Magick on the Edge, edited by Taylor EllwoodI’m reading Magick on the Edge, ambitiously subtitled “An Anthology of Experimental Occultism.” The quote below from Nick Farrell appears in the first essay, “Experimentation as Magical Path,” which is otherwise quite good at making a decent case for “experimental” magick. (Though isn’t all magick experimental? Isn’t that the point of doing the Work?)

[T]here [is] a type of occultist who believes that it doesn’t matter what you do in magic that “intention is everything”. I am a strong believer in the phrase “the path to hell is paved with good intentions” and think these types of occultists are more dangerous to the experimental magician because everyone thinks that they hold similar, sloppy views.
These occultists often call themselves chaos magicians or repeat Aleister Crowley’s much misunderstood phrase “Do what you will be the whole of the Law,” [sic] as if it gives them a wholesale license to bunk off from doing any work.

In the context of the essay, Farrell is snidely suggesting that chaos magicians practice magick with no understanding or interest in the theory behind it,1 cheerily believing that as long as you want “it,” “it” will happen. I hear this expressed online on occasion, but I’m surprised to read such a misguided sentiment expressed so blatantly in print.2

Sex Secrets of the Black Magicians Exposed, Second Edition, by Ramsey Dukes“Intent” forms a central part of any magical working — chaote and otherwise — for, without purpose, what’s the point? And I’ll fess up, in chaos magick, the intentions aren’t always “good” in the Wiccan or Golden Dawn sense of the term, but with the experienced practitioner, they are never sloppy.

Writing under various pseudonyms Lionel Snell pioneered what would come to be the incorporated into the philosophy of chaos magick with S.S.O.T.B.M.E, written as Lemuel Johnstone and, writing as Liz Angerford and Ambrose Lea, Thundersqueak which explored these themes further.

Ray Sherwin‘s The Theatre of Magick and The Book of Results were also instrumental in defining chaote philosophy. In The Book of Results, Sherwin puts it this way:

At times I have argued that to know how something works can be an impediment from some points of view.These days I would argue that to be aware of how a technique works during its performance under ritual circumstances can be an impediment.In any case I would also argue, paradoxically, that to have a model for how a technique works acts almost as a sigil in itself.

While it’s true that at its most basic chaos magick might be summed up as “doing what works,” this simple statement belies the self-awareness that must be cultivated to fully appreciate what that implies.

Deconstructing the self to understand one’s personal memetic make-up, which symbol sets work, which don’t, exploring new techniques to expand one’s options: these are hallmarks of the chaote’s practice. Chaos magick is results-oriented; it requires an honest appraisal of one’s work and the effects achieved — especially when results are not evident.

Peter Carroll‘s Liber Null & Psychonaut details strenuous exercises to hone the will and expand the magician’s skillset,3 and Liber Kaos lays out a 21-stage training program to further develop various techniques. While these training programs are not required of a chaote, similar, if perhaps less organized, self-training systems will be found in any chaote’s practice.

It’s ironic that in Farrell’s concern for tarnishing the reputation of “experimental” magicians, he instead directs misinformed jibes at chaotes and Thelemites: this, I think, can be far more dangerous.

First published on 8 November 2007.

  1. For now I’ll leave it to the Thelemites to challenge the sidelong insult aimed at them. []
  2. It’s a shame, too, because I liked Farrell’s earlier work, Gathering the Magic: Creating 21st Century Esoteric Groups. []
  3. With much material cribbed from Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare. []