Rollins and Eyre: Chaos magicians?

A few years ago, my son, who was by this time identifying himself as a practising pagan (with an eclectic choice of deities) rang me and asked if I’d heard of Chaos Magic – which I hadn’t. He suggested that I look up the Wikipedia entry on the subject and ring him back. I link to the current form of the article; at the time, there was a little more detail about the very early days, where the article stated “first formulated in West Yorkshire in the 1970s”*, and it included a quotation from a West Yorkshire Chaos magician who called himself “Mick McMagus”. For those not from the UK, or born later than the 1970s, at the time there was a very well known wrestler called Mick McManus, so the impression he was trying to convey really didn’t need the quotation from him which was also then in the article:- “There’s basically two kinds of magick. There’s puff’s magick, and git-ard Magick. Chaos is git-ard Magick.” (the “h” is frequently dropped by Yorkshiremen).

As I found when I rang Alex back, he thought the article, plus a conversation he has recently had with a Chaos magician in Lancaster, was very reminiscent of some things I’d said about theory and practice of rituals in some late night conversations when he was still living at home and searching for his own spiritual path. What he didn’t know, and I did, was that in the early 1970s I was for a while a regular attender at the Leeds Pagan Moot (Leeds being the largest city in West Yorkshire), and had met Mick McMagus, who was in those days, if I remember right, a Crowleyan magician (I certainly don’t remember him as yet using the term “Chaos Magick”, though I do remember him saying similar things to his quote above about Crowleyan magick) and (I think) Ray Sherwin. And I’d talked at some length about theories I had about ritual there… I was at the time in my phase of looking for any tradition which held out some hope of producing at least somewhat reliably a repetition of my initial mystical experience, and that included not only several Eastern traditions, but also all the strands of Western Occultism which I could find.

The Moot was a stimulating atmosphere, including Wiccans and Pagans of various types,  and Discordians as well as Crowleyan and other Ritual Magicians, most of which are now acknowledged as influences in the development of Chaos Magic (with or without a final “k” – at the time I tended to get right up the noses of the Crowleyans by insisting on pronouncing both the c and the k when talking of their particular brand). In point of fact, having just returned from Peter Rollins’ “Wake” festival in Belfast, the atmosphere there was vaguely reminiscent of the Moot, with the obvious difference that the Moot tended to avoid anything smacking of Christianity (the Wiccans were rather keen on “never more the burning times”, and were extremely suspicious of anything Christian, though some of the ritual magicians were using distinctly Christian symbol-sets); aside from that, discussion was far-ranging and very open, and lots of ideas were thrown around and played with. “Play” is particularly appropriate in the case of any conversation involving Discordians! It was, to use Pete’s terminology, a kind of “suspended space” itself, just as is Wake.

So I’m pretty confident that I was there when at least one version of Chaos Magic was being born. Whether I could claim that it used magical theories which I provided is less certain; my ideas were drawn from Occult writers such as W.B. Butler, Dion Fortune, Gareth Knight and W.G. Grey (inter alia) with, perhaps, a bit of my own spin on them, and all of those authors were known to at least some of those at the Moot. My position at the time was that you could operate in any symbol-system you liked, and could indeed invent your own symbols, either exclusively or in combination with extant symbols, the essential for efficacy being that you believed in them for the time being. In passing, I generally avoid syncretism; to my mind, if you do mix symbol-sets, you need to be very good at it (or, perhaps, “git-ard”); I massively prefer to operate in a single symbol-set – after all, most of those have been in use for many years, and have been refined to work together and not produce conflict, which is not something you can assume if you do the typical “New Age” thing.

Crowleyans, and Chaos magicians, tend to hold to Crowley’s maxim that magic is “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”; my own position, then and now, it that it should read “change in consciousness”. I was, in any event, not interested in anything other than causing changes in consciousness, and am significantly sceptical about whether these practices can produce gross physical effects (though not dogmatically convinced – I’ve experienced things and hear people I consider fairly reliable talk of things which might indicate that sometimes, though not often, there may be a physical result). In any event, I have serious reservations about whether one should try to produce physical effects even if it is possible.

[Just in passing, there wasn’t much emphasis during the 1970s discussions on sigil magic or Austin Osman Spare. Personally, I have a huge suspicion of Spare (second, perhaps, to my suspicion of Crowley), partly due to a recorded incident in which he was trying to materialise roses in a basement, and was declaiming “Roses, Roses, ROSES!…”, at which point a sewage pipe running across the ceiling broke, showering him with raw sewage. Perhaps an ingredient in producing roses by a less supernatural route?]

Having explained all that to Alex, he’s convinced that I’m a Chaos magician practising with a mostly Christian symbol-set – and I can’t really fault his reasoning or disagree with him too strongly, despite having been doing it for thirty years without any contact with others who describe themselves that way, or having read any of the books, and looking to most observers just like someone practising Christian devotional techniques (OK, with the occasional lapse into Buddhist, Hindu or Taoist). It’s a kind of meta-philosophy for me, and does inform how I look at what I do.

Returning to Pete Rollins, his Icon community and, to an extent, some of his Wake festivals have included elements of what he calls “transformance art” – and I, in my turn, think that what he is doing (or those around him are doing) is definitely a form of Chaos magic. They have the objective of causing changes in consciousness, they draw from a wide variety of symbol-sets (and sometime invent symbols) and they frequently have an element of subversive humour. At this year’s “Wake”, Pete referred to me in one discussion as a fellow Discordian. That’s probably not quite correct in either of our cases – while we are clearly both influenced by Discordianism, as Pete said, it isn’t a system on which he can build anything, as it’s too tongue-in-cheek and ironic, and I agree with him – and neither of us have really enough Discordianism in us to, for instance, claim it as our religion – but I think we are probably both Chaos magicians, of a sort. Chaos magic isn’t really something you need to join, it’s a way of looking at things and of doing them, and I think we both have a sizeable dose of that. I did ask him about whether he’d encountered Chaos magic, and he said he hadn’t. This is, perhaps, the rest of my side of that conversation…

*That was the case at the time this post was written. However, reference to West Yorkshire has also now been deleted.


My Easter was lightened by a mis-spelled church sign from just up the road from me. On Sunday morning, I was risen indeed – at around 5 a.m. for the daybreak service, which I went to with a little voice at the back of my brain suggesting that I’d get there and find the church doors closed, and a sign saying “April Fool” on them – Easter Sunday coinciding with 1st April isn’t that uncommon, but does give a host of opportunities to comedians, and it seems a comedian has taken residence in my subconscious. This might become apparent later in this post…

I’ve talked about my problems with accepting a physical resurrection in my previous post, and in a 2013 post prompted by the same preacher. In those, I’ve pretty much avoided letting the comedian loose. The thing is, the more I think about the model of resurrection  Jason Michaeli and others say I have to accept to be any kind of Christian, the more it looks to me like “Bible IV – the Zombie Apocalypse” – because whatever they say they are thinking, they are actually thinking about revivified corpses, even if they are somewhat transformed (after all, corpses do not typically walk through walls…). This is not Paul’s version of a resurrected body from 1 Corinthians 15:

“But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have. A different plant grows from each kind of seed. Similarly there are different kinds of flesh—one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.

There are also bodies in the heavens and bodies on the earth. The glory of the heavenly bodies is different from the glory of the earthly bodies. The sun has one kind of glory, while the moon and stars each have another kind. And even the stars differ from each other in their glory.

It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.”

Now, I’m pretty sure that Paul is reaching a bit as far as knowledge of what a resurrected body is like is concerned. He has himself only experienced what, from the account in Acts, was pretty definitely an apparition – and he knows that it wasn’t flesh and blood as we know them (and I can hear Scotty from Star Trek speaking that sentence…), but is imagining what it is actually like, using the concepts available to him. As it turns out, David Bentley Hart seems to agree with me. He points out, inter alia, that Paul also declares that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom (or, arguably, enter it).

I’ve frequently read that the Jewish concept-set of the time did not allow for what later became the Christian concept of disembodied spirits, but demanded that any spirit be concretely expressed. This is rather similar to my own idea, using determinedly non-philosophical language, that there is “stuff” and there is “pattern”, and there are no patterns which are not expressed, somehow, in “stuff”. Walter Wink, in fact, makes much of this idea in his “Powers” trilogy, pointing out that the powers and principalities which Paul writes of were conceived as having definite physical expression; in Wink’s case, there may well be a “spirit of a nation” (or archangel), but there is no spirit without there being a nation. Other powers identified by Wink are such things as churches, companies and ideologies (such as capitalism). You can’t have them disembodied… which may be a disappointment to some conservatives! Thus, when accounts were written of Jesus being experienced post-crucifixion, they had to be expressed in terms of some embodiment, and some of them very definitely have “flesh and blood” like characteristics. So, too, however, have at least two tangible apparitions I have personally experienced, which I am pretty confident were entirely subjective on my part.

Indeed, the well known passage regarding marriage in heaven (Matt. 22:23-32) bears witness to a number of things. Firstly, the Sadducees not believing in resurrection at all may well point to a group which thought bodily resurrection was the only kind there should be, but were cognisant of the difficulties of that. Secondly, Jesus plainly did belive in some form of resurrection. However, his comment “as the angels in heaven” very strongly indicates that he, too, thought that this was not in a normal flesh-and-blood body.

So, I ask myself, why do those who keep posting on the necessity for belief in a physical resurrection more or less indistinguishable from rescuscitation do so, rather than allowing that some of us might fully accept resurrection, but think that it is in some different way? My suspicion is that they are falling into the Sadducee trap – if the resurrection is not bodily, not a rescuscitation, then it is no resurrection at all, and my belief that it is not a bodily resurrection (OK, on a very strong balance of probabilities basis, rather than something more absolute – after all, we do not have the accounts of people who have been resurrected as to what the process consisted of, as Jesus seems to have been silent on the issue) threatens their belief. Like the Sadducees, they cannot see that there is another possibility (or, in fact, several possibilities, as I’ve alluded to in the previous posts I link above).

However, friends, my belief does not affect your belief at all. I claim no authority (any authority I have derives from scripture or other more learned than myself), and just because I believe something is no good reason for you to do so. So your belief is unaffected.

Unless, of course, in your heart of hearts you actually believe that I’m right enough for there to be no physical resurrection, but not right enough for there to be non-physical resurrection – which makes me a kind of Schroedinger’s authority, right and wrong at the same time.

(Incidentally, to illustrate the provisional and non-absolute nature of my thinking here, I’ve used a small “r” and added an “s” to “resurrection”. There may be many ways to resurrect, indeed, and I may be wrong, there may have been a rescuscitation and a physical resurrection and a spiritual resurrection and a transmuting of a dead person into something unknown to modern physics – and a metempsychosis, and a chanelling, and, and…)