Chaos Magic in Practice: Sensory Deprivation Tanks for Inhibitory Gnosis
To the uninitiated, Chaos Magic can appear infinitely complicated. Thousand of books and websites outline a seemingly unending number of complex rituals that practitioners have used or philosophized over as a way to produce practical results. Wading through all of this, it can be easy to forget that the most important aspect of Chaos Magic is the result itself, not some dusty tome of dense, nerdy occult theory. And, as Peter J. Carroll asserts in Liber Null, “Altered states of consciousness are the key to magical powers.”
I recently used a sensory deprivation tank (also known as an isolation tank or a flotation tank) for the first time. I have to admit that at first I found myself feeling a bit like Homer in the episode of The Simpsons in which Lisa convinces him to take her to a sensory deprivation center. I was restless, bored, and I couldn’t quiet my mind. However, eventually I found the experience to be an excellent manner of achieving an altered state of consciousness in a comfortable and soothing way.
Gnosis is a state of mind, a sort of magical trance brought on by any number of methods. There are two distinct paths a person can take to achieve gnosis. The first of these is excitatory. This is the way I tend to go when given the option. Whether through psychedelic drugs, sexual stimulation, dance, or music and drumming, etc., the body and mind are animated to such a fevered state that all distractions seem to drop away, leaving only the object of concentration floating in the air before you like a golden, glowing orb. I’ve found that it’s a pretty fun way to do magic.
There’s another approach, too, one that maybe holds a little less potential for the very real dangers of physical harm and addiction. This is inhibitory gnosis. Rather than engaging in stimulation and excitement, the mind is calmed and cleared to such a point that the life force is induced and a one-pointed consciousness is attained. Common methods of achieving the inhibitory mode include meditation, certain kinds of yoga, and fasting. While these are surely nice things for a lot of folks, my internal spiritual magnet has always drawn me closer to the hedonistic, the indulgent, and the debauched.
Whichever path you take to achieve gnosis, Chaos Magic works. I’m not going to lie and say that I’ve cured cancer or made a million dollars, but the results I’ve had are astounding.
A little while ago, my partner got me a gift certificate to a local “flotation center.” Feeling like a break from social media and the ever-depressing news cycle would do me some good, I decided to finally check it out. As I expected, the waiting room was a little hippie-dippy for my taste. I’m more of a punk-and-metal-hail-Satan kind of guy. But I got in the tank. Soon, floating in the salty water with my earplugs in and without any sort of visual distraction, I began to feel like I was either in the coffin or the womb, maybe both at once.
Sensory deprivation has long been a religious and spiritual tool. Monks have spent years sitting in monastery cells, and hermits have done the same in mountain caves. Supposedly, they’ve achieved enlightenment this way. I don’t know. I’m not patient or dedicated enough to find out. Carroll writes that it’s “far more effective to completely obliterate all sensory inputs for a short period than to simply reduce them over a longer one.” In the flotation tank, I found that he’s spot on.
After I got settled, time seemed to drift away. I regulated my breathing with intention. With every exhalation, I pictured the glowing sigil-form of my object of concentration. (If you don’t know about sigils, I recommend picking up the collected works of Austin Osman Spare, the “grandfather of chaos magic.”) Once this took up the majority of my brain space, I just let it go, and I spent the rest of my time relaxing.
It wasn’t some complicated ritual that required a lot of time or energy. All I was doing was floating butt-naked in some salty water. Sometimes that’s all it takes to be a Chaos Magician.
Nathaniel Kennon Perkins lives and works in Boulder, CO. He is the author of the novel Wallop (House of Vlad, 2020), the short story collection The Way Cities Feel to Us Now (Maudlin House, 2019), and the previous novel Cactus (Trident Press, 2018). His creative work and journalism have appeared in Triquarterly, American West, Berfrois, the Tico Times, the High Country News, and Keep This Bag Away From Children, among other places. Visit his website at www.nathanielkennonperkins.com and find him on Twitter and Instagram at @nkperkins.