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A Cynical Look at Practicing Chaos Magic

My initial attraction to Chaos magic stemmed from its emphasis on meditation and gnosis. I'd long wanted to give meditation a try for a number of reasons: to reduce stress at work (cubicle phone work takes up long hours, and the constant calls in the queue can get to you if you let it); to make myself feel better; to help overcome loneliness; and to find a kind of spirituality that would appeal to me.

That last aspect deserves a brief explanation in itself: For nearly seventeen years, I was a minister of the Church of the SubGenius, a blatantly bogus religion that revelled in the hypocrisy of the world at large. It opened my eyes to the utter bullshit that infects most of the world around us, and in that aspect the Church of the SubGenius is as genuine a religion as any other. (It simply tells the truth by declaring itself to be fake.) Chaos, I've learned, shares many aspects of this, including the idea that religion itself is bogus. All Gods and spirits stem from us, as they were a creation of Man – whether we're talking about Zeus, Jesus Christ, Yahweh, Odin, Darkseid, Arioch or Xiombarg, they all sprang from our own inner psyche. That's why Chaos embraces any entity you care to envision, from Brigid and Thor to Green Lantern and L. Ron Hubbard. They're all equally false – which means they are all equally true. That's the only kind of spirituality that a cynic like myself would embrace, one that encourages skepticism.

I've been practicing meditation for several months now. I can only consider myself a beginner, and will likely be one for a long time to come. However, I feel that I've successfully achieved a level that allows me to alter my perception and achieve a state of mind that allows me to focus on my objective. That's a positive aspect of meditation, and it does assist me with reducing my stress and helping me to remain calm.

My sources for my initial forays into meditation included:

I also drew upon personal experience. Even a geek like myself has had some experience with focusing consciousness.

Belief and Magic

When I use the term "magic" to describe my experience, I refer to my own personal definition of magic: the sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and pleasure one experiences as a result of engaging in creation and exertion. See also: The Only True Magic

Chaos magic places an emphasis on the subconscious as the source of magic. Magical workings (if any do exist) are beyond our deliberate control, but they can be influenced by our own inner selves. This is exhibited by the occurrence of strange, small magical coincidences that seem to occur at unexpected moments through the course of our existence. Have you ever noticed a sudden, unusual event that has a personal effect on you, yourself – even a small coincidence that has significance to no one other than yourself? Some practitioners of magic would say that this is an example of the effect of magic on your existence. It's indefinable, and you can't even measure it; but by the simple act of identifying and noticing it, you bring it into existence. (This is even seen in quantum physics as quantum entanglement.) It can't be defined or even measured by any known science, yet we identify it and give it a name called "magic."

It is this magic that the Chaos magician looks to focus on, in order to engage in magical ritual and use it to create an effect. When I engage in meditation, I am reaching into a part of myself to uncover something buried in my psyche, so as to bring that aspect of myself to the surface and let myself be immersed in it. I use meditation to effect change in myself, even short-term change. I may be using it to calm down from a sudden influx of stress ("oh no, not this idiot on the phone again!"), or I may be meditating in order to focus on the activity at hand (cooking a tasty meal in my cast iron pans). I can't explain what it is that I am using to engage myself with meditation – I can only describe the actions that I use to achieve my desired effect. It may be that I am using a form of "magic," as I am calling up an undefinable and unknown aspect of myself (my soul, perhaps?) which apparently only exists in my own subconscious.

A skeptic or a cynic might even say that magical "energies" do not exist: it is a well-known trait of human nature to identify patterns that aren't even there. This is the source of many conspiracy theories and other delusions. There is no logical way to debate an argument of this sort: how can you defend something that can't be defined by the scientific method of uncovering evidence through investigation? You can't, and that's why "magic" of this sort falls into the same aspect of human nature that is most often seen as "faith." We have no logical defense for it, and so we fall back upon "faith" to justify our belief. In this way, "magic" and "faith" can be seen as co-existing, and they may even be one and the same. What is the difference between a priest declaring his faith in his chosen Deity, and a magician declaring his belief in magic? From a logical standpoint, there is really no difference at all. This is an aspect of our culture seen as "magical thinking:" we assign the term "magic" to explain that which cannot otherwise be explained. I personally find this a source of amusement, to know there is no difference between a "high priest" and a "magician." Both of these characters are looking to a higher power – which may not exist – to justify their belief, and to hopefully use this belief to change the Universe to some extent.

This brings us to one of the axioms of Chaos magic: belief is a tool. "Belief" and "faith" are very powerful instruments. The course of human history is littered with monuments to the power of faith. At this time, for instance, about two billion human beings believe in a being called Jesus Christ, who allegedly worked miracles. Their belief in Jesus is so strong that temples have been erected in Israel to mark the spots where many events in Jesus' life occurred: where he was born, where he died, where he gave the Sermon on the Mount, where he was baptized, and so on. These temples, of course, are monuments to the power of faith – because there is little to no historical evidence that a being called Jesus Christ ever existed, other than in the Gospels that were written decades, if not centuries, after his apparent death. Belief in Jesus Christ has enormous power. So does belief in other deities and concepts. Belief is a source of power, and it is a source that the Chaos magician taps into to strengthen his own faith in himself. (Or herself.)

The idea that "belief is a tool" is one advantage that a Chaos magician has over those who let their faith blindly lead them down strange paths. I might even say that my own cynicism – my lack of belief – helps me in this aspect. I look upon all belief systems with a skeptical and cynical eye, and as such I can pick and choose them as I see fit. I was confirmed a Roman Catholic, but gave that up; I chose to be a SubGenius, until the time came to cast that aside. I can do so with any belief system, and I can do so for short periods of time if it suits my needs. If I want to invoke Jesus Christ, I can simply will myself to be a Christian and get what I need from it. Likewise with Wicca, or Scientology, or astral projection, or Great Cthulhu himself. As a Chaos magician, I get to put on any belief system necessary and wear it for the time being, then I can shed that belief system and move on to something else.

Of note is a quote from the famous "Mirror, Mirror" episode of the original Star Trek series. At the end of this episode, Mr. Spock said to Captain Kirk, "It was far easier for you as civilized men to behave like barbarians than it was for them as barbarians to behave like civilized men." In this way, the Chaos magician is the civilized man behaving like a barbarian blinded by faith.

Chaos magic uses a fancy-sounding term for this: paradigm shift (though this term actually came from Thomas Samuel Kuhn), or changing one's worldview. This calls for the practitioner to achieve a paradigm shift by altering his consciousness – usually through meditation – to the point where the desired effect occurs. The moment when this happens is the moment of gnosis. '"Gnosis" is the Greek word word for "knowledge," and it is used here to define the moment when the magician achieves his moment of "enlightenment." For me, gnosis is a goal to reach by meditation: I engage in meditation by focusing my consciousness until I reach the moment of gnosis and achieve a paradigm shift. (Sounds pretty fancy, doesn't it?) When that moment is achieved, according to the idea of Chaos magic, I can then make contact with my subconscious and produce a magical effect upon myself.

Meditation and Gnosis

When I meditate, I reach into my inner self and attempt to achieve a state generally described as gnosis. For me, gnosis is a goal, an indication that I have reached a state of existence that will allow me to achieve the effect I desire. At my current level of practice (which isn't very high; I'm barely a beginner at this stage), I feel that I can achieve gnosis for a few fleeting moments at a time. A proper goal, then, would be for me to practice my methods in order to make gnosis easier to achieve, and to remain at that state for longer periods of time.

Gnosis is often described in a manner that makes it seem like a "physical" experience. Sit in a lotus position, chant some mantras, and imbibe some liquor until you get dizzy and feel yourself spinning…and voila, you're achieved gnosis. Well, it may be like that for some folks. As with many aspects of magic, gnosis is one of those concepts that literally changes from person to person. What gives me gnosis may not give you gnosis – or karma, or Nirvana, or ecstasy. While there does appear to be a physical aspect to gnosis, that's not the entire extent of it. Gnosis may be a goal to reach, but it's not the final end to achieve; and it's not self-contained. You might say "getting there is half the fun," because the method used to achieve gnosis should also be interesting and (usually) pleasurable. Gnosis is the summation of the efforts taken to achieve it, not just an off-on switch that can be turned on at will.

But the physical aspects of gnosis are also the easiest aspects to describe. It's true that much of the sensation of gnosis comes from placing oneself in an altered state of consciousness. I meditate and attempt to achieve gnosis especially to alter my consciousness and change an aspect of myself – and the best way to tell when I've successfully done so is by experiencing a change in myself that I can feel. Whether it is "physical" or "mental," I am definitely feeling something, and it is this something that I invoke when I meditate.

The traditional image of meditation usually consists of an image of a person sitting in a lotus position (that's damned uncomfortable!), eyes closed, chanting or babbling in tongues while New Age music plays in the background. I've done this a few times myself, but not often. I've found it more enjoyable to engage in an everyday "waking meditation" that doesn't involve a sitting position. I still concentrate mentally, but I prefer to practice meditation in a manner that allows me to meditate while I am in motion, whether it is walking down the street or even while cooking in my kitchen. The entire point of meditation is to help me focus, and you don't always have to sit in a dark room by yourself in order to focus.

All my life, I've had the ability to tune out my surroundings. (This drove my parents and grandmother crazy, as I would be able to simply zone out and not listen to them, or my other surroundings, even as they were lecturing me!) This is something I've practiced since I was very young, and it comes to me as second nature. It's a good skill to have, as it allows me to concentrate, and meditate, even as I am engaging in physical activities such as walking. It's an aspect of my psyche that is not unlike Chaos magic itself, because it works best when I don't think about it. As I'm walking down the street, thinking or concentrating on something, I can suddenly become aware that I've walked half a mile or more and crossed several streets – and I wasn't even aware I was doing so. The trick, then, is to consciously and intentionally enter this state of mind.

I've personally discovered a few ways of internally adjusting my consciousness on a physical level, in order to support and reinforce my attempt to do so mentally. This is a matter of applying a few tricks that assist with cutting off my sensory input from my surroundings. The idea of separating oneself from physical sensation in order to increase focus and mental concentration is an old one, and it is the source of all of the stereotypical trappings of meditation: closing one's eyes, sitting in a dark room, playing soft music to drown out background noise, or even (if you have access to one) entering a sensory deprivation tank. My method of separating myself from my outer surroundings is far less extreme and more everyday, but I've had some success, and I feel I'm on the right path with this.

I engage in a form of sensory deprivation that simply involves increasing the pressure in my own head. We have the ability to tense a few muscles in our heads to increase this pressure to the point where we feel pressure behind our eyes, while our ears hear a dull roar. Holding this pressure and extending it can become uncomfortable quickly, and I can only do this for a few seconds at a time. I combine this with other acts of sensory self-deprivation in this manner: I breathe deeply and hold my breath, increase the pressure in my head, mentally cut myself off from my outer surroundings, and focus upon a single thought or concept – all at the same time. (It also helps at this point for me to close my eyes, unless doing so would put me at risk, such as when I'm crossing the street!) While doing all of this, I envision my actual consciousness expanding, as though I am generating an "aura" or even a "flame" around my entire body.
This is entirely in my own mind, though believers in auras are convinced that this action physically affects the aura or the soul. However – and this is where the paradigm shift comes into play – for these few seconds of time, as I am exerting this effort upon myself, I actually focus my belief. For these few seconds, I believe my aura is expanding, and that I am entering a magical state of existence. When this is successful, for a few fleeting moments, this action brings me to a state of gnosis. I'm not always successful, because I am still in the beginning stages and I am still working to perfect this method. But it does work fairly often. When I'm successful, I find myself experiencing that momentary loss of sensation that disassociates me with the environment outside my physical body. I don't collapse and I don't stop breathing…and I don't stop moving, either. I can work this simple ritual when I'm walking down the street.

When the moment of gnosis passes and I return to my senses, I usually feel calm and relaxed: the ritual was successful. At this point, my next goal is to practice maintaining this state of euphoria. And it is now that I can bring a sigil into my mind and concentrate on it, before I let it go and release it into my subconscious.

YouTube: Alan Moore: Art is Magic

Proceed to Chaos Magic, part II: Sigil Magic
Proceed to Chaos Magic, Part III: Cooking Magic
Proceed to Chaos Magic, Part IV: Summoning Demons and Other Fun Entities