On Chaos Magick
“Nothing is true; everything is permitted.” Popular lore has it that the 11th century ascetic Islamic fundamentalist Hassan ibn Sabbah, who purportedly was a mystic and mastermind of an assassin squad, said it right before he bit the dust at age 90 years. The phrase, as it stands as a Chaos Magick slogan, was actually penned and launched as legend by the 20th century beat poet and career drug-addict William S. Burroughs, in whom a romanticist fascination with Sabbah developed. See www.disinfo.com/archive/pages/article/id
Some critics of Chaos Magick –as well as some chaotes themselves –regard the phrase as an anarchist war cry. However, from what I can gather from reading Sherwin, Carroll, Hine, Fries, Frater UD, and less celebrated commentators—and in my own view—the motto Nothing is true; everything is permitted, is simply an affirmation that all belief is provisional, not absolute. Belief shapes perception, which modifies circumstance. Thus, perhaps circumstance can be volitionally modified if belief that modifies perception is deliberately fabricated rather than imposed as unquestioned convention
This is magical Will, it is the mechanism of magick, and the gist of Chaos Magick. Chaos Magick delves into sleight of mind, dispensing with the spiritualism and woo-woo of other systems, but it nevertheless avails itself of those templates as tools for adventures in magick. As Carroll said, “Belief is a tool.”
In this regard, I find parallels between Chaos Magick Theory and Eastern mysticism. Chaoism ala 1980-something, if not Chaos Magick 2009—with its dispersions into everything from quantum theory to cyber technology to magickal terrorism to Luciferianism—seems to draw a little something from eastern Tantric yoga and Dzogchen. (See the widely Web-circulated essay by Mark Defrates [aka Marik from ZCluster] Sigils, Servitors, and God-forms Part I [Google it], which was written back in the 1980s. The essay also will give you insight about how Chaos Magick is different from other forms of magick.) Indeed, exercises about breaking down habits, conditioning, and paradigms—at least as outlined in Liber Null—are straight out of popular yoga manuals –nearly plagerized from them.
What you learn when practicing esoteric Tantric disciplines—if your teacher is kind and grounded enough to tell you—is that one of the reasons why a person does so is to ease the burden of content of the “subconscious mind.” The subconscious is now defined by other nomenclature in medical science but nevertheless, it defines the place where habits and conditioning live. This is why “positive thinking,” visualization, and all that nice fluffy, happy-pill stuff ultimately does not work for very many people. It is because a person is a program (programmed by circumstance and experience/nature and nurture). Some folks have a great, self-affirmative, light and lively program going on; most do not, and they struggle.
Thus, the responsibility of magickal and spiritual aspirants alike is to deconstruct the arbitrary character that they were haplessly made to be. Shamanic/Tantric and initiatory techniques are used to bypass the conscious mind and impress the subconscious so that a change in perception leading to a change in consensus reality can take effect. Liberation is the goal. For some (such as, say, adherents of various Eastern spiritual disciplines and Thelemites) this means becoming who/what they really are. For others (ie, adherents of Chaos Magick Theory), this means becoming who they really choose to be at any given moment for any given purpose because, after all, nothing is true; everything is permitted.
What’s the draw of an ideology or practice for which, ostensibly speaking, “nothing is true; everything is permitted”? I'm guessing that Chaotes are mostly in it for sheer experimentation and pure experience. They define themselves as Psychonauts, after all.
In explaining the whys and wherefores, I’d like to quote something expressed by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in a clip of an interview that appears in the video The Song Remains the Same. When Plant and Page were asked what their message was and why they were doing the Led-Zeppelin thing, Plant robustly and Page demurely both made a slight scoffing sound before uttering in unison, “For fun!”