CHAOS vs THELEMA ?
Inspired, no doubt foolishly, by a new moon and the
Cramps`"Psychedelic Jungle", I have decided to enter the
Thelema vs Chaos debate. This is of course an impossible task, which
is no doubt why it appeals to me.
Firstly, what is it that distinguishes Thelma from Chaos? In
Starfire, Mick Staley attempts to distinguish Thelema from
Crowleyanity. Thelema he suggested pre-existed Crowley`s formulation
of it. This immediately causes problems, since for the majority of
magicians, Crowley = Thelema. But if it can be accepted that there
is a something which exists independently of Crowley`s writings,
then it must be this something (Thelema) which is to be contrasted
with Chaos Magick. The core of this something, I suggest, is the
Will. Is this idea of the Will in any way opposed to Chaos?
What is Chaos then?
For the purposes of this argument I will interpret Chaos as follows:
that the familiar world of everyday experience has its roots in
Chaos. So that any attempt to understand the world via reason
reaches a boundary, on the other side of which lies Chaos, a state
of existence/non-existence which cannot be understood by the
rational ego. However, through the techniques of ritual, that state
can be manifest in the everyday world, suspending the accepted
"laws" of common sense and allowing magick to occur. Furthermore,
perhaps as a result of the practice Chaos magick, the idea of Chaos
is slowly entering the popular imagination via science. This refutes
classical science, which is based on the belief that if the
structure of the physical world could be sufficiently precisely
modelled in a mathematical form, it would be possible to predict the
future state of various systems (wheather, for example) which make
up the physical world.
However, it is now grudgingly admitted that this would require a
precision of measurement which it is impossible to achieve.
Engineers have long since had to accept this uncertainty - that all
measurement is limited by the accuracy of the measuring device.
Absolute precision is an impossible goal. There is always a degree
of uncertainty, an instability, and by focusing the Will upon this
either/or region, the magician can exert an influence upon the world
at this level, which when it occurs, can produce the Willed outcome.
To the extent that Chaos is a form of magick, ie. it seeks to exert
an influence upon the world of erveryday consciousness, it must
involve the Will. Otherwise it would be closer to a form of
mysticism, that is the attempt to "go with the flow" of the
experienced world without seeking to influence the direction of that
flow. In this form, Chaos is closer to a "higher form of order",
that is that the apparent random or chance events of one`s
experience of existence are in fact the result of some greater
existence than that of the individual. And that by disengaging the
desires of the ego-self, one can experience this greater existence,
interpreting the obstacles and blows of everyday existence as a
stimulus to the development of a "Stoic" consciousness, which will
enable the self to eventually swimm freely as a fish in the river of
the Tao, or Chaos.
The idea which this is based on tends to be that of the hermit, the
forest sage of Hinduism, the solitary adept of High Magick. No doubt
if it was possible in this present age, one could experience such an
existence if one could remove the self from the rest of human
existence. But such a model is no longer valid, since the growth of
human consciousness is such that there is no virgin wilderness left
in which to undertake such a quest. We are forced to contend with
the results of the human desire for knowledge, power, control and
This is perhaps the crucial difference between Chaos magick and
Thelema. Thelema, as developed by Crowley into a form suitable for
the 20th century, contains a whole heritage of experience and
practice which reaches back through the Golden Dawn through
hermeticism to Egypt and Sumeria, which in turn drew on the beliefs
of our nameless ancestors who struggled to create models of the
world, cosmologies and creation myths within which to make sense of
their being in the world.
Crowley`s task, as had been of Mathers and Eliphas Levi before him,
was to synthesize this vast body of conscious/unconscious knowledge
and represent it in a way understandable by at least a few of his
contemporaries. Partly it is a question of language. Unfortunately
the language of magick was limited by the dominance of
Judeao-Christianity on the one hand and Reason on the other. Our
everyday language derives from our perception of a world made up of
distinguishable objects, and on the faculty of sight primarily. But
as soon as we move into the more subjective sphere of magick,
problems arise. To what extent do we share the same magickal reality
and use words such as "the Will" in the same way? The problem is not
confined to magick. For a time I worked in quality control at London
Rubber. Periodically I had to compare my work with others to make
sure we were all applying the same so that I was not rejecting
condoms that another person was passing. In science the theory is
that one person`s work is critically examined by their peer group.
The difficulty is that as soon as creativity enters the picture, it
will tend to disrupt this process. The test of any form of magick
should be "does it work?". But how can that be judged, since the
results of a ritual may not become apparent for some time. In the
early eighties, much work was done to halt the expansion of nuclear
weaponry. But it is only now, as profound changes occur in Eastern
Europe, that this can be judged a success. And the changes may yet
be lost by a failure of imagination and the difficulty of
challenging the parasitic military-industrial complexes of both East
Thelema may be saddled with the archaic terminology inherited via
Crowley from the Golden Dawn, but at its heart lies a crucial
bullshit detector. I have found that the question "what is your
Will?" directed at any group or individual who claims to be desiring
change is a very effective challenge. What is unsettling, however,
is the discovery that in most cases it evokes only silence, or at
best a string of evasions.
This I feel is the most damaging criticism of Thelema, that it has
failed to cross over from magick into the diverse pool of
"alternative" beliefs which seek to reshape society. This is hardly
a question of mere academic interest, as Green issues emerge and
look set to dominate the next decade, the "spiritual", that is
neo-pagan, belief structures which infest Green consciousness are
also going to exert a growing influence. We may yet discover that
the future, as the Dead Kennedy predicted, will be "California .ber
Can Chaos magick then succeed where Thelema has not (yet)? I doubt
it, since the reaction to both by the average alternative type (let
alone Joe Normal) is that it is "too dark". The very word "Chaos"
tends to get tagged with "anarchy" and evoke nightmare visions of
mad-axemen running wild in the street. Of course, for some this may
be its very appeal, anything so bad must be good...
No, somehow we have to achieve the Sysphean task of applying the
notion of Will like Occam`s razor to the fast mulitiplying dualistic
entities of New Age (un)awareness. In practical terms I understand
this to mean directing our Wills at and with the growing Green
movement, so that rather than disappearing into a fog of "good
intentions", it becomes a real and willed critique of consumer
culture. Just as Marxism failed to achieve its desires, since the
working class had already been "mobilizised" by the capitalists, so
magick fails since the energies of the mass unconscious have already
been tapped by advertising, via the mass media.
The energy tending towards change of consciousness (evolution) has
been subverted by consumer culture into the desire to possess an
unending stream of glass beads and cheap cottons, or in our case,
microwave ovens and mink belly-button brushes. The whole thrust of
advertising is to bypass our logic circuits and touch directly our
desire for status and security. We don`t just buy the product, we
buy the dream, maya the illusion of success. It is, however much we
may protest, a form of magick. I may be an impoverished squatter in
a third world shanty town, but if I can buy a bottle of Coke, I
believe I possess the whole dream of the richest American
millionaire. I may be a Trabant owning East German, but by crossing
the (former) abyss of the Wall I become a potential Porsche
But if you look at those already possess such dreams, what do you
find? That it is, as in California, these same people who turn to
the most ridiculous New Age bullshit in order to satisfy their
craving for something more, for something to fill up the endless
aching void they feel scratching and gnawing like some Charles
Manson nightmare outside the walls of their Beverly Hills mansions.
But of course, the last thing they want to hear is "the truth".
Better to create a multi-billion dollar New Age industry than accept
that within the richest mansions lies the reality of Chaos, of that
Void which spins around itself the veils of maya, the dance of
illusion, in which one is equally a starving beggar and a voluptuous
moviestar. "What is your Will?".
Of course I am somewhat prejudiced for all I used to sing along with
Bowie on Ziggy Stardust (I could make it all worthwhile as a rock n
roll star) I chose magick as a path. Through experiences both
beautiful and terrifying I have come to understand the human
condition as but one aspect of a continuum of consciousness. For me,
the whole universe is a living entity which I interact with in the
fleeting streams of energies which inspire my awareness. Both
rationally and poetically I perceive my brain, my body as part of
the very substance of the universe and not distinguishable from it
(ie NUIT). For me, the human condition is part tragedy, part farce.
We are semi-intelligent apes who have been driven by fleeting
glimpses of what might be, to create this world, our reality. But in
our ignorance, we mistake the glimpse for the whole, the ego for the
self. We strive for "order" and create a chaos, and then recognize
in chaos a "higher form of order".
"Knowledge is power, power is control, control is security". Oh
yeah? But knowledge is also pleasure, a pleasure more intense than
any created by security. Security is sterility, sterility is death.
We pay lip service to evolution, but cannot accept that evolution
implies change, and change denise security. What do we will?
If our will is security, stability, then that we shall have, as so
many fossils. To embrace Chaos (Thelema) is to renounce such false
gods and accept that our actions as magicians will change not only
ourselves, but our world. Insofar as both Chaos and Thelema are
valid paths, thus far will they change us. To cling to an
identity, however pleasing or fulfilling, is a denial of magick.
Magick is about change, the only constant factor in the unfolding of
the implicate order/chaos of the universe.
Along with Thelema and Chaos, I also practise the magick of Maat. To
the Egyptians Maat was the "right order of the universe". The
contrast is between the familiar Hindu concept of "karma", which
deals with our human existence and the less familiar concept of
"rta" which deals with our aspects as forms of (universal)
Magick diverged from science some 300 years ago. Science sought to
discover "the hand of god" in the natural world; magick sought to
become the equal of the gods. Now we witness the overlapping of
these paths. We are no longer the creations of some distant god, but
the natural products of the universe. We have "evolved" out of a
handful of organic chemicals. Now we have the ability, through the
replication of DNA to evolve ourselves. We have, literally, the
powers of a god. What we lack, and what magick must seek to provide,
is the intelligence to use (or refuse) such power. The way to
achieve this is to ask the question: "what is our will?" Are our
genes our motivating force, or is there something else which I call
"consciousness"? This consciousness I hold to be implicit in the
structure of the universe, and has been revealed as such by quantum
physics, however difficult such a realisation may be for us. It may
be unprovable/undeniable, and therefore unscientific, but I suggest
that our so-called consciousness is a quantum phenomena.
This is what Crowley experienced as the interplay of Nuit and Hadit
in the Book of the Law. It is also the root of Chaos. So that
Thelema and Chaos are but different aspects of a single (multiple)
experience, expressed in languages appropriate to their different
times and ambiences.
Alone I cannot fully express the complexity of these possibilities,
and yet we must each try to do so. Only by placing them at the heart
of our experience of being in the world, can we hope to create a
society which will survive rather than perish under its unconscious
contradictions. As yet we are but "naked apes", but we are apes with
sufficiently complex brains to at least glimpse the possibility of
being more than we are and become "homo veritas", that is truly
human at last.
As we are, we cannot fully know this to be true, only with our
imagination can we glimpse the potential implied. It is my Will to
bring this about, this is why I write these words, that they have
touch and stimulate whoever may read them. So mote it be.
On rereading the above, I feel the need to expand the argument
somewhat. Having bashed my way through an anthropological essay on
nationality and the state, it struck me that recent events in
Eastern Eurpe have many consequences. The whole point of the "iron
curtain", was to allow East to develop its alternative economic
system, as spelt out by Marx. What is happening now is the
incorporation of that economic system into a global economy, which
implies the failure of Marxism. This failure leaves a power vacuum.
The majority of critiques of the Western power structure have come
from Marxism. But if it is now seen to have failed, the possibility
exists for a more powerful critique to arise.
Where will we find this critique - in magick. Of course this
requires magicians to adopt a more rigorous intellectual approach to
their beliefs, but surely that is what Chaos/Thelema argument is
about, with each side arguing that the other is deceiving itself as
regards the "true" form of magick. What I am suggesting is that
magicians start to take magic seriously as "energy directed (willed)
towards change". Rather than as an escapist belief system parasitic
upon the economic success of capitalism. To practise magick we must
surely believe that we inhabit a magical, rather than a strictly
economic universe. How much more effective would our magick be then
if we could replace the belief system of economic society with that
of a society rooted in a magickal conception of reality.
Such is the apple with which I tempt you - do you dare taste the
forbidden fruit ?
I do know him personally and am glad to meet him again in summer.
A. Livingstone is a pseudonym of Ramsey Dukes (which is a pseudonym
too :-)). He is member of the OTO and made a lot of Chaos working &
theory. He wrote some very genuine books about magic (Liber SGDSMEE,
Thunderqueak), is now concerned with KI (Words Made Flesh).
You can contact him via:
T.M.T.S., Wharf Mill, Winchester, Hants, SO23 9NJ, England
With fractalic greetings and laughter * Fra.: Apfelmann *
Next: Notes On The Historical Egregore in Magick (I.O.T.)