chaos magic

Playing a Sigil Game

I recently joined a chaos magic Facebook group and several of the people asked me if I'd like to participate in a sigil game. In this game you share a sigil (or in my case sigils) and let other people activate them. They then to try guess what the purpose of the sigil is, i.e. what it is it supposed to do.

I thought it was an intriguing game, so I put together six sigils, using my comic book panel sigil technique. Why do multiple sigils? Because I think it would make the game more interesting. I also set the sigils up with two layers of programming, of which one layer is directly relevant to my life, and which the other layer is relevant or has benefits for the people activating the sigils.

I'm including information about this sigil game for any readers of my blog who want to participate in it, for the fun of it. Your task is to to charge and fire all six sigils together. When one is manifested into reality, it will create momentum to bring the other five into reality. A month's time to do it and see what happens as a result, though some results may continue to occur after the deadline.

Are pop culture entities real?

In a recent blog post Jason wrote about Post Chaos Magic (sounds like Post modernism) he argues that fictional or pop culture entities don't have the same effect as more traditional gods, demons, entities, etc. He notes the following:

Some chaos magicians have claimed that in the modern, largely secular world, a figure like Superman receives more collective belief than a pagan deity like Mars, thus making comic book or pop culture characters even more viable for magic than traditional gods and spirits. Even if we accept that it is belief, rather than the object of belief, that holds the power to magic, this thinking confuses attention with belief. Attention and belief are not the same thing, there is a different quality to the experience all around.

Now I want to first issue a caveat. I have not ever identified as a chaos magician. I've always identified as an experimental magician (which is its own path).  I mention that because in my book Pop Culture Magick I made similar arguments to what is mentioned above. I have, however, distinguished between attention and belief. In my book, I acknowledged that attention was not the same as belief and that while a pop culture entity might get lots of attention what made it an effective force was the actual belief the practitioner had in its existence and abilities. And not just belief in the entity for the course of a ritual, but actual, honest to goodness belief that lasts longer than a moment.

Back in the late 1990s I had the privilege of connecting with Storm Constantine, author of the Wraeththu series. We've continued our contact over the years (In fact I co-run Immanion Press with her). We both worked on the Dehara system, which is a system of magic based on contact with "fictional" entities from the Wraeththu series. As we developed this system, other people got involved and what stood out to me was that none of us treated the entities as fictional entities, but rather as genuine spirits we'd contacted. To this day I continue to work with the Dehara as do other people who've chosen to believe in them and form a relationship with them. The impact the Dehara have had on my life has been just as real as the impact my work with with the Goetia or other more traditional entities has been.

Jason rightly points out that one of the core issues of Chaos Magic (and for that matter some forms of ceremonial magic) is a tendency to treat spiritual entities as psychological extensions of ourselves. But to me what has always made pop culture magic a viable magic is the ability to genuinely believe and interact with entities that may not date back to Ancient Greek or Celtic cultures, but nonetheless have a real and viable presence, provided the magician is willing to explore that presence. I think that what has stopped many magicians from doing so is a combination of the psychological model of magic and embarrassment about considering the possibility of forming a spiritual relationship with a pop culture entity. After all the Pagan/occult community can be fairly harsh with those people deemed fluffy, as I can attest to from my own experiences. Yet as someone who unashamedly does work with pop culture entities from a spiritual perspective, all I can really say is: Such relationships really can be as effective provided you invest them in as equally as you expect the entity to.

I will note that there is a difference when you're working with a pop culture entity in a manner that is driven more by getting a specific result as opposed to forming an ongoing relationship with it. I've certainly done that kind of work as well and while useful it's not quite the same as when you develop an ongoing spiritual relationship with an entity.



The disappointment of magic

I came across an intriguing blog where the author discusses why chaos magic disappoints him, as well as why that disappointment is good. As I read his posts I found myself nodding in agreement, seeing some of my own frustrations expressed. Like me, he recognized that there has been a distinct lack of inquiry into why and how magic works in favor of simply shrugging off that it does work. It's the lack of questioning and critical inquiry that bothers me, and not just in chaos magic, but really in just about any system of magic that's currently out there. What I want to know, and what he doesn't really discuss, is why there isn't more experimentation with magic? And let me be clear: I don't think of chaos magic as a form of experimental magic at this point and I don't think it's been that way for quite a while. Ok you can borrow from other systems and put together a ritual that's a combination of those systems or you can create an entity or do a sigil. But that's the extent of it, and the extent is focused on obtaining a result. Being a process oriented magician, I think of a result as an indicator about the process, and useful in its benefits to my life, but I want more...I want a process I can use to achieve consistent results, and where if something doesn't occur, I can go in and fix it.

The process is more than just that. It's coming up with an idea and then testing that idea by developing a process to support the implementation of it into your life. It's experimenting with the idea, testing the idea and the process, until you are satisfied you've gotten everything out of it that you can achieve.

I see a lot of contemporary work that I'd label as experimental magic, which others would label as chaos magic. And I've been labeled a chaos magician even though its not a label I hold to. I think the difference comes down to an orientation on process. I care about the result, but it's not the only reason I'm practicing magic.




The Sacred Cow of Science

I've written before about the tendency for some occultists to value science over magic and their attempts to apply the scientific method to magic, to the point, where they end up disillusioned with magic, because it doesn't really conform to science (nor was it ever meant to). This passage, I think explains part of the problem as well:

An all too common perception of science is that it deals in authoritative facts - truths that are immutably recorded in peer-reviewed journals and blessed by academia. In actuality, science is a method of inquiry that generates theories. Theories are forms of metaphors that explain a body of data, although scientists often may shy away from admitting the metaphoric quality. Metaphors are rarely perfect and almost always leave a lot of room for interpretation. theories are updated, hopefully on a regular basis, to best fit the map of the world we operate from.

From Brain Magick (Affiliate link) by Phil Farber

There is a perception that science deals in authoritative facts, because of how the scientific method works, but what people forget is that the method accepts that there is no's all theory, which means it could be changed down the line with new discoveries. As Farber puts it theories are used to explain and interpret data. And that's really what science boils down to...a way to explain data based on repeated practices that seem to verify a consistent outcome.

Magic doesn't work that way. I can give you a technique I've done and you can do it and get consistent results, but you can also modify that technique to get better results that fit your personality, nature, etc. Magic is personalized, and that's what makes it work. We have techniques, we have foundational principles, but when it comes down to it, magic is much more of a personal experience.

Trying to fit magic into science doesn't work so well because of that personalization. I favor the opposite. Take scientific principles and concepts and fit them into your magical work, without trying to make magic fit those scientific principles and concepts. Science is about laws, rules, and until proven otherwise those laws and rules are what people rely upon to understand the world. Magic is about breaking and bending rules. It's about making possibilities happen even if those possibilities don't exactly align with scientific principles.

There's nothing wrong with drawing inspiration from scientific principles and practices, but the magician should never allow those principles and practices to dictate how s/he practices magic. Keep yourself open to the possibilities and use that to create opportunities!

Some further thoughts about process

In a discussion I had recently with one of my magical students I elaborated further on the difference between chaos magic and experimental magic. Chaos magic, aside from being associated with servitors and sigils, is also about paradigmal piracy. You determine what paradigm works for you, you adopt it for as long as it's useful, and then once you've gotten your result, you move on. Experimental magic, on the other hand, is focused on a more processed oriented approach and so recognizes that in order to really under a paradigm, system, methodology, or whatever word you want to use, you've got to spend time learning the system, learning how the methodology works, before you can really begin to use it successfully. Consequently process is built into experimental magic much further than in chaos magic. And, if anything, the issue with chaos magic is that while you might be able to get a result one time from using a system to address an immediate need, without fully understanding it, you can't really know the process or know if you'll get a result that meets your needs each time.  That kind of understanding doesn't occur over night, or in a single working. It occurs over time, with study, practice, and yes experimentation. To really understand a paradigm of magic, it needs to be something more than just a convenience to be used because it fits an immediate need.

This is why I've never used Voodoun in my workings. Sure, I could pick up any of the books I have on it, sketch out a ritual and do something, but I don't understand the system enough to really feel comfortable doing that, nor do I really want to offend one of the Lwas just to get a result. If I really wanted to integrate voodoun into my magical practice, I would need to study it for a while, do rituals strictly in that system without integrating other practices in, and experiment within the process of that belief system. Eventually, if I knew about it, I could begin to incorporate external elements.

So experimental magic is less about rolling a dice and picking a spiritual system for a day and more about really getting hands-on experience with a given system, and process plays an integral role in that, because it's process you need to learn to really put it all together.

Process instead of results

For many magicians, my work still falls into the category of chaos magic, and so to them I am a chaote. I, on the other hand, disagree, because while there are certainly elements of chaos magic I draw on, I also utilize a wide variety of other systems. To which one might say, "Wait a minute Taylor isn't chaos magic all about taking different systems of magic and mashing them together and using what works to get achievable and demonstrative results?" Yes it is, and there's a very distinct difference from my own approach, because while I acknowledge that results are important, my focus is on process, specifically understanding how what I'm doing works and how to refine and improve it. Process is key to truly understanding magic. Results are just road signs showing you the way, but process is how you get there. Without understanding process all you have is push-button magic. You may get results, but just achieving results isn't enough. Process is how you refine and define those results. Process is how you experiment, instead of just doing magic. When you know your process you can change it, test it, develop it further. So while my work may seem similar to chaos magic, it's really not, because it's mainly about process, and less about results.