Jason Miller coined a term yesterday that I like, Chaonimism, on his blog. He writes:
“CHAONIMISM: noun: A an approach that combines the wild freedom, focus on results, and non-hierarchical view of reality inherent in Chaos Magic with a belief in spirits as organized consciousness not dependent upon belief."
I’ve been thinking a lot about what exactly I would call my approach these days, sort of mentally preparing for the question arising during podcasts and interviews regarding my book Six Ways. So let's look at this as well as we can now, knowing that there will likely be changes & additions as time moves onward, and see if the shoe fits.
I was ripe for Chaos Magick in the late ‘80s. As a die-hard Michael Moorcock fan with a penchant for talismanic doodling (not that I would call it that then, but man, I wish I could see all the whack shit drawn on the backs of various pages of my school notebooks now!), I’d been drawing the eight-rayed star of chaos since I was 11. So when I was handed a book on magic with that on the cover in 1987, I was more than ready! Even if it was a little fat round star rather than the long spiky versions I preferred. I had run into a Thelemite on a bus, and we became friends, bonding over punk rock, no-wave, Live Skull, and Roky Erickson. He hooked me up with a big stack of Crowley, Regardie, and also Liber Null & Psychonaut by Peter J. Carroll. I’d already read Drawing Down the Moon and liked it, but not been called to practice by anything in it, and The Spiral Dance by Starthawk, which I actually worked with a bit. I’d been possessed a few times by spirits of the dead and other localized spirits, and seen a LOT of weird shit go down. I’d also been haphazardly working with the sigil methods of Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, whose Grey Book I’d got ahold of in 1982. But this was all super half-assed, except the possessions, which were full on and varied between interesting and terrifying.
I did join the OTO, but the general vibe of Golden Dawn style ceremonial magic was far too controlled seeming for me, and I really, really didn’t care for the aesthetic. So, so very much not my thing! I liked the aesthetic in Mastering Witchcraft by Paul Huson, and the Austin Osman Spare work I saw in various Kenneth Grant books. Somehow I always knew that magic, for me at least, looked a certain way and felt a certain way. This 'way' was lacking in both the ceremonial and neo-pagan rites I attended at the time. I knew there was a vibration of potency that indwelled certain kinds of things- stones, bones, cauldrons, working knives (and not talking any pretty ceremonial blades or shiny chromed athame’s, I wanted basic, razor sharp high carbon steel from day one!), skulls and sigils. If you have followed me on social media, you know what I am talking about, as this hasn’t changed much at all over time, and is reflected in my jewelry as well.
In other words, my aesthetic ran more towards various ATR’s and what we now call Traditional Witchcraft. But I had a problem in working with the social worlds of Paganism and Magick: I’m not religious. I’ll work with deities a bit, and for certain things, but the Gods never seemed like what was actually ‘up’ for me. So most of the Wicca based paganism never really struck a chord. Spirits? Fuck yes, all day long. However, I never got into the ceremonial grimoire style work for a number of reasons. So that was out. But I was always called to Witchcraft, in a witchcraft-as-sorcery approach. But I’m also not an Anglophile. So the whole ‘hedge witchery’ thing never rang the bell either. I’ll take the Goat over the Bucca or the Devil any day. I just don’t really grok the 'essotericising everything' impulse well either. It’s just the Goat to me, always. And Satanism never moved me. I remember hanging out with my friend Mark Defrates when someone asked if we were Satanists, and Mark replied ‘Satanism always carries with it that taint of rationalism to me. I’d prefer devil worshipper, actually, but the worship aspect is tiresome’. That's my take, still!
At some point after reading a lot of Spare and Nicholas Hall’s Chaos & Sorcery, around ’92 or ’93, I started calling what I did Sorcery. This was done for a few reasons. I had enough issues with where Chaos Magick was headed that I didn’t consider myself that anymore. This was mainly the Discordian and Quantum Physics aspects. Never been a Discordian, I am afraid, and higher math is not my suit. And I was not a big-T religious Thelemite, though there’s a good bit of Thelema that made sense to me, even though I’ve always found Uncle Al rather creepy (perhaps weirdly, I prefer the Holy Books of Thelema to all of his other writings). As I mentioned before, the aesthetics and control issues in Ceremonial Magic kept me out of that camp, and the religious bent kept me out of the ATRs, Wicca, and Neo-Paganism. So Sorcery it was. I expect had I come into magic post- Call of the Horned Piper (by Nigel Jackson) with it's killer art I would have been a traditional witch, but that was way, way down the line!
Sorcery to me is magic focused on results that is done in conjunction with the world(s) of the Spirits. It doesn’t mean that I am ‘conjuring’ spirits, but that I always seek to be aware of, work with and try to be respectful of the spirits at hand. This approach, while not itself a form of Chaos Magic, came from decades of practice that began looking at practical magic through the lens or filter of my interpretation of Chaos Magic. Chaos Magic to me was always saying ‘Look, all of this stuff works. Whether rooted in the ATRs, Wicca, Witchcraft, Ceremonial Magic, Spare, Spiritualism, Theurgy, Necromancy, Hoodoo, Nagualism, Buddhist, Taoist, Christian, or Grimoire magic. If ALL of this can work, then it’s likely that none of the reasons or mechanisms given by each strain of practice is 100%, exclusively correct. So what IS going on? How do we take that information, as odd, weird, half-baked, or contradictory as it seems to be, and bring it to bear on the work that we personally choose to do? What can we then infer about magic, itself?’
This led to a lot of BS theories, and maybe even some good ones. But theory does not results magic make. In time, I gave up on the theorizing and landed somewhere closer to where I am today, in a much rougher form.
Magic and Sorcery work. They work through mechanisms and mediums that are by their nature (and/or the limits of our perception) inexplicable. The mechanisms appear (pretty literally), however, to meet the expectations of the perceiver, more or less. That said, there are basic elements, aspects, and processes that are consistent enough in my experience to be defined:
◆ Magic and sorcery do in fact ‘work’.
◆ The use of ‘energy’ can assist this work. (This is things like chakra work, energy orbits, prana, baraka, kundalini, what have you).
◆ What happens in the Otherworld via trance/altered/non-ordinary states can influence what happens in this one.
◆ Meditation helps a fucking ton. This seems to be largely because being quieter of mind rather than a squirrelly mess helps, both with perception and what I think of as ‘clarity in the asking’.
◆ Any work to improve the perception of the ‘Others’ and ‘Other-like things’ helps.
◆ Focus is good. This does not mean that ‘laser-like, single-pointedness of focus’ is more effective than just knowing where you are headed.
◆ Spirits abound. Some of these are ex-human, some don’t seem to be.
◆ Spirits abound. This is a reality that doesn’t have to be perceived to be true, or even useful.
◆ Spirits abound. They are not all nice, and may not desire to play with you. This is usually not a problem unless you force things, which tends to produce some long-term issues.
◆ Spirits abound. The ones that would like to play with you tend to more flexibility than is often expected. So just because source x says deity/being x____ is Jupterean doesn’t mean you can’t work with it for Astral Travel or to find a lover.
◆ Being polite helps a ton. This is where offerings and long-term relationships become so important.
◆ You can do magic for whatever you choose to. There’s no cosmic morality police, for better or worse.
◆ The means always impact the ends. This is not anything like a 1-1 relationship, but more about tone or color.
◆ The spirits don’t care what you call yourself, what you call what you do, or even what you believe. They care about how you treat them.
◆ Material bases increase the likelihood of material results by a huge margin.
◆ Contagion is a thing and needs to be addressed.
◆ Spiritual cleansing is a good idea.
◆ The religious/ nonreligious aspects of sorcery and magic are of specific rather than general importance. In other words, it may be important to me specifically that I have a devoted, worshipful relationship to x______ but that doesn’t mean that this is generally important to anyone else in any other situation. One does not preclude or require the other, nor does either of necessity impact results, only my perception of them.
◆ ‘Energy’ or emotional patterns, like rage, fear, hate, love, pain, sorrow, guilt, envy etc., if they persist for a good while in a certain area, location, or space, can take on the nature of and/or call to that place, related spirits and entities.
◆ There are certainly more of these, but these are the basics as I can think of them right now.
Back to the Animism thing. Animism is the root model of all of these systems. Specific strains may in time discard the animist model, usually for either a disguised animist one (occultism!) or materialist or denied-animist one (many non-religious or non-magical forms of religion). Animism appears to be the basic human form of perception of the world(s) we inhabit. I was personally led to/came to this perception/understanding/belief via the medium of chaos magic, with liberal doses of sorcery, witchcraft, and ‘primitive’ forms of magic.
So Jason’s Chaonimism makes perfect sense to me. Not as a box, which I rarely have an interest in crawling into, but as a concept or description of an approach.
Good think, Mr. Miller!