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The Only True Magic

All my life, I've searched for magic. This magic has taken many forms and many names, and I've never found it. I can think of three, perhaps four, moments in my life that I can consider "spiritual," or "magical," but those moments have been fleeting and unexpected; I have never been able to intentionally recreate them. I've long since come to the conclusion that I am a cynic at heart.

The Problem with Magical Thinking

Mystical and magical "energies" do not exist. Crystal magic, astrology, qi, religious prayer, reiki, psychic reading and projection…they're all just a type of placebo, in which the student fools himself into thinking he is manipulating his "energy" to produce magic. This why hardcore skeptics laugh at this kind of magic, as they know that there is simply nothing there.

"Chaos" magic in particular is a fairly recent sub-genre of the pagan tradition of "magic." I was initially curious about magic because I wanted to learn the practice of meditation, preferably of a sort without religious dogma involved. Chaos magic emphasizes this, as it encourages the practitioner to place himself into an altered state of consciousness (referred to as "gnosis"). From this, allegedly, he can then focus himself on one thought, point, or goal and remove other sensations from his perception – essentially, enter a state of meditation, from which they can then work "magic." This differs from other pagan traditions of magic, which rely on the use of so-called mystical energies from the earth, nature, the stars, and so on. (Which, of course, is bullshit.) And this is the type of magic I was interested in discovering, by applying meditation through cooking. Thus, my intent was to embark on a form of "cooking magic."

Modern day magic, and Chaos magic in particular, is closely tied to fiction, especially science fiction. Like fiction itself, belief in magic requires you to accept a great amount of blatantly false information – bullshit – as inherently true. I'd known this for a while, but it was spelled out for me when I looked into Chaos magic and the writings of Peter J. Carroll, generally considered to be the founder of Chaos magic. Carroll's writings and practices require the practitioner of Chaos magic to accept one unquestionable and unalterable fact; or rather, what Peter Carroll considers to be a fact. That fact, supposedly, is that magic works. It "works," period, end of story, no questions asked. The fact that magic "works" is so ingrained into magic, Carroll tells us, that it is actually self-defeating: if you questions this fact, and if you attempt to test it in a skeptical manner, then it will automatically fail because you do not have the properly magical mindset. You must accept that "magic works" and move on from there. This, of course, is bullshit. It's a matter of relying on faith – just as with every other religion.

The truth is that there are no absolute truths – even the laws of nature themselves are being proven by science to be malleable and limited. I prefer to live by the mantra Question Everything, and that especially applies to absolute declarations such as "magic works." For a system of magic to be deliberately setup in such a manner so as to defy testing suggests that the creators of the system itself don't have enough faith in their system: they know there is no way to prove it is genuine, and so they defend it by telling the initiate, "you have to assume it works." And that is bullshit.

grantmorrison.jpg
Comic book writer and Chaos magician Grant Morrison at the 1999 Disinfo convention in New York City. Morrison's lecture on Chaos Magic was wildly popular, as he taught the audience the basics of "sigil magic" and repeatedly declared, "Magic fuckin' works!"

One other amusing aspect of Chaos magic is the way it retroactively takes its symbol from science fiction. The eight-arrowed symbol of Chaos was originally invented by science fiction author Michael Moorcock:

"The origin of the Chaos Symbol was me doodling sitting at the kitchen table and wondering what to tell Jim Cawthorn the arms of Chaos looked like. I drew a straightforward geographical quadrant (which often has arrows, too!) – N, S, E, W – and then added another four directions and that was that – eight arrows representing all possibilities, one arrow representing the single, certain road of Law. I have since been told that it is an "ancient symbol of Chaos" and if it is then it confirms a lot of theories about the race mind."

Moorcock had invented a very pleasing symbol, and this symbol was taken by pagan practitioners, who then made up a lie that this is an "ancient symbol." Moorcock didn't believe in it, as he knew it was all fiction. As if this isn't enough, you can take a look at many modern Chaos "magickal" traditions and see a similarity between their names and the names used by H.P. Lovecraft in his Cthulhu Mythos writings. Lovecraft knew he had invented those stories himself, and he didn't believe his ancient Elder Gods didn't exist, either…yet, again, the entities of Azathoth and Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu himself frequently show up in Chaos magic rituals. This belies the fictional trappings of magic.

The Only True Magic

Having spent all this time tearing down the fictional aspects of magic, let me now mention its positive aspect.

Magic has been a part of humanity since men first spoke with mouth. Whether it is known as prayer, ritual, creation, love, or art, it is magic. It is the indescribable, unknowable state of being that we all aspire to but rarely attain, and it is something that is currently indefinable by science. Science can't answer the question "why am I here?" – though it shouldn't have to answer that question, because it's not designed to. This is the difference between science and magic.

In support of this, I look to the writings of another practicing magician, author Alan Moore. In the documentary The Mindscape of Alan Moore, Moore delves into the philosophy he developed, and here he gives us a treatise on his belief in "magic" and how it relates to art and creativity. To Moore, making magic has less to do with standing at an altar or bonfire chanting old incantations, than it does with being creative. The point he puts across here is that "magic" -– at least the kind that he practices –- covers the inexplicable, mystical force that governs our lives, makes us conscious, allows us to experience the physical world, and makes us creative. To him, making magic has a lot to do with writing and creating art: even to the point where an artist is the closest thing the modern era has to what used to be called a "shaman" in the past. In Moore’s mind, you’re making magic when you’re creating something personal, something that you are putting your very soul into creating. His bias is obvious, since he’s a talented writer and that’s where he pours most of his creative energies; by extending this philosophy, one could say that a computer programmer’s magic is in the programs he writes, and a car mechanic is making magic when he takes an old antique wreck and brings it back to working life…or even a cook can make magic, when he creates a delicious meal. This is satisfying on more than just a physical level. When this happens, you feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, because you know you have created something yourself, with your own hands.

This sense of self-worth and achievement has many names, but there is another name that can be used to describe it: magic.

This is the kind of magic I refer to when I describe what I'm doing with my life. I'm living the life I want to lead, and I'm discovering a fascinating hobby and pasttime that lets me make my very own creations – and also, to please others and satisfy them with my creations. I'm not just cooking food with my cast iron pots and pans…I'm making my own creations. I'm putting my own self, my own being, into my cooking. I am making magic. It's not a magic based on the Zodiac, or based on my bowing and scraping to some mystical other-dimensional entity who might choose to "bless" my food if it is pleased. I'm doing this myself, and I am accomplishing my goals when I cook. That, to me, is my very own magic.

And this brings me to a conclusion when one considers magic – the only conclusion a cynic like myself could ever reach.

The only true magic is the magic you make yourself.

Cast Iron Chaos

Earlier I took the time to call out "Chaos magic" as bullshit. It's just ritualized prayer, based on faith and dogma, exactly the same as every other religious system of belief. However, that doesn't mean I'm opposed to it. I'm still interested in the idea of pursuing meditation, because it's something I want to learn. As a buffer against loneliness, and as a way to calm myself down and remain (somewhat) sane in the midst of a world and a personal life that seems to be sending me down a meaningless road, I'm embracing my current pasttime – cooking – as a way to keep my life busy and fulfilling. I'm new to much of this, both to cooking and to meditation, and I'm looking to create my own kind of "magic" that will satisfy me and only myself.

Chaos magic is bullshit. But that's what I like about this type of magic. I'm not only declaring it to be bullshit – I'm embracing it. I've spent the past seventeen years embracing a religious dogma that proudly and loudly declared itself to be bullshit. I'm done with that particular religious dogma…but I'm still enthusiastically embracing bullshit, because that's what the world is. The world is Chaos. The world is bullshit. And my life – especially over the past year – is certainly full of chaos and bullshit.

Through cooking and cooking magic, I am embracing the chaos of life.

This is Cast Iron Chaos. This is ME. It's not just "cast iron cooking" with iron pots and pans. It is not Peter J. Carroll, or Satan, or Jesus, or "Bob" Dobbs, or Jessica Darling, or anyone else. Cast Iron Chaos is E.W. Modemac.

This is my Web site, and these are my writings. I enjoy cooking, and I enjoy chaos and anarchy and bullshit. Welcome to my world.

– E.W. Modemac
October 5, 2011

"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." – The Beatles