What is Chaos Magic?

Since the mention of the term “Chaos Magic” in episode 8 of the Disney+ series WandaVision, I’ve started seeing articles that not only describe its nature within the Marvel comics universe, but also try to describe the actual modern occult practice. Unfortunately, some writers don’t seem to be putting a lot of effort into researching that aspect of Chaos Magic, so I felt compelled to offer my take on the topic.

I began practicing Chaos Magic in 2003, following a decade of attempting to find a home in various religious paths, including Wicca, Asatru, and Gnosticism. Obviously I do not speak for all those who practice any of the myriad magical techniques that have come to be included under this label. It is said that if you ask nine Chaos Magicians their opinion, you’ll get ten responses. Even what I now practice is not the same as when I started. As many practitioners do, I eventually created my own systems, expanding on and inspired by the foundations of those who had gone down this rabbit hole before me.

Chaos Magic is at its core a set of techniques of results-oriented sorcery. It was initially formulated by Peter Carroll, Ray Sherwin, and a small group of English occultists in the late 1970s. It drew heavily on the work of the artist and sorcerer Austin Osman Spare. At its inception, this new magical current was not known as Chaos Magic by name, but references to the term Chaos itself are frequent.

In Carroll’s 1978 book Liber Null, he refers to utilizing the eight-pointed star of Chaos (conceived by Michael Moorcock for use in his Elric stories), and derives his Sigil of Chaos and Chaosphere construct from it. He states: The “thing” responsible for the origin and continued action of events is called Chaos by magicians. He also makes use of the phrase “To Chaos, nothing is true and everything is permitted.” This phrase, popularized by William S. Burroughs is ostensibly attributed to Hassan I Sabbah, the Old Man of the Mountain, who founded the Order of Assassins. In this same year, Ray Sherwin released his seminal work, The Book of Results. The two also founded the Illuminates of Thanateros (IOT), an initiatory order devoted to the further development and practice of this nascent magical movement. The early members of the IOT produced a sizable body of work that is still widely available.

In his 1982 book Psychonaut Carroll better describes what his conception of Chaos is:

“In this new paradigm, the animating force of the entire vast universe can be called Chaos. It is the inexpressible pregnant Void from which manifest existence, order, and form arise.”

By the early 1980’s other groups began to experiment with this novel set of practices. Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth combined magic, music, and art into their work. Later groups such as the Z(Cluster) in the mid-1990’s, and the DKMU in the late 2000’s, among many others have continued to mutate and evolve this fluid tradition.

In general, spells and rituals in Chaos Magic tend to be less elaborate than those in more widely-known forms of ceremonial magic, but this is not always the case. Some workings include recitations in invented languages, complex invocations, and elaborate props. More often though, a pen and paper, or spray paint and concrete are the tools. Although there are now many additional techniques that comprise the practice, two of the most fundamental that are the hallmarks of Chaos Magic are the Sigil and the Servitor.

The process of sigil creation was described by Austin Osman Spare in The Book of Pleasure (Self-Love): Psychology of Ecstasy, published in 1913. They are statements of magical intent, distilled down to a graphical form which are intended to bypass the rational, skeptical mind and thus enable the subconscious to impart the instructions to the universe for fulfillment. Spare wrote that “sigils are the art of believing; my invention for making belief organic, ergo, true belief.”

Servitors are magical constructs, thoughtforms brought forth from the imagination of their creator through a variety of techniques. They may range in complexity from rote automatons to near-sentient, complex personalities that act as agents of their maker. The essay “Sigils, Servitors, and Godforms” by Marik, published in 2000 is an invaluable resource on their nature.

Chaos Magic has widened in scope in the twenty-first century. It has grown to incorporate a number of sub-paradigms. One of the prominent offshoots is the appropriation of pop culture tropes, due in no small part to the work of comic writer and avowed magician Grant Morrison. Other paradigms use quantum mechanics or urban animism as their frame of reference.

Since Chaos Magic is a contemporary creation, some of those involved in its creation and dissemination have been frequent guests on various podcasts, where they have recounted their experiences:

The Birth of Chaos-Peter J. Carroll (Thoth Hermes)

Tantra and Chaos-Phil Hine (Thoth Hermes)

MAGIC PEOPLE – Dave Lee (Adventures in Woo Woo)

References and Resources:

Principia Chaotica – Peter Carroll

Sigils, servitors and godforms: Part I – Marik

Recommended Books:

Liber Null – Peter Carroll
Psychonaut – Peter Carroll
SSOTBME – Ramsey Dukes
Practical Sigil Magic – Frater U.D.
Understanding Chaos Magic – Jaq D. Hawkins
Condensed Chaos – Phil Hine
Prime Chaos – Phil Hine
The Book of Results – Ray Sherwin
The Book of Pleasure – A.O. Spare