Cast a Spell Over Chaos With Your Writing
One of my novels in progress is an attempt to cope with fear and chaos in our current political climate. Without revealing too much, it envisions a near future when a certain political figure and that person’s supporters have been effectively (but non-violently!) neutralized by virtue of magical spell. The stakes and conflict of the story derive from the threat that this enchantment will come undone.
It’s a kind of absurd story, by design. It may be a little silly, a little satirical, and a lot wish fulfillment. Sadly, I’ve been working on it for about a year, now, and am only half way through the first draft. I’m not a full-time writer, alas. When I am discouraged in my progress, or distracted by my day job, I have to find ways to motivate myself.
One lens I’m looking through recently is that, as silly as my plot gets, it’s still a story that has meaning for myself. It may also resonate with others who fear the direction our country has taken. That’s important, no matter whether anyone ever reads it but myself. As a motivation tool, I’m trying on the concept of “chaos magic,” a radical, outsider spiritual practice, as a way to describe my fiction writing.
Writing this story is more than an expression of my anxieties: it’s a wish for something positive to happen. And a wish is like a prayer, or, in a magic-based belief system, a spell. Comic book author Grant Morrison, who practices chaos magic, would call the stories that he writes “hypersigils.” Let’s unpack that a bit.
My interpretation of chaos magic is that it’s a practice of forming a structure on the universe around you, through the setting of intentions, practicing thought patterns, and creative visualization. One version of that same concept, focused on material wealth, is called the Law of Attraction. This belief says that what you focus on is what you draw toward you, so focus on abundance coming your way. I find chaos magic more proactive. What you focus on is what you create in the world around you.
One tool of chaos magic is the sigil. A sigil is a magical image, a visualization tool that stands for something larger than itself. The Deathly Hallows sign, in its eponymous Harry Potter book, is a sigil. In more common use, I’d say the Christian cross and the swastika are also sigils. You could consider the Mickey Mouse silhouette a sigil too. The cross stands for volumes of religious writing, stories and myths, and interpretations of reality. The swastika focuses its believers on a mythic, Northern European nationalistic, might-makes-right belief system. And Mickey evokes the entire Disney corporate portfolio of diversion, consumerism, and magic-for-a-price. Each of these sigils expresses its own version of reality.
In my interpretation, building on what I’ve read of Morrison’s thoughts, a hypersigil is a complex system of symbols. It is not necessarily just multiple sigils or drawings, but can comprise narrative components. It’s a story, however, that intends to create something, like a world view, or a kind of reality. The creation of a story with an intention is the casting of the spell.
So to continue the analogy, the story of the Nativity, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus is a hypersigil, as is Mein Kampf, or (switching Disney properties) any given Uncle Scrooge comic book I grew up reading. (Sidebar: for a brilliant Marxist interpretation of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics, and their capitalist imperialist agenda, no joke, see Dorfman and Mattelart’s How to Read Donald Duck. Seriously, I’m not joking!) Narrative building blocks correspond to the sigils in chaos magic. Those building blocks combine to make a hypersigil, a spell expressed in a narrative form.
Morrison primarily writes graphic novels and comic books, so his self-proclaimed hypersigils have visual elements, but there’s always a story. Morrison piles layers of meaning onto meaning, so the world of DC Comics, for example, is a to him a rich toolbox of sigils (visualize Superman leaping into the sky or Batman leaping into a dark alley) that he can recombine and invert and psychedelic-ize through stories, allusions, and metafictional tricks.
To my mind, a hypersigil can exist without pictures, by way of mental visualizations rather than explicit drawings. Fiction, in other words. I take Morrison’s example as an invitation, as a model, for us to consider our own fiction as a kind of magical spell, a Morisonian hypersigil.
When I write about a (satirically magical) shift in our political narrative, I’m putting a possibility out there that a shift can happen, peacefully and productively. I’m weaving a complex spell of narrative possibility, which helps the spell-caster (me) by reinforcing my ability to create coherence (and fun) out of my own 45-induced emotional chaos. But beyond affecting my own mental state, I hold that a novel can also help the world around me by placing a expressing possibilities into the noosphere, the collective consciousness. My story may be as trivial, fantastic, and intentionally silly as an Uncle Scrooge comic book, but it’s my own unique and magical wish for the world around me.
What kind of magic is waiting in your brain to be invoked, materialized, summoned? What spell can you weave, via narrative fiction, on the world around you, to transform your life and the lives around you? I invite you to consider yourself a magician (or witch, if you prefer!) and make some magic out of the chaos. Keep writing!
Reed Vernon Waller was a winner in the short fiction contest for the Saints and Sinners Festival 2018 Anthology, and currently has two novels in progress, Trudy and Elliot and the Wondrous Merge, and Division of Magical Verification, Book 1: Who Transfigured Dirk DeLuxe?. He holds a masters degree in arts management from American University.