So here’s a post that’s been sitting in my draft box for about a month now. I’ve read it so many times trying to figure out if it’s really what I want to say or not that it doesn’t make sense to me anymore. So it’s time to release it, imperfections and all in the midst of a Mercury retrograde, because you know, that’s how I roll. I have to admit that part of the reason I fear to release it is because of fear of judgment.
Magic, like Immunology, is a Local Phenomenon
Let’s start with a little story shall we?
In the field of immunology, in the 70’s, there was this idea that there had to be certain cells called “suppressor cells” that regulate the immune system by suppressing it, otherwise it would just run amok with no way to shut down once it is activated. Various threads of research supported this and it became a rather large field with multiple complex mechanisms described. Everyone who was anyone, as immunologists go, were working with suppressor cells back in the day.
Then someone who was a very well thought of and respected scientist came along and did a definitive experiment that showed that the primary mechanism by which they were thought to work (something called ‘Factors’) looked highly unlikely to really exist. If anyone else had done it, it would probably not of been excepted, but because someone of importance and respect said it, it was now gospel.
Immediately, almost overnight, everyone thoroughly abandoned the research. Just total and completely abandoned it, like rats jumping off a sinking ship. The very topic was forbidden. Careers were destroyed, some peoples life’s work rendered invalid overnight. If you ever mentioned “suppressor cells” at a talk or conference you had a very good chance of killing your career and no one ever taking you seriously again. It would be like going to a scientific conference and talking about how your research is based on crashed UFO technology from Roswell (it very well may be, but you really shouldn’t say it publicly). There was a very real fear of being ostracized by your peers for even mentioning an interest in it. This feel of oppression hung in the air for decades.
Things remained this way until about the year 2000. Then breaking news came from Japan by a scientist named Sakaguchi that these cells did in fact exist and were in fact VERY important in regulating immunity. (I had the very odd experience of having him come and sit with me for breakfast one day at a conference. I didn’t realize who it was until he had left and someone told me who it was).
It turns out the original big name scientist was half right, the mechanism by which they were thought to work in the 70’s didn’t exist, but they still worked by another mechanism which we didn’t have the technology or even the mindset to understand until the 2000’s. Yet the cells themselves did the same thing and did really exist. Suddenly, it was ok to work with them again. Everyone wanted to work with them. They were interesting and potentially very valuable to advance science. Their existence fit a lot of holes in the knowledge gap. Suddenly a lot of things made sense and potentially valuable therapeutic treatments looked a lot more promising.
However, no one dared call them suppressor cells anymore. They had to be called “regulatory cells” now because the stigma attached to suppressor cells still was very ingrained in the brain of every immunologist around the world. Sakaguchi had the guile to call them Regulatory Cells right off the bat, because he knew that no one would take them seriously if he called them Suppressor Cells. Everyone knew suppressor cells would still get you ostracized. However, regulatory cells, well that was safe because we changed the name.
The field took off again. Now everyone and their brother were interested in Regulatory Cells and still are. The field is huge.
Why am I telling you this story? Because I see Chaos Magic following pretty much the same pattern. Interest in it peaked in the 80’s and 90’s. It had a lot of good principles (and possibly a few crappy ones). Then somewhere along the line in the 90’s it fell out of fashion, and a huge stigma got attached to it. The mechanism by which it worked became in question to many (The idea being that it’s not that Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted, it’s that Everything is True, Everything is Permitted, which depending on how you interpret them, may be pretty much the same thing). Chaos magic fell out of favor and it was now deemed to be the realm of those to lazy to be a “real magician” as everyone abandoned ship and went on to study traditional systems. From this point on any mere mention of it gets you looked down upon by the and potentially ostracized by the “Srs magicians”.
To many peoples minds it is synonymous with the culture in which it became popular. Chaos magic did not implode or die or go away in any way as is commonly touted, it simply became unpopular. The practioners themselves evolved, their personal magical practices evolved, the system itself continues to evolve, however peoples views of the system have not. It’s the same thing as if you were to use the word “eclectic”. The mere mention of this word brings on knee jerk reactions of undisciplined practioners who mix systems will-nilly and such, when in fact there are a large number of disciplined and knowledgeable eclectics out there who approach the systems they work in with care and respect, and most importantly, in a knowledgeable manner.
It’s unfortunate but now a days if you mention a serious interest in CM, there is a very real fear of being ostracized and not being taken seriously as a magician (there’s a concept. Those of us who work daily with beings and forces considered to be fantasy by the majority of the population not taking each other seriously because of perceptions of reality. Just contemplate the irony on that for a second). I myself have witnessed (and received the brunt of) deep set vitriol from other magicians when it is mentioned, which makes me cautious of doing so in public, even though I do obviously have an interest in it.
However, it’s left it’s legacy on Western Occultism as a large number of us were involved with the current back in the day and it’s mindset imprinted on many of us. Many of us have even gone on to study traditional systems in depth and initiate fully into them, yet bringing those CM principles with us. The whole vitriol is really rather silly and needs to stop I say. I personally see many parallels between CM and Hermetics. I’d dare say Hermetics was the Chaos of it’s day. I wonder if Agrippa got grief from his contemporaries for the Three Books of Occult Philosophy?
Nowadays, it seems like CM has certainly influenced today’s magic but that influence gets ignored. We don’t do CM any more, now it’s synchretism or eclectic ritual magic, or Post-Modern Magic, or Post-Chaos or whatever that pretty much seems so much to me like an attempted re-invention of the same thing without the connotation that will get you ostracized. Just like immunologists in the early part of last decade with their regulatory cells. However, CM did fill holes in the magical knowledge gap and bring a lot with it to the table by sweeping aside many of the dogma’s of the past few thousand years. Unfortunately by doing so, it seemed to have stepped on a few toes. However it keeps getting re-invented to fill those holes back up. babies and bathwater and all. Regardless of some people’s distate for it, I think it’s clear that there is still a need for it.
So now many of us who feel a call in that direction won’t call it Chaos Magic anymore, because it has too much baggage, we have to call it something else that is safe. This to me smacks rather of playing the devils game and refusing to take his name. Now I honestly don’t care what other people call themselves, nor do I intend to say the above statement holds true for everyone. I speak only for myself, but the idea does not sit well with me.
I think CM has a lot to offer still. For me personally (your mileage may vary) the core concept, the fact that reality is virtually unknowable and the flexible mindset is the only one that won’t break down over time, is just as valid to me now as it was 20 years ago. In my thought, this right here is Core Chaos (I’ll get into this in part II). You can debate the validity of other principles that got associated with it (by “you” I mean someone else whose not me, I’m not interested!), but I think this is it’s main strength.
Maybe I’m just a nostalgic old fool (likely), but I’d really like to see the Chaos Flag fly high again, not as just an apologetic footnote, but as a legitimately respected branch of occultism that doesn’t get relegated to the kiddy table at the yearly Christmas gathering of mage-folk (where is that being held this year by the way? I don’t think I received my invite yet. Someone needs to get on this.). I’d really like to see the “undisciplined” image of Chaos die because I personally don’t believe any longer that it’s accurate. Not in the slightest. If anything is out dated I think it is this mode of thinking. There are chaotes out there that live and breath their art just as much as any traditionalist and get every bit the results. Many of them study and even initiate into traditional systems in a careful and respectful manner, yet maintain the “core chaos” viewpoint which allows them to transcend many of the limitations of walking a purely traditional path. In short it prevents them from mistaking the map for the territory. To quote the article linked to in the above paragraph:
For me the Chaos approach helps me hold a bigger vision, and enables me to hold my obsessions more loosely.
I think the only way the raising of said flag will happen is if people start putting awesome shit out there again in it’s name. Thankfully, this is already happening. I think the pendulum is already swinging, I can feel it.