Today’s (UK) Independent On Sunday – a serious newsapaper well-regarded for its arts and political coverage – includes an amusing review by Gary Lachman (ex of Blondie and more recently writer of interesting works on the Western Esoteric Tradition) of Now That’s What I Call Chaos Magick.

This book, by Greg Humphries and Julian Vayne is published by Mandrake Press.

Crowley gets a mention. Of course.

Free your mind – and your spells will follow

Now That’s What I Call Chaos Magick
By Greg Humphries
& Julian Vayne

MANDRAKE £12.99
£12.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897

If you think ritual magic is about drawing pentagrams in blood and sacrificing your neighbour’s cat – if, that is, you think about it at all – this book will come as a surprise. Not too many books on magic – or magick, the authors’ preferred spelling, which the notorious Aleister Crowley adopted to differentiate the true art from tawdry prestidigitation – boast of a ritual to “stop time” which involves baking cookies. Or suggest making a talisman into a fridge magnet. Or advise a game of Twister to set the mood. Or link Jean Luc Godard, Jacques Lacan and fluffy the Vampire Slayer to acquiring the Knowledge and Conversation of your Holy Guardian Angel. It’s also true that not many envision the dark Hindu goddess Kali as P J Harvey wearing a T-shirt that says “lick my legs” or offer exercises to achieve multiple orgasms – male and female.

If this sounds like a spoof, that’s understandable: while the authors are serious and dedicated practitioners, they have the key occult insight that when humour is lacking, all magic fails, and they take a decidedly light-handed (or, in their terminology, “empty-handed”) approach to what can too often be a dreary; sanctimonious affair. The “chaos magick” of the title emerged in the late 1980s, when, like practically everything else, occultism was infected with the post-modernism bug. Jettisoning the cumbersome apparatus of traditional practice, and blending as many styles and belief systems as desired, chaos magick is about using your imagination and whatever is at handin order to “engage with mystery”.
Devotees can fmd its origin in the work of the 19th-century French ex-Socialist-turned-Kabbalist Eliphas Levi, who boiled down the real machinery of magic to the will and imagination. Where earlier mages fixated on a neurotic obsession with the minutiae of demonic names and the exact times to invoke them, Levi argued that all this was merely a means of focusing the magician’s own powers. Chaos magicians took Levi’s lead and ran with it: they’re more concerned with exploring their own creativity than with getting it right, and would rather invent their own spirits than lose sleep worrying about the appropriate one to petition. This book is a collection of rituals, accounts and reflections on how magick can invest any humdrum life with some new perspectives and, above all, fun.

Although clearly not for everyone, unlike many books on the subject, this one’s readable and the authors have a knack for the catchy phrase. “Love,” they tell us, “is as ubiquitous as the curvature of space.” In one account of a ritual invoking the aforementioned Kali, the participants call out “Hear us oh pork chop champion of the oppressed.” There’s also a personal tone that’s appealing. These magicians come across as very likeable chaps who are as concerned with having a family and a nice home as they are with exploring the profundities of existence. Does it work? Well, as any chaos magician would answer “There’s only one way to find out.”

Gary Lachman

Gary Lachman’s most recent book is `The Dedalus Occult Reader: The Garden of Hermetic Dreams’ (Dedalus)