by Mark Chao
Chaos, according to the `Oxford English Dictionary' means:
1. A gaping void, yawning gulf, chasm, or abyss.
2. The `formless void' of primordial matter, the `great deep' or
'abyss' out of which the cosmos or order of the universe was
There are a couple of additional definitions, but they are
irrelevant to this discussion. When chaos is used in magic, there
is no place for con- fusion or disorder.
Chaos is the creative principle behind all magic. When a magical
ritual is performed, regardless of `tradition' or other variables in
the elements of performance, a magical energy is created and put
into motion to cause something to happen. In his book, `Sorcery as
Virtual Mechanics', Stephen Mace cites a scientific precedent for
this creative principle.
"To keep it simple, let us confine our example to just two
electrons, the pointlike carriers of negative charge. Let us say
they are a part of the solar wind--beta particles, as it
were--streaming out from the sun at thousands of miles a second. Say
that these two came close enough that their negative charges
interact, causing them to repel one another. How do they accomplish
this change in momentum?
"According to quantum electrodynamics, they do it by
exchanging a "virtual" photon. One electron spawns it, the other
absorbs it, and so do they repel each other. The photon is "virtual"
because it cannot be seen by an outside observer, being wholly
contained in the interaction. But it is real enough, and the
emission and absorbtion of virtual photons is how the electromagnetic
"The question which is relevant to our purpose here is where
does the photon come from. It does not come out of one electron
and lodge in the other, as if it were a bullet fired from one
rock into another. The electrons themselves are unchanged, except for
their momenta. Rather, the photon is created out of nothing by the
strain of the interaction. Accord- ing to current theory, when the
two electrons come close their waveforms interact, either cancelling
out or reinforcing one another. Waveforms are intimately tied to
characteristics like electric charge, and we could thus expect the
charges on the two electrons to change. But electron charge does not
vary; it is always 1.602 x (-19) coulombs. Instead the virtual
photons appear out of the vacuum and act to readjust the system. The
stress spawns them and by their creation is the stress resolved".
Austin Spare understood this principle in regard to magical
phenomena long before scientists discovered photons or began
experiments in the area of chaos science.
Austin Osman Spare-some history
Austin Spare was born at midnight, Dec. 31st, 1886 in a London
suburb called Snow Hill. His father was a London policeman, often on
Spare showed a natural talent for drawing at an early age, and in
1901- 1904 left school to serve an apprenticeship in a stained-glass
works, but continued his education at Art College in Lambeth.
In 1904 he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art. In that
year he also exhibited a picture in the Royal Academy for the first
In 1905 he published his first book, `Earth Inferno'. It was
primarily meant to be a book of drawings, but included commentaries
that showed some of his insight and spiritual leanings. John Singer
Sargent hailed him as a genius at age 17. At an unspecified time
in his adolescence, Spare was initiated into a witch cult by a
sorceress named Mrs. Patterson, whom Spare referred to as his "second
mother". In 1908 he held an exhibition at Bruton Gallery. In 1910
he spent a short time as a member of the Golden Dawn. Becoming
disenchanted with them, he later joined Crowley's Argentium
Astrum. The association did not last long. Crowley was said to
have considered Spare to be a Black Magician. In 1909 Spare began
creation of the `Book of Pleasure'.
In 1912 his reputation was growing rapidly in the art world. In
1913 he published the `Book of Pleasure'. It is considered to be his
most important magical work, and includes detailed instructions for
his system of sigili- zation and the "death postures" that he is well
known for. 1914-1918 he served as an official war artist. He was
posted to Egypt which had a great effect on him. In 1921, he
published `Focus of Life', another book of drawings with his unique
and magical commentaries. 1921-1924 Spare was at the height of
his artistic success, then, in 1924 he published the `Anathema
of Zos', in which he effectively excommunicated himself from his
false and trendy artistic "friends" and benefactors. He returned to
South London and obscurity to find the freedom to develop his
philosophy, art and magic.
In 1947 Spare met Kenneth Grant and became actively involved with
other well-known occultists of the period. In 1948-1956 he
began work on a definitive Grimoire of the Zos Kia Cultus, which is
referred to in his various writings. This is unfinished and
being synthesized from Spare's papers by Kenneth Grant, who inherited
all of Spare's papers. Much of this information was included in
`Images and Oracles of Austin Osman Spare' by Kenneth Grant, but
there are some unpublished works which Grant plans to publish after
completion of his Typhonian series.
References for this section are mostly from Christopher Bray's
introduc- tion to `The Collected Works of Austin Osman Spare' and from
`Excess Spare', which is a compilation by The Temple Ov Psychic
Youth of photocopied articles about Spare from various sources.
The Magic of Austin Osman Spare
Spare's art and magic were closely related. It is reputed that
there are messages in his drawings about his magical philosophy.
One particular picture of Mrs. Patterson has reportedly been
seen to move; the eyes opening and closing. Spare is best known for
his system of using sigils. Being an artist, he was very visually
The system basically consists of writing down the desire,
preferably in your own magical alphabet, eliminating all repeated
letters, then forming a design of the remaining single letters.
The sigil must then be charged. There is a variety of specific ways to
do this, but the key element is to achieve a state of "vacuity"
which can be done through exhaustion, sexual release or several other
This creates a `vacuum' or `void' much like the condition
described in the introduction to this discussion, and it is filled
with the energy of the magician. The sigil, being now charged, must
be forgotten so that the sub-conscious mind may work on it without
the distractons and dissipation of energy that the conscious mind
is subject to. Spare recognized that magic comes from the
sub-conscious mind of the magician, not some outside `spirits' or
Christopher Bray has this to say about Spare's methods in his
intro- duction to `The Collected Works of Austin Osman Spare':
"So in his art and writing, Spare is putting us in the mood; or
showing by example what attitude we need to adopt to approach the
`angle of depart- ure of consciousness' in order to enter the
infinite. What pitch of con- sciousness we need to gain success.
"One must beware making dogma, for Spare went to great pains to
exclude it as much as possible to achieve success in his magic;
however a number of basic assumptions underpin chaos magic.
"Chaos is the universal potential of creative force, which is
constantly engaged in trying to seep through the cracks of our
personal and collective realities. It is the power of
"Shamanism is innate within every one of us and can be tapped
if we qualify by adjusting our perception/attitude and making our
being ready to accept the spontaneous. Achieving Gnosis, or
hitting the `angle of departure of consciousness and time', is a
knack rather than a skill."
There are other methods to utilize the same concept that Spare
explains for us. Magicians since Spare have written about their
own methods and expantions of his method quite frequently in occult
magazines, mostly in Great Britain. Spare is certainly not the
first person in history to practice this sort of magic, but he
is the one who has dubbed it (appropriately), Chaos.
Chaos since A.O.S.
Austin Spare died May 15, 1956, but his magic did not die with
him. There have been select groups of magicians practicing versions
of Chaos ever since, especially in Northern England and Germany. In
the late 1970's, Ray Sherwin was editor and publisher of a
magazine called `The New Equinox.' Pete Carroll was a regular
contributor to the magazine, and together, due to dissatisfaction with
the magical scene in Britain at the time, they formed the
`Illuminatos Of Thanateros.' They advertised in `New Equinox' and a
group formed. Part of the intention of the group was to have an Order
where degrees expressed attainment rather than authority, and
hierarchy beyond just organizational requirements was non-existent.
At some point, about 1986, Ray Sherwin "excommunicated himself"
because he felt that the Order was slipping into the power structure
that he had intended to avoid with this group, and Pete Carroll
became known as the leader of `The Pact.' The IOT continues to thrive
and is identified as the only international Chaos organization to
date. The IOT has also spread to America, and has headquarters in
Encino, California and Atlanta, Georgia.
There are smaller groups of Chaos practitioners, as well as
individuals practicing alone. Chaos since Spare has taken on a
life of its own. It will always continue to grow, that is its nature.
It was only natural that eventually the world of science would
begin to discover the physical principles underlying magic, although
the scientists who are making these discoveries still do not realize
that this is what they are doing. It is interesting that they have
had the wisdom to call it chaos science...
Modern chaos science began in the 1960's when a handful of
open-minded scientists with an eye for pattern realized that simple
mathematical equa- tions fed into a computer could model patterns
every bit as irregular and "chaotic" as a waterfall. They were able
to apply this to weather patterns, coastlines, all sorts of
natural phenomena. Particular equations would result in pictures
resembling specific types of leaves, the possibilities were
incredible. Centers and institutes were founded to specialize in "non-
linear dynamics" and "complex systems." Natural phenomena, like
the red spot of Jupiter, could now be understood. The common
catch-terms that most people have heard by now; strange attractors,
fractals, etc., are related to the study of turbulence in nature.
There is not room to go into these subjects in depth here, and I
recommend that those who are interested in this subject read
`Chaos: making a new science' by James Gleick and `Turbulent
Mirror' by John Briggs & F. David Peat.
What we are concerned with here is how all this relates to magic.
Many magicians, especially Chaos Magicians, have begun using
these terms, "fractal" and "strange attractor", in their everyday
conversations. Most of those who do this have some understanding of
the relationship between magic and this area of science. To put it
very simply, a successful magical act causes an apparantly acausal
result. In studying turbulence, chaos scientists have realized
that apparantly acausal phenomena in nature are not only the
norm, but are measurable by simple mathematical equations.
Irregularity is the stuff life is made of. For example, in the
study of heartbeat rhythms and brain-wave patterns, irregular
patterns are measured from normally functioning organs, while
steady, regular patterns are a direct symptom of a heart attack
about to occur, or an epileptic fit. Referring back again to
"virtual" photons, a properly executed magical release of energy
creates a "wave form" (visible by Kirlian photography) around the
magician causing turbulence in the aetheric space. This
turbulence will likely cause a result, preferably as the
magician has intended. Once the energy is released, control over the
phenomena is out of the magician's hands, just as once the
equation has been fed into the computer, the design follows the path
set for it.
The scientists who are working in this area would scoff at this
explana- tion, they have no idea that they are in the process of
discovering the physics behind magic. But then, many common place
sciences of today, chemistry for example, were once considered to
be magic. Understanding this subject requires, besides some reading,
a shift in thinking. We are trained from an early age to think in
linear terms, but nature and the chaos within it are non-linear,
and therefore require non-linear thinking to be understood. This
sounds simple, yet it reminds me of a logic class I had in college. We
were doing simple Aristotelian syllogisms. All we had to do was to put
everyday language into equation form. It sounds simple, and it is.
However, it requires a non-linear thought process. During that
lesson over the space of a week, the class size dropped from 48
to 9 students. The computer programmers were the first to drop out.
Those of us who survived that section went on to earn high grades in
the class, but more importantly, found that we had achieved a
permanent change in our thinking processes. Our lives were
changed by that one simple shift of perspective.
Chaos science is still in the process of discovery, yet magicians
have been applying its principles for at least as long as they have
been writing about magic. Once the principles of this science begin
to take hold on the thinking process, the magician begins to notice
everything from the fractal patterns in smoke rising from a cigarette
to the patterns of success and failure in magical workings, which
leads to an understanding of why it has succeeded or failed.
Defining Chaos Magic
Chaos is not in itself, a system or philosophy. It is rather an
attitude that one applies to one's magic and philosophy. It is the
basis for all magic, as it is the primal creative force. A
Chaos Magician learns a variety of magical techniques, usually as
many as s/he can gain access to, but sees beyond the systems and
dogmas to the physics behind the magical force and uses whatever
methods are appealing to him/herself. Chaos does not come with a
specific Grimoire or even a prescribed set of ethics. For this
reason, it has been dubbed "left hand path" by some who choose not to
understand that which is beyond their own chosen path. There is no
set of specific spells that are considered to be `Chaos Magic
spells'. A Chaos Magician will use the same spells as those of other
paths, or those of his/ her own making. Any and all methods and
information are valid, the only requirement is that it works.
Mastering the role of the sub-conscious mind in magical operations is
the crux of it, and the state called "vacuity" by Austin Osman Spare
is the road to that end. Anyone who has participated in a successful
ritual has experienced some degree of the `high' that this state
An understanding of the scientific principles behind magic
does not necessarily require a college degree in physics (although it
wouldn't hurt much, if the linear attitude drilled into the student
could be by-passed), experience in magical results will bring the
This series is directed toward the increasing numbers of people who
have been asking, "What is Chaos Magic?" It is very basic and
by no means intended to be a complete explanation of any of the
elements discussed. Many of the principles of magic must be
self-discovered, my only intent here is to try to define and pull
together the various elements associated with Chaos Magic into an
intelligible whole. For those who wish to learn more about this
subject, I have prepared a suggested reading list for the last
section, however, I must emphasize that there are always more sources
than any one person knows about, so do not limit yourself to this
list. Chaos has no limits...
For Further Reading:
`The Book Of Pleasure' by Austin Osman Spare
`Anathema Of Zos' by Austin Osman Spare
`A Book Of Satyrs' by Austin Osman Spare
`Images and Oracles of Austin Osman Spare' by Kenneth Grant
`The Early Work of A.O.S.'
`Stations In Time'
These three are collections available through TOPY.
Available from most bookstores (at least by special order):
`Chaos: making a new science' by James Gleick
`Turbulent Mirror' by John Briggs & F. David Peat
`Liber Null & Psychonaut' by Peter J. Carroll
`Practical Sigil Magick' by Frater U.D.