A Year of Ceremonial Magic: Month Twelve & Epilogue

Cover art for Modern Magick by Donald Michael Kraig
Modern Magick, 3rd ed. by Donald Michael Kraig

I have waited much too long to write this blog post. I wanted it to be perfect. Right or wrong, I’ve thought that every blog post that comes after this one hinges on this particular post. Chapter Twelve marks a distinct departure from my previous practice and spiritual mindset.

I purchased the first edition of Modern Magick back in the late eighties, in the summer before my senior year of high school from the best occult shop in my city. The shop, The Tree of Life, was in midtown near many popular cafes and coffee shops. It was on the first floor of a Victorian house where the shop owner, Carol and her husband lived in the two top floors. The shop was furnished beautifully – Queen Anne overstuffed wing chairs and small Edwardian tables were elegantly placed alongside well-lit curio cabinets full of gleaming tools and crystals.

I knew Carol pretty well, (eventually I would take in her aging schipperke) but she was an old friend of my best friend who knew her better and longer. While my best friend was (and likely will always be) an unapologetic Wiccan, lodge-style ritual magic was more her style.

I grew up with a nanny who thought Golden Dawn-style ritual magic was the finest expression of magic, so my interest was aroused when I spied this thick volume titled Modern Magick. I recognized many of the exercises in the front of the book (most, if not all are lifted out of Dr. Israel Regardie’s The One Year Manual: Twelve Steps to Spiritual Enlightenment). I bought the book and devoured it, as I did with the second edition that came out 14 years later. Both of these editions ended with chapter eleven.

Funnily enough, I was once again standing in The Tree of Life, browsing the bookshelves when I first heard the words “chaos magic”. Curious, I asked Carol what it was, but she waved it away, dismissing it as silly and telling me it wasn’t for me. My mistake in trusting that assessment left me in a Wiccan cul de sac for many years to come.

Even though the third edition was published in 2010, I didn’t pick it up until sometime in 2014 when I was reminded of it (Kraig died four years after the third edition was published). I pulled my tools out of mothballs, created a personalized (and very expensive!) magical diary – filled with 365 pages designed to log an entire year of practice while I worked this book – one chapter per month, and then waited for January 1st to begin.

Chapter 12 in which he covers what he calls “new” systems of magic: neuro-linguistic programming, postmodern magic, and chaos magic. Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is something I first heard about in the mid-1980s, along with subliminal programming. I don’t consider NLP to be magic as it feels like the greatest hits of the CIA, packaged as an expensive corporate training seminar. While the techniques can be useful in the magician’s toolbox, I feel that there are better methods and praxis.

I don’t have anything to say about “postmodern” magic. Other than one Llewellyn publication with “postmodern” in the title, I’ve never met anyone who describes themselves or their practice as such.

Chaos magic on the other hand, that was something I had not explored.

When I made it to the 12th lesson in Modern Magic in December of 2015, I was still using the ritual structures and techniques I had learned from women’s spirituality and Wicca. Weird politics and in-fighting within what I call “Neo-Paganism” had me seeking answers within other groups that claimed polytheism at their core. I made polytheism my home for a couple of years and it was lurking in polytheistic online spaces that I learned about the website called Circle Thrice.

I was immediately hooked – Ivy (at Circle Thrice) had a practical approachto magic, informed by her professional expertise as a project planner. I binged so many of her blog posts and immersed myself in agile project planning principles, bullet journaling, and the work of Nassim Taleb for risk management. Providentially, she also talked about chaos magic, frequently mentioning that her membership at Rune Soup and the work of Gordon White was the best money she spent each month.

And just like that, like a scene in the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I impulsively, instinctively leapt from the train marked “Wicca”, ran across the platform and squeezed onto the bullet train marked “Chaos Magic” and never looked back.

I immediately joined the community and dove headfirst into learning and using sigils and servitors. I binged every Rune Soup podcast and read all the blog posts first and then started reading White’s books, and the books of his podcast guests, and eventually the chaos magic classics of Peter J Carroll. The chaos magic principles and methodology were easy for me to grasp, indeed I had been practicing many of the experiments and thinking with many of the concepts for as long as I could remember, but didn’t have the words to describe them. The familiarity of many of these concepts central to chaos magic is probably due to reading almost the entire catalogue of Robert Anton Wilson in my late-teens.

There are many, many things to recommend Rune Soup and the work of Gordon White – he’s one of the only occultists to promote the work of indigenous and women writers – but his self-paced courses and accessibility are what make the membership the best money I spend each month. The first course I took “live” with the rest of the community was the Saints course. Between the live course, and catching up with the previous material, I forged a new relationship with St. Cyprian and St. Justina, and later other Saints and spirits as well.

For the first time, I found a path to integrating my catholicism and my interest in the occult and all things “weird”. A podcast guest, Dr. Diana Pasulka and her book American Cosmic helped me to see how intimately the two are linked. Dr. Pasulka is a Catholic, and like me, was an adult convert. Much of her fascinating research deals with the writings of the Saints. The ecstasies of St. Teresa, the miracle of the sun at Fatima, Portugal, saints who would levitate, and a girl who saw a lady in white repeatedly, where eventually a spring of healing water would flow – St. Bernadette. The saint whose rosary I was holding, on her feast day, while making healing magic for beloved family members.

Chaos magic likes to play with timelines. Revisiting past experiences, especially confusing or traumatic events can be reframed to help shape a better outcome. It would seem that my chaos magician self traveled back in time to reassure my younger self to complete the Rite of Christian Initiation, despite the shocking nature of my decision (at least it was distressing and confusing to my family and friends).

Chaos magic is primarily about results, which does have its shadow side. Chaos doesn’t mean you are inviting chaos into your life, or be complacently messy. “You will know them by their fruits.” It appeals to me because it is in general a solo practice, embodied and centered around curating a practice – a personal “best of” toolbox. While I no longer practice the LBRP (which, to be honest, I never found to be particularly effective) and the garish tools are back in mothballs, allowing myself to follow my curiosity in chapter thirteen, and following both Ivy and Gordon down the rabbit holes of chaos magic has turned out to be one of the most meaningful and rewarding decisions of my life. While I no longer practice the exercises and rituals in Modern Magick, working the book for a year proved to myself that I do have the discipline for longer magical campaigns and a deeper engagement with magic. Thank you, Donald – your magnum opus was truly an invaluable key.

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