Chaos magic, also spelled chaos magick, is a modern tradition of magic. Emerging in England in the 1970s as part of the wider neo-pagan and esotericist subculture, it drew heavily from the occult beliefs of artist Austin Osman Spare, expressed several decades earlier. It has been characterised as an invented religion, with some commentators drawing similarities between the movement and Discordianism. Magical organizations within this tradition include the Illuminates of Thanateros and Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth.
The founding figures of chaos magic believed that other occult traditions had become too religious in character. They attempted to strip away the symbolic, ritualistic, theological or otherwise ornamental aspects of these occult traditions, to leave behind a set of basic techniques that they believed to be the basis of magic.
Austin Osman Spare's work in the early to mid 1900s is largely the source of chaos magical theory and practice. Specifically, Spare developed the use of sigils and the use of gnosis to empower them. Although Spare died before chaos magic emerged, he has been described as the "grandfather of chaos magic". Working during much the same period as Spare, Aleister Crowley's publications also provided a marginal yet early and ongoing influence, particularly for his syncretic approach to magic and his emphasis on experimentation and deconditioning. Later, concurrent with the growth of religions such as Wicca in the 1950s and 1960s, different forms of magic became more common, some of which came in "explicitly disorganized, radically individualized, and often quite 'chaotic' forms". In the 1960s and the decade that followed, Discordianism, the punk movement, postmodernism and the writings of Robert Anton Wilson emerged, and they were to become significant influences on the form that chaos magic would take.
During the mid-1970s chaos magic appeared as "one of the first postmodern manifestations of occultism", built on the rejection of a need to adhere to a "single, systematized convention", and aimed at distilling magical practices down to a result-oriented approach rather than following specific practices based on tradition. An oft quoted line from Peter Carroll is "Magic will not free itself from occultism until we have strangled the last astrologer with the guts of the last spiritual master."
Peter J. Carroll and Ray Sherwin are considered to be the founders of chaos magic, although Phil Hine points out that there were others "lurking in the background, such as the Stoke Newington Sorcerors". Carroll was a regular contributor to The New Equinox, a magazine edited by Sherwin, and thus the two became acquainted.
As chaos magic spread, people from outside Carroll and Sherwin's circle began publishing on the topic. Phil Hine, along with Julian Wilde and Joel Biroco, published a number of books on the subject that were particularly influential in spreading chaos magic techniques via the internet.
In 1981, Genesis P-Orridge established Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth (TOPY). P-Orridge had studied magic under William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin in the 1970s, and was also influenced by Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare, as well as the psychedelic movement. TOPY practiced chaos magic alongside their other activities, and helped raise awareness of chaos magic in subcultures like the Acid House and Industrial music scenes. Along with being an influence on P-Orridge, Burroughs was himself inducted into the IOT in the early 1990s.
From 1994 to 2000, Grant Morrison wrote The Invisibles for DC Comics' Vertigo imprint, which has been described by Morrison as a "hypersigil": "a dynamic miniature model of the magician's universe, a hologram, microcosm or 'voodoo doll' which can be manipulated in real time to produce changes in the macrocosmic environment of 'real' life." Both The Invisibles and the activities of Morrison themself were responsible for bringing chaos magic to a much wider audience in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with the writer outlining their views on chaos magic in the "Pop Magic!" chapter of A Book of Lies (2003) and a Disinfo Convention talk. 
The central defining tenet of chaos magic is arguably the idea that belief is a tool for achieving effects. In chaos magic, complex symbol systems like Qabalah, the Enochian system, astrology or the I Ching are treated as maps or "symbolic and linguistic constructs" that can be manipulated to achieve certain ends but that have no absolute or objective truth value in themselves. Religious scholar Hugh Urban notes that chaos magic's "rejection of all fixed models of reality" reflects one of its central tenets: "nothing is true everything is permitted".
Both Urban and religious scholar Bernd-Christian Otto trace this position to the influence of postmodernism on contemporary occultism. Another influence comes from Spare, who believed that belief itself was a form of "psychic energy" that became locked up in rigid belief structures, and that could be released by breaking down those structures. This "free belief" could then be directed towards new aims. Otto has argued that chaos magic "filed away the whole issue of truth, thus liberating and instrumentalising individual belief as a mere tool of ritual practice."
Chaos magic is highly individualized and shirks dogma of all kinds, so it can be hard to pin down what chaos magic is in totality. Some basic principles Phil Hine outlines in his outstanding book Condensed Chaos help us get to the heart of chaos:
Austin Osman Spare was initially involved with the Golden Dawn, the O.T.O, and Aleister Crowley's Argenteum Astrum, but later broke with them, to work independently. He developed theory and practices which would, after his death, profoundly influence the Illuminates of Thanateros. Specificly, Spare developed the use of sigils, and techniques involving orgasmic pleasure (see the gnostic state below) to empower those sigils. Spare also pioneered the development of a personal "sacred alphabet", and was a talented artist who used images as part of his magical technique. Most of the recent work on sigils recapitulates Spare's work- in particular, the construction of a phrase that details the magical intent, the elimination of duplicate letters from that phrase, and the artistic recombination of the remaining letters to form the sigil. Although Spare did not invent the term "chaos magician", and might not have sympathized with it, some people may regard Spare as the original chaos magician.
The term chaos magick first appeared in print in the widely influential Liber Null by Peter Carroll, first published in 1978. In it, Carroll formulated several concepts on magic that were radically different from what was considered magical mysteries in the days of Crowley. This book, along with Psychonaut (1981) by the same author, remain important sourcebooks. Magicians who align themselves with these ideas call themselves Chaotes, Chaoists, or sometimes Chaosites.
Carroll also co-founded, with Ray Sherwin, the Magical Pact of the Illuminates of Thanateros, or in short form Illuminates of Thanateros (IOT)- an organization that continues research and development of chaos magic to the present day. Most authors and otherwise well-known practitioners of chaos magic mention affiliation with it. However, chaos magic in general is, unsurprisingly, among the least organized branches of magic.
Perhaps the most striking feature of chaos magic is the concept of the magical paradigm shift. Borrowing a term from philosopher Thomas Kuhn, Carroll made the technique of arbitrarily changing one's model (or paradigm) of magic a major concept of chaos magic. An example of a magical paradigm shift is doing a Lovecraftian rite, followed by using a technique from an Edred Thorsson book in the following ritual. These two magical paradigms are very different, but while the chaote is using one, he believes in it fully to the extent of ignoring all other (often contradictory) ones. The shifting of magical paradigms has since found its way into the magical work of practitioners of many other magical traditions, but chaos magic remains the field where it is most developed.
The idea is that belief is a tool that can be applied at will rather than unconsciously. Some chaos magicians think that trying unusual and often bizarre beliefs is, in itself, an experience worth having, and consider flexibility of belief a form of power or freedom.
The gnostic state is achieved when a person's mind is focused on only one point, thought, or goal, and all other thoughts are thrust out. Users of chaos magic each develop their own ways of reaching that state. All such methods hinge upon the belief that a simple thought or direction experienced during the gnostic state, and then forgotten quickly afterwards, is sent not to the conscious mind, but to the subconscious, where it can be enacted through means unknown to the conscious mind.
Practitioners of chaos magic attempt to be outside of all categories - for them, beliefs, theories, opinions, habits, and even personalities are tools that may be chosen arbitrarily in order to understand or manipulate the world they see and create around themselves. Chaos magicians are frequently described as funny, extreme, or very individualistic people. They also may consider themselves exceptionally tolerant, remarking that whatever one might disagree over is merely an opinion, and hence interchangeable, anyway.
While chaos magick has lost some of the popularity it had in the UK during the 1980s, it is still active and influential. Its ideas can be found to leak into modern shamanism in particular, and are common in occult internet forums. Proponents assert that the growing individuality of occultism in informal, often internet-based surroundings is a direct result of the success of chaos magic, while critics argue this informal occultism often lacks a well-developed understanding of gnosis and paradigm shifting and is therefore not rightfully called chaos magic. 041b061a72