I was going to talk about the element Chaos but a discussion in the Cauldron chat got me thinking about this instead.
I think a lot of our practice is shaped by what we learned first. Obviously that’s part of the point of Project Protagonist, but it’s not just that. The way you learn to do something the first time is going to shape how you do magic ever after, even when you learn one system after another.
And what I cut my teeth on was chaos magic.
I discovered comic books, the internet, and magic at about the same time, and this is pretty important in the shape of my magician’s psyche. The internet because I lived in a small town, and dial-up BBSes were the greatest thing ever (and then GOPHER was, and then USENET was, and god I sound old) and the internet did what the local library didn’t. It gave me something to work with.
Comics, specifically superheroes, were important too. As was pointed out in the chat, “high magic” requires you to have a certain kind of egotism, to believe that you can ascend the tree of life and call your holy guardian angel and bind demons and change the fabric of the universe. That’s pretty heady stuff for a twelve, thirteen, fourteen year old. But hey, thirteen or fourteen was old enough to find out you were a mutant and become a superhero. And superheroes… well, they didn’t necessarily have control over their world, but it sure looked like they had a lot more control than I did.
I remember watching the TV coverage of the Oklahoma City Bombing quite vividly – we were on vacation near Disney World, and I couldn’t stop staring as they searched the wreckage for survivors and wishing I could do something. If I was a superhero, I thought, I would be able to do something.
Magic was kind of like superpowers. I’d read about saints and heroes and all the things they were able to do. I knew Dr. Strange and Magik and Zatanna, and hell, I still remembered He-Man and She-Ra. And then I read Neil Gaiman’s Books of Magic. I know, I know how cliche that sounds. But it was like, oh, here’s real magic in your superpowers. The stuff John Constantine talked about, that sounded kind of like stuff I’d read on the internet. And I figured out that maybe I could make that work, maybe I could learn magic and become like God and fix all this broken shit because nobody else seemed to be able to do it.
I was fourteen and stupid. Of course magic looked like the solution to everything. All I had to do was take over the world and I could make it all better. Or, as Dr. Horrible put it, “Anarchy! That I control!” (Yes, that musical hit a little closer to home than was really comfortable.) Serious high magic seems a little intimidating when you’re fourteen, though, and I hadn’t yet figured out that the things I did on the side counted as magical.
Then I got my hands on Grant Morrison’s Invisibles. Oh, I said. The secret is that everything works, if you want it enough. I’m pretty sure that was not actually the point, but it was what I took away. Chaos magic seemed a lot more do-able than high magic, and more adaptable to a scrappy kid in a Catholic household. I made do, and making do became a central tenet of my magic. I learned from comic books, and valued symbols, and I still do my best work when fiction is a central theme.
Really, I’m just rambling this week. I thought about writing a serious post about what chaos magic is and why it’s awesome, but… eh. Those are out there. They’re not hard to find. If you want to know what chaos magic is, go read The Invisibles. Or Peter Carroll.
Comics gave me the idea that one person could do something impossible. It gave me the ego necessary, I guess you could say. Magic gave me the means, since I didn’t have any irradiated spiders on hand. Nowadays, I have a harder time believing the world can change, and yet I’m seeing evidence of it, slowly but surely, one hard-fought right at a time.
Magic isn’t superpowers. It’s more down-to-earth than that, the way I practice now. But I still believe in what works, and that comes from chaos magic.