Posts Tagged ‘ChaosMagick’

Superman, Time Travel, and Why Science Matters

Monday, February 8th, 2016

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To do energy healing, or manifesting, or other magick, we need a visualization that engages the unconscious.

Keep that in mind: Engaging the unconscious. Because that’s a different goal than understanding how magick operates. Not a bad goal, just a different one. And confusing those two goals (engaging the unconscious vs understanding the mechanism) derails so many people, smart insightful people who could otherwise be helping us build a deeper understanding of energy healing and magick, and helping us create the better techniques that flow from that understanding.

A simple example: Chaos Magick is famous for rituals to Superman. The idea is to engage concepts of strength and justice in the mage’s unconscious, and to tap into those same virtues in a collective unconscious. When one does that ritual, it might be useful to pretend to believe that Superman is real.

“Superman will fly down and help me stand up to this bully” is a great visualization, but a terrible model for how manifesting actually works.

We’re about to discuss a not-so-obvious example. But first, I want to explain how we could figure out that Superman isn’t a good model, if we didn’t already know that.

Imagine a friend believes that magick actually works by Superman hearing your ritual and helping you out. You say, “That sounds amazing. Let’s do a ritual, I want to talk to him.” Your friend replies that Superman doesn’t stay around long enough to talk, and moves so fast you can’t even see him. “I have a high-speed camera.” Sorry, he’s too fast for even that. “I know, we’ll hang ribbons from the ceiling, and we won’t see Superman, but we’ll still see the ribbons swaying after he leaves.” Your friend thinks for a minute, then says that Superman will pause to stop each ribbon from swaying as he leaves.

For each experiment, your friend predicted the same result we’d see if Superman wasn’t real. If your friend really truly believed Superman was real, he would say, “Awesome, let’s run the experiment, I want to see those ribbons swaying too.” But deep down, he knows how the world really is, and he knows what experimental outcomes he’ll see even before doing the experiment.

(This is from Carl Sagan’s dragon in the garage.)

Now it’s time for the not-obvious example. Synchronicity asks:

What about retrocausality? Do you think it’s physically impossible or it’s possible but some ethereal softwares don’t know how to affect the past?

There’s a Chaos Magick book that talks about reverse-time manifesting, where you send out your intent and it travels to the past to arrange things for you in the near future. I think it was Phil Hine. (Anyone know the book? Leave a comment. Thanks!)

I think reverse time is like a ritual to Superman. Great visualization to engage your unconscious. Probably not how magick actually works.

(And keep in mind, Chaos Magick’s motto is, “Belief is the tool.” The goal was to temporarily believe things to get your mind to engage and do magick, not to accurately explain the underlying mechanisms of magick.)

But why? It’s easy to pretend to believe in Superman, then drop the belief after the ritual. But reverse-time isn’t obviously wrong. It’s a fun belief — who hasn’t wanted to go back in time and undo a mistake? And doesn’t quantum physics predict equally weird stuff?

I see this as an opportunity. Separating good mechanisms of magick from useful ways to engage the unconscious is an important skill. So let’s practice it.

Imagine you fully believe your magick can go into the past and change time. When I do that, I notice a mental flinch away from predictions that are obviously silly. Fight that flinch. Imagine we just made this discovery, it was a new technology, never used before. What could we do with it?

Here’s what I flinched away from. (That’s usually a sign that an idea is worth exploring):

Ananael has talked about manifesting to influence lottery results. If reverse-time manifesting worked — if we could somehow change the past — then he should be able to change last week’s lottery results.

And immediately, I start making excuses. “Ananael already knows the lottery numbers. Maybe this only works if he hasn’t seen them yet.”

OK, so I’ll look at the lottery numbers but not show them to him, then let him do the ritual…

I could come up with some excuse, but I’ve spent years training my mind not to create those excuses, and I actually don’t want to develop that excuse-making skill.

But try it. Ask, “What would the world look like, if the world actually worked that way?” And see how much you immediately have to explain away.

That’s how we know reverse-time is a good visualization, but not a good mechanism for magick.

Why bother with this? Why not just believe in whatever speaks to me, as wholeheartedly as I can?

Because when we take a good mechanism and ask, “What could I do if the world actually worked that way,” we don’t have to create excuses. Every idea it gives us is a useful, working technique for energy healing, or manifesting, or something else we care about. (And instead of excusing failures, we use them to refine our model, so next time it gives us even better techniques.)

Gather enough good mechanisms and we call it a scientific model. And that’s why science matters: Not because having the right answer is cool, but because a good model suggests good techniques that give better results.

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Magick, Thought and Transistors

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

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There’s a meme that magick is somehow “made of thought.” After all, you direct it with thought, so it has to somehow be thought, right?

Nope, not right. Except, not 100% wrong, either. It’s a subtle but fundamental error, something that leads you astray slowly, only causing problems long after you’ve bought in. I’m going to explain in an analogy, so you can think about the meme yourself.

Imagine an EEG hooked up to a computer. The EEG reads brainwaves, sends them to the computer via wifi, and you control a game by thinking. (This is a real thing, by the way.)

Now, imagine you take someone from a few hundred years ago, who’s never seen a computer. You embed the EEG into their hat, so they don’t see any of the technology. Just their hat and the screen.

“Wow, Mario does whatever I think. He must be made of thought.”

No, you say. Thought is electrical impulses in the brain. This is a computer. It’s made of transistors.

(Some trickster you are, intentionally fooling this old soul. Shame on you. But back to the story.)

“But it reacts like it’s alive, like it’s intelligent. It may be made of physical matter, but surely, it must also be made of thought.”

No, you say. You show him a transistor, explain how it works.

“Aha! So each transistor processes information. It contains a tiny bit of thought. That’s why you can put them all together to produce this game.”

Well, transistors do process information. If you squint just the right way, you can sort of agree with him. But there’s a danger in using the same word for transistor-thinking and brain-thinking:

“My thinking causes the game character to move. So, the game must be made of thought. Then this fellow tells me the game is made of transistors, so transistors must be made of thought. And, since they’re made of thought, it’s not surprising at all that my thoughts interact with those transistors.”

Did you notice what happened in that last sentence? He skipped over the EEG, the wifi, and a bunch of other technologies.

Sure, he understands enough to play the game. With trial and error, he might even discover complex commands. (Maybe entering alpha state for 2 seconds, then beta for 1 second, then gamma opens a new program.)

But hand him transistors, and he’ll expect to control them by thinking. Block the wifi signal, and he’ll think Mario is dead. It’s not that transistors don’t think, because if you squint the right way, they sort of do. It’s that, while he’s not wrong, he’s also very much not right.

“Thought affects thought” sounds so simple, so sensible. Which makes it easy to elide the system’s true complexity.

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Does “Egrigore” = “System”?

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

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Egrigore is an idea. System is a category in the world. That’s why they’re different.

Andrew writes:

What is the relationship between egrigores and systems?

With all this Chaos Magick discussion, this seems like a good time to bridge concepts.

Disclaimer: I don’t do Chaos Magick, so my understanding of egrigores comes from friends, blogs and wikipedia. Sorry if I get some details wrong.

The Short Answer

If you mentally substitute “egrigore” for “system,” you will be 90% correct. They are similar concepts, probably inspired by the same initial observation (that mages often channel outside forces). If I’d been familiar with “egrigore” when I coined the term “system,” I might have called it an “embodied egrigore” or something similar.

The Technical Answer

“Egrigore” = a collective concept (I think). “System” = a magickal force you can channel. Some systems are egrigores, and some egrigores are systems. But many are not.

“America,” “freedom” and “censorship is bad” are egrigores, but not systems. There’s no force to channel.

I’ve created systems that aren’t concepts. A system that shields the wearer of a piece of jewelry, for example. I think of it as performing a task rather than embodying a concept.

Within the egrigore of “psychic intuition sources,” there are many different systems, specializing in different types of questions and events.

A single system might represents a pantheon of gods (each one an egrigore), using the different associations to help you communicate your instructions.

And for any given pantheon, there are multiple systems that represent those gods, possibly in different ways.

System and egrigore both start from the same observation: Mages channel things, and we need a name for that. But neither is broader than the other. They are simply different.

The Reason Why

I think that whoever coined “egrigore,” in the modern magickal usage, started with an expectation (“Magick is driven by belief”), followed it to its natural conclusion (“Ideas that lots of people believe in are powerful”), and then used that expectation as the definition.

That’s a bad way of understanding how the world works. Sure, you always start with an idea, but it’s better to start with a description of how the phenomena behaves (“There are these forces we channel to do magick”), then explore more details of that behavior (“They read your thoughts; you get better results by aligning to the system’s signature; they respond to commands, and provide instructions if you ask for them”). It helps if you use a neutral name, like “system,” instead of a name suggesting “what it really is,” like “egrigore.”

That’s why the concept of “egrigore” is similar to “system,” but not the same: Both started with the same basic idea (“Mages channel forces”), but one jumped to an (incorrect) reason why (“These forces exist because lots of people believe in them”), whereas I proceeded more slowly, focusing on observation and behavior, rather than grand theories.

Sorry, I hate patting myself on the back. But this is one way that mages often go wrong: We jump to grand theories, rather than working through observations and behaviors first. Which probably deserves its own post.

Egrigores correspond to an expectation in your mind. Systems correspond to a category in the world. That’s why they’re different.

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Rethinking Chaos Magick: Why Disappointing is Good

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

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Disappointing ideas are built on an exciting insight. Most ideas don’t even have that.

Have you ever decided something, and just kept believing it years later, without bothering to remember why?

Mr. Black of The Razor’s Edge posted a reply to Why Chaos Magick Disappoints Me. And I realized, I’d been disappointed when I first read Phil Hine in the late 90s, and haven’t gone back since. So now seems like a good time to remember why, and see if it still holds.

Reading the first few chapters of Hine’s book (I forget which, but one of his well-known ones), I thought, “Here’s someone that gets it. Magick isn’t in the particular ritual. There’s something fundamental going on underneath the hood, driving all these interface-level mechanics.” Because that’s what I was (and still am) developing: The common mechanics that make all styles of magick work.

I kept reading. Not everything, but more than a few books from Hine and Peter Carroll. They never got to the mechanics. The closest I saw was “Belief is the key. Whatever you believe works, will.” Which isn’t mechanics, and isn’t even accurate based on what I (and most other mages) observed.

That’s the disappointment: The mismatch between where the idea could go, and where it does.

Something like Candle Magick starts off silly, ends up silly, and delivers exactly the level of depth you expect. It’s like a donut: Would you be disappointed that a donut isn’t a complex, engaging dining experience? Me neither. Even serious styles of magick, like Enochian or Thelema, don’t excite me enough to be disappointing later.

But Chaos Magick starts out deep and engaging. “All these different styles disagree, but they all work. There must be something universal going on under the hood.” That’s exactly where I live, and exactly the sort of guys I want to work with. My natural next question is “What are the moving pieces, how do they work, and how can we use that knowledge to produce better results?” Only, I don’t see any Chaos Magicians asking that, not in a rigorous way, not as an “is” rather than a “might-be.”

That’s what I really want to talk about: The moving pieces behind magick-as-a-phenomenon, regardless of the particular style. If that’s where you work, then no matter what type of magick you do, I’d love to talk with you. How does magick function? What are the moving pieces? What’s your model, and why is it useful? Or, if you don’t have a model yet, what are the questions you’re asking, the observations that are tickling your curiosity, or the start you’re making to exploring the inner-workings of magick?

You can find my most concise answer here, and more details in almost every post on this blog.

And hopefully in that conversation, I’ll learn something about a better sort of Chaos Magick than I found the first time.

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Why Chaos Magick Disappoints Me

Monday, October 24th, 2011

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Chaos Magick is a solipsistic cul-de-sac.

Renaldo asks:

I always loved the ideas of making magick fun and a way that is truly unique to oneself. … You stated that beliefs do not affect reality. … Would you please answer if Chaos Magick would fall into the category of defined systems as it seems to be against what is stated. … I would really like to perform effective magick and so I was wondering on your thoughts about it as a system, whether it would be fine to work with or a ghastly end to a beginner in magick?

(Read his full question here).

Hi Renaldo, good questions.

I can see the appeal of Chaos Magick: Create your own magick style just by dreaming it up. Instant uniqueness, instant success, zero mechanics.

That’s why I find Chaos Magick so disappointing. It focuses on imagining things to believe, but never investigates how magick works. It’s like “belief” is a semantic stopsign: It lets you feel like you have an answer, so you never ask the next question.

Of course, if you ask a Chaos Mage, they’ll tell you that everything depends on what you believe, and that my style only works for me because I believe it does. But “whatever you believe, happens” just isn’t a compelling model. Really, it isn’t a model at all, because it doesn’t predict much of anything. I’ll refer to Patrick Dunn’s post on this, and get back to your question.

Is Chaos Magick a system? Well, in the normal English term “system,” Chaos Magick is a set of beliefs. In my technical sense, “system” = “a force you can channel,” and no, Chaos Magick doesn’t supply any systems. And that’s the problem. Let me explain.

Most traditional styles (Thelema, Enochian, Reiki etc) have particular systems-in-the-technical-sense associated with them, which turn your symbolic actions into instructions, then implement those instructions as magick. From what I’ve seen, Chaos Magick doesn’t have any channel-able forces backing it up, unless you also practice a standard style and bring those systems with you, channeling the same forces you do in normal rituals (and, at best, getting the same results as those rituals). That’s why a DIY ritual about the Flying Spaghetti Monster won’t get the same kind of results as a standard Thelemic ritual: Because there’s no system to implement all those requests you’re making.

Will Chaos Magick put a “ghastly end” to your magick? No. And frankly, I’ve never heard of anyone meeting a “ghastly end” from practicing magick. The worst that happens is Chaos Magick leads you into a solipsistic cul-de-sac, focusing on belief rather than the actual mechanics of magick. But it sounds like you’re already asking the right questions to get out of that trap.

So what does Chaos Magick do, then? “Belief as a tool” is a way to communicate your intent to your unconscious. It fills the same role as visualizations or rituals. Reality doesn’t care what you believe, but your unconscious definitely does. But without a system, and without actual mechanics to guide your mental muscles through magick that doesn’t need systems, I can’t see it producing very good results.

I love new, unique ideas. But the first step is understanding magick’s inner-workings. Otherwise, you’ll just wind up with a story that sounds cool but doesn’t produce results — a unique method of not quite doing magick. That’s why I focus on the mechanics: So you can make magick not only unique, but effective.

Does that answer your question?

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Chaos Magick and Rabbit Holes

Friday, February 12th, 2010

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Chaos Magick starts with a good premise: That magick lives in the unconscious of the mage, not in the ritual that mage is doing.

“Your unconscious will change the world according to your beliefs and expectations.” This is the beginning and the end of chaos magick. Mages learn to adopt temporary beliefs about how the world works and invent sigils to signal their intent to the unconscious. It’s a rabbit hole.

They never ask “What is that unconscious process, and how does it alter reality?”

“Reality is what you believe” is to magick what “It is that way because God wills it so” is to science. It keeps you forever in a cul-de-sac, fumbling with a view of reality that was never useful in the first place.

Reality does have rules. They aren’t the correspondances used by ritual mages. They aren’t the denial of magick used by scientists. But they aren’t the simplified “Believe it and they will come” used by chaos magick, either.

Direct magick is about understanding those rules. Understanding how the body generates energy lets us heal injuries. Understanding how thoughts in the mind alter signatures lets us communicate telepathically. Understanding how our unconscious minds do magick lets us improve our abilities by magickally altering our minds.

Human capability advances by questioning the world. It starts with rejecting simple explanations like “Belief makes it so.”

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