Pagan Paths

“Spirit is the life that itself cuts life.” This Nietzchean statement puzzles and challenges. What might a spirituality that cuts life -- rather than just skimming over its surface ­-- look like?

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What Would A Chaos Magician Do?


Like most people, I have moments of feeling out of my depth, unable to contain myself in the face of frustration, disappointed expectation, physical or emotional pain, financial stress, or even just overwhelm at the onslaught of suffering and cruelty that floods this world. This tends to dismantle my ability to function effectively.

I am grateful for this flaw, this tendency to feel out of control, unable to cope with daily challenges, making epic drama out of what are in truth mostly very modest problems. Although this tendency has caused me pain, misfortune, lost opportunities, and so forth (and at times made me into a hypocrite), it has also made life into a creative challenge for me. And this leads me onto a path of growth, exploration, dedication to transformation.

It also leads me into curiosity, empathy, and a voracious hunger for inner peace. The theme of this blog is taken from Nietzsche, who repeatedly declares that “spirit is the life that itself cuts life.” I like the idea that spirit is something embodied in the world as this quote proposes, rather than some rarefied and inaccessible obscurity.

So in order to be more spiritual I desire to be a life which cuts deeply and easily into life: and that means finding ways to rewire my thinking and feeling so that I can experience ease of action and relief from the perpetual motion machine that negative thinking can trigger.

I have used thinking games for years to help me on this path, but especially within the last year as I have become more flexible and creative in managing myself. A game I play quite often, and which brings me great relief and inspiration, is called “what would a chaos magician do?”

Yes I know, I’m a self-declared Heathen, not a chaos magician…but the latter has nonetheless had a big influence on me over the years, and I find it to be quite harmonious within the strange patchwork of my spirituality. I don’t believe in drawing rigid divisions in this endlessly interconnected, ambiguous, crazy world.

I am not exactly sure now how I invented the game of “what would a chaos magician do?” – though it probably emerged from morning prayer/meditation sessions (which means I probably shouldn't claim sole credit for it).

It works very simply. When I realize I am stuck, confused, obsessing, negative, or otherwise wasting precious mental resources on the generation of psychic dreck, I stop. I collect myself. I ask “what would a chaos magician do?” And then I do that.

A word of clarification is needed here – after all, I clearly have my own particular idea of what I mean by “a chaos magician.” In my experience not all self-proclaimed chaos magicians are created equal. So I have a very definite idea of the kind of being I intend to emulate.

I take it that the goal of chaos magic is emancipation from the arbitrary rigidity of personality. The ideal chaos magician has tremendous self-knowledge but also tremendous non-attachment. She is entirely able to let belief be a tool and not an end in itself, and as such is free to manipulate herself towards her own ultimate well-being.

Furthermore, such a being has a tremendously playful, joyous spirit. After all, to live without the usual fetters of identity – yet still be grounded within incarnate form – would have to be wonderful. To never be in conflict with oneself, but rather to be absolutely congruent. To have great insight, but not at the expense of being active, embodied, and emotionally attuned.

So! This is the kind of being I have in mind when I ask my question. Funnily enough, the first answer I get is usually “well, I would certainly stop overthinking, self-criticizing, worrying about what I cannot control, and catastrophizing.” In fact, I realize that if I were the archetypal chaos magician, I would cut myself and everyone else some slack and let things be what they are.

The result of this thought tends to be a deep psychic breath. And then other possibilities – blocked out by my worry or preconceptions – begin to present themselves. Often they are quite obvious, but simply unavailable because I could not see clearly what was in front of me.

What would a chaos magician do? Have fun. Keep it simple. Expect life to be easy. Prepare ahead. Take nothing personally. See the humorous side of things. Give kind words to herself and others. You cannot encourage a plant to grow by berating it or by tugging on its leaves; the chaos magician knows that all life is a tree.

The ultimate goal of games such as this is simply to be more present in life, to enjoy it more, to smile more, to be more playful, inspired, creative, and relaxed. Less hung up on being perceived to be right and more willing to do right. Which incidentally sounds a lot like what I think Heathenry is (or should be) about, too.

Do people who self-identify as chaos magicians relate to this philosophy? I have no idea. But it doesn't matter because chaos magic is whatever you want it to be. Nice, huh?


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I have always been drawn to things mysterious. I am some kind of Heathen, fascinated by the cultures and mythologies of my ancestors ­ (and beyond, too). Deeply in love with the process of healing and its facilitation. A pretender to all manner of thrones, be they runic, music, chaotic, or philosophical. An Antipodean expatriate.

I have a few strings to my well-worn bow. I offer rune readings online via I co-edit Hex Magazine. I play music ­ sometimes folky, sometimes heavy, often times both. I write and dream. I live for traditional cuisine and food-made-from-scratch. I have two goals in life: to think lightly and to do the next right thing. Sometimes I feel the heavy hand of Woden tapping on my shoulder.


  • Steven
    Steven Sunday, 14 October 2012

    Such a timely post from my personal perspective. I suspect you have touched upon the essence of something that transcends the boundaries of Chaos Magic, Heathenry, or any other beliefs. Thank you.

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