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Ceremonial Mutation

[First published in PhotoStatic #35, April, 1989.]

The ancient occult orders have always known of certain methods to transform one's consciousness, and these methods have constituted their secret knowledge and innermost teachings. A study of unrelated orders from different times and places will show a wide variety of mystical techniques, but remarkably similar, and powerful, results.

Some orders have used advanced meditation practices to attain pure states of transcendence. Others have practiced mental visualization to create inner realms for psychic exploration, or to contact gods. And yet others have used a combination of sex, drugs, and magic ritual to induce states of ecstatic power.

There is no doubt that the knowledge of these ancient orders is indeed powerful. Instances of abrupt transformation of personality?usually a quite negative transformation?are easily located. But it is also true that the most destructive of these cases have involved those students who tasted the forbidden fruit alone, unhindered by the restraints and cautions of an esoteric order. The true orders, after all, insist on adequate training and discipline from their students, and indulge in mystical dangers only under the most exacting of circumstances, in order to utilize the unleashed mental forces to effect the most beneficial upheavals. The lone student encounters these magical transformations without the necessary protections or foreknowledge to experience them safely.

To some students, in fact, this lack of safety, this potentially all-consuming danger, is what draws them to the occult. An entire school has developed in England which approaches its occult work in just this way. Called Chaos Magick, this school advocates using any and all magical techniques to attain altered states of consciousness. It also borrows methods from the theatre, from modern psychology, and from military brainwashing. Practitioners stage private initiatory ceremonies in which a selected candidate is put through a mentally and physically overwhelming ordeal meant to subvert his rational mind, drive him temporarily "mad," and thus allow him to confront his inner self free of all social conditioning.

Naturally, such activities are dangerous. All occult work ultimately concerns the psychological make-up of the student and seeks to expand or alter that make-up in some way. To enter that realm lightly or recklessly is to court disaster. Students can and have gone mad.

Yet such powerful tools of personality transformation?or personality destruction, if used incorrectly?fascinate me. These tools can erase or enhance selected aspects of the magician's personality. They can alter his perceptions of the world. The magician can, theoretically anyway, transform himself into a higher form of man entirely.

For our purposes here, however, the most intriguing insight is that a mere action can alter one's personality. Let me repeat that: a mere action can alter one's personality. In the same way that one might learn to dance a waltz, or swing a tennis racquet, one can learn how to perform another action, a physical action, which will alter one's personality. One lifts a chalice or knife during a magic ritual; it signifies something of great importance to the participants, and they are moved by the ceremony to an abrupt and overwhelming personality change. In some ceremonies, the magician sacrifices an object (a small animal, perhaps), and in so doing believes that he has eliminated some unwanted aspect of himself. It is similar to the psychological therapy of writing one's faults on a sheet of paper, and then burning the paper.

It is all a matter of belief, of course.

When a player hits a baseball over the left field fence, it means nothing in and of itself. But because a stadium filled with people all believe the same thing about that baseball and that fence, because they share a common belief in just what significance that action possesses, the event takes on importance far exceeding it's mundane reality. A priest lifting a chalice in a church, a military officer saluting a flag, or a man putting a ring on a woman's finger, all of these acts possess particular meanings because members of our society share a common belief about their importance, about their significance.

And so actions that are relatively simple to do and easy to follow may have great impact on the minds and emotions of the participants.

There is nothing inherently magical about this. Or, conversely, perhaps there is more magic in our lives than we realize or admit. Perhaps we practice magic far more often than we know, and constantly alter ourselves and others in unrecognized and unwanted ways.

Perhaps always and everywhere we are already practicing Chaos Magick.

--Thomas Wiloch