Friday, March 4, 2011

Free-Thinkers, Living-Gods and New-Genders

or Chaos Never Died

'Transformation' Nina Arsenault
by Bruce LaBruce

"In fact, I don’t always even see this as an image of me. I believe it is an icon of a triple goddess: Aphrodite (the Goddess of Beauty) who was born of the sea foam that rose from the blood of Cronus’ testicles when they were thrown into the sea, Artemis (Goddess of the Hunt and Phases of the Moon) whose Amazonian worshipper’s removed a single breast to better fire a bow and Hecate (Goddess of Magic and Divination) whose face is forever cloaked in darkness. These three forces –beauty, the hunt and the power of magic– have compelled my radical transformation." - from, Nina Arsenault

Jack Faust asked me 'what I felt the lost roots of chaos magic were' on facebook a week ago and I have found myself thinking about that question off and on ever since. I never answered him.  The whole conversation arose from a tongue-in-cheek exchange regarding the release of the latest book by Peter Carroll.  In this esteemed tome Carroll proceeds to educate the reader in the fine art of becoming a cliché (namely, a cartoon evil scientist).  Most such recollections as the one I am about to write begin with a quip about how cool 'chaos magic' sounds.  I'm not going to do that, it's been around for more than 30 years and it hasn't aged well.  We all know chaos magic isn't cool anymore.

I think that sucks balls.

Carroll sought to redefine sorcery in logical and mathematical terms, while severing it from its superstitious and religious origins.  Carroll’s particular brand of science was uniquely accommodating of magic, mainly because it was largely nonsense and as reverently superstitious as anything that preceded it but in the late 80’s and 90’s at least no one really seemed to have caught on to that.  Most of chaos magic’s adherents were in their teens back in those days or renegades hoping to escape the tedium of the Orders and the Wiccan covens.  Though the attempt to redefine sorcery obviously failed (because it was silly) Carroll did ultimately identify and brand a hitherto widely ignored thread of magical tradition.  Almost single-handedly, Carroll re-introduced the technique of sigilization (A. O. Spares to be exact) and the business of actually doing sorcery back into western ceremonialism.

That’s Carroll though, and not the history of chaos magic.  I place Carroll back into his superstitious and religious origins in the 80’s.  The IOT’s great ideological rival the Church of Eris Discordia is enjoying widespread activity, a notable counter-point to Carroll’s stance that magic is hard science was the Discordian’s belief that all hard certainties were the beginning of a hilarious joke.  Between the two polarities live cultural phenomenon like TOPY, a collection of counter-culturalists revering art and fiction before gods and men, pouring through the sorcerous memoirs of Huxley, Burroughs and Gyson in search of new modes of expression. 

TOPY fractured in the 90’s when Genesis P-Orridge left to establish the Process, in 2008 the remaining TOPY network re-established itself as the Autonomous Individuals Network.  The sheer degree of occult symbolism in contemporary fiction owes this movement some modicum of credit. 

TOPY, the Discordians and Carroll also turned the spotlight on some of the more widely ignored practitioners of the last century.  Though Spare has retained his popularity among the occulture, the more controversial writers of the early 20th century like Gyson and Burroughs and the new mystics and sexual revolutionaries of the 50’s and 60’s have not.  As the aesthetics of the scene shifted from what could be cobbled together out of art and ill-defined sources (namely, an experiential approach) to the ever increasing volume of occult texts available throughout the internet (namely, a scholarly approach) occulture as a whole turned its eye on the reverently old and complete and in some ways this made it easy for us to turn away from the actual evolutionary prospects being confronted in the 90’s.

I think the collective discomfort felt in addressing the shallow and contextual nature of sexual and racial identification was what ultimately relegated these luminaries to the underworld because it was in those minefields that Burroughs and his ilk made their playgrounds. 

Last year at Pantheacon (largest gathering of magical and neo-pagan folks in America) trans-women were bounced out of a rite for Lilith for not being woman enough.   Out of this year’s line-up of roughly 240 presentations (including a repeat of the aforementioned rite and a presentation by Z. Budapest, who more or less claimed trans-women were just men attempting to infiltrate her coven,) only two represent one of the actual pagan religions of the America’s.  One devotional to Pomba Gira (which is where any self-respecting woman ‘trans’ or otherwise, foolish enough to attend this thing in the first place should go) and a Haitian ceremony for Damballah. 

Two out of 240!

There are about a million neo-pagans and wiccans in America according to current standards.  The number of South American, Mexican and Caribbean practitioners of dynamic alternative faiths far exceeds that of the white non-Christian minority faiths.  Santeria, the most prevalent of the Creole faiths in America right now most likely outnumbers all of the neo-pagans and wiccans and new-agers put together and yet not one of these practitioners (most likely Mexican or Hispanic) numbered among Pantheacon presenters.

That’s how I think we lost our roots. We were seduced by the baroque ornaments of the necromancers and the absolute certainties of Order and Coven and now the free-thinkers, new-genders and living religions are all stuck outside the doors.


  1. A couple of links:

    Rabbit and the CAYA have issued a response about the event at P-Con here:

    Kenaz also has a follow up article on the matter here:

    I'll save the rest of my comments for tomorrow, and probably link both of those as well.

  2. Interesting choice of artwork for this. I was recently arguing with my wife about the role of creativity and tradition in magic and how each one can be a potential pitfall and how to notice it. The thing is that transformation doesn't occur in a comfortable setting. We have to be willing to ingest something(metaphorically speaking or not) that's not already a part of us. If someone is comfortable being told how to go about things they need to invest in their ability to rely on themselves. The natural rebel needs to be humbled. This is how people rise above plateaus. Chaos magic should make you uncomfortable. For awhile at least. :)

  3. Yeah, it was kind of funny to go from LA, with a botanica on every corner, to Pantheacon, for the "largest gathering of pagans" in the US.

  4. Wow. You just become one of my favorite bloggers. Very elegantly stated.

  5. Never was much of a joiner, anyhow. Well stated.

  6. @Jason - kind words very much appreciated. A blog of yours regarding why we should be allowed to get paid remains one of my favorite posts of all time.

    @James - Thanks James .. I was never much for joining either!

  7. insightful as always,

    that tedium is back with a vengeance, like a post-punk Rick Wakeman tour. :P
    Come back Chaos Magic, all is forgiven (well, almost). Lineage claims, charter & copyright BS, all alive and well; well annoying that is. Despite my periodical challenges of the more junk-able rhetoric, Old Chaotes are among the best modern occultists, whatever the shortcomings of the revolution may have been. By their fruits, not their roots shall ye know them.