her mutation from him. In the late 90s, however, it was determined that Wanda’s powers, if left to grow naturally, would have been more like her dad’s, but Chthon’s machinations resulted in Wanda being able to manipulate magical energy instead of electromagnetic energy, specifically the kind of magic that Chthon himself employed: Chaos Magic.
In Marvel Comics continuum, Chaos Magic is defined as a force powerful enough to warp reality, to the point of unraveling creation. Chthon’s ultimate goal was to give Wanda enough access to Chaos Magic that he could possess her, free himself, and take over the universe. As one does.
Wanda has usually managed to defeat Chthon, along with a number of other powerful beings who have tried to harness her for their own ends (Magneto, Immortus, and Doctor Doom being the most recurring). And she’s occasionally lost her mind and wreaked all kinds of havoc, most notably on M-Day, when she erased the powers of the majority of mutants on Earth. (She was going through some stuff).
Wanda has also been subjected to psychological manipulation at the hands of her teammates, such as when Agatha Harkness mystically removed the memories of her children — they had winked out of existence due to a series of events too intricate to get into here — and was like, “Okay, the spell will hold, and everything will be fine, so long as no one ever, ever brings it up again.” So the rest of the Avengers just pretended that Wanda had never had kids.
And then one day, the Wasp was like, “Hi, Wanda, blah blah blah, your twin boys… oops.” And the spell was broken, and Wanda went ballistic, and the hexes hit the fan.
Over the years, Wanda has been one of the most feared and hated characters in the Marvel Universe. In fact, when it was revealed that she wasn’t a mutant after all, and that her energy manipulation powers had come from the High Evolutionary messing with her genes when she was a baby, the rest of mutantkind started calling her the Great Pretender and actively shunned her.
But what is so crucial to Wanda’s story arcs is that she always finds redemption, even in situations where no one could fault her for not accepting responsibility. She understands that her role is to make the world a better place, regardless of what people believe about her, or the sinister identities people have attempted to foist on her. And she’s worked really, really hard to discover all she can about her abilities, and to be her own Witch in every way possible.
Incidentally, during one of the eleventy-thousand rewrites of her narrative, Wanda learned that she came from a long line of Romani sorcerers, and that her mother had adopted the title Scarlet Witch out of rebelliousness, because the color red was considered unlucky. So Wanda’s true heritage — demons, mutations, and gene-tampering aside — is defiance. Her ancestors stood up to authority and ignored the “right way” of doing things in favor of just getting things done, and they passed that attitude down to her.
In my mind, this alone is enough to make her the spokesmodel for Chaos Magical Theory.
Wanda comprehends the true nature of Chaos. She applies principles to her magic, and if something goes awry, she figures out what went wrong and gives it another shot. (This is all comic canon.) And she reinvents herself as necessary for her work, drawing from personal experience and the documented knowledge of others to generate something entirely hers. While owning that her power set was labelled “Chaos Magic” for the sake of modernizing her plotlines more than anything else, it really does fit.
Plus, Grant Morrison was using comic books as hypersigils while all of this was going on, so it’s not like there wasn’t precedence.
And look, I realize that a lot of newbies are going to watch Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and be all, “I, too, am fierce and unfettered and more than a little unbalanced! I am definitely a Chaos Witch.” But I’m pretty much okay with that. Art reflects life reflects art — some people are going to learn about Chaos Magic for the first time by watching the movie, and while a chunk of them may start smacking into walls and screaming about Chaos Witchcraft, a handful will probably head down to Ye Olde Magick Bookshoppe and start doing some actual research.
Those are the ones to watch out for. Because sooner than later, one of them will have an epiphany about belief as a tool and create a whole ritual to invoke the Scarlet Witch. At which point they will either warp reality or marry a robot. And I am dying to see what happens either way.
And y’all, as much as I think Elizabeth Olsen has crafted a fantastic character, and as much as I am slavishly devoted to Kathryn Hahn, I really hope that even a couple of people see the movie and decide to explore the comic book source material. I would be lying if I said that growing up on a diet of Marvel Comics didn’t contribute to I am today. I want youngsters — especially those who feel like they don’t belong — to get lost in the stories like I did, and to find the same solidarity in those pages.
Although if anyone is truly apoplectic about the Scarlet Witch practicing Chaos Magic, or any related commingling of pop culture and the occult… man, I don’t want to be around when they find out that one of her kids (they came back to life) took on the codename Wiccan. That just strikes me as a lot to have to swallow in one sitting.