Prime Chaos - Adventures in Chaos Magic
Phil Hine. Published by New Falcon
I found this a superb introduction to practical magic - the sort of book to lend to interested, doubting or downright skeptical friends. Phil so obviously writes from experience that he wins immediate respect. He maintains that respect by writing intelligently, without posturing and with a light touch of humour.
The book is divided in 4 parts. The first is an outline of chaos magic that could easily stand on its own under the title 'Prime Chaos' rather than the given title 'Chaos is Everywhere'. This provides a clear summary of principles with practical advice and instructions. Definitely one to lend to intelligent friends who want a grasp of the principles, but it is also a highly practical book for an experienced magician because it encourages open-ended experimentation rather presenting step by step instructions like a dedicated 'beginner's guide'.
Part 2 is about ritual. Again this could well stand on its own as the core of a general book on magical ritual. The theortical background, the discussion of elements and equipment, and the examples given would all be useful for the sort of pagan or occultist who would run a mile from the title 'chaos magic'.
In part 3 the scope is even wider as it addresses group dynamics. Although there is an attempt to focus on the specific problems of a magical group, I felt that the general advice was so sound and so obviously based on experience that once again it could easily be the basis for a third booklet with advice on running any sort of group.
Part 4 is really an appendix, looking more closely at two contrasting examples of chaos work - Liber Nice is about the hilarious Erisian current and Liber Nasty addresses the Cthulhu mythos. Between them they illustrate the breadth of possibilities in chaos working and the scope for causing offence via both iconoclasm and 'evil'.
This book does a good job of directing chaos into mainstream culture, not just because it is so clearly sane and perceptive. Phil says that for him magic is about "learning to experience your world in different ways"; he describes the point where "one ceases to believe in magic as something 'separate' to (sic) the rest of one's familiar world. rather the world is becoming magical." To me this is the real place of magic in the 21st century: we live in a shrinking world of limited resources, and the future lies with those who can re-experience and sanctify what is around them rather than rely on new conquests and further exploitation of resources to satisfy the need for growth and novelty. In a similar vein Phil questions the desirability of mastering the skills of dream control, when the great joy of dreams lies in their very unpredictability and wierdness.
In a very important section 'The power of discrimination' he challenges those who believe that chaos magic demands a complete lack of judgement or values. "It is the process of moving beyond merely accepting other peoples' models and theories, by doing your own research/magical work." It is this strong grounding in practical work in place of dogma that informs the whole book. "The statement 'nothing is true, everything is permitted' can be a slogan of upreme pesimism and cynicism. It can also be a clarion call to life as William S Burroughs put it, as art, play, or make-believe. Aleister Crowley is himself a paradigmatic example of the extremes implied by such a stance." I like what Phil goes on to say about Crowley - some chaoists used to feel the need to define their independence from any tradition by rubbishing the man, but Phil gives him his due. In another section Phil gives sample rituals including a delightful invocation of the spirit of Harpo Marx.
Indeed there is so much in this book that I heartily agree with, that I will go out of my way to question one section. Under ritual magic Phil strongly emphasises the importance of debriefing after a ritual in order to learn from experience and avoid self-delusion. While accepting his logic here, I am also aware that after a ritual I often sense that something has been set in motion that needs to be left to work free from conscious examination - rather like a work of art not needing to be spoilt by untimely analysis, or Austin Spare's advice on forgetting a sigil once charged.
I found the discussion of Cthulhu magic in the last section especially interesting. Both because it challeges stereotyped notions of good and evil but also because it reflects the need to go beyond magic (or science) as control and towards the rediscovery of awe in the face of overwhelming forces. Again we find that clear prose tends to defuse glamour and all that poetic imagery can do is to hint at possibilities of direct experience. Once again we are invited to do magic rather than read about it.
What does that mean for a book on magic? As suggested, this is really 3 books in one - it could be extended and edited slightly to provide first an introduction to chaos magic, secondly a handbook for ritualists and thirdly a general guide for group leaders.
Or else the book's real value might lie not in the text itself but in the author's experience it contains. A future generation of magicians could read Prime Chaos and be inspired by it. They could pass on what they find to benefit others even when the book is long forgotten and all that remains of Phil Hine is a statue cast in solid platinum atop a hundred foot high marble pillar in the middle of Trafalgar Square.
Ramsey Dukes 2002