by Max K
This essay has caused a bit of controversy, and it's meant to point out why most other magicians think that Chaos Magicians (tm) are assholes. In my experience many of them are, and often for the reasons discussed below. I, of course, am not an asshole, nor do I always wear black, have tattoos, or bait Christians. I get along quite well with my family, often wear my hair in a bun, and am as likely to read about molecular biology as Maat. Make of this what you will. It was re-edited in September of 1999.
Walking with the FireDemon, the Boy, and the Piranha Kitten through the South End of Boston, the Demon and I pick up the conversation we've had ongoing for years. It started back when he gave me my first real practical lesson in magick -- do the Middle Pillar while walking on the railroad tracks, using only the 'weight' of the pillars in your mind to affect your balance. The Demon was also the person who gave me Peter Carroll's Liber Kaos, where I discovered a name for what I already was. He matters to me.
We are discussing magick as always, and he is telling me he's reached a point where ritual magick has no place in his life. "All the mucking about on the Astral just doesn't do it for me any more. I'm only interested in Doing, in reaching goals on the physical. Chaos magick only looks to me like you've given all the usual ceremonial stuff funny names. The only difference that I can see in Chaos Magicians is in the attitude."
I agree, thinking of my own attitude, that the core of Chaos Magick is deconstruction of ritual to essence, of personalizing what works for me. "Yes," I say, "the attitude is different."
"Yep," he answers. "All the Chaotes I've met are assholes."
I am surprised.
He goes on, "What's the point? I mean, I can kind of get behind having a goal of enlightening all mankind, but what's Chaos Magick for?"
"It isn't for anything. It comes with no belief system. It's just a set of techniques and tools --"
"Which aren't any different from Ceremonial, when you get down to it," he insists, interrupting.
"-- and of approaches to techniques and tools," I finish. Then addressing his interruption: "It's entirely about manifestation on the physical. Look, what makes magick work is pretty much the same, whether you take the psychological model or the bastardized physics model. But it's Black Magick because it doesn't require you to not do magick for your own material benefit."
"But what's the point?" he asks again. "It's all juvenile 'me, me, me' crap."
I remind him of our discussion about painting, and Dali's point that if you have the skill to paint like a Master, you can paint anything you want. "Pollock could actually paint a figure or scene if he chose, yet after him there were imitators who only knew the abstract, had not the skills, and brought only juvenile sensibilities to the canvas. The result was also crap.
"Similarly," I continue, "there are aspects of the deconstructing done from the Chaos stance that are no different from a 'school' of art. There will always be hack followers who don't understand what they're supposedly deconstructing. Doesn't mean we're all selfish jerks."
"Maybe," he grudgingly admits.
"You sound like you're getting old."
"I am not!" Then he cackles, "I don't need glasses; I only see better with them on. But seriously, it's just ridiculous to me."
I recall the night before when he argued in another context that if someone believing they were Cleopatra reincarnate helped them to get through the day, "Then alright." I drop it. He's an asshole, too.
But he's got a point.
Why are Chaos Magicians such assholes?
"The first stage of seeing through the game can be a shocking enlightenment that leads either to a weary cynicism or Buddhism. The second stage of actually applying the insight to oneself can destroy the illusion of the soul and create a magician."
That's a quote from Peter Carroll, Pope Pete in Chaos Magick circles. It is the single most intellegent thing I've ever read from him.
Most Chaotes, particularly young ones, are convinced they see through the game, but they don't necessarily know the rules they claim to be breaking. Still they're convinced of their own superiority. When you're convinced of your own superiority, yet still young and/or insecure, it's easy to show defensiveness by mockery and derision. Such mocking can bolster your internal sense of status, putting yourself above others.
My analogy for magical systems is that writers can tell many stories about the same aspect of the Human Condition, regardless of where the story is set. The details of plot and character make each version of the tale unique, but if the theme is the same, if the message conveyed is the same, then why get hung up on the details?
To some people the details are very important, even sacred. The first flush of understanding the details for what they are (window dressing) often engenders an arrogance that comes out in the form of ridicule. "What?! You actually *believe* that stuff?" It's a rude attitude, and thus Chaos Magicians are, rightly, known as assholes.
But there is another meaning for the word mock, as in making a mock-up, a model that is not the real thing. That definition also applies, because often in using their ecclectic techniques, people who call themselves Chaotes have no idea what they're really doing. It is like the facades of a town built for a movie -- there is sometimes nothing behind it. Arrogance without substance is also a trait that will earn the name "asshole."
I'd like to think I've outgrown this tendancy, but there are things I still struggle with.
During Mass, whether Episcopalian or Gnostic Catholic, I don't say the creed because I try not to lie, ever. In some views, I am mocking the rite by refusing to participate whole-heartedly. In my view, I would be mocking the rite by saying words I don't believe. Yet it could be said that I would be a better Chaos Magician (tm) if I could subsume my critical mind and fervently *believe* for the duration of the Mass, such that the Creed would be TRUE when I said it.
Every time I'm conviced I know something, or start spouting a belief system, especially in such a way that I might be able to state a creed, I start looking for its foundation in my psyche. When I find it, I break out the jackhammers.