Book Review: Hands On Chaos Magic

This past April, I discovered podcasts.  Gordon White is chiefly to blame: I had been fanboying for him for some time when I discovered that he had recently begun podcasting, and that was what pushed me over the edge.  One of the first podcasts I found after that was Andrieh Vitimus‘ and Jason Caldwell’s Deeper Down the Rabbit Hole, and through that, I discovered Andrieh’s book, Hands On Chaos Magic.  Which, ironically, it turns out Aradia had picked up a copy of at some point, and I was thus able to pick up and read the moment the urge came upon me.

Hands On Chaos Magic was originally published in 2009, and a part of me wishes it had been available a great deal earlier.  I certainly wish someone had pushed it into my hands sooner.  While I had been living in Indiana and studying ceremonial and chaos magics would have been great: I could have just driven across the Ohio border with a case of mead to bribe my way into Vitimus’ confidence and talked shop while I was at the top of my game.  Having crashed out this year, however, in the wake of abandoning the Sunrise Temple and my planetary cycle, and enchanting myself out of a job, and my first year as Chair of the Sacred Experience Committee … the book has served me very well, now, as I try to rebuild the foundation of my practice.

Andrieh Vitimus’ book strikes the perfect balance of tone: authorotative yet intimate, treating his subject seriously without taking himself or his students too seriously, appealing to the magical student’s sense of drama without loosing touch of practical objectives or material reality.  Embracing NLP and more solid modern psychology, Vitimus avoids many of the Freudian and Jungian pitfalls that befell his predescessors in Chaos Magick.  Finally, Vitimus is very realistic about his audience: leaving aside the moralistic pandering of many other instructional volumes on magic in favor of presuming that his readers are adults who have already drawn their own ethical conlusions.

The book is solidly organized, building from basic breathwork and meditation through energy work and psychology to sigils and sympathetic magic before introducing entity work and colcluding with astral ventures and hypersigils.  Each lesson leaves the student well-prepared for the next.  I have quibbles, of course – invocation preceding evocation seems a little strange to me, as does saving astral travel for last – but any lesson plan includes some arbitrary decisions where no trully natural order of flow exists.  Knowing that not every technqiqe works equally well for every sorcerer, witch, and magiciah, he presents each aspect of magical practice and technique from as many perspectives as possible.  Of particular value is his repeated insistance on muti-sensory imagination, rather than “visualization” as it is usually framed.

On a more personal note, I frequently found the book very validating.  Andrieh Vitimus is one of the shockingly few authors to discuss the kind of energy work that was the foundation of my magical practice from the age of sixteen until my mid twenties.  He also giave name to a technique that I developed intuitively in my late teens, but self-conciously abandoned because I had no cultural contest for it: glossolalia.  Likewise aura manipulation as a form of glamorie.

My one and only complaint about the book, in fact, is one of my chief complaints about Chaos Magick in general.  In the text, Andrieh Vitimus leans too heavily on the psychological model of magic, particularly in the astral and hypersigil chapters, and by virtue of the recency effect, that casts a psychological model pall over the whole of the book.  Ironically, based on his podcast, I do not believe that his actual practice suffers from that problem

I cannot recommend this book highly enough for either the beginning practitioner or the more experienced magician looking to restart or expand their practice.  Should I ever take another student, Hands On Chaos Magic will feature prominently in my curriculum.


Lust of Results is Not Your Problem

I’ve been reading and talking magical technique a lot, lately, so I’ve been re-exposed to the notion of “lust for results” and it’s been driving me up the wall.

Let me lay it down like this: I was once a presumed-male 16 year old with even more lust in my heart than I possess today.  I know precisely how wanting something too much can screw it up for you, and I honestly believe that it’s this memory that Carrol and Spare and even less douchy chaotes are holding in their hearts when they speak of lust of results.  But here’s the thing: it’s not the wanting that’s the problem, it’s the being an inconsiderate and creepy fuckwit part that screws it up.  As a magical principle, the destructive power of lust of results just doesn’t hold water.

Historically and socially minded magicians talk about this a lot: there are three things that people turn to for magic before all others: money, sex, revenge.  As such, folk magic, the grimoires, and even the PGM are all thick with spells to bring you those things.  They are things that people want desperately, things that people can’t think rationally about.  They are results that people lust over.  And, quite frankly, if they were things that magic couldn’t bring people just because they wanted them too badly, books of magic would be a lot thinner, and the pockets of magicians and sorcerers across time would be a lot dustier.  More to the point, the desires for money, sex, and revenge, are the things that get people into magic in the first place, and if wanting them bad enough to enchant for them were a guaranteed failure, then no one would keep practicing magic long enough to pursue more enlightened goals.

Put another way: blaming magical failure on “lust of results” is a fucking cop-out.  Although I can think of a couple notable exceptions, most of us aren’t calling upon the Gods Above and Below to protect and grow our existing wealth.

You don’t call upon the forces of the cosmos to bring you things you can get just by walking out your door.  By the time you’re enchanting for money, you’ve probably been stuck in your shit job (or unemployed) for a while, and you’ve already probably put out a hundred or so resumes and applications.  By the time you’re enchanting for sex and love, you’ve probably got a few failed relationships under your belt and some serious emotional baggage on your back.  By the time you’re enchanting for revenge, you’re probably up against forces that you cannot face on an even field of battle.

That is to say, for the most part you don’t enchant unless you’re lusting for results.  Also, take some time to talk to some witches: we know what great spell-fuel lust and fear and hate can be.  Thus, we must look for another, more meaningful explanation for spell failure.

Generally speaking, modern Chaos Magick operates under the assumption of a probabilistic universe.  (I single out Chaos Magick, here, because Chaotes are the ones having interesting conversations about how magic works behind the curtain, and because Peter Carrol and Gordon White and Andrieh Vitimus are the people I’ve seen talking about this in print).  So, to reframe the debate in those terms, it turns out that most of us don’t start enchanting for results until the odds are already stacked against us.  Again: we lust for results when our magical goal is objectively more difficult to achieve.

From this probabilistic perspective, then, the “lust for results” argument is completely non-sequiter.  Lusting for results is only a problem if causes you to act against your own interests.

Why then, can a skilled magician, witch, or sorcerer find themselves in a position where they can happily enchant their friends and clients into new carreers but cannot do so for themselves?  Frankly, I would turn to non-magical explanations, first.  Stress and trauma reduce cognitive function and creative capacity: it’s harder to come up with good magical solutions to your own problems.  Moreover, speaking now only of American mages, thanks to the poison of prosperity theology in the cultural waters, we may well blame ourselves for our circumstances, further reducing our ability to see solutions to our problems.

If we must find a magical explanation for the failure of a skilled magician to adequately alter the probabilities of their situation, I propose a different metaphor: leverage and angles.  It is easier to do prosperity magic (or many kinds of magic, for that matter) for another than for ourselves because we do not have the best angle of attack on our own problems.  Although I cannot explain why this may be, based on my own observations I believe that this is particularly true of sympathetic magics.

In summary, I believe that “lust for results” is rarely if ever a satisfactory magical explanation for failure to manifest one’s desire.  I believe that it has survived so long by playing into the worst parts of where mainstream and magical cultures overlap – victim blaming, “u mad bro?”, caring isn’t cool – and by virtue of its pedigree.  I propose that any time we are tempted to use “lust for results” as an explanation for a failed enchantment, we reassess the actual probability of success on the one hand, and the material action nesscessary (vs. taken) to back up the enchantment on the other.

Moments in Time

When I first began seriously studying ceremonial magic in August of 2011, it was with a lifetime of energywork and witchcraft already under my belt.  I grew up surrounded by reports of astral time-travellers, and rituals aimed at undoing the injustices of past and future… at least in theory.  Books on witchcraft were always talking about advantageous days and moon phases, but everyone I knew had successfully manifested most of what they wanted with no regard to those things  (Friday seemed so far away in my late teens…).  So when I created my first electional talisman, the notion of using that moment again, some time in the future, had already occured to me.

Last night I finally put that theory to the test.

Aradia and I constructed an altar explicitly for the spell in the livingroom, frankincense burning in a brazer at the top beside the paper Jupiter talisman I made at that first election.  We prepared the three-part maeteria: the candle to be annointed, the paper talisman for our client’s altar, and the bottle of Scotch whiskey for the client to drink in the company of Jupiter.  We banished and cast our elemental circle and called to the powers of Jupiter by means of the Orphic hymn and libations and fumigation.

Then I called upon the spirit of the talisman to open up a window in time to the moment of its creation.  Light shined through the talisman and into our circle, and Aradia and I wound that energy up using memory-evocation techniques from Andrieh Vitimus’ Hands On Chaos Magic: revelling in the sensory details of the day upon which I first called the spirits of Jupiter to aid me in my collegiate duel with Authority.  We drank our toast to Jupiter, and while Aradia dressed the candle and the bottle, I channelled sigils to augment those we had created by the Carol/Spare method.  Then, together, Aradia and I performed the Picatrix invocation by which I had first blessed the talisman, the final recreation of that first election, and poured all the power we had raised into the triparte maeteria.

We closed the ritual with an offering to the spirit of the talisman, which had performed so far above and beyond its original purpose, and a final repetition of the Orphic hymn to Jupiter before releasing the spirits and the elements.

The spell, as I mentioned above, was for someone else, so I cannot speak more to the purpose until it has manifested, but I believe that we have applied as large and well-placed a lever to the situation as could be managed with our combined skill-set.  The candle will burn on our altar and the other elements will be delivered to the client today.  Even now, the morning after and no longer entranced, I can feel the magic reaching out into the future.

Further testing is, of course, required, but these preliminary results are amazingly positive.  Time travel magick appears to work in conjunction with electional astrology.  The next tests will be achieving similar results with my Venusian and Solar electional talismans, and then with an election I have no direct connection to — perhaps one of the Martial elections from this last year.  Then maybe evoking multiple points in time toward the same end.  Go big or go home, right?

Early Spirit Contact: “Daemon Wolf”

The first spirit contact I can recall was with a “totem” spirit I came to call Daemon Wolf.

As many of you may recall, animal totems (or, spirits, phenomena, and identifications we called animal totems) were a HUGE THING in the mid-to-late 1990s.  Ted Andrews was fucking everywhere.  People looked to their totems not just as spiritual guides and masters, but to explain and shape their very personalities.  For example, many “Cat totem” people I knew meowed and tried to purr and gleefully used their identification to invade (or avoid)ur personal space; people with “wolf totems” cast themselves in roles of leader or tragic outcast; “bear totem” people set themselves up as the “cuddly bouncer”.  But I digress.

In this atmostphere, as I began to transition from my earliest period of studying magic, the occult, and the paranormal, to actually practicing magic at aboout the age of sixteen, one of my first rituals was aimed at finding my totem animal and/or spirit guide.  (Other people may have been clear on the distinction between those things in 1997/8, I was not.)   I wish that I could reproduce or cite that first ritual for you here, but alas… Although I had access to a small collection of friends books at that time (I think my library still consisted entirely of the Simonomicon and maybe a Cunningham encyclopedia), I preffered the rituals I learned from people on IRC chat and in FTP archives.  Six computers later, unfortunately, those files are long gone.

The ritual as I recall it was simple.  I set myself up in a comfortable chair, with a candle and glass candle holder.  I put on some nice, quiet Celtic harp music.  I cast an elemental circle.  I carved my personal sigil, a bindrune I had designed, into the side of the candle, and imbued it with my desire to know my totem animal/spirit guide.  I dropped the candle in the holder, lit it, and tried to slip into the trance.  The candle holder, which I have to this day, was round and convex, with red dragon’s tears affixed to an inner layer by some sort of grey-green ceramic.  As I tried to enter and maintain the trance, I turned the candle holder around and around in my hands, gazing into the back-lit dragon tears and waiting for an image to appear in my mind.

This ritual would be my first firegazing, and possibly my most successful to date.  I saw the image of a snarling, black-furred wolf with flaming red eyes.  Even at that young and tender age, I could tell that this was not the spirit of all wolves.  There was a darkness about it, a savagery outside of the natural wild.  I called it Daemon Wolf.  (Yes, the penchant for high drama goes way back.)

I remained in contact with that spirit off and on for years, but I could not “hear” it.  I could tell that it was attempting to communicate, but, I couldn’t grok whatever signals the spirit was trying to send.  It began appearing to my friends in IRC chatrooms (some of whose animal spirits came to investigate me in return) and my more magically experienced local friends to relay messages and relieve its boredom.  The spirit in question also had a penchant for melodrama.

On a particularly notable evening, 31 October 1998 – one of my earliest surviving joural entries, in addition to one of my earliest clear spirit contacts – I was hanging out in the coffee shop with my friend Medea and one or two other friends.  I don’t remember what we were talking about, but as the conversation progressed the sese of someone sitting close to my right side grew stronger and stronger.  But I couldn’t see anything … not clearly, at any rate: just a vague silhoette crouched on the floor.

After a while, it was too much for me, and I interrupted my own train of thought to demand if  anyone else could see the thing sitting beside me.

“Wolfie,” Medea idetified the spirit for me, laughing and using the nickname she’d given Daemon Wolf in previous conversation.

Things changed trajectory after that.  My spirit-senses did improve, slowly.  It did become easier for Daemon Wolf to contact me.  It was clear, however, that there was a lot it wanted to convey to me that I just wasn’t picking up on.

As my practice escalated over the next few years, more spirits began appearing in my life.  I couldn’t hear them any better than I could hear Wolfie, but it … appeared to resent them.  It very clearly resented that I was not pursuing my relationship with it as dilligently as it desired.  Frankly: focus is not my strong point in the medium term.  Short term – jewelry repair, a single ritual, a lover – I am a laser ; long term – college, my novels – I am relentless; medium term … that’s where the distractions live.  And I had a lot of distractions, as I was rotating through whole circcles of freinds about every 12-18 months those first few years out of high school.  Contacts with Daemon Wolf grew increasingly sporadic.  When I did make contact – or, more accurately, when it made contact – it was increasingly cross with me.

Eventually, the spirit I called Daemon Wolf lost patience with me.   I wish I had the xact date, or could find the record  — I know I wrote about the event, somewhere, but … I’ve mentioned before that my journalling is not the best.  Some time before I departed Lawrence, KS, for what would become my failed life in St.Louis, it made final contacct and told me that it was giving up and moving on.


This is one of the few places where I wish I had done things differently back in the day.  I don’t think most people have spirits take that sort of proprietary interest that early.  It’s not unheard of, of course, but it’s an opportunity not everyone gets … and I blew it.  I also wish I’d kept better journals, so I would have more wheat from which to sift chaff.  Still, my relationship with Daemon Wolf taught me one essential lesson: relaitionships between mortals and spirits are opt-in, for both parties.  Either party can leave when their needs are not being met, or their goals are not being achieved.


Ouija: Spirit Contact and Controversy In The KU Cauldron

In 2001 and 2002, despite not being a student, I was heavily involved in the KU Cauldron — then the Wicca-Pagan Alliance.  Meetings were Tuesdays weekly, if I recall correctly — I seem to have too many memories from too short a time for it to have been only monthly, and I know that there many meetings I missed because I simply couldn’t bring myself to leave my apartment.  Sometimes we had topics, sometimes we didn’t.  Occasionally we had presenters.  Many nights we spent doing tarot readings, or sharing energetic and psychic techniques.  More often than I care to admit, we spent most of the night talking about anime.  Two things we managed to keep consistent, though: we opened nearly every meeting by casting a circle; and after the meetings, about half of us would stay for Ouija.

The weekly Ouija sessions were a source of a surprising ammount of contention.  There were, of course, the two or three rationalists — I’m still not sure why they were there — who believed that the whole thing was even more hinkey than everything else we were doing.  The rest, though, were deeply disturbed by the talking board.  Most wouldn’t talk about their misgivings.  Those who would — ironically, the vampire numbered among them — were concerned about the nameless evils that might come through.  No one out-and-out told us to stop, but … There was serious concern that our post-meeting sessions might begin before the non-participants had cleared whatever they believed to be minimum safe distance.

I had, prior to my time in the WPA, known a few people who had had their own experiences with talking boards.  Most had nothing remarkable to report.  A few had the usual stories of flying objects or lingering entities.  But I had never tried it, myself.  Given the lower-than average success rates my friends had reported, I was moderately skeptical.  But back then, though, before the migraines, I was much more open to wild experimentation than I often have been since.

Given all the concern and side-eyes we got over the whole thing, I was somewhat disappointed by the reality.  Most of our sessions were fairly tame.  We got positive contact more often than not.  Names and dates and details of lives and deaths that we could never verify.  All juicy enough to hold our attention, but never quite enough to convince the more skeptical participants … myself included.

Well, not never.  There were … incidents.  But I’ll get to that in a moment.

The Oija board was owned and brought by one of our members, by the name of Jason if I recall correctly, and he always took point on the planchette.  From the other side of the board, our sessions were mediated by by a spirit that called itself “Ouija”, apparently a familiar spirit to Jason.  We would open sessions on the board and the planchette would fly over those five letters: O … U … I … J … A … then, WELCOME.  We would ask this spirit Ouija to manage contacts for us, find the spirits to whom we would talk.

Some, myself included, believed that Ouija was Jason.  Not that he was deliberately guiding the planchette — though that was, occasionally, a subject of debate — but that he had some need for control, and manifested the Ouija “spirit” to exert that control over the talking board.  I was often tempted to test that theory by usurping the board from the other side, using the woven energetic techniques that were then my signature style, but ultimately never tried to pull such a dick move on someone who was ostensibly my friend.

Three particular evenings stand out in my memory, fifteen years later.

The first was the spirit of a girl who claimed to have committed suicide in the building where we held our meetings.  I don’t remember her name, or when she claimed to have lived.  I do remember that she hanged herself.  I remember the pall that came over us all as the spirit spoke.  Jason later claimed to have confirmed the story, but I never saw any newspaper articles.

The second was an attempt to make contact with a spirit that had approached me early in my carreer.  That first contact is a story in and of itself, a strange night from the days of guerilla magic in the Java Break, but the short version is that one Halloween, a spirit approached me and made … contact.  High voltage, visceral contact.  And it spooked the shit out of me.  And I rejected her.  One night on the Ouija board, some years later, I convinced the Cauldron crowd to let me reach out to her in return.  There was contact, but it was … unclear.  Staticky.  Only one thing came through to me inteilligibly: contact me again.  Spoiler alert: I never did.

The third and most dramatic session with the KU Cauldron and the Ouija board was the sort of thingthat tends to scare people off of not just spirit contact, but magical practice altogether.

We opened the board as per usual: O … U … I … J … A … WELCOME.  That was where any resemblance to our usual evening ended.  Ouija was frantic.  Insistant.  GO, it told us. GO!

“Go where?” we asked.

It gave us the name of a building on campus.  We went there, and brought the board with us.  We did not, immediately, find anything of partifular interest at that location.  We did, however, run into a member that had not been present at the meeting — we’ll call him Scott — who joined us for our mobile seance.

We attempted to re-establish contact with Ouija.  It was not a smooth transaction.  When we did make contact, the spirit was still agitated.  This time, while still identifying itself as “Ouija”, it gave us a name.  When asked to clarify, it repeated the anem.

Scott was somewhat perturbed.  “That’s my sister’s name.”

Everyone became very adgitated at that point.

Scott borrowed a cellular phone — something that not everyone had back then — and called his sister.  Her abusive ex was at her appartment, pounding on her door.  He’d been there for a few minutes.  Scott talked her down from raw panic.  Talked her into calling the police.  Called her back and waited on the line until they came.

It was some time before we broke out the board again.  I think that Jason may have left the groop not long after, though that may well be either the vagaries of memory or the natural course of the four-year graduation cycle.  The incident did leave a lasting impression on all those that were present.

I’ve been thinking about the past a lot lately.  Listening to podcasts, so many guests telling stories of their magical youths.  Writing novels set in my own magical youth.  Things I had all but forgotten floating to the surface.  This story, in particular, has come to mind in the wake of several podcasts about the myth and practice and history of talking boards.

Makes me want to use one, again.

Makes me want to make one by hand.

But before I begin the neew experiments, I need to recall the old.