One of the more interesting ideas contained in Peter Carroll’s Liber Null and Psychonaut is the idea of Kia: that ineffable, unnamable thing which experiences consciousness. While I’m a little (read: a lot) bothered by Carroll’s anthropocentricism–“Chaos … is the force which has caused life to evolve itself out of the dust, and it is currently most concentratedly manifest in the human life force, or Kia, where it is the source of consciousness.”—the idea of mortal sensation, experience, and consciousness as a material manifestation of primordial Chaos … well, it’s almost poetic.
The “soul” (here “Kia”), as a manifest point of primordial, cosmic ur-substance (“Chaos”) provides us with the mechanic to which Carroll attributes the efficacy of magick: “…[A]s centers of Kia or Chaos, ourselves, we can sometimes call very unlikely coincidences or unexpected events into existence by manipulating the aether.” Aether, of course, being the astral sea of half-formed matter which corresponds to the entirety of the trans-lunar realms of Kabbalistic and Hermetic cosmology, and of which Carroll says, “Thought gives it shape and Kia gives it power.”
Although basically a stripped-out version of the Hermetic Spheres or the Qabalistic Sephiroth, I find this cosmology much more emotionally satisfying. Something about the impersonal nature of Chaos helps undermine the implicit anthropocentricism, where the more traditional cosmologies double-down by attributing their personal ideals of masculine rulership (generally in monarchist frame) to the Source. Despite protestations to the contrary—that the masculine language is purely metaphoric—this Source/Father/God King ends up looking suspiciously like the hegemonic, patriarchal masculine ideal against which I have been struggling for my entire life. This is not intended as a dig at those Hermeticists I know and respect, and I apologize if it reads that way: anthropomorphizing cosmic forces is our only way to relate to them, and I think y’all understand the problems inherent in naturalizing male dominance through your cosmology.
Unfortunately, in between these points, there’s the part where Carroll dives face-first into a steaming pile of Orientalist dualism/non-dualism claptrap. That pretty much breaks if for me. Again, don’t get me wrong: I’m not hating on everyone who subscribes to or has an interest in Buddhist thought. What I’m raving against is the way in which Carroll uncritically reproduces the colonialist racism of his Golden Dawn predecessors, whom he otherwise so loves to hate. But I’ll leave the in-depth deconstruction of Carroll’s wannabe-zen-thing to someone more well versed in the actual details of the philosophies he’s pillaging.
So, despite the romantic appeal on the one hand, the critical flaws in Carroll’s Chaos-and-Kia cosmology make it impossible for me to actually adopt it. The anthropocentricism of Kia undermines all the reasons for and advantages of conceptualizing the cosmic ur-substance as Chaos: it leaves the door open for a hierarchal evaluation of life-forms by the degree to which one credits them with Kia manifestation, and thereby within human kind by more subtle margins. The Orientalist frame within which Carroll articulates his theories—and, even more, his of the fetishization of “Shamanism”, which will get a post of its own—basically takes these potential problems and runs with them to some of the worst possible places, where he—the enlightened white magician—can recreate the marvelous works of the noble savage, synthesize them with the ideas of the brown people his empire subjugated, and produce an ars magicae which is “superior” to either.
Fortunately, it’s not actually necessary to adopt Carroll’s cosmology in order to use the core techniques of Chaos Magick.
1 – Carroll almost certainly got the word from the grandfather of Chaos, Austin Osman Spare–Zos Kia Cultus was published in XXXX–I don’t know how much their ideas overlap.
2 – Carroll, Peter. Liber Null and Psychonaut. San Francisco: Weiser (1987) . p.28
3 – Ibid. 29
4 – Ibid.
5 – Of course, there’s the whole problem where Carroll takes the feminine figure of Khaos, renders her first neuter, and then quasi-masculinizes her via the anthropomorphic figure of Baphomet … but that’s a post all its own.
6 – If not, then this IS a dig at you, and you should answer the clue phone and own your fucking privilege.