What Is Chaos Magic?

Practitioners don't believe in consistency, tradition, or coherence

Austin Osman Spare
Austin Osman Spare's writing describes the foundations for chaos magic. Bert Hardy / Getty Images

Chaos magic is difficult to define because definitions are composed of common components. By definition, chaos magic has no common components. Chaos magic is about using whatever ideas and practices are helpful to you at the moment, even if they contradict the ideas and practices you used previously.

Chaos Magic vs. Eclectic Systems

There are many eclectic magical practitioners and religious practices. In both cases, a person borrows from multiple sources to construct a new, personal system that speaks to them specifically. In chaos magic, a personal system is never developed. What applied yesterday may be irrelevant today. All that matters today is what is used today. Experience can help chaos magicians figure out what would most likely be useful, but they are never confined by the concept of tradition or even of coherence.

To try something out of the ordinary, out of the box, outside of whatever paradigm within which you normally work, that is chaos magic. But if that result becomes codified, then it stops being chaos magic.

Power of Belief

The power of belief is important in many magical schools of thought. Magicians impose their will upon the universe, convinced that the magic will work for it to actually work. This approach to magic involves telling the universe what it will do. It is not as simple as just asking or hoping for it to do something.

Chaos magicians must believe in whatever context they are using and then cast aside that belief later so that they are open to new approaches. But belief is not something you reach after a series of experiences. It is a vehicle for those experiences, self-manipulated to further a goal.

For example, eclectic practitioners might employ an athame, a ritual knife, because they are drawing from systems that generally use athames. There are standard purposes for athames, so if the magician wants to do one of those actions it would make sense to use an athame because they believe that is the purpose of an athame.

A chaos magician, on the other hand, decides that an athame will work for his current undertaking. He embraces that “fact” with complete conviction for the duration of the undertaking.

Simplicity in Form

Chaos magic is generally much less complex than ceremonial magic, which depends on specific beliefs and old occult teachings about how the universe operates, how things relate to one another, how to approach various powers, etc. It often refers to authoritative voices from antiquity, such as passages from the Bible, teachings of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), or the wisdom of the ancient Greeks.

None of that matters in chaos magic. Tapping into magic is personal, willful, and psychological. Ritual puts the worker in the right frame of mind, but it has no value outside of that. Words have no inherent power to them.

Major Contributors

Peter J. Carroll is frequently credited with “inventing” chaos magic, or at least the concept of it. He organized a variety of chaos magic groups in the late 1970s and '80s, although he eventually separated from them. His books on the subject are considered standard reading for those interested in the subject.

The works of Austin Osman Spare are also considered foundational reading for those interested in chaos magic. Spare died in the 1950s before Carroll started writing. Spare did not address an entity called “chaos magic,” but many of his magical beliefs have been incorporated into the theory of chaos magic. Spare was particularly interested in the influence of psychology on magical practice when psychology was just starting to be taken seriously.

During his magical studies, Spare crossed paths with Aleister Crowley, who took some initial steps away from ceremonial magic, the traditional system of intellectual magic (i.e., non-folk magic) up to the 20th century. Crowley, like Spare, considered traditional forms of magic bloated and encumbering. He stripped away some ceremonies and emphasized the power of will in his own practices, although they formed a school of magic in their own right.