“Book Zero” through the Years

The First Two Editions of Peter Carroll’s Liber Null

In: Aries
Vasileios M. Meletiadis University of Bristol UK Bristol

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This paper presents an analysis of the first two editions of Peter Carroll’s Liber Null (1978, 1981). Along with Ray Sherwin’s The Book of Results (1979, 1980, 1981), they shape the earliest corpus of chaos magic literature. Often overlooked due to their rarity and the availability of the mainstream 1987 edition of Liber Null, these two, the so-called white and red editions, offer a peak into the early years of the chaos magic current and the formation of Carroll’s ideas. The white edition in particular contains concepts and terminology that are either nonexistent or significantly altered in the later editions. The paper opens with a history of these texts, followed by some comments on their materiality. The main focus, however, is to closely analyse the 1978 edition and to consider the significance of textual variations in later editions.

1 Positioning Chaos Magic Literature

“Chaos magic” has been an integral part of Western occultism in the last few decades. Beginning in the late seventies with but a handful of practitioners and leading up to the present day where thousands of enthusiasts gather in relevant groups on social media to talk about techniques, philosophies and ideas,1 chaos magic has played a significant role in reinforcing concepts of magical experimentation and fragmentation of the self, not just in its own specific vicinity, but also in related and more established traditions, such as Aleister Crowley’s Thelema. Its occasional appearance in contemporary mass culture, the most recent and striking example being the Marvel TV series WandaVision (2021),2 further enhances the need to research the history of chaos magic in its relation to Western occultism and esotericism, as well as the surrounding culture. This paper attempts to contribute to such research through a close reading of chaos magic’s early literature.

Chaos magic made its first steps in late 1970s Britain and gained a sizable international audience during the following decades. For most of its early history, it blended practical magic, quantum physics and chaos theory, anarchism and, crucially, the idea that belief is but a tool in the hands of its wielder. Its sheer eclecticism and openness to alternative concepts have allowed it to diversify since the mid-1990s incorporating ideas from all over the occultic spectrum.3

Peter Carroll’s Liber Null is often considered as the central text of chaos magic. Its small-circulation publication in 1978, along with the publication of The Book of Results by Ray Sherwin the following year, constitute the basic, fundamental literary corpus from which the current sprang and evolved. This paper presents a short study of the first two editions of Liber Null, one published in 1978 and the other in 1981. The third edition, published in 1987 by Weiser Books and accompanied in the same volume by Carroll’s second book, Psychonaut (first published in 1981), remains widely in print and has since become the edition that practitioners and scholars refer to when discussing the history of chaos magic, often seemingly unaware of the fact that earlier versions—especially that of 1978—display important variations. This, of course, is understandable. As we shall see, the first two editions were printed in very small numbers and have, since then, been extremely hard to find. Additionally, the average practitioner who is not interested in historical matters needs only the most refined and well-written text which is the 1987 edition. For the scholar, however, the previous editions provide a peek into the early years of chaos magic and of Peter Carroll’s mind.

Carefully curated scholarly works on chaos magic rarely show citation errors where a later edition is cited as an earlier one. Additionally, such mistakes are often rather insignificant in the context of the main argument. For example, in his excellent article on individualism in chaos magic, Bernd-Christian Otto references later editions of both The Book of Results and Liber Null but uses the year they were first published in the footnotes (1979, 1978).4 While doing so, however, he admits using electronic texts where he could not find originals (there are no electronic versions of the early editions). A similar, but even less significant “error” is made by Dave Evans in his History of British Magick After Crowley.5 Colin Duggan, in his chapter titled ‘Perennialism and Iconoclasm’, is careful to warn the reader of the complexities of chaos magic’s textual culture, noting the fact that ‘a major problem in researching these publications is access, particularly to those that were published in pamphlet form’.6 He thus admits to using widely available sources and, in Liber Null’s case, the 1987 edition. Similarly, Hugh Urban correctly cites 1987’s Liber Null in his Magia Sexualis.7

The problem that arises with these and other scholarly works is not whether the citations are correct or follow certain standards, but the implicit projection of the latest Liber Null (or Book of Results) edition into the past. Most studies use chaos magic as a springboard to examine issues such as individualism in esotericism (Otto), or sex-magic (Urban) and are thus not strictly dependent on the textual history of these works. Those that take a more historical approach, do so without pointing out the fact that early editions might be different to varying degrees (Evans). As a result, a blurred view of this history is perpetuated, obscuring the fact that texts such as Liber Null display variations through the years, which reflect changes in early chaos magic culture and theory.

The aforementioned scholars have framed their research within much wider contexts than the narrow confines of chaos magic. For our purposes, the most useful contexts are “occulture” and the “chaos discourse”. The term occulture was possibly coined by artist and occultist Genesis P-Orridge and was then appropriated by scholar Christopher Partridge to describe the cultic milieu.8 Briefly defined, it describes the normalization of occult practices in modern society. As Partridge states, ‘the culture in which [occult traditions] are embedded is no longer hidden or unfamiliar’.9 Several aspects of Liber Null link it to this context, and some of these will be highlighted in the following pages. One aspect of occulture is the chaos discourse, a term coined by Christian Greer, which, amongst other things, describes a proclivity towards occult ideas revolving around the concept of chaos. Though originating from Discordianism, it was significantly developed during the 1980s and overlapped with anarchist ideas and the culture surrounding late punk and industrial music.10 Through this development the term ‘chaos’, which was almost nonexistent in the 1978 edition of Liber Null, transitioned into a crucial concept in 1981.

First, I will present a brief history of these texts, leading up to 1987. Following this I will discuss how I acquired copies of them. This will include some comments on their material aspects. The main body will consist of an analysis of the 1978 and 1981 editions. As hinted above, the most unique text is that of 1978, which will therefore be analyzed more closely and in greater length than the 1981 edition. Additionally, I have decided to study this early edition on its own merit and not simply as a different version of its mainstream 1987 counterpart; differences between the texts will however be tracked in the footnotes. Unfortunately, the 1981 edition is unpaginated, which makes citation troublesome. Since it is, however, almost identical to the 1987 edition, the citations will include both years but only pages from the latter; for example: Liber Null (1981, 1987), 18.

2 Introducing Liber Null

2.1 History of the Editions

The publishing culture within which Liber Null and The Book of Results were produced and circulated was a “zine scene”, a network of exchange of self-published booklets and periodicals which flourished between the mid-1970s and early 1990s.11 In his entry on the zine scene, Christian Greer mentions various British magazines, mostly in print during the 1980s, that were associated with chaos magic and formed an interactive network of discourse and movement of ideas.12 For our purposes, the most important of these was The New Equinox (1976–1979), published by Ray Sherwin’s Morton Press in East Morton (outside Bradford).

Prior to publishing Liber Null and The Book of Results, Sherwin and Carroll posted an announcement in The New Equinox, informing readers of the existence of the Illuminates of Thanateros, a group whose members were ‘[s]piritual heirs to the Zos Kia Cultus, the Illuminates of Thanateros are drinkers of the dual ecstasies of the sex and death gnosis. The IOT represents a fusion of Thelemic Magic, Tantra, the sorceries of Zos and Tao’. At the bottom it announced the ‘Forthcoming Illuminate Publications LIBER NULL LIBER NOX’. The book was published not long after this announcement, with one of its titles being ‘The Magic of Thanateros’. It was seventy-one pages long, featuring a white cover and illustrations by artist Andrew David who would add more art in subsequent editions. Only one-hundred copies were printed,13 some of which we can assume were sent to the Sorcerer’s Apprentice bookstore in Leeds, owned by Chris Bray, around which the first chaos magic network was formed. The rest were sent to London, probably to the Atlantis Bookshop which was where Peter Carroll first found copies of the New Equinox.14 By the time it was published, Carroll had left England for a long journey to India and Australia which lasted a couple of years. He received his copy while in Australia where he also founded the Church of Chaos with a Frater Vegtan in 1980.15

Carroll reworked Liber Null on his way back to England. Having settled in East Morton, he began a collaboration with Sherwin which resulted in the first groups and practices of the then fledgling IOT. The second, reworked, red-cover edition of Liber Null was published in 1981. Four hundred numbered copies were printed, and it once again featured artwork by Andrew David with additional art inserted in separate pages. Most copies were sold to the Sorcerer’s Apprentice which probably sent some to the Atlantis Bookshop.16 Carroll’s Psychonaut was also published the same year by the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and was later re-published in 1987 in the same volume as Liber Null.

The years between 1981 and 1986 saw the gradual growth of chaos magic in Leeds, as well as the booming of the zine scene which lasted until the early 1990s and the advent of the world wide web, as described by Greer.17 Copyright and ownership rules regarding zines seem to have been quite lax at this time. Chris Bray re-printed both Liber Null (2nd ed.) and Psychonaut with Carroll’s permission, despite the latter having already been in contact with Weiser Books regarding the forthcoming 1987 edition.18 Meanwhile, German occultist Ralph Tegtmeier (Frater U.D.), translated Liber Null (2nd ed.), without Carroll’s permission.19 Regardless, these ideas gained a substantial audience in Germany and Austria, resulting in the formation of a joint Anglo-Germanic coalition, called “The Pact”, in 1987.20 Finally, as mentioned before, Liber Null was re-published that same year by the mainstream occult publisher Weiser Books in San Francisco.21

2.2 Acquisition and Materiality

As expected of small-circulation booklets whose material quality is rather poor, it is extremely hard to find copies of the 1978 and 1981 editions of Liber Null. Though I expected key individuals of the current to still own them, most had, by early 2021, either sold their copies or given them away—even those third parties who purchased them seemed to have done the same. Only one claimed to still own copies, but when I attempted to contact them again a few months later, they did not reply. Realising that even this source was proving unfruitful, I desperately googled ‘Liber Null first edition’. One of the results directed me to where a first edition of Liber Null was being sold for one-hundred pounds, which I then purchased. At the bottom of the page was a list of similar titles, one of which was a 1981 set of Liber Null and The Book of Results. These I purchased for three-hundred pounds.22

The 1978 copy that I purchased is missing its entire cover (front, back and spine). We know that it was white—or, at least, beige—hence it is often referred to as ‘the white edition’ (see figure 1). It is set in monospaced font, which gives it the look of a manual typescript. Apart from this and a few stains on the outer pages, the condition of the booklet is good and can be read without fear of it falling apart. It is stated that one hundred numbered copies were printed, but this copy is not numbered (the space is left blank).

The 1981 Liber Null is perfect-bound with soft covers and monospaced fonts. The cover features a bright red color (hence the ‘red edition’) and an illustration depicting what seems to be the ancient Babylonian goddess of Chaos, Tiamat (see figure 2), as portrayed in a bas-relief in the temple of Ninib at Nimrud in modern-day Iraq. This variation is drawn from Austin Osman Spare’s 1955 magical stele, titled ‘Formula of Zos vel Thanatos’.23 Notable differences with the ancient depiction are that the tail is a snake rather than a set of feathers, that there is a prominent erect penis in front of the hind leg (a much smaller one is depicted in the ancient relief), and that Tiamat is holding a weapon in her left hand which is originally seen in the hands of her enemy Marduk. The condition of the book is excellent, and it also came with a set of six illustrations on A4 paper by Andrew David, four of which appear in the 1987 edition (see figures 3 and 4 for the two that are not included in the 1987 edition). It is fifty-five pages long (yet with no page numbers).


Figure 1

The white edition (1978), missing its cover

Citation: Aries 2024; 10.1163/15700593-tat00004


Figure 2

The red edition (1981)

Citation: Aries 2024; 10.1163/15700593-tat00004


Figure 3

Illustration by Andrew David

Citation: Aries 2024; 10.1163/15700593-tat00004


Figure 4

Illustration (possibly by Andrew David)

Citation: Aries 2024; 10.1163/15700593-tat00004

3 Analysis of the White Edition (1978)

As mentioned previously, the absence of a cover on the 1978 copy I purchased leaves the book with the title page as the de facto cover, titled ‘The Magic of Thanateros’ and with ‘IOT’ as author at the bottom of the page.24 No other author is mentioned.25 As a follow-up to the announcement of the IOT in the New Equinox in 1978, the white edition is set in such a way as to officially represent the mysterious group in East Morton, a group that as Sherwin confesses, consisted of only him and Carroll.26 Though the later editions of Liber Null present the magic included as ‘magic of the IOT’, they also aim to address a wider audience. This is certainly the case for the 1987 edition, but one can also find it in the red edition, where it states that, ‘[t]his book, written originally as a sourcebook for the IOT, is now being released for those who wish to work alone and for those seeking admission to the Order’.27 The first edition, the introduction of which, written by Sherwin, describes it as ‘instructions directed to the initiates of the IOT’,28 seems to be confined within the narrow limits of this alleged Order, while later editions open the discussion to include the solitary practitioner. Openness could have been one of the results of Carroll’s journey to Australia and the formation of the Church of Chaos there in 1980.

The Order is mentioned in the very first pages of both the white and the red editions, with the following enigmatic text:

IOT Publication in class 4∴ - 3∴
Issued by order of
. X. 1 M. V. F. D.
L. O. V. 2 G. W. M. P.
P. J. C. 2 T. W. O. W.
A. D. 3 O. M. B. T.29

Classes 4 and 3 (and 2 in 1981) refer to the courses included in the book in order to acquire the next hierarchical degree within the Order.30 The easiest to discern is the first set of characters in the third line: P. J. C., which stands for Peter James Carroll. Ray Sherwin reveals that he is L. O. V. The numbers next to the names are grades within the IOT and the initials on the right side are supposed to be magical pseudonyms, meant to be used in the IOT. GWMP means Grand Wizard Morton Press and TWOW means the Wizard of Woolwich.31 I have found no information regarding .X. or A. D. In fact, Sherwin confesses that this cryptic piece was included only to add gravitas to the publication, which means that those initials might not belong to any existing person. Again, one must look at this in the aftermath of the announcement in the New Equinox which declared the existence of the IOT.

As we shall soon see, Carroll draws from a plethora of sources and traditions. He does so, however, without naming them. Interestingly, this includes not naming artist and occultist Austin Osman Spare (1886–1956), who is often considered as the forefather of chaos magic.32 He is only mentioned once, in a brief paragraph about anarchism which will be analysed later. It is evident however, that Carroll’s piece on sigil magic and the term “Kia” were drawn from Spare, whose magical system had recently been rediscovered by occultist Kenneth Grant, starting with his Magical Revival in 1972.33 Sherwin included some of Spare’s art in his New Equinox and published copies of The Anathema of Zos and, crucially, The Book of Pleasure, which elaborates on the sigil technique.34 Being familiar with both Grant’s and Sherwin’s works, Carroll was certainly aware of, if not well-versed in Spare’s ideas.

The book begins with a short introduction by Sherwin,35 in which Liber Null is lauded as a book that ‘has been written by working magicians’, and ‘deals to a large extent with the magical frame of mind, the mode of consideration which leads to successful magic’. A warning is also included: ‘Magic works—Beware!’36 We find here much of what will be encountered in other chaos magic works, including The Book of Results, and in the subsequent editions of Liber Null, namely that practical magic “works”.

Following are the titles and subtitles of each chapter as they appear in the contents, including the introduction described above:

  • Introduction [by Ray Sherwin]

  • Liber MMM, the studentship syllabus for the magical Order of the IOT

Liber Null, the initiateship syllabus for the magical Oder of the IOT contains the following books

  • Liber Magica Praeceptorum, general theory of mysticism and magic

  • Liber Gnosis, techniques for attaining magical ecstasy

  • Liber Ars Sorcia, evocation of elementals and demons

  • Liber Theurgis, the invocation of the gods

  • Liber Libertas, techniques for escaping the prison of convention

  • Liber Magnum Opus, The Holy Guardian Angel

  • Liber Mantis, techniques of divination

  • Liber Thelemis, the casting of enchantments, rudes [sic] and sigils37

Carroll’s preference for naming books and chapters with the Latin “liber” is derived from Aleister Crowley’s similar fondness of the term (e.g. Liber AL vel Legis). Apart from the differences in title names, someone with a rudimentary knowledge of the 1987 edition, will notice that in the white edition ‘Liber MMM’ is not included in what seems to be the main body of the book, titled ‘Liber Null’. We must not read too much into this difference as it simply reinforces what is apparent in the 1981 and 1987 editions, namely that Liber MMM is a corpus of fundamental techniques required for any further progress in magic. What follows is essentially a theory and cosmology of the magical paradigm as Carroll understood it.

Liber MMM opens with a brief account of the ‘aims, structure, history, name’ of the IOT. It explains that there is ‘no formal hierarchy’ and urges initiates to invite other capable individuals. An emphasis is put on concepts of changing oneself, of liberation and of magical power.38 The following sections are titled ‘The studentship curriculum of the IOT’, ‘Magic’, and ‘Dreaming’. The curriculum consists of a series of techniques aimed at achieving ‘mind control’ and ‘metamorphosis’. The results of these techniques are to be meticulously documented in a diary called ‘the Magical Record’. For the most part, the techniques are identical in description to those in the next two editions. The titles, however, are yogic terms in Sanskrit: asana, pranayama,39 pratyahara, mantra and dharana.40 Sanskrit is also used for the techniques in the Metamorphosis section: yama, niyama, karma.41 It is interesting that Carroll used Sanskrit terms before his trip to India, but then, once back, he chose to change them into English for the 1981 edition.42 A possible explanation lies in the introduction to the 1981 (and 1987) edition, where Carroll states that magical abilities ‘can be developed without any symbolic system except reality itself’.43 Though the Sanskrit terms used refer to practical and not necessarily symbolic techniques, they do allude to a large system (Yoga) with its own unique symbolism and related religion (Hinduism). More importantly, Carroll was probably trying to distance his project from a prevailing aspect of occulture which had been appropriating Eastern practices, especially yoga, since the 1960s. Indeed, the 1978 edition shows explicit influences of what Partridge calls Easternisation.44

Having mastered the techniques of mind control and metamorphosis, the initiate can proceed to practicing magic. This consists of a three-stage process of ritual, sigils and dreaming and is largely identical to the equivalent section in the next two editions (it even features the same images and sigil examples).45

Carroll then proceeds with the main body of the white edition, titled ‘Liber Null’, which consists of eight books. He offers a small diagram of the books surrounding a circle with eight arrows pointing outward—what seems to be an early “sigil of chaos” or “star of chaos”, a symbol which will later be associated with chaos magic.46 In terms of overall content, they are to a certain degree equivalent to the ‘Liber LUX’ of the later editions.47 The content takes the reader through various magical practices and explains them on the basis of Carroll’s theory and cosmology found in ‘Liber Magica Praeceptorum’ (the first of the eight books).

In the opening paragraph of ‘Liber Magica Praeceptorum’, Carroll states that,

A magical theory is not to be judged by its reasonableness, believability or attractiveness although these are the devices it uses to put itself forward. Rather it is to be recognized intuitively as a statement in some form of other of the one mystery.48

Carroll is about to propose a magical theory that must be embraced by way of intuition and not logic. Amplifying this notion is the concept of the ‘one mystery’. Though it is not immediately apparent what Carroll means by this, the term evokes ideas closely associated with what in theology is known as “apophaticism”, a mode of discourse in which the object in question is so mysterious, ineffable and transcendent that it cannot be logically described.49 Such concepts are often described in monadic forms, like Plotinus’ “One”, which is beyond intellect and knowledge.50

As if to dispel the idea of an all-engulfing monad, Carroll momentarily shifts to a discussion about duality, as a description of ‘humanity’s usual condition’. The text here is fairly consistent with what can be found later in the 1981 and 1987 editions; we read ideas about Kia,51 as the equivalent of a soul, spirit or life force, and we also find the concept of the origin of all things. There is a crucial difference here between the 1978 edition and the next two. Bellow, is the excerpt from the former, regarding the “origin”:

The ‘thing’ responsible for the origin and continued action of events is called ‘Tao’ by magicians. Sometimes it is called God or Chaos or other names instead. These last two are unsatisfactory as they immediately evoke the Devil and Order whereas the ultimate world ground must contain all things. Tao is a good name as it is meaningless.52

Even rudimentary knowledge of chaos magic would highlight a glaring issue here. Tao is considered as the origin of all things; not Chaos—the first half of the name of the current. In the 1981 and 1987 editions, Tao and Chaos are swapped (simply read the above excerpt and substitute Tao with Chaos and Chaos with Tao).53

The Tao (or Dao) is the central concept of Taoism, a network of religious and philosophical systems that originated in China. Its core text, the Tao Te Ching, was written around 400 BCE by Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher, yet Taoism’s various aspects and movements were developed much later.54 In the first verses of the Tao Te Ching, the Tao is described as ‘having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth; having a name, it is the Mother of all things’.55 In chapter 25 it states that,

  1. There was something undefined and complete, coming into existence before Heaven and Earth. How still it was and formless, standing alone, and undergoing no change, reaching everywhere and in no danger (of being exhausted)! It may be regarded as the Mother of all things.

  2. I do not know its name, and I give it the designation of the Tao (the Way or Course). Making an effort to give it a name I call it The Great.56

Problems of Western appropriation and misuse aside, Carroll’s concept of the Tao seems to be fairly in line with what at least these two excerpts show. It is possible that, considering his interest in physics, he also drew ideas from Fritjof Capra’s 1975 book The Tao of Physics, which, as its subtitle suggests, explores ‘parallels between modern physics and Eastern mysticism’ and which became popular in the occultic milieu and beyond.57 Regardless, Carroll’s explanation as to why he chooses Tao and not Chaos as the origin of everything is straightforward: the former is meaningless, while the latter is loaded with negative connotations. This choice is consistent throughout the book, as Tao is a permanent theme, while Chaos is virtually nonexistent. Changing this in the 1981 and 1987 editions was the result of various factors we will examine later. Another thing to consider here is that Discordianism’s central book, Principia Discordia, mentions the Tao and Taoism as important influences.58 At the same time, it naturally places emphasis on chaos (Discordia being the ancient Roman goddess of chaos and strife).

Here then is Carroll’s system, as explained in ‘Liber Magica Praeceptorum’. The Tao, the originator and container of everything (akin to God or Chaos) is virtually meaningless and unfathomable. Out of it springs Kia which is ‘of one substance with Tao’ and is something akin to a human’s soul. Humans perceive Kia dualistically, as will and perception, and it is through the ‘shuffling’ and playing with this duality that magic is performed (Carroll is not particularly clear at this point).59

Carroll’s thesis on the Tao and Kia is further developed in the following seven chapters. In a diagram outlining his proposed cosmology, he suggests other alternative terms to the Tao such as Ain Soph Ur, Chaos, Void, Pleroma and Aether.60 When discussing “gnosis”, which to him is essentially a state of ecstasy necessary for doing magic, Carroll describes the Tao as ‘the ultimate reality, Tao, the supreme magical agent’. The term ‘supreme magical agent’ also appears a few pages earlier, where the author explains the reasoning behind the title ‘Liber Null’. Writes Carroll,

These eight books together comprise Liber Null. The whole is so called in allusion to the supreme magical agent for it is written ‘A book of true wisdom would be called cheap at any price yet the key to its understanding could not even be given away’.61

I have not been able to locate the origin of the phrase in quotation marks and it is not exactly clear what Carroll is attempting here. From what we have gleaned though, ‘supreme magical agent’ refers to the Tao, which is consistent with earlier comments of it being meaningless and nameless.62 “Null” might also be a jab at Crowley’s libri, which begin with the number 1.63 By starting with number 0, Carroll is placing his book as more fundamental than Crowley’s corpus.

Along the pages of ‘Liber Magica Praeceptorum’, a definition of magic appears, slightly different from Crowley’s ‘magic is the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will’ (see fn. 37). Here it reads: ‘Magic may be defined as the science and art of willed change in perception’.64 The difference might seem minimal but is, in reality, momentous. While the former definition leaves the realm in which change can occur open and boundless, the latter limits it to one’s perception and is more in line with psychological approaches to magic.65 Shortly after this passage, Carroll gives yet another definition: ‘magic is the pursuit of a nameless hidden thing’.66 Working with multiple definitions is not unheard of—Crowley’s Magic in Theory and Practice has more than one—but it does make for a somewhat inconsistent thesis on magic. On the one hand it seems that magic is change, any change, which includes effects on the natural environment, and on the other hand change is limited to perception; the third definition is somewhat vague, but I would link it to the ‘change in perception’ definition. Both are represented in the 1978 book (in my opinion with a slight emphasis given to the latter definition).67 Though seemingly inconsistent between themselves, they form two core ideas in chaos magic: magic produces results and magical consciousness requires a constant change and shifting of beliefs.

Following this is a brief consideration of magic in comparison with other fields of human practice, namely science, religion and art.68 The inclusion of art might have been inspired by the fourfold model in fellow occultist Lionel Snell’s book SSOTBME (1974).69

The second of the eight books, ‘Liber Gnosis’, is a course on achieving an ecstatic state, termed here as “gnosis”. In theory, this is the silencing of one’s internal dialogue, or stopping the mind’s dual division into will and perception. By doing so, one experiences Kia and thus the Tao.70 Techniques that lead to this state are either inhibitory, such as Spare’s ‘Death Posture’, or excitatory, such as sex.71 Of interest here is Carroll’s suggestion for the practitioner to experiment with their own methods: ‘However, the initiate is encouraged to use his own ingenium in adapting the methods of exaltation to his own purposes’; an early instance of chaos magic’s proclivity towards experimentation and the use of individually molded techniques versus established ceremonial ritual.

In ‘Liber Ars Sorcia’, Carroll lays out the practice of “sorcery”, or ‘the art of dealing with entities through the various operations of evocation, pacts and exorcism’.72 While implementing ideas from established traditions such as Goetia, Carroll tries to be consistent with the system and techniques outlined above by showing that the summoning of an entity can be done through the use of sigils and that this entity is imbued with a portion of the practitioner’s Kia. Suggestions for automatic drawing of the sigil again bear witness to experimentation.73 Quite shocking here is the mentioning of human sacrifice as a means to summon an entity:

Sacrificial magic works in a number of ways. Giving up something of extreme personal value liberates what has been called the free energy of disappointment. From the resulting feeling of emptiness in the mind the Kia can reach out to reify its target. Death sacrifice can work by the same mechanism or can be effective as an act of terror and abomination. However, this mechanism soon exhausts itself and one finds oneself wading in oceans of human blood for very little effect much as the Aztecs did. If human death occurs in the correct conditions, usually terror, horror or high emotionality, the Kia may exteriorize, taking with it some characteristics of the organism and incarnate as an entity usually known as a ghost. In all cases the only valid magical sacrifice is a sacrifice of oneself and the magician must become one with something before it can usually be sacrificed. It is possible to sacrifice a creature and directly manipulate its life force as it escapes to incarnate as a desired entity. (The ability to control such a process usually brings with it the wisdom to avoid it.)74

It feels as if, in his attempt to account for all the possible methods of evocation, or to simply shock his readers, Carroll was willing to describe something as gruesome as human sacrifice. At least he admits that such a procedure is better avoided.

In ‘Liber Theurgis’75 Carroll describes the practice of acquiring the attributes and characteristics of a deity, also known as invocation. Trying again to be consistent with his cosmology, he argues that Kia cannot be invoked as it has no attributes (since it is a fraction of the meaningless Tao). One must therefore opt for other entities, preferably those of traditional pantheons (the example of Mars is given), since ‘a pantheon of gods is a map of the mind couched in a symbolism which appeals to the mind’.76 Three things are of note in this chapter. First, despite the appeal to ancient pantheons, there are hints of relativity as to whether or not it is necessary for the invoked deity to belong to one of them. Carroll’s psychologisation of the gods mentioned earlier, as well as other observations such as that ‘all gods are relative and all mythologies embody a psychology’ seem to point towards a relativasation of the existence of gods. Though there is no encouragement to experiment with fictional deities, there seems to be a movement towards that.77 Second, one of the purposes of invocation and the acquisition of new characteristics, is the shifting of beliefs, habits and obsessions, a practice that is central to chaos magic. Third, Carroll calls the practitioner’s familiarisation with the deity ‘programming’.78 What will later become common language in chaos magic, computer programming jargon, makes its first appearance quite early on.79

‘Liber Libertas’ picks off from the shifting of beliefs intrinsic in invocation to further develop the practice of liberating the practitioner from the constraints of society and, importantly, the state.80 It is quite clear how Carroll envisions the IOT when the opening lines of this chapter state that ‘[i]n all repressive cultures there is an underground of mystics and wizards opposed to the state and the state religion’. The way the state achieves its dominance is by way of the ‘logogram’, a set of rules, hierarchies and authorities. Its antithesis, the ‘biogram’ is the tendency to seek freedom, food, and, crucially, transcendence. To break away from the imposed logogram, Carroll prescribes a series of practices that aim at bringing the practitioner in complete opposition with their context, lifestyle and even health. A characteristic example would be ‘Anathemism’, which includes recommendations like:

Eat all loathsome things until they no longer seem repulsive. Copulate with all uninviting things which do not resist. Scheme against one’s most sacred principles in thought word and deed. One will eventually have to seek union with all one rejects. One will eventually witness the putrefaction of every loved thing. Therefore, die now and save time later. Root out every belief, every preference, every opinion and cut it down.81

What Carroll is putting forth here is an absolute anarchy of the individual, where one breaks through all constraints, be they beneficial or not.82 In fact, he does mention anarchy in a unique paragraph that is worth quoting here:

The apparently nonsensical Tao Teh Ching of Lao Tse, the writings of Wilhelm Reich, the Philosophy of anarchy, hallucinogenic drugs, the incomprehensible wisdoms of Austin Spare, the bizarre medieval grimoires and magic books, the doctrines of the gnostics plus any scraps of political, sociological and psychological knowledge which conflict with official mainstream view are worth a thorough study.83

It would appear that, for Carroll, the ‘nonsensical’ is a form of liberation, as it is not bound by the ‘logogram’. The inclusion of drugs is interesting here. Earlier, Carroll mentioned them as a tool for excitatory gnosis, but downplayed their effectiveness.84 Psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich’s place in an occult text is probably due to his highly controversial orgone theory, orgone being an orgasmic liberating life-force, identical to God.85 His ideas fed into concepts of sexual liberation, which led to criticism such as an article titled ‘The New Cult of Sex and Anarchy’ (1947).86 It is not clear what Carroll means by ‘Philosophy of anarchy’ here, but it is probably something more akin to Max Stirner’s individualist—rather than collectivist—anarchism. The complications of this term, when used by an occultist, are highlighted in another book of that time, Thundersqueak or the Confessions of a Right Wing Anarchist, written by occultist Lionel Snell (1979). In the introduction to the 1988 edition, Snell conceded that by ‘right wing anarchist’ he meant ‘libertarian’ (though he wished to dissociate himself from the ‘obscene vulgarities of Thatcherism’).87

A more interesting and robust understanding of what Carroll’s brand of anarchy could be, can be gleaned from other writings of the time. Greer’s work on zines and anarchism is again useful here. Focusing primarily on the work of Hakim Bey (Peter Lamborn Wilson), Greer presents a milieu and network of discourses often associated with chaos magic which used concepts from both anarchism and the occult to form what is termed “ontological anarchism”.88 Bey’s initial work on the subject, titled Chaos, appeared in 1985. His other writings (which include letters), leading up to the early 1990s, form what Greer defines as ‘a more authentically anarchist anarchism, one which reflects the ontological state of being, which [Bey] identifies as the boundless vitality of Chaos’.89 Interestingly, Bey equates chaos with other concepts we have already encountered, such as the Tao.90 Though Bey’s writings appeared at least seven years after the publication of Liber Null’s first edition, Greer contends that this brew of ideas on anarchism, chaos and the occult can be found in Discordianism (early 1960s). This is further supported by Carole Cusack’s work on Discordianism, which highlights these “chaos” links with chaos magic.91 One could thus argue that Liber Null forms an intermediate link in this discourse. We will return to this later.

‘Liber Magnum Opus’ contains instructions on how to invoke one’s Augoeides, otherwise known as True Will or Holy Guardian Angel.92 This latter term had already been a central feature in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and subsequently Crowley’s magical system.93 Echoing the importance that this concept had in both these systems, Carroll acknowledges the invocation of the Augoeides as ‘the magician’s most important invocation’. Yet, Carroll is walking a fine line here. In ‘Liber Theurgis’ he mentioned that Kia (and therefore the Tao) cannot be invoked as it has no dualistic attributes for the human mind to comprehend. For Crowley, however, the Augoeides is akin to Adonai, or Tao.94 If Carroll were to follow Crowley’s logic, he would contradict his statement in ‘Liber Theurgis’. He thus describes the Augoeides as ‘the most perfect vehicle of Kia on the plane of duality’95 and manages to both differentiate the concept from Kia and set it within the dualistic universe. This is better expressed when he states that this invocation does not add attributes to oneself but rather strips them away ‘to reveal the god within’.96 In other words, the invocation of the Augoeides is a deeper process of liberation than the one preceding this chapter. Regardless, it is never clarified what the Augoeides really is, especially in relation to Kia, and therefore Carroll could easily be accused of inconsistency.97 The rest of the chapter revolves around the process of the invocation and the potential results.

The seventh book, ‘Liber Mantis’, contains instructions for divination.98 Since the Tao accounts for everything in existence, the practitioner who has access to their Kia ‘can know all things’.99 Carroll proceeds to explain some of the techniques for divination, such as the ‘symbolic method’ and astrology.100 Divinatory systems such as the Tarot and the I Ching are mentioned, as well as the twenty-third hexagram of the latter.101 Carroll might have made it look as if he chose number 23 at random, but it is in fact an allusion to Robert Anton Wilson’s trilogy Illuminatus! (1975), in which number 23 is mentioned multiple times (even the ‘hexagram 23’).102 Following the book’s success, 23 became a “sacred” number of Discordianism, Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth and occulture in general.103 Also inspired from the I Ching is a pictorial device divided in squares at which a dart is thrown, and an interpretation is made depending on the result.104

Lastly, Liber Thelemis explores the ‘high art’ of enchantment, the ability to do magic without the aid of symbols but simply through thought.105 Described in more technical terms, it is a willed manifestation of Kia. Carroll describes such “will” as ‘unity of desire’, in which “will” is free from all inhibitions which muddle the mind.106 The chapter concludes with the paraphrase of a quote drawn from Crowley’s Magick in Theory and Practice: ‘He who is doing his true will is assisted by the momentum of the Universe’.107 The book ends here.

Unfortunately, it is hard to know whether the first edition had any impact on practices of the time. Carroll left to travel even before it was published. Perhaps some of it influenced the Church of Chaos in Australia. Sherwin mentions a group of six that started performing rituals during this time, but he only briefly describes an initiation which included a blindfold, Crowley’s “Hymn to Pan” and the use of psilocybin.108 The group that was probably influenced was LUUOS (Leeds University Union Occult Society), whose members, including occultist Dave Lee, frequented the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.109

4 Analysis of the Red Edition (1981)

It is obvious by now that the texts of the 1981 and 1987 editions of Liber Null are almost identical. The majority of differences are minor spelling or grammatical corrections. As mentioned previously, the 1987 edition deviates significantly from the red edition at points where the text of the latter could be accused of inciting violence, murder, suicide and sexual abuse (unacceptable issues in a mainstream publication). The most shocking instance is in ‘Liber Aom’, one of the two sections—along with ‘Liber Nox’—that are not in the 1978 edition. Liber Aom contains very advanced practices, aimed for adepts, one of which is a form of ‘integral reincarnation’, called the ‘Black Rite’. In the 1987 edition, Carroll describes this technique’s aim but ends abruptly, claiming that ‘[o]f this rite I have been advised to say no more …’. The 1981 edition reveals what ‘more’ was by continuing the paragraph:

Once a suitable victim has been selected they are taken to a secure secluded chamber and drugged unconscious usually by opiates or other powerful narcotics. The reincarnating adept retires to the same chamber and finishes his present existence, often using a massive overdose of the same drug for this purpose. Adepts have been known to use their own students for this purpose. This allows some control over the memory of which they are to possess. The same advantage and others exist with one’s natural children.

It is easy to see why this was not included in the 1987 edition. Yet mention of ‘ending one’s present existence’ (which, strictly speaking, is suicide), can be found in the ‘Red Rite’ of the same edition.110

There are five crucial concepts that the 1981 edition introduced or augmented: the concept of chaos, shamanism, practical and experimental aspects of magic, Discordian concepts, and a metahistorical framework. I will treat each in turn.

First, as noted above, “chaos” was barely mentioned in the 1978 version; it was rather the Tao that dominated its cosmology. In the red edition, the Tao is almost completely sidelined and substituted by “chaos”. One could argue that the concept of “chaos magic”, is first seen in 1981. The term’s usage and significance, however, as a definitive aspect of Carroll’s ideas can be first found in what is allegedly the first chaos magic “institution”, the Church of Chaos in Australia, founded during his travels in 1980.111 This transition from marginality to eminence as the 1980s progressed, reflects the intensification of the “chaos discourse” during the same decade, a web of movements and ideologies all linked by a certain reverence towards “metaphysical chaos”.112 This was also reinforced by the culture surrounding industrial music, beginning in the late 1970s.113

There were, however, earlier examples. Discordianism used the term “chaos” extensively, even before the 1970s, primarily to describe the goddess Eris.114 In 1972, Grant described it as the ‘primal substance’ and equated it to the Thelemic Goddess Babalon.115 These cases certainly played a role, but they both preceded the white edition. A crucial element which might better explain the transition from Tao to Chaos and one that lends a uniqueness to Carroll’s worldview is the mathematical field of chaos theory. Having made its first steps in the 1960s, this non-linear approach to reality grew in the 1970s as more scientists gained an interest in it, two of which, the mathematicians James A. Yorke and Tien-Yien Li, gave it its catchy name in 1975.116 Given Carroll’s passion for revolutionary theories in mathematics and physics, he was certainly aware of these developments by the late seventies. Otto notes this contemporaneity between chaos theory and chaos magic but is not aware that the former is not at all apparent in the first edition.117 Regardless, the final product is an affirmation of Partridge’s concept of occulture. Adopting Chaos as a central theme of the second edition was the result of occult ideas, cultural developments (punk and industrial), and scientific theories.

Additionally, 1981’s edition shows us a “chaos” that, similar to Bey’s ideas later, was not simply an all-encompassing “nothingness” but a pool of potentiality and creative force, ready to be manipulated by the individual: ‘What is god but a man wielding the force of Chaos. To him nothing is true, everything is permitted’.118 In Liber Nox and thus the red edition, chaos becomes a realm of action, and ethics (or absence of ethics). Its ideology, according to Carroll, is “chaoism”, the eschatological end-point of all historical process.

This brand of chaos appears more frequently in Carroll’s other book of the same year, Psychonaut, which will not be analysed here.119 In it is a ritual titled “The Mass of Chaos”, where chaos is invoked and ‘the eight-rayed star of Chaos radiant is visualised above the circle’.120 The earliest performance of the Mass seems to have been in 1982 by Carroll and Sherwin’s group in Yorkshire.121 Another documented performance is claimed to have taken place in 1986 in the Rhineland, marking the beginning of “The Pact” (a collaboration between the British and German speaking IOT).122

A second concept introduced in 1981 is shamanism. Nonexistent in the 1978 edition, it is lauded as the first of all magical traditions in the next two, where a chart of the ‘Magical Survival’ traces the IOT’s origins back to shamanism. In the first pages of the Liber Lux part (1981, 1987), Carroll claims that ‘all systems ultimately derive from the tradition of Shamanism’. Neo-Shamanism, a Western appropriation of shamanism, rose in popularity during the early to mid-nineteen-eighties, particularly in the United States, due to the work of anthropologist Michael Harner and his concept of “core shamanism”, which essentially boiled down shamanism the world over to a set of specific techniques that could be used by contemporary individuals, even city-dwellers.123 Harner’s ideas were promoted through the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, which he founded in 1979, and his book The Way of the Shaman, published in 1980. Even if Carroll managed to normally follow American developments closely, it seems highly improbable that he managed to do so during his two-year trip to India and Australia, while he was rewriting Liber Null for its second edition. His ideas on shamanism probably came from anthropologist Carlos Castaneda’s book The Teachings of Don Juan (1969), and possibly from the influence that historian of religion Mircea Eliade had on the concept of shamanism through his work Shamanism (1951).124 It is important to note here that shamanism’s popular depiction—via Castaneda—as a practice fueled by psychedelic substances fit well with the spiritual predilections of other currents such as Discordianism.

Third, is the practical and experimental aspect of magic. As we saw when discussing ‘Liber Magica Praeceptorum’ and ‘Liber Theurgis’ in the white edition, this side of magic was not pronounced as much as one would expect from a chaos magic text. In the 1978 edition there is a curious mix of psychologisation and some practicality, the latter of which is certainly emphasised more in the 1981 edition.

Fourth, is the presence of Discordian concepts. We saw earlier that in the 1978 edition, number 23 and “Illuminates” were probably references to Discordian ideas. In the next edition, however, the Illuminati gain a much more prominent position in the chaos magic narrative as they are presented as a group of individuals on a mission to guide humanity into the fifth ‘Aeon’, another concept borrowed from Crowley.125 The phrase used by Carroll for this process is drawn from Illuminatus! which we saw earlier: ‘the immanentisation of the eschaton’.126

A fifth element introduced in 1981 is Carroll’s metahistorical framework. Striving for a new ‘Aeon’ carries with it the need to know what preceded it and what its future holds. Starting from the “mists of time”, Carroll identifies the first aeon with that of shamanism and proceeds to reach our current time which is on the turning point between the fourth and the fifth aeons. There are four such accounts in the 1981 and 1987 editions.127

5 Conclusion

Partridge’s and Greer’s categories of occulture and the chaos discourse will help us draw some conclusions. The 1978 edition of Liber Null features significant differences to the 1981 and 1987 editions. As a result, two Liber Null texts appear: the first one, that of 1978 and the second, that of 1981, which was later republished for a wider audience by Weiser Books. These two texts, though only three years apart, show significant changes in the way that Carroll envisioned the IOT and the form of magic that he was introducing. More schematically, they represent a transition from concepts that were “floating” in the broad seas of occulture, to one of the most significant texts of the chaos discourse.

The near absence of the term “chaos” prior to the 1981 edition, shows a system that had not yet found its grounding as to what it culturally represented. The switch from the Tao to Chaos as not only the cosmological centre of the system, but also as a “brand name”, is reflected in anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann’s encounter with what seems to have been chaos magic enthusiasts in the late 1980s: adolescent boys listening to heavy metal.128 Punk and psychedelic culture were embedded in the aesthetics and ethos of chaos magic during these years. At the same time, artists from the punk/industrial scene were often associated with the current.129 Anthropologist Justin Woodman, whose fieldwork took place in London in the late 1990s, says that chaos magicians he met exhibited a rebellious urban lifestyle.130 “Tao-magic” would never have gathered such a demographic. Instead, “chaos-magic” represented the right occultural mix for those disillusioned with earlier occultism and the counterculture and were looking for new, dynamic avenues.

In the 1978 Liber Null, we find a theory and practice that is struggling to find an identity within the messy occultural landscape of the 1970s. Eastern terminology is blended with anarchy and vague apophatic concepts. This is all refined in the second edition. The tantric and anarchist terms are removed and there is a new orientation and a clear central theme: Chaos. Fleshed out in the new sections, ‘Liber Nox’ and ‘Liber Aom’, chaos is depicted not simply as a cosmic force, but as a call to action and destabilization against the establishment and against reality itself.

The findings of this article suggest two reasons why we must review how we assess the early years of chaos magic. The first reason is a simple matter of accuracy. Using the mainstream 1987 edition to talk about chaos magic in the late seventies leads to mistakes, minor or major. The second, and most important one, is related to chaos magic’s place in the broader chaos discourse. It is only in 1981 that Liber Null, alongside Psychonaut, can be placed convincingly in that milieu and thus as an early exponent of the maelstrom of chaos-oriented ideas that peaked in the mid to late eighties.


See for example the groups “Chaos Magic (CMG)” (23,000 members), “Sigil Magick” (45,000 members), “Chaos Magick Fundamentals” (4,200 members). See also the subreddit “Chaos Magick” on (28,400 members). A note here that many of these “members” might just be inactive accounts.


Created by Jac Schaeffer, directed by Matt Shakman and starring Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda and Paul Bettany as Vision.


Lee, ‘Chaos Magic—A Brief History’, 29–30.


Otto, ‘The Illuminates of Thanateros’, 759, 761.


Evans, The History of British Magic, 361.


Duggan, ‘Perennialism and Iconoclasm’, 97.


Urban, Magia Sexualis, 238.


Partridge, The Re-Enchantment of the West, 62–86. Partridge, ‘Occulture is Ordinary’, 124.


Partridge, ‘Occulture is Ordinary’, 113. Also, Hanegraaff, Western Esotericism, 42.


Greer, ‘Zines’, 3. Also Greer, ‘Occult Origins’. Also Reed, Assimilate, 49.


Greer, ‘Occult Origins’, 170.


Greer, ‘Zines’, 3.


Or so it says in the book. Carroll, who was overseas at the time, doubts that such a number was printed and believes that it was probably just ‘2 or 5’. Though Sherwin might have indeed printed less, I find it hard to believe that the number of copies was in the single digits. See Carroll, ‘Zero’, Source: [last visited 06/22]. Sherwin also disputes this claim. See Sherwin, Vitriol, 156.


E-mail correspondence with Peter Carroll [12/2020].


IOT, The Book, 5. The Church operated for only six months. Not much is known about it, but there seems to have been some continuation with the Sydney-based order Templum Nigri Solis. Source: [last visited 06/22].


Carroll has mentioned gluing ‘the books together in Ray’s kitchen’. See Carroll, ‘Zero’.


Greer, ‘Zines’, 3–5.


E-mail correspondence [11/2021]. Due to the reprint of Liber Null having a white/beige color, it is often mistaken for the first edition.


‘Models of Magic-Frater U.D.’. Source: [last visited 1/2022].


IOT, The Book, 5.


At the time of writing, a new edition is being designed by the same company.


I only mention these prices to give the reader an idea of the market concerning this material.


See Grant, The Magical Revival, 116–117.


The term exists in the introduction of both later editions but never as a book-defining title or subtitle.


Even three years later, Ray Sherwin still cited the book as “Liber Null, IOT” (not mentioning Carroll), in his third edition of The Book of Results.


Sherwin, Vitriol, 152.


The wording is exactly the same in both editions (as seen in the respective introductions).


Sherwin, ‘Introduction’, in Liber Null (1978), i.


This is the exact excerpt from the 1978 edition. The 1981 edition adds class 2 as well.


These are mentioned in 1987 and are significant in the structure of the book. The initials that follow, however, exist only in the white and red editions.


Sherwin, Vitriol, 154. Sherwin says that these were more of an ‘insider-joke’ rather than serious pseudonyms.


See for example Baker, ‘Austin Osman Spare’, 303.


Grant, The Magicak Revival, 188–218.


Sherwin, Vitriol, 149–150.


In the 1981 and 1987 editions, Sherwin’s introduction is discarded and replaced by Carroll’s. What is of crucial importance in Carroll’s introduction, is the following statement: Two major themes run through this book: ‘that altered states of consciousness are the key to unlocking one’s magical abilities; and that these abilities can be developed without any symbolic system except reality itself’. See Liber Null (1987), 7.


Sherwin, ‘Introduction’, in Carroll, Liber Null (1978), i.


In contrast, the contents in the 1981 and 1987 editions are divided into four parts with multiple small chapters each. These are preceded by an introduction by Carroll, a short piece titled ‘The Order and the Quest’, as well as a chart of the ‘Survival of the Magical Tradition’ (which does not exist in the 1978 edition). The four parts are titled as such: Liber MMM (Mind Control, Magic, Dreaming), Liber LUX (Gnosis, Evocation, Invocation, Liberation, Augoeides, Divination, Enchantment), Liber NOX (Sorcery, The Double, Transmogrification, Ecstasy, Random Belief, The Alphabet of Desire, The Millenium), Liber AOM (Aetherics, Transubstantiation, The Chaosphere, Aeonics, Reincarnation). In the 1981 edition, Liber MMM consists of chapters Magical Trance, Metamorphosis, Magic.


Liber Null (1978). Very little of importance is different in the 1981 and 1987 editions apart from the fact that this section is not included in Liber MMM but precedes it. See Liber Null (1981, 1987), 9. Another thing of note is that the 1978 edition does not mention the Zos Kia Cultus (Austin Osman Spare’s system of magic according to Grant) or the Argentum Astrum (the magical order that Crowley founded in 1907).


Between pratyahara and mantra there is a paragraph titled ‘theory’ which explains how these techniques are important in achieving a magical result. Crowley’s thesis from his Magick in Theory and Practice is mentioned here (Crowley is not cited): ‘Magic is the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will’. See Liber Null (1978), 4. See Crowley, Magick in Theory and Practice, xii.


In the 1981 and 1987 editions, the techniques are titled as such (in parentheses I include the equivalent Sanskrit terms used in the 1978 edition): Motionlessness (asana), Breathing (pranayama), Non-Thinking (pratyahara), Magical Trances (theory), Object Concentration (Dharana), Sound Concentration (Practical Mantra). See Liber Null (1981, 1987), 14–15.


In the 1981 and 1987 editions the techniques are simply described but not titled. See Liber Null (1981, 1987), 16–18.


The only reference to yoga in the 1981 and 1987 editions is in the introductory paragraph of Liber MMM: ‘… a form of mind control having similarities to yoga’. See Liber Null (1981, 1987), 13.


Liber Null (1981). See fn. 14.


Partridge, The Re-Enchantment of the West, 88.


The only exception being that in the 1981 and 1987 editions Carroll added a few sentences explaining why it is the unconscious and not the waking consciousness that works more effectively with sigils (or magic in general for that matter). See Liber Null (1981, 1987), 20.


It is not, however, monopolised by chaos magic. It is an eight-arrow star, first conceived by author Michael Moorcock, it has since been used by music bands, video games etc.


Here is a comparison of the editions. The left column displays all eight books of the 1978 edition, including in parentheses their subject matter as given by Carroll in a diagram in p. 21 (in the diagram, Liber Magnum Opus is missing and there is—probably by mistake—a second Liber Theurgis with the subject of ‘Bondage’). Equivalent chapters in the later editions are in the right column. In the 1981 and 1987 editions these are collectively titled ‘Liber LUX’.


1981, 1987

Liber Magica Praeceptorum (Theory)

Liber LUX [introduction]

Liber Gnosis (Ecstasy)


Liber Ars Sorcia (Demons)


Liber Theurgis (Gods)


Liber Libertas (Liberation)


Liber Magnum Opus (N/A)


Liber Mantis (Priescence [sic])


Liber Thelemis (Will)



Liber Null (1978), p. 16. This does not exist in later editions, probably because of the vagueness of the statement.


Deirdre Carabine, The Unknown God, 2.


Nicholas Banner, Philosophical Silence and the ‘One’ in Plotinus, 1, 147–148.


Borrowed from Spare.


Liber Null (1978), 18.


Liber Null (1981, 1987), 28.


Russell Kirkland, Taoism, 14.


Lao Tzu, ‘The Tao Teh Ching’, 95 (trnsl. by James Legge, 1891).


Ibid., 115.


Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics. A reminder here that Carroll has shown a keen interest in physics, seen especially in his Liber Kaos (1991). Whatever the case, Carroll later mentions Lao Tzu’s Tao Teh Ching in the white edition, which hints some familiarity with it. See Liber Null (1978), 50.


Greg Hill & Kerry Wendell Thornley, Principia Discordia or How I Found the Goddess and What I did to Her When I Found Her, 12. Discordianism is often hailed as the precursor of chaos magic. See for example, Hugh Urban, Magia Sexualis: Sex, Magic, and Liberation in Modern Western Esotericism (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006), 233. Carroll was familiar with Discordianism, primarily through the works of Robert Anton Wilson.


Liber Null (1978), 16–19. He later explains that to achieve ‘gnosis’, the state of ecstasy during which magic is achievable, one’s mind must cease to ‘divide Kia into multitudinous functions of will and perception’ (essentially, one must stop thinking).


This diagram doesn’t exist in the later editions. As for Aether, in the later editions it is not described as an equivalent of Chaos (the Tao), but as the mediating force between Chaos and matter. See Liber Null (1981, 1987), 29.


Liber Null (1978), 21. This does not exist in later editions.


It wouldn’t be a stretch then, to consider that an alternative title to the book could be Liber Tao.


Number 1 being Liber B vel Magi. Crowley’s Magick in Theory and Practice is included in the fourth liber, appropriately titled ABA. Book 4. His Liber AL vel Legis is number 220.


For context, the paragraph reads: Magic can be defined as the science and art of willed change in perception. In other words, it is a false dialogue of Kia. Nevertheless, by shuffling the conditions of duality in various ways, the magician may experience the essential unity of the Universe and himself. See Liber Null (1978), 19.


A similar definition, attributed to occultist Dion Fortune (1890–1946), one of the main proponents of the psychologisation of magic, states that ‘magic is the art of changing consciousness at will’. Unfortunately, I have not yet found if and where Fortune mentions this. Starhawk attributes it to her. See, Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, 38. For the fascinating debate on the psychologisation thesis, see the following works: Hanegraaff, ‘How Magic Survived the Disenchantment of the World’; Asprem, ‘Magic Naturalized?’; Asprem, Arguing with Angels, 72–78, & passim; Pasi, ‘Varieties of Magical Experience’; Plaisance, ‘Israel Regardie and the Psychologization of Esoteric Discourse’.


Liber Null (1978), 22.


The change in perception definition is not found in the 1981 and 1987 editions, but the change in accordance with the Will is. As with the 1978 edition however, both approaches are represented, though the change in perception less so than in 1978. In fact, Carroll’s introduction to the 1981 and 1987 editions betrays a leaning towards a more practical and less psychological approach.


Liber Null (1978), 21–22. This is not included in later editions, but there Carroll often compares magic to science and religion (but not art).


Lionel Snell (Ramsey Dukes), SSOTBME, 3. Carroll and Snell had already been acquainted by 1978.


Liber Null (1978), 25. Again, talk of union with a spiritual monad and the dissolution of dualism is characteristic of the turn to the East. See Partridge, The Re-Enchantment of the West, 63–64.


Ibid., 26–27. This model of inhibitory and excitatory techniques is followed in the 1981 and 1987 editions, albeit more briefly. See Liber Null (1987), 33.


Liber Null (1978), 32. In the next editions, this chapter and practice are titled “evocation”. Sorcery on the other hand, or ‘the art of using material bases to effect magical transformations’ is described in Liber Nox. See Liber Null (1981, 1987), 61–62.


Liber Null (1978), 32–35.


As we shall soon see, the 1981 edition has a somewhat toned-down version of this. The 1987 edition censors it even further, and while it still mentions sacrifice, it is not nearly as explicit or macabre as the previous two editions. See Liber Null (1981, 1987), 40.


Theurgy traditionally being considered as the ‘inducement of the direct action of God through a human agent’. See John Bowker (ed.), The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 971.


Liber Null (1978), 40.


The next two editions, however, seem to be quite explicit: ‘Magicians will often use a pagan pantheon of gods as the basis for invoking […] However, it is possible to use almost anything from the archetypes of the collective unconscious to the elemental qualities of alchemy’. See Liber Null (1981, 1987), 41.


More specifically: ‘The magician first programmes himself into identity with the desired quality by arranging all his experiences to coincide with its nature’. See Liber Null (1978), 40.


Phil Hine used such jargon in his formula for servitors. See Phil Hine, Condensed Chaos, 106, 116.


Liber Null (1978), 45. In later editions, the state is not mentioned, though there is mention of ‘atheist super-states’. See Liber Null (1981, 1987), 89. Also, Liber Libertas is significantly longer in the 1978 edition than in the later ones.


Liber Null (1978), 53. In the 1981 and 1987 editions, ‘copulate’ is changed to ‘seek union’. The ‘die now’ is absent in the 1987 edition but still there in 1981.


Carroll admits some limitations here. He states that ‘one cannot risk drastically upsetting one’s own or another’s biogram for to do this is only to reintroduce limitation and slavery’. See Liber Null (1978), 49.


Liber Null (1978), 50. This excerpt can only be found in the 1978 edition.


Other movements in the broader chaos discourse, such as Discordianism, saw psychedelics as absolutely central to their message. See Greer, ‘Discordianism’, 1. Carroll kept a cautious approach in the following editions as well as in his literature in general.


James Webb, The Occult Establishment, 473–474.


Mildred Edie Brady, ‘The New Cult of Sex and Anarchy’.


Lionel Snell, Thundersqueak, iv.


Greer, ‘Occult Origins’, 168.


Ibid., 180.


Bey, T.A.Z., 42.


Cusack, ‘Discordian Magic’, 12.


Liber Null (1978), 55. In the later editions, this chapter is significantly shorter. Also, in the 1978 and 1981 editions the term is misspelled as ‘Augoides’ rather than ‘Augoeides’.


Alison Butler, Victorian Occultism, 51–52. See also Crowley, Magic in Theory and Practice, 9. For Crowley’s use of the ‘augoeides’, see Crowley, ‘The Temple of Solomon the King’, 159.


Crowley, ‘The Temple of Solomon the King’, 160. Adonai, “lord”, is one of the names for God in Judaism.


Liber Null (1978), 55. My italics.


Liber Null (1978), 57.


This is also the case with the next two editions.


Ibid., 61. Again, this chapter is shorter in the next two editions.


Ibid., 61.


Ibid., 62–63. In the 1981 and 1987 editions, astrology is singled out as a non-recommended option. See Liber Null (1981, 1987), 53. In the 1978 it is also considered a poor technique but so are other options mentioned.


Liber Null (1978), 62. The I Ching is an ancient Chinese divinatory system, based on a series of 64 hexagrams which are interpreted accordingly. Tarot is mentioned in the next editions, but not the I Ching.


Robert Anton Wilson & Robert Shae, The Illuminatus!. Carroll has told me that he read the Illuminatus! as soon as it was published. E-mail correspondence [7/2021].


Thee Temple of Psychick Youth (TOPY) was an urban youth movement during the 1980s which is often considered as being an integral part of the chaos magic current during that decade.


Liber Null (1978), 65. This is not included in the next editions.


Ibid., 67. As with most of the eight books, this chapter is shorter in the next two editions.


Ibid., 68–69.


Ibid., 71. The original reads ‘A man who is doing his True Will has the inertia of the universe to assist him’. Crowley, Magick in Theory and Practice, xv.


Sherwin, Vitriol, 153.


Lee, ‘Tales of Magic’. [last visited 06/22].


Liber Null (1987), 103.


IOT, The Book, 20.


Greer, ‘Zines’, 3.


Reed, Assimilate, 49.


Malaclypse the Younger, The Principia Discordia.


Grant, The Magical Revival, 229.


Gleick, Chaos, 65–69. Also, Li & Yorke, ‘Period Three Implies Chaos’.


Otto, ‘The Illuminates of Thanateros’, 764–765.


Carroll, Liber Null (1981, 1987), 59. See also Greer, ‘Occult Origins’, 176.


My knowledge of the 1981 edition of Psychonaut is based on a brief reading of Chris Bray’s reprint (mid-1980s) at Treadwell’s Bookshop in London. To my understanding it is not very different to the 1987 edition.


Carroll, Liber Null & Psychonaut, 130–131. A reminder here that invoking chaos contradicts Carroll’s claims in Liber Magnum Opus.


Lee, ‘Tales of Magic’.


IOT, The Book, 5.


Ronald Hutton, Shamans, 156–158.


Thomas A. DuBois, An Introduction to Shamanism, 266–269. See also, Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan. See also, Mircea Eliade, Shamanism. Carroll informed me that he had read Castaneda. He did not specify when, but seems to have read it in the early 1970s. E-mail correspondence [7/2021].


Liber Null (1981, 1987), 9.


Ibid., 101.


Ibid., 8–9, 72–75, 88–91, 102.


Tanya M. Luhrmann, Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft, 96.


Multiple issues of Chaos International (1986–1997), the official periodical of the IOT, featured artwork and articles by punk and industrial musicians.


Justin Woodman, Modernity, Selfhood, and the Demonic, 55–56.


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