I have a couple of chaos magic books, highly recommended to me by some of my energy-working friends. I got them and, as many of my books do, they incubated on my bookshelf for a little while before I picked up Condensed Chaos: An Introduction to Chaos Magic by Phil Hine. I read the first third or so of the book before I needed to sleep for the night, and in reading that chunk of text, I realized something.
I’ve been a chaos magician for years without ever knowing it had a name.
It was an approach I’d developed from my own observations and experiences, my own theories and studies into various paths. If I had to name it, before I knew other people had already named it and also practiced it, I probably would have referenced the archetype of Shapeshifter in some way. Chaos magic is all about shapeshifting – being fluid and changing your skin to suit your needs, your preferences, and your situation. But, instead of just changing your behavioral patterns and strength/weakness attributes, which is more of a personal self-shifting practice, and instead of a long-term paradigm-shift, where you uproot and revamp how you view the world and its people and your own self, chaos magic is action-shifting.
In other words, chaos magic lets you grab any tool from any toolbox. It doesn’t matter if this tool is “real” when viewed through the lens of your usual paradigm; it matters if the tool is useful. Does it work? Does it bring about the desired effect for you, in your wonderfully subjective experience?
Because everything is subjective. Psychology backs me up on this; if you ever want to realize how amazingly fluid and flexible our brains are, read A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives by Cordelia Fine. Even our “factual” memories get edited and adjusted over time. We do have objective truths in our present world – gravity works, yes – but our experiences are so very subjective that our personal realities become far more subjective than objective. And so, if, as chaos magic maintains, “nothing is true – everything is permitted,” well, then. We have no need to limit ourselves.
If nothing is true, then anything can be true. You can put on any set of glasses through which to see the world. You can move through different magical traditions as you need. You can use different spiritual techniques as you need. You can interact with any Unseen entity (that’s willing to interact with you). You can even engage with fiction if it works for you! (And it does for many of us. What is fiction but newly-created mythologies in the modern day?) There’s nothing holding you back but how far your mind can expand to hold these varying paradigms within it. Chaos magic is all about personal experience and gnosis, not dogma.
“Rather than trying to recover and maintain a tradition that links back to the past (and former glory), Chaos Magick is an approach that enables the individual to use anything that s/he thinks is suitable as a temporary belief or symbol system. What matters is the results you get, not the ‘authenticity’ of the system used.” – Phil Hine, author of the aforementioned Condensed Chaos: An Introduction to Chaos Magic.
Important Note: Chaos magic is not an excuse for mistreating your Unseen contacts or for cultural appropriation – all the usual guidelines of working magic responsibly still do apply. Do your research into this method/those entities so that you can be smart and courteous and effective in your work. In fact, chaos magic puts a strong emphasis on practice and putting in the work to any given magical endeavor that you want to fully learn or that you want to succeed. Chaos magic means that you have many roads that you can choose to walk – not that you get a flying car!
Interestingly, I tie chaos magic into compassion, especially in the zen sense. If I practice chaos magic, if I can set foot in the Celtic deep-soil-and-old-bones tradition and also set foot in the hot-sands-and-dry-winds of Kemetic Orthodoxy, then can I not understand how easy it is to change paradigms? Can I not understand how it is that another person lives a different paradigm than I – and can I not extend to them my ability to listen and learn about that paradigm in the same way that I learn other magical paradigms? If I can understand them, even if I may not like all aspects of their paradigm, can I not offer them my compassion and my fellowship as another living creature of this world? If I can shift my shape, can I not imagine how the shape of another person would feel to wear?
Chaos magic is about tools. But not all tools are magical – plenty are perfectly mundane, the ones we use in constructing and deconstructing our interpersonal relationships. And chaos magic can apply there, too, like it can just about everywhere. It’s flexible like that.
This post brought to you as part of the Pagan Blog Project.