March 12, 2018 § Leave a comment
In the introduction to Psychonaut, his seminal collection of essays on the practice of chaos magic, Peter Carroll wrote these words:
Whenever history becomes unstable and destinies hang in the balance, then magicians and messiahs appear everywhere. Our own civilisation has moved into an epoch of permanent crisis and upheaval, and we are best by a plague of wizards.
This statement seems apt in today’s socio-political climate but, given that it was written slightly over thirty years ago, the sentiments are actually distressingly prescient.
This short essay will be less a review of Carroll’s twin introductory works of Psychonaut and Liber Null, you can read the book for that, and more of an attempt to explain why there has been no better time to understand the workings of chaos magic by showing how chaos magic, in theory if not in spirit, is already being used against every one of us every second of every day by our world’s power systems.
The First Truth of Chaos – Everything is in flux, flux is in everything.
In Carroll’s work, chaos magic is less about actively transforming the external universe by force but transforming oneself and, through that transformation, achieving a metamorphosis – a sleight of mind – that allows the chaos magician to flow with the currents of reality, accepting them all as useful. The chaos magician should be able to eradicate old habits and adopt new ones freely, without the inertia or distress this often brings, to adapt to any situation that faces them.
Liberating behaviour is that which increases one’s possibilities for future action. Limiting behaviour is that which tends to narrow one’s options.
Modern power systems, perhaps through a process of sheer animal cunning, exercise this chaotic process on a daily basis. Few of us are surprised by a political u-turn or explanation of how an apparently sincere policy decision was ‘misspoken’, yet if a friend or family member suddenly denied previous actions or statements, ones that can be evidenced to have happened, we begin to doubt their sanity. Where the chaos magician uses this fluidity to slip through the corridors of reality, power systems use it to disorientate and confuse those they wish to dominate. The concepts of ‘gaslighting’ and ‘fake news’, confusing the victim by making them doubt the solidity of their assumptions, are prime examples of chaos magic theory being used as a tool of suppression.
A politician, or any other individual for whom power is the ultimate goal, will always look to increase their possibilities for future action. Even the language of politics – of it being a game, constructed of manoeuvres – makes this explicit; a game where no possibility remains is no longer a game.
The Second Truth of Chaos – The sigil is the eye of power.
To formulate a desire makes it vulnerable to external forces and, perhaps most importantly, the inner enemies lurking in the magician’s own mind. Taking the articulation of that desire and rendering it down to its most meagre parts, either by deconstructing it in its written form or creating an abstracted image from a picture of its outcome, creates a ghost of desire that can drift through the nets of doubt, of fear, of fatigue. The desire becomes insidious, pervasive. By this method the chaos magician performs a near-Buddhist form of ‘unwanting’; the desire is poured into the sigil, empowering it as an avatar and releasing it from the frailties of the magician.
Sigils work because they stimulate the will to work subconsciously, bypassing the mind.
Again, though, the flip side of this technique exists as a cage around us. The Newspeak cant of business language, and the euphemistic military terminology it is derived from, are a combination of chaotic sleight-of-mind and sigilisation. Apparently positive words (surgical, precise, enhanced) are used to described negative events, blithely waving away any contradiction. Equally, corporate logos are distilled and abstracted through a form of sigilisation to imply dynamism, progression, strength, power. The Nike swoosh tells us nothing about what Nike do as a company, yet we would all recognise it and its sense of athletic agility. The McDonald’s logo is no longer simply an M, it is a pair of golden arches leading to somewhere better. Meaning is obfuscated and ultimately forgotten, replaced with a vague, bland hint at what is actually meant.
High-end advertising is the synthesis of this corruption of language and imagery. Few perfume adverts, for example, talk about the essence of what they are selling, the smell of a liquid. They remove meaning from their message so it becomes abstracted, too vague to catch hold of. Sigils become blended and self-referential; Perfume X is desirable because it is worn by Celebrity Y, Celebrity Y is desirable because they wear Perfume X.
The Third Truth of Chaos – Every word of it is a lie.
Chaos magic is not magic. It invokes no external powers, calls to no spirit nor demon. It needs no incense or flaming oils beyond those that theatricality demands. Even the eight-pointed star, hyper-sigil of chaos itself, is merely a logo created by the writer Michael Moorcock sometime in the 1960s.
Chaos magic is simply the will of the magician imposed upon themselves and, in that, it is the most democratic of magics. The chaos magician is not the haughty king but the smirking jester, not part of an elite born to power but one who has found power within themselves by becoming aware of how little what is often thought of as ‘power’ truly matters. Those who cling to political or economic power for its own sake will find themselves lost, chasing their own tails for ever-decreasing rewards, whilst the true chaos magician, standing silently to one side, looks on with a wry smile.
In trying to develop the will, the most fatal pitfall is to confuse will with chauvinism of the ego. Will is not will-power, virility, obstinacy, or hardness. Will is unity of desire.
This gives us a defence against the psychic war being waged by the complex of power systems around us, using corrupted forms of chaos magic; laugh at them, show them up for how absurd they truly are. Laugh at the pomposity of petty egos, laugh at the manufactured needs that capitalism blinds us with, laugh at your own insignificance in a void that rings with laughter.
And then you will be free.
Laughter is the only tenable attitude in a universe which is a joke played upon itself. The trick is to see the joke played out even in the neutral and ghastly events which surround one. Seek the emotion of laughter at what delights and amuses, seek it in whatever is neutral or meaningless, seek it even in what is horrific or revolting.
August 8, 2016 § Leave a comment
“When wakens the serpent?”
The old man asks
No word returns
From he who basks.
“When wakens the serpent?”
A whisper, low
“I woke within you
January 29, 2015 § Leave a comment
I went up to see him, like we all did, strapped into his swinging gibbet-cage on top of Dancers’ Hill. The thin, withered corpse naked but for a wrapping of black iron banding, its bald head angled back in a scream of agony – or of fury – with eyes plucked from the sockets, left hand hacked off at the wrist.
The left hand of Aux-Çevoires, the Alchemagos. The Poisoner of Melhaut, the Breathstealer, He-Who-Walks-In-Fog. The hand that I had seen only once, when he jabbed its discoloured fingers at my eyes before leaping through the stained glass of Our Lord Abiding’s rose window and down into the canal below.
So I went up to see him, like we all did, but I went at dusk when the night-mists begin to settle in the hollows and the sounds of the City are softer, distant. I went at dusk, to be alone.
I went at dusk, like a fool.
The walk is not long, but it is hard. Dancers’ Hill rises quickly from flat moorland on the far side of the Choke and its cover of thick gorse is left to run wild as a deterrent to the casually morbid. In the slow darkening of dusk, and as your breath begins to catch from effort, it feels as if your own life is ebbing away with every step of the climb. Yet suddenly, always suddenly, you are stood on the small tonsure of bare ground at the hill’s crown. Behind you the City’s lights glow amber and ignored. In front of you is the Dancing Master; the bent and blackened tree, impossibly ancient, that stretches out one arm to dangle the final home of the treacherous, the wickedly insane or the simply evil.
Aux-Çevoires was all of these so we hunted him down, across decades, until a time when the Dancing Master could offer him a lesson.
Nobody knows when he came to the City but it is likely that it was during, or sometime immediately before, the White Plague of AB412. Perhaps he was a young man then. Perhaps he has always been as old as he looked when I last saw him alive. Perhaps he was never even a man but simply a husk, animated by something unthinkable. Whatever he may have been, he was a murderer. A vampire, feeding off the fear of his victims.
The infamy of Melhaut is well-known; the bloated victims leaking and bursting as they staggered drunkenly in the streets; the escalating quarantine measures that couldn’t stop their screams echoing through the night; the very buildings themselves infected with malignancy, even all these years later. I remember hearing a shout go up and seeing the figure of a woman, still in the early stages but obviously lost to infection, run howling along the shallow incline of a gambrel roof. A Boxer took her with a shot from a trycklock and she burned as she fell into the streets.
Yes, Melhaut is well-known but Melhaut was a war and its atrocities on a scale that made them mercifully incomprehensible. It is the smaller crimes that make my throat burn with bile and wake me in my sleep; the candlemaker, almost suspiciously healthy in himself, whose corrupted sweat caused every 18th candle to gout yellow, choking fumes when lit; the mother who unwittingly killed her babies, driving herself into collapse as she tried to feed them more and yet more but ignorant of the fact that it was her own tainted milk that poisoned them; the sewerman, no longer aware of the difference between night and day, who went to work as the full moon rose and was found, reduced to a small pile of teeth, by the morning shift.
Yet the worst crime he ever committed was to kill the hope, the peace of mind, of thousands. The backstreet jack-a-knife can be avoided or struggled with. Hunger can be prevented with hard work or thrift. Even old age can be balanced against a life well-lived or the sight of a grandchild. When all this can be taken away on a whim, without reason, then life becomes meaningless. He killed many without lifting even a finger of his filth-stained hand.
So I went up to see him, like we all did, just to make sure that it was actually him, that it was finally over.
I looked up at him as I thought all this and realised that I’d been holding my breath. I let it out and with it came all the horror of the years gone by, all the faces pleading with me to save them when I couldn’t. I wept and howled, beating the cage with my fists until my strength left me and I fell to the ground, into blackness…
I awoke to cold seeping into my bones and a bright half-moon hanging high in the night sky, silhouetting the gibbet above me. Something tugged at my hair. A rat, no doubt, drawn by the smell of decomposition. I clutched at it, flinging it from me. Its claws raked out, leaving sharp lines of fire across my throat. I cursed it, I cursed the foolishness that had drawn me here and I cursed, as I had cursed so often before, whatever passed for the soul of Aux-Çevoires. I turned to spit but my throat was dry, hoarse with curses, so I simply glared up at the corpse.
And that is when I heard it. Under the whispering of a night-time breeze, under the creak of the settling gallows-tree, even under the distant murmurings of the slumbering City was a sound like dust falling on paper. I became silent, immobile and focusing every ounce of concentration on that sound. It became rhythmic, rising and falling like far-off waves. Like a memory of breathing.
Or of laughter.
Another sound, louder now and close by, made me spin around to see the vague smear of something crawling in the shadow of the Dancing Master. The rat I had flung into the darkness? No! Not the rat but a spider, bloated and dragging itself along the ground. Dragging itself out of the shadows and into the light…
I howled denial into the cold, uncaring night as the moonlight shone down on the horror that crept towards me. There had been no rat. There had been no spider. Crawling slowly, impossibly, in jerking movements and with fresh blood, the blood it had scratched from my throat, glistening on its talons was a blackened, distended hand.
The left hand of Aux-Çevoires.
I fled, crazed and unthinking, as the paper-thin laughter echoed in my mind. With no distinct direction to follow my limbs took me home, back into the City. I should have disappeared into the Fen, taken this death out to the monsters and abominations that haunt the horizon. But I did not, and now I am too weak to move. Fire fills my head and my eyes steam like coals. My lungs gurgle with every breath. My hands are bound tightly with cloth but still they swell and drip with thick, grey fluid. Soon I will no longer be able to hold this pen. Soon I will be dead.
I write this note as an apology. I caught the Alchemagos, brought him to trial and to punishment, but I am his final victim and, in being so, I continue his work. I will die. I will seep foul fluids into my clothing and belongings, tainting them irreparably. I will blossom spores into the air of this room that will waft through cracks and crevices, into the lungs of others. I will be found and will be removed, spreading the infection like the soft touch of autumn mist.
It is a mist that preludes a storm, ushered in from beyond death itself by the left hand of Aux-Çevoires.
Apparent final note and confession of Procurator-Medico Alnstein. Found amongst personal effects, post-mortem. Immediate quarantine procedures instigated on discovery. 1,203 related deaths confirmed as of time of report, including 57 officers and related auxiliaries. 721 further possibles. 3 Boxer units subsequently deemed inoperable or lost-in-operations.
Recommend noted area be sanctioned Red/Black immediate, full disassociation.
November 18, 2014 § Leave a comment
they cant see that the sky splits open where the light comes through and fire drips down like the putrid drool of a leper it burns and the GREAT HAND reaches down to shovel bodies into its maw when people squabble and squander and sit with their coins as devils dance in the streets leering in the windows grasping at the children with hands of coal and twigs theyre burning theyre burning and none of them notice that they burn as their hair dances in the flames that no wind nor rain can extinguish and the yellow is brighter than gold the red brighter than blood
and nobody sees and nobody sees the blue ghosts walking through walls walking through doors and their hands are all missing and the eyes are all missing and their keening sorrow hides behind the mist in the corners of the streets so only the sad ones hear it only the vacants and the babies in the wells floating in the water with their frogs and rattles of teeth and bones their only chattels their only homes
we see these things and only we the ones of the vortex lodge the walkers in spaces the lingerers between and the subtle touch of nothing.
May 22, 2014 § Leave a comment
I remember how it started, lined up tightly in the alleys and closes across the road. It was early morning. I was cold. Water trickled down from a leaking gutter, splashing onto my jerkin. The Ballivo made some kind of speech. I didn’t understand much of it apart from ‘charge’ and we pushed forward to storm the gates. The old locks splintered easily under the hammers of the leading men and we tumbled through, onto the boulevard.
And that’s when it all went so horribly, horribly wrong.
There was nobody there, nothing but the houses on either side and the leaves dusting the cobbles in front of us, but we fell anyway. The man in front of me doubled up, gasping, like he’d been hit in the stomach. Hit hard. Blood coughed up between his lips as he fell to the ground. His body lay limp. I jumped past him and carried on, my baton raised, more from the lack of other options than duty. Tillea, running beside me, glanced over briefly before her head whipped back with a sickening crack. She grunted weakly. I remember watching her helmet tumble backwards and clang on the cobbling. There was mist curling around our feet.
Distracted, I caught a vague movement on the edge of my vision. I was twisting away before I realised what was happening, raw fear controlling my movements, but even so something solid crunched into my jaw. Light exploded and danced in front of me. I hung suspended in the air somehow until, suddenly, my knees cracked against the ground and I jerked back into thought.
I couldn’t move. I started to panic. I was held, rigid, kneeling on a paving slab by the edge of the boulevard. Cold needles pinned into my shoulders, numbness spreading out through my body. I could see pale blue flowers lining a bed of dark soil. They seemed to glow slightly.
It was barely a voice. A rustling of pine needles, the scratch of dust swirling down an empty corridor. It didn’t matter. The sound didn’t need to travel. I felt it in the very bones of my skull.
Anger. Blistering, consuming anger. But not just that. Outrage, indignation and a kind of sadness.
“I’m sorry,” I stammered. It sounded pitiful. My voice cracking like a child’s, slurred out through my broken jaw. “We…,” I gasped as the word stretched my mouth and pain shot through my head, flaring sharp against the icy numbness. Thought was difficult, slow. The flowers. Watch the flowers. Bright. Blue. Rows. Ordered. Think.
“Orders…” I coughed the sound, barely deserving the name of word, through a coating of mucus. “Had…orders.”
The flowers. Dull now, just outlines. Rippling slightly in a breeze. Bending. Nodding.
And I fell, released, into their midst.
After that, all is darkness and whispers for what felt like a thousand upon a thousand years until a voice came and asked for me. A soft voice, yet strong and imperious. It cuts through the darkness like moonlight. I am needed. We all are needed.
Night is falling and Whither must awaken.
March 15, 2014 § 1 Comment
Bone charms rattle as she lifts her gnarled paw and silences the muttering of those rag-wrapped figures huddled around her. Her eyes glimmer despite the pearlescent sheen of aged decrepitude that blinds them and she spits once, twice into the sputtering fire before her.
“Ghrek hehg hehhg! Ghrek hahlg harrakh! Ghrek, ghrek heeehhhgg!“
That last, awful syllable stretches out, rising, and is picked up by the mewling group at her feet in splintered disharmony. Smoke puffs up from the flames, lingering briefly in the shallow cave until the cold wind rips it to tatters. She brings silence with a low growl and claw-show. She spits again and smoke rises once again, more persistent than before.
“Ghrek hehg harrakh! Ghrek hahlg hehg hehhg! Ghrek hehg hehhg Ghrek harrakh harrakhiin!“
And there it is. She read the moon well, the wind, the soft ripples in the earth and the grey-white lines of the sky. Smoke, more smoke than could be expected from such a meagre fire, billows up to the roof then slows, stiffens and slides back down the cave’s sweat-slicked sides. Grey smoke black now, black even against the jittering flame-cast shadows of the gloaming cave. She smiles, in her own way, as her brood are engulfed by the solidifying fumes and start to howl, deep and somehow slowed beyond any earthly voice. She hears the Pale Warders, the skull-stick totems out on the foothills, start their wail-song rolling out across the Fen. It sounds distant, fog-dulled. The smoke-mass touches her, flows around her, passes through her and for a moment she is a young leugha again, disobeying her mistress to skulk in the cavern-holes where she first found Him.
And there it is. In the slow-time drag of failing thought, a binding of consciousness given up to the voids and that ur-stuff between the voids. Some willing, some not. No division. A roiling mass of beingness borne forth.
And there it is. The Bubbling Foment. Moulder. The One Beneath. Well Dweller. Ghrek Harrakhiin, Shadow-Behind-Shadows.
And there it is. The Sleeping Cliffs sleep no more.