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                                  CHAOS vs THELEMA ? 
                                 Alistair Livingstone

     Inspired, no doubt foolishly, by a new moon and the
     Cramps`"Psychedelic Jungle", I have decided to enter the
     Thelema vs Chaos debate. This is of course an impossible task, which
     is no doubt why it appeals to me.

     Firstly, what is it that distinguishes Thelma from Chaos? In
     Starfire, Mick Staley attempts to distinguish Thelema from
     Crowleyanity. Thelema he suggested pre-existed Crowley`s formulation
     of it. This immediately causes problems, since for the majority of
     magicians, Crowley = Thelema. But if it can be accepted that there
     is a something which exists independently of Crowley`s writings,
     then it must be this something (Thelema) which is to be contrasted
     with Chaos Magick. The core of this something, I suggest, is the
     Will. Is this idea of the Will in any way opposed to Chaos?

     What is Chaos then?
     For the purposes of this argument I will interpret Chaos as follows:
     that the familiar world of everyday experience has its roots in
     Chaos. So that any attempt to understand the world via reason
     reaches a boundary, on the other side of which lies Chaos, a state
     of existence/non-existence which cannot be understood by the
     rational ego. However, through the techniques of ritual, that state
     can be manifest in the everyday world, suspending the accepted
     "laws" of common sense and allowing magick to occur. Furthermore,
     perhaps as a result of the practice Chaos magick, the idea of Chaos
     is slowly entering the popular imagination via science. This refutes
     classical science, which is based on the belief that if the
     structure of the physical world could be sufficiently precisely
     modelled in a mathematical form, it would be possible to predict the
     future state of various systems (wheather, for example) which make
     up the physical world.

     However, it is now grudgingly admitted that this would require a
     precision of measurement which it is impossible to achieve.
     Engineers have long since had to accept this uncertainty - that all
     measurement is limited by the accuracy of the measuring device.
     Absolute precision is an impossible goal. There is always a degree
     of uncertainty, an instability, and by focusing the Will upon this
     either/or region, the magician can exert an influence upon the world
     at this level, which when it occurs, can produce the Willed outcome.

     To the extent that Chaos is a form of magick, ie. it seeks to exert
     an influence upon the world of erveryday consciousness, it must
     involve the Will. Otherwise it would be closer to a form of
     mysticism, that is the attempt to "go with the flow" of the
     experienced world without seeking to influence the direction of that
     flow. In this form, Chaos is closer to a "higher form of order",
     that is that the apparent random or chance events of one`s
     experience of existence are in fact the result of some greater
     existence than that of the individual. And that by disengaging the
     desires of the ego-self, one can experience this greater existence,
     interpreting the obstacles and blows of everyday existence as a
     stimulus to the development of a "Stoic" consciousness, which will
     enable the self to eventually swimm freely as a fish in the river of
     the Tao, or Chaos.


     The idea which this is based on tends to be that of the hermit, the
     forest sage of Hinduism, the solitary adept of High Magick. No doubt
     if it was possible in this present age, one could experience such an
     existence if one could remove the self from the rest of human
     existence. But such a model is no longer valid, since the growth of
     human consciousness is such that there is no virgin wilderness left
     in which to undertake such a quest. We are forced to contend with
     the results of the human desire for knowledge, power, control and

     This is perhaps the crucial difference between Chaos magick and
     Thelema. Thelema, as developed by Crowley into a form suitable for
     the 20th century, contains a whole heritage of experience and
     practice which reaches back through the Golden Dawn through
     hermeticism to Egypt and Sumeria, which in turn drew on the beliefs
     of our nameless ancestors who struggled to create models of the
     world, cosmologies and creation myths within which to make sense of
     their being in the world.

     Crowley`s task, as had been of Mathers and Eliphas Levi before him,
     was to synthesize this vast body of conscious/unconscious knowledge
     and represent it in a way understandable by at least a few of his
     contemporaries. Partly it is a question of language. Unfortunately
     the language of magick was limited by the dominance of
     Judeao-Christianity on the one hand and Reason on the other. Our
     everyday language derives from our perception of a world made up of
     distinguishable objects, and on the faculty of sight primarily. But
     as soon as we move into the more subjective sphere of magick,
     problems arise. To what extent do we share the same magickal reality
     and use words such as "the Will" in the same way? The problem is not
     confined to magick. For a time I worked in quality control at London
     Rubber. Periodically I had to compare my work with others to make
     sure we were all applying the same so that I was not rejecting
     condoms that another person was passing. In science the theory is
     that one person`s work is critically examined by their peer group.
     The difficulty is that as soon as creativity enters the picture, it
     will tend to disrupt this process. The test of any form of magick
     should be "does it work?". But how can that be judged, since the
     results of a ritual may not become apparent for some time. In the
     early eighties, much work was done to halt the expansion of nuclear
     weaponry. But it is only now, as profound changes occur in Eastern
     Europe, that this can be judged a success. And the changes may yet
     be lost by a failure of imagination and the difficulty of
     challenging the parasitic military-industrial complexes of both East
     and West.

     Thelema may be saddled with the archaic terminology inherited via
     Crowley from the Golden Dawn, but at its heart lies a crucial
     bullshit detector. I have found that the question "what is your
     Will?" directed at any group or individual who claims to be desiring
     change is a very effective challenge. What is unsettling, however,
     is the discovery that in most cases it evokes only silence, or at
     best a string of evasions.


     This I feel is the most damaging criticism of Thelema, that it has
     failed to cross over from magick into the diverse pool of
     "alternative" beliefs which seek to reshape society. This is hardly
     a question of mere academic interest, as Green issues emerge and
     look set to dominate the next decade, the "spiritual", that is
     neo-pagan, belief structures which infest Green consciousness are
     also going to exert a growing influence. We may yet discover that
     the future, as the Dead Kennedy predicted, will be "California .ber

     Can Chaos magick then succeed where Thelema has not (yet)? I doubt
     it, since the reaction to both by the average alternative type (let
     alone Joe Normal) is that it is "too dark". The very word "Chaos"
     tends to get tagged with "anarchy" and evoke nightmare visions of
     mad-axemen running wild in the street. Of course, for some this may
     be its very appeal, anything so bad must be good...

     No, somehow we have to achieve the Sysphean task of applying the
     notion of Will like Occam`s razor to the fast mulitiplying dualistic
     entities of New Age (un)awareness. In practical terms I understand
     this to mean directing our Wills at and with the growing Green
     movement, so that rather than disappearing into a fog of "good
     intentions", it becomes a real and willed critique of consumer
     culture. Just as Marxism failed to achieve its desires, since the
     working class had already been "mobilizised" by the capitalists, so
     magick fails since the energies of the mass unconscious have already
     been tapped by advertising, via the mass media.

     The energy tending towards change of consciousness (evolution) has
     been subverted by consumer culture into the desire to possess an
     unending stream of glass beads and cheap cottons, or in our case,
     microwave ovens and mink belly-button brushes. The whole thrust of
     advertising is to bypass our logic circuits and touch directly our
     desire for status and security. We don`t just buy the product, we
     buy the dream, maya the illusion of success. It is, however much we
     may protest, a form of magick. I may be an impoverished squatter in
     a third world shanty town, but if I can buy a bottle of Coke, I
     believe I possess the whole dream of the richest American
     millionaire. I may be a Trabant owning East German, but by crossing
     the (former) abyss of the Wall I become a potential Porsche

     But if you look at those already possess such dreams, what do you
     find? That it is, as in California, these same people who turn to
     the most ridiculous New Age bullshit in order to satisfy their
     craving for something more, for something to fill up the endless
     aching void they feel scratching and gnawing like some Charles
     Manson nightmare outside the walls of their Beverly Hills mansions.

     But of course, the last thing they want to hear is "the truth".
     Better to create a multi-billion dollar New Age industry than accept
     that within the richest mansions lies the reality of Chaos, of that
     Void which spins around itself the veils of maya, the dance of
     illusion, in which one is equally a starving beggar and a voluptuous
     moviestar. "What is your Will?".


     Of course I am somewhat prejudiced for all I used to sing along with
     Bowie on Ziggy Stardust (I could make it all worthwhile as a rock n
     roll star) I chose magick as a path. Through experiences both
     beautiful and terrifying I have come to understand the human
     condition as but one aspect of a continuum of consciousness. For me,
     the whole universe is a living entity which I interact with in the
     fleeting streams of energies which inspire my awareness. Both
     rationally and poetically I perceive my brain, my body as part of
     the very substance of the universe and not distinguishable from it
     (ie NUIT). For me, the human condition is part tragedy, part farce.
     We are semi-intelligent apes who have been driven by fleeting
     glimpses of what might be, to create this world, our reality. But in
     our ignorance, we mistake the glimpse for the whole, the ego for the
     self. We strive for "order" and create a chaos, and then recognize
     in chaos a "higher form of order".

     "Knowledge is power, power is control, control is security". Oh
     yeah? But knowledge is also pleasure, a pleasure more intense than
     any created by security. Security is sterility, sterility is death.
     We pay lip service to evolution, but cannot accept that evolution
     implies change, and change denise security. What do we will?

     If our will is security, stability, then that we shall have, as so
     many fossils. To embrace Chaos (Thelema) is to renounce such false
     gods and accept that our actions as magicians will change not only
     ourselves, but our world. Insofar as both Chaos and Thelema are
     valid paths, thus far will they change us. To cling to an
     identity, however pleasing or fulfilling, is a denial of magick.
     Magick is about change, the only constant factor in the unfolding of
     the implicate order/chaos of the universe.

     Along with Thelema and Chaos, I also practise the magick of Maat. To
     the Egyptians Maat was the "right order of the universe". The
     contrast is between the familiar Hindu concept of "karma", which
     deals with our human existence and the less familiar concept of
     "rta" which deals with our aspects as forms of (universal)

     Magick diverged from science some 300 years ago. Science sought to
     discover "the hand of god" in the natural world; magick sought to
     become the equal of the gods. Now we witness the overlapping of
     these paths. We are no longer the creations of some distant god, but
     the natural products of the universe. We have "evolved" out of a
     handful of organic chemicals. Now we have the ability, through the
     replication of DNA to evolve ourselves. We have, literally, the
     powers of a god. What we lack, and what magick must seek to provide,
     is the intelligence to use (or refuse) such power. The way to
     achieve this is to ask the question: "what is our will?" Are our
     genes our motivating force, or is there something else which I call
     "consciousness"? This consciousness I hold to be implicit in the
     structure of the universe, and has been revealed as such by quantum
     physics, however difficult such a realisation may be for us. It may
     be unprovable/undeniable, and therefore unscientific, but I suggest
     that our so-called consciousness is a quantum phenomena.


     This is what Crowley experienced as the interplay of Nuit and Hadit
     in the Book of the Law. It is also the root of Chaos. So that
     Thelema and Chaos are but different aspects of a single (multiple)
     experience, expressed in languages appropriate to their different
     times and ambiences.

     Alone I cannot fully express the complexity of these possibilities,
     and yet we must each try to do so. Only by placing them at the heart
     of our experience of being in the world, can we hope to create a
     society which will survive rather than perish under its unconscious
     contradictions. As yet we are but "naked apes", but we are apes with
     sufficiently complex brains to at least glimpse the possibility of
     being more than we are and become "homo veritas", that is truly
     human at last.

     As we are, we cannot fully know this to be true, only with our
     imagination can we glimpse the potential implied. It is my Will to
     bring this about, this is why I write these words, that they have
     touch and stimulate whoever may read them. So mote it be.

     On rereading the above, I feel the need to expand the argument
     somewhat. Having bashed my way through an anthropological essay on
     nationality and the state, it struck me that recent events in
     Eastern Eurpe have many consequences. The whole point of the "iron
     curtain", was to allow East to develop its alternative economic
     system, as spelt out by Marx. What is happening now is the
     incorporation of that economic system into a global economy, which
     implies the failure of Marxism. This failure leaves a power vacuum.
     The majority of critiques of the Western power structure have come
     from Marxism. But if it is now seen to have failed, the possibility
     exists for a more powerful critique to arise.

     Where will we find this critique - in magick. Of course this
     requires magicians to adopt a more rigorous intellectual approach to
     their beliefs, but surely that is what Chaos/Thelema argument is
     about, with each side arguing that the other is deceiving itself as
     regards the "true" form of magick. What I am suggesting is that
     magicians start to take magic seriously as "energy directed (willed)
     towards change". Rather than as an escapist belief system parasitic
     upon the economic success of capitalism. To practise magick we must
     surely believe that we inhabit a magical, rather than a strictly
     economic universe. How much more effective would our magick be then
     if we could replace the belief system of economic society with that
     of a society rooted in a magickal conception of reality.

     Such is the apple with which I tempt you - do you dare taste the
     forbidden fruit ?

     Alistair Livingston

     I do know him personally and am glad to meet him again in summer.
     A. Livingstone is a pseudonym of Ramsey Dukes (which is a pseudonym
     too :-)). He is member of the OTO and made a lot of Chaos working &
     theory. He wrote some very genuine books about magic (Liber SGDSMEE,
     Thunderqueak), is now concerned with KI (Words Made Flesh).
     You can contact him via:
     T.M.T.S., Wharf Mill, Winchester, Hants, SO23 9NJ, England
     With fractalic greetings and laughter  * Fra.: Apfelmann *


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