Modernity, Selfhood, and the Demonic: Anthropological Perspectives on "Chaos Magick" in the United Kingdom

Woodman, Justin. 2003. Modernity, Selfhood, and the Demonic: Anthropological Perspectives on "Chaos Magick" in the United Kingdom. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

The thesis is based upon fieldwork conducted in London (between 1997 - 2001) amongst the practitioners of "Chaos magick" -a form of magical practice which appeared in United Kingdom during the late 1970's as part of the wider neo-pagan and magical subculture.

Chaos magicians utilise trance states as means of attaining an unmediated experience of the inchoate and indeterministic ground of being known as "Chaos". Within trance, Chaos magicians believe that they are able to transform both their perception and the substance of the world by magically reshaping the Chaos force in accordance with their own desires. Merged with the therapeutics of spirit possession, such practices also aim to render visible and subject to control the "demons" of the psyche - conceived of as the socially-inculcated fears, desires and patterns of behaviour which "possess" the magician's persona.

I show that, for Chaos magicians, the demonic represents a highly ambivalent category through which the equally ambivalent and uncertain experience of modernity is mirrored and made explicable. Possession by alien and demonic powers may also be positively valued as a source of "creativity" and self-empowerment, allowing practitioners to construct contextual and contingent narratives of the self - narratives commensurable with the uncertainties and insecurities of their daily lives. I also demonstrate that the broadly therapeutic goals of Chaos magick are indented within a set of discursive practices that shape practitioners' sense of selfhood to the social, economic and ideological requirements of late modernity.

As a consequence, the thesis challenges prior anthropological conceptions of the contemporary magical subculture as a subaltern discourse engaged in resisting the rationalising and alienating effects of modem consumer capitalism; in doing so, the thesis demonstrates that this subculture is neither "Irrational" nor "pre-modern", but does in fact recapitulate many of the core values and assumptions of modernity.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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chaos magick, magic, magicians, demonic powers

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Date Deposited:

05 Jun 2020 14:28

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 12:36


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