WHAT IS CHAOS MAJIK?
Imagine the scene. There’s a group of us, carrying all our gear up the South Downs for a ritual in a wood called Blackcap. We’ve been at it for a couple of hours now, some ten or twelve of us. We’re carrying lights and amps and speakers and food and banners, in wheelbarrows and on our backs, up a chalky, bumpy path, winding steeply into the sharp green cuttings that curl their way up the hill. A space in the wood has already been cleared of leaves and debris. The preparations for the evening’s ritual are underway. A spiral about ten, maybe fifteen feet wide, has been drawn in white flour to form the core of the circle. A fire is being prepared in its’ centre, the wood stacked in a cone to be lit when the ritual gets underway and after we call the quarters. It’s busy and hot and we’re all sticky and sweaty in this heavy heavy work space, putting our bodies through some sweaty exertion before we put our minds through something similar after the dark has fallen. The work is part of the ritual. The talk, the thought as you walk, the sweat alchemically combining with the endorphins to help produce the state we want to reach. We are inside the work. It is at this point that someone calls to me. Matt, matt, the police are here.
I’ve had quite a lot to do with the police in my time because of a long history of political activity. The badge in my jewelry box, in red and gold, tells of the year long loyalty to the Miners strike, ’84 – ’85, when the police first entered my consciousness. Over time the fear and hostility that use to rise intensely whenever I saw a police officer is now mitigated by a weary familiarity that the presence of the police accompanies collective efforts for change. In the middle of working the preparations for a big group ritual, the young copper in his black blue uniform standing on the side of the downs forms a rude interruption of mundane reality into our attempt to create a sacred space but one that is almost inevitable.
There are times to lie and times to tell the truth and this is not a time to lie, there’s simply no need. ‘What are you up to then?’ the copper asks and so I let him have it. ‘We’re modern witches, having a ritual up here tonight, in the woods after dark.’ He pauses a moment. ‘So, it’s not a rave then, you’re not having a party up here, it’s just, what with the speakers and generators…’ So that’s what they’re concerned with, I think. ‘No, none of that, there’s only a few of us, as you can see, and we don’t expect to make too much noise…do you want to have a look, check it out?’ As we make our way up towards the circle I explain that we’re chaos majicians, modern witches, holding a time changing ritual. I tell him that the generators are for the lights and the music, that we’re filming the event, that we’ve got permission and watch with some small delight as he stops and double takes when faced with our circle. Milling around in the woods are some of the others, they chat and get on with their work and I follow the copper back out of the wood to meet up with his superintendent and another policeman on their way up the hill. The constable reports that there’s no rave, just a bunch of witches holding a ritual. When pressed he confesses to his superior that he’s pretty confident about what’s going on since there’s all these ‘weird markings’ in a circle and loads of ‘witchy looking stuff’ all around the wood. I presume he means the sigil banners we’ve begun hanging. There’s a brief confusion as the superintendent jokes about whether he’ll be seeing ‘witches on broomsticks flying overhead tonight’ and I confess that no, we don’t intend flying tonight, it’s something else we’re up to. Curious and perhaps slightly confused the coppers all set off back down the hill, having wished us good luck. I expect they will enjoy telling their colleagues what a wasted journey they had on this call out. I return to the work.
This incident involved one very simple and almost inconsequential thing that I came back to later on when assimilating the work we had been doing. This was the fact of the names used in the conversation. I remember the assessment I made when faced with the copper and that I had decided that there was no necessity to lie. This meant that a simple statement of fact had to be made. I couldn’t explain the intricacies of embodied belief structures, archetypal enactment, intuitive acting out or even the psychology of ritual so simply named us as witches, ‘modern witches’. The response was to disarm rather than confront, to produce both a recognition and confusion in the person asking the questions. When I returned to the incident in my mind, however, it also challenged me to think about the actual truth of the statement I had made. What exactly was I doing? I might describe it as ‘chaos majik’ but what is chaos majik?
Chaos majik is a form of modern witchcraft. That very phrase, modern witchcraft, is something that points towards the paradoxical nature of chaos majik. Witchcraft, common sense would say, is something from the middle ages, with ducking stools and Witchfinder Generals, rather than something modern. So a modern witchcraft is, in some ways, a contradiction in terms. Of course, anyone who has more than a cursory knowledge of what witchcraft actually is will quite rightly refuse the idea that witchcraft is simply something old and superstitious, preferring rather to emphasize the role of the cunning man and woman, the village wise folk and the practice of the craft, with its herb and spell lore. The popular view of witchcraft as something old, evil and full of warty old women with pointy hats owes more to Denis Wheatley and the Christian church than it does to anyone involved in the craft itself. Many of the accounts which profess to be more historically accurate are no less unreliable, often referring to works such as the Malleus Maleficarium, a book of propaganda written by those hunting down witches rather than an account from the inside by those with the knowledge. Even some of the ancient Grimoires from mediaeval witchcraft are thought by some to have been concocted from eclectic combinations of texts in order to sell books rather than pass on secret wisdom. These images, however, form a part of the notion of witchcraft, even if from the outside and so we can still reasonably suggest, to the innocent and unknowing questioner, that chaos majik is a form of modern witchcraft and thereby promote a very rough and accurate image of quite what ‘we chaos majicians’ are up to.
My own feeling is that chaos majik is much more closely related to witchcraft, understood as the craft of the wise, than it is to either the Western Hermetic Tradition which gives us the main source of magicians or Wicca, which gives us the bulk of the modern self-identified witches. I am happy to use the term witch or sorcerer as a self-description, whilst I would have to admit to not really being that Wiccan at all. The same slight distinction applies with reference to the term magician or magickian, since I don’t often feel that I have much to do with the notion of True Will or alignment with the Godhead that underlies large portions of both the Hermetic and Crowleyite (Thelemic) traditions. There’s this sense that the name ‘chaos majician’ is a better self-identifier than either ‘magick’ or ‘wicca’ could offer, whilst simultaneously ‘witch’ feels comfortable and something to be at home with, something that roots me in a tradition and culture whilst not completely engulfing the differences I want to explore. ‘Modern witch’, then, is the most common and most comfortable way to describe my practice if someone asks, or perhaps ‘sorcerer’, depending on my mood and the intuition in practice.
The point of this, as the incident with the copper on the hillside illustrates, is that names both hide as well as disclose who and what we are. This knowledge is sometimes rather loosely articulated by the desire some people have to refuse labels, though even in so doing they take a stance and take a name. If someone says to you that they don’t like labels, by doing that they reveal something, they name at least some of their attitudes and beliefs. Refusal and negation are more often than not self defeating strategies, a desire for some individualistic uniqueness, and a fear of being associated with others, an unwillingness to take a stance that in itself becomes a stance. We have, after all, the name of ‘fence-sitter’ for certain types of people.
If a simple negation of being named or labeled is an unsuccessful strategy or at least just another strategy then this might imply that we are somehow trapped within the name. Whilst naming and labeling is a ubiquitous and insidious economy which may seem to trap us there are always routes of escape that can be explored, even if tentatively and temporarily. For example, in a story by Melville there is a character called Bartleby the Srivener who is used as an example of one such strategy by the philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Bartleby works in a solicitors office copying texts and is asked by his boss to do various tasks, mainly rewriting words already written. His response begins to formulate itself into a common response. When asked to perform a task he says ‘I would prefer not to’. This is not a no nor is it simply the expression of a desire, of an impulse or drive that cannot be fully articulated since it is outside the rules. ‘I would prefer not to’ becomes an anomalous moment. It doesn’t indicate a want or refuse a request. Indeed for a while Bartleby continues in his work but gradually ‘I would prefer not to’ grows into a complete exit from the economy of speaking and acting that underlies a social order. It takes on the role of a formula which, through its use, acts to create a situation that is neither intentional, like a strategy, nor possible to know in advance.
The point here is not to suggest using Bartleby’s formula but that certain phrases and elements of our speech can be transformed through practice into anomalous formulas which then create new configurations of the world. This process of the formula, of the creation of a name or slogan or phrase, is central to all majikal activity. To my mind it stands at the root of spellcraft, which can be understood not as the recitation of ancient texts which hold some innate mystical ability to empower us because of what they are but as the practice of embodying in language our ability to recreate parts of the world. I suggest that it is vital for any chaos majician to develop an approach to the name as a way of understanding chaos majik. This, in effect, means learning the power of the formula. This power can be explored for itself, as in Bartleby’s case, or employed as a tool or technique.
For example, the attitude that is common to much chaos majik is of irrevererence to the ancient texts, to particular formulas as holding power in themselves rather than through their collective social and imaginal role in our lives. This often implies and is followed by a form of injunction to ‘create it yourself’, to write it for yourself, thereby taking into our own mind something from the tradition which is then expressed out in a more intimate form. The opposite tactic may also be just as legitimately employed. Researching the ‘bornless’ rite it becomes obvious that this is badly named since the Greek text does not use the word ‘bornless’ but ‘headless’ (acephalous). Researching and using an original text in this situation may place the majician just as easily into a more intimate relation to the text such that it becomes a source of power. This approach to the name, the text, is the strategy of intimacy. We might want to use such a strategy of intimacy when we wanted to explore devotional attitudes, perhaps if we have aggressive or martial attitudes we want to balance or counter.
More radical exploratory strategies to the name can also be found. If our intention is to explore the sense of self then we might want to use texts that challenge this central tenet of our indoctrination through society. Burrough studied with Count Korzybski who suggested the use of ‘e-prime’ (English Prime), whereby we remove the verb of being from the language, expunging any reference to ‘is’. The role of ‘is’ was something Deleuze also challenged by distinguishing between the use of the ‘is’ and the use of ‘and’. Instead if ‘this is that’ we can either try to remove the ‘is’ that determines objects as particular things or we can add the ‘and’ at the end of the sentence, leaving it always open and susceptible to further elaboration that will never close in on itself. William James also claimed that ‘an and trails along after every sentence’, arguing that there is an excess in names that we ignore at our peril. I think I even read somewhere that Crowley used the idea of removing the ‘I’ from the language, with an injunction to cut oneself whenever it occurred as a way of enforcing such a strategy of removal. These self dissolution strategies can be provocative in the extreme.
The use of these various strategies and more is something that should be explored in more detail than I can do so here but a working rule of thumb is to think of the role of names as governed by the activity of the formula. The formula is the structure of combination of the elements and the construction of a formula is in effect the basis of spellcraft. In whatever way we find useful for the task in hand, we cook up the ingredients to create the named through the naming. In the radical extreme any strategy we employ the formula for will itself act like a formula and thus the process is never fully determinable and is always experimental. If it works the formula will always take us to places we’d never thought of before but this is part of the very activity of majik itself. Any activity needs a foothold in communicable practice however and the technique of the formula is one such technique that can be used.
It is perhaps obvious that a name such as ‘chaos majician’ will never really indicate a fixed path or set of paths, particularly since any attempt to formulate a fixed creed would run radically counter to the inherent tendency of the current that has called itself chaos majik. Understanding the fluidity and possibility of particular ways of using language will enable us to find a role for the name however, since we need not only the ability to make fluid the names we use and work with but also to make solid those very names when we need a sharp edge or when we need to establish some ground on which to work. Obsessing about the fluidity of names would lead nowhere but realizing their fluidity opens up the ability to move from one place to another, to journey across realms, which is the core of majikal work for me. Working or majikal names, for example, can be taken and changed as often as one likes but the taking of a name establishes the beginnings of a character or figure which can then be returned to without having to be consciously recreated each time majikal work is engaged in.
Naming then is a tool or technique, perhaps the most central technique in majik if we understand it in the wider context of the construction of formulas. This is not to say it is the only technique and more often than not it is a technique that is subordinate to specific and changeable goals, such as the alteration and exploration of consciousness to particular ends (confidence, jobs, money). Chaos majik is, in a sense, a formula, just as ‘modern witch’ is a formula, a cloak which we take upon our shoulders and which hides us from the world whilst simultaneously disclosing our activity. It rests upon the fluidity of language as a partially settled island of practical activity. It works as a partially fixed reference from which we can learn in order to move along a particular route more quickly than if it had no signposts. If, however, you were to say to me, ‘can you tell me what chaos majik is really?’ I must admit that at that point my only answer would be, I would prefer not to.