Ideological ossification is a challenge right across the magical spectrum but it is potentially more of a concern with chaos magic because there is a tendency to believe its own hype, or to parrot 'cutting edge' notions that are now entering their third decade.
Intellectual laziness and the frictionless customer service expectations engendered by the digital age are largely responsible for this. I get asked at least once a week -and see online more often than that- a question along the lines of "Help! I am completely new! What should I do and read?" It's gotten so that I may update my official policy from
I don't teach, I share. Reading the wrong books and doing the wrong stuff helped me just as much as the right ones did. So I will never tell you. It's just not my road.
Give me ten thousand dollars in advance and I will tell you. Alternatively, be attractive, between the ages of 18 and 25, and willing to do things so perverted you can't even pronounce them. Otherwise: what do I fucking look like to you, a customer service desk in a struggling regional mall? Is your opinion of yourself that high that you expect someone you have never met to drop everything and download two decades of rigorous practice and research into your head for free? Special fucking snowflake much??
Nothing quite like saying "give me ten grand or strip down and get into that sling" to make a dent in the ol' mailbag.
Inevitably, some anonymous helpful type will recommend Pete Carroll's two earliest books to the person yelling "please help me for free!" There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, people only really want to possess the answer, rather than understand it, and these books are a lot easier to pretend you've understood than the later ones. Secondly, they are easily found online for free. Let's all be honest about how big of a factor that is. The kind of person who asks strangers over the internet for intimate spiritual advice has an in-built expectation that the secrets of the universe will be available to them gratis.
The trouble is, as Pete himself mentioned when I interviewed him, these early books were accidentally successful and represent a snapshot of working theory from a very specific time and place. That's fine and all but don't think they represent the Definitive Pete experience. So I'll just assume your cheque for ten grand is in the mail (or that you have put the pizzas in the oven, cued up the Opening Ceremony to the Sydney 2000 Special Olympics and are climbing into the sling. Told you it would be weird.) and suggest you read The Apophenion and The Octavo for chaos magic theory and then Epoch for what to actually do with it. The Octavo is probably my personal favourite.
Why bring all this up? Because one of the ways I amused myself while stuck in a Midtown hotel room for a week was through hours and hours of YouTubomancy. And I saw this, which I hadn't caught before: Grant Morrison talking about magic.
Inevitably, he gets around to saying that the gods and the spirits are part of the human mind, and that Ganesha and Mercury are broadly the same thing because they represent the same sort of 'unpredictable open road' concept, and then implies that this is somehow a core principle of chaos magic, and blah blah blah. You know how it goes. In chaos magic's defence, it isn't the only school to do this. Most of the louder thelemites say the same thing because it is more palatable to potential new recruits to imply that 'it is all in your head' and 'we aren't really crazy, look! It's just psychology! Money please.' It's trying to keep one foot in a monoculture that is going to reject you, anyway. It's house boy behaviour. The last time I was on Nick's podcast he mentioned that someone had told him that "chaos magic is a form of magic where you are always in control." This is not only wrong, it's really dumb... and it is the inevitable extension of the idea that magic is reasonable, that you can serve the two masters of monoculture and the Wyrd. You can't. Both will reject you. Hoist the colours or fuck off back to the couch to watch a singing programme.
So let me be completely clear about this: Chaos magic does not hold as a core principle that the gods and spirits are part of the human mind so much as it rejects the a priori assumption that they aren't. The psychological explanation of magic is a premise, it is not a finding. There is a huge difference.
The ontology of the spirit world needs to be evidence-based. And thirty years ago, among the group of North London magicians that gave birth to chaos magic, the evidence certainly pointed toward an exclusively psychological explanation, or at least the evidence was sufficient enough for the following premise: let us dispense with all these aprons, and all these grades and initiations, and all this turgid Crowleyanity, and all these Castaneda/crystal/astrology/herbal assumptions and treat the gods and spirits as exclusively internal, psychological constructs.
This premise allowed for the building out of much of the experimental ritual elements that i
diots people now assume are somehow core beliefs or practices in chaos magic: What happens if we swap Apollo for Superman? Let's modify the Orphic Hymn to Apollo and see what happens. When, in this hypothetical example, solar results are achieved, it has been everyone else in subsequent decades who has misinterpreted the data... including Grant Morrison, it seems. The only thing these data 'prove' is that Apollo isn't exclusively external to my head. That's all. It does not say Apollo and Superman are the same thing, it does not say that Apollo lives exclusively in my head. It only says the belief that Apollo is an entirely separate and distinct entity to me is very likely inaccurate.
The psychological interpretation is a premise, not a finding.
I find this Morrisonionesque conflation of magic with psychology frustrating because it doesn't actually explain anything, it merely describes it differently. Somewhere in between psychology's foundation as a full-blown school of wizardry and today, we have forgotten that no one knows what the unconscious actually is. Or that archetypes are a premise built on top of another premise. Useful? Yes. 'Real'? Who knows? The philosopher Patrick Harpur says that explaining a myth is just retelling it using different words. Thus shows like Ancient Aliens get caught in an infinite loop by retelling Sumerian mythology where the gods are swapped out with little green men. It explains nothing: you're still telling a story of supernatural agency operating in the world, just now you're doing it in a more annoying way.
There is no way using the word 'psychology' makes magic any safer. Similarly, if you are worried that 'messing about' with the grimoires may unbalance you psychologically then you box yourself into the corollary suggestion: Okay then, put the grimoire down, go back to the couch and brain entrain yourself with Kardashians and mainstream news coverage. Aaahhh, much safer! I'll take my chances with the legions of hell before I ever switch on CNN, thank you very much.
Let me be clear: there is no 'safe' option to anything because you are in possession of the most dangerous, powerful and unreliable object mankind has ever encountered: human consciousness. It is a Japanese nuclear reactor after a tsunami: none of your options are what we would call safe, but you have to do something. It's like your economic situation after the looming collapse in the bond market (around October this year)... you can't sit it out. Not taking a position is taking a position.
What are we to do, then? Re-examine the data and build new premises from which to operate.
Let me tell you something about NDEs. The term itself was coined by Raymond Moody in his 1970s bestseller, Life After Life. It's based on hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of accounts of near death experiences. Why so many in so short a time? Well, the leading cause of death in the western world is a heart attack and defibrillators were installed in ambulances in the 60s. Prior to this time, for all of human history, if you had a heart attack you died. Now we can bring people back with some reliability from the leading cause of death in the west. You find accounts of NDEs going back through history but they are scant because, if you died, you had a tendency to stay dead. Now we have thousands of cases of people coming back after describing other worlds. The sheer volume of accounts has increased by, what, ten thousand per cent? This is a new dataset... the Victorian magicians did not have it, the grimoirists before them did not have it, the Renaissance magicians did not have it, the priests of the Classical Age did not have it. We have it.
And what have we done with it? Fuck all. Now I want you to picture all those dead wizards you idolise going back through history. I want you to see them sitting around a table pouring over Moody's and Dr Lommel's research and then looking up at you and saying are you fucking kidding me? At the end of the table sit the shamans of the neolithic and palaeolithic. They are the angriest. They had to poison themselves to death, vomiting and shitting in front of the entire tribe on a weekly basis until their inevitably early demise, just to bring back fragments of what we have access to on our cellphones.
During the time of chaos magic's formation, the extreme levels of money the shadow state poured into consciousness research and manipulation had not yet gone from conspiracy theory to conspiracy fact. Now it has. We have so much more information available to us with which we can use to re-form our core premises. Here's a recent presentation from the adorable Dr Targ. ("Mom, can I keep him??")
The pagans don't like to hear there is a UFO component to their gods, the ufologists don't like to hear there is a paranormal component to their spaceships, the public thelemites don't like to be challenged when they get called out for using pop psychology to recruit people into a sex magic order, the spirit types don't like to hear about the psychological component to their literal imaginary friends, the traditional witch types don't like to hear that toad bones and the rest of these icky ingredients are proxies for some symbolic/psychological language and that 18th century Cornwall was not an intellectual mecca of folk wisdom but a hillbilly pirate shithole (which is way better, anyway), the christian magicians don't like to hear that Jesus is a non-physical composite of about a dozen different myths and no one likes to hear that the jewels in magic's crown; hallucinogens, telepathy and perception management/brainwashing; have been ripped out and used against us by the shadow state for decades.
Chaos magic is fundamentally extractive. It is opportunistic rather than constructive. For the chaos magician, all of Creation is her Roswell crash site. I make no apologies for this. Chaos magic fracks the grounds of religion, magic, science, archaeology, medicine and spirit to extract useful, delicious natural gas. If you somehow got the impression this is either the quick or the easy option then you could not be more wrong. Results are painfully, starkly objective: either you have achieved them or you haven't. There is no recourse back into some worldview where your god or your karma or whatever can be used to explain away your lack of results. You failed. This is probably the hardest of all paths of practical enchantment because, however deceptive it may appear from the outside with all its comic invocations and such, the opportunities for escapism are alarmingly low. Did you get results or not?
It is also quite a lonely path because, once the locals realise they can set alight the water coming from their taps, they will chase you out of town and you'll have to find a new site to frack. (Consider how many faucets just caught fire after the last two paragraphs.)
With the extraction complete, some new premises are called for... and I think the time has come to unilaterally declare that any magical premise you wish to hold for all but the shortest of time periods must have consciousness as an ontological primitive. Here's a brief presentation from Dr Kastrup that heads in the right direction. (I veer between panpsychism and idealism. Kastrup is an idealist but it's still good stuff.)
Extraction, done. Premise, posed. The question that naturally follows is what one does with a repositioned cosmology. Get results, harvest more data, iterate your cosmology. If you are after a more specific answer than that then I think you know what you need to do.
Is that the oven? Pizza's ready.