Chaos! Mayhem! Disorder!
Well, not quite.
Chaos, in this case, isn’t about being 100% destructive, or worshipping Tiamat, or being a Discordian. Rather, it hails back to the original Greek definition for the term–the pure potential that predated the ordered world that we know today. In my mind, Chaos is like a round ball of Play-doh sitting in its cup. Take it out, make something with it–that’s order. Smash whatever you’re made–that’s disorder. Roll the Play-doh back into a ball and pop it back into the cup–back to Chaos.
The roots of Chaos magic are several; Peter J. Carroll, the creator of Chaos magic, was inspired by everything from shamanism to the works of Austin Osman Spare, one of Aleister Crowley’s contemporaries. Rather than being a tradition in and of itself, it is a system that boils magic down to its bare-bones components, free of cultural trappings, to create a practical methodology. There are no set gods or spirits, and Chaos magic may work within any model of how magic works, from energetic to psychological and then some. Additionally, there are no central religious beliefs; for many, though not all, Chaos magicians, belief is a tool to be used as needed.
And that brings me to one of the hallmarks of Chaos magic: paradigmal piracy. This is the practice of taking effective, practical aspects of various paradigms (religions, magical systems, etc.) and using them to work effective magic. Unlike eclectic paganism, this is not done for primarily spiritual purposes, nor is it generally a permanent adoption. Joshua Wetzel references two types of piracy–buffet style, in which a magician takes a little of each of several paradigms, and immersion, where s/he may spend a certain amount of time working with a paradigm full-time to learn what s/he finds useful.
One goal of piracy may be to gain new methods of achieving gnosis. Gnosis, in Chaos magic terms, is different than what it is understood to be in ceremonial traditions. In Chaos, gnosis is an altered state of mind in which the mind is focused on a single point, object or other thing. There are several ways to achieve gnosis. Inhibitory methods include sensory deprivation, quiet meditation, and the “death posture”, a particular way of holding the body that induces trance. Excitatory methods range from dancing to the point of exhaustion, to taking entheogens, and even sex. Once gnosis is achieved, the magician may then move on to whatever magic s/he intended to work.
While a Chaos magician may work with just about any sort of magic, there are two in particular that are associated with Chaos magic, sigils and servitors. The sigil was derived from Spare’s work. Seeking an easier way to work magic than long, drawn-out ceremonies, Spare devised a method of creating a picture of one’s desire by writing out what the magician wanted out of a particular magical act. Certain letter would be removed from the sentence, and the remaining letters rearranged and overlapped or connected to create an abstract picture. The resulting sigil would then be charged.
Servitors are thought forms (or spirits, if you will) that are created by the magician to perform certain magical tasks. They may be created in a similar manner as sigils, with the purpose and name of the servitor turned into one or more sigils. Some magicians create physical representations of their servitors. While servitors are generally created to carry out single tasks and are then destroyed afterward, some magicians do create permanent servitors for multiple uses.
More generally speaking, some Chaos magicians use Carroll’s Eight Colors of Magick. Carroll uses different correspondences than Isaac Bonewits did in “Real Magic”, and assigns one color/type to each point of the eight-pointed chaostar. The correspondences are as follows:
Purple or Silver: Sex
Octarine: “Pure” Magic
Octarine is the name Terry Pratchett gave to the (humorous) theory regarding the eighth color of the spectrum.
As to the connection with Chaos theory in physics, Carroll dedicated the first chunk of “Liber Kaos” to the scientific exploration of how magic works. While a thorough understanding of physics isn’t necessary to be a Chaos magician, a basic grasp of Chaos theory is useful.
Additionally, Chaos magic is sometimes confused with Discordianism, a parody religion founded in the late 1950s with the publication of the Principia Discordia. While a number of Chaos magicians may draw on Discordianism, they are not one and the same.
This is an incredibly basic introduction to Chaos magic; my recommendation would be to do further research at the following websites, as well as the recommended reading list below.
Carroll, Peter J. (1987). Liber Null & Psychonaut. Boston: Weiser.
Cunningham, David, Taylor Ellwood and Amanda Wagner (2003). Creating Magical Entities. Ohio: Egregore Publishing.
Ellwood, Taylor (2004). Pop Culture Magick. Stafford: Immanion Press/Megalithica Books.
— (1992). Liber Kaos. Boston: Weiser.
Hawkins, Jaq D. (2001). Understanding Chaos Magic. Capall Bann.
— (2003). Chaos Monkey. Capall Bann.
Hine, Phil (1995). Condensed Chaos. Tempe: New Falcon.
— (1999). Prime Chaos. Tempe: New Falcon.
Wetzel, Joshua (2006). The Paradigmal Pirate. Stafford: Immanion Press/Megalithica Books.
Konton Magazine – Available through cafepress.com; no new issues have appeared for some time, but back issues are readily available for new Chaos International – Difficult to get in the United States, sporadically published in London, but worth it if you can get it
Lupa is a therioshaman (http://therioshamanism.com) living in Portland, OR with hir mate and fellow author, Taylor Ellwood, Sun Ce and Ember the cats, and too many books. S/he is the author of several books on pagan, occult and Otherkin related topics, to include Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and Kink Magic: Sex Magic Beyond Vanilla (cowritten with Taylor). S/he may be found online at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.