Why I Wear a Chaos Star: Brief Thoughts on Pacts with Contingency


About a year ago, I started wearing a chaos star.  While there is a real-life school of occultism that adopted this star as its emblem, and while I am a real-life occult game designer, I don’t consider myself primarily a practitioner of Chaos Magick as defined by Peter Carroll and his followers.

A little historical background is in order.

The chaos star first appears in Jim Cawthorne’s illustration of the Heraldic Arms of Chaos in one of Michael Moorcock’s stories about Elric, a doomed albino sorcerer with a sentient, vampiric sword.  As Moorcock tells the story, he conceived of the Arms of Law as a single arrow to represent a unitary, straight and narrow path.  In contrast, the eight arrows of chaos radiate outward in all directions, representing the multiple possible paths of art.


I have long admired Moorcock’s intricate cosmology: a labyrinthine multiverse through which a cursed Eternal Champion reincarnates, reflected and refracted as if through the faces of a shattered prism.  In my book, Game Magic, I argue that the fusion of goetia and astral projection by which Elric summons his patron, the Chaos Lord Arioch, is the finest example of ritual magic upon which a game designer might draw for inspiration.  As my Arcana game progresses, summoning and astral projection are becoming the two central aspects of magic in both the mechanical and narrative senses.

But I truly became enamored with the Chaos star while playing Zangband, a classic roguelike (with ASCII characters and permadeath), set in the fantasy world of Roger Zelazny’s Amber (itself a powerful influence on Moorcock’s multiverse).


In Zangband, there are many character classes, but the one I found myself irresistibly drawn toward was the Chaos Knight.  The character is a practical starting class with tangible benefits (such as a beginning the game equipped with plate armor, a longsword, and a powerful complement of damage spells), but the class has one powerful quirk that drew me onward.  At character generation, the character is assigned a Chaos Patron (the names of which, such as Pyaray, Chardros, Arioch, and Xiombarg, are taken from Moorcock rather than Zelazny).  Every time the character levels up, the voice of the Chaos Patron booms out, conferring a randomly chosen boon.  These boons run the gamut from mildly useful to lifesaving to downright disastrous.  The Patron might fill the hallway in front of the player with enemies, give the player a hideous and crippling mutation, drop a powerful sword in front of the player, or heal the player of all wounds.  In a genre already built around coping with (and possibly savoring) contingency through randomly generated levels, the leveling up mechanic associated with the Chaos Knight compounds chaos recursively.

And I loved it.  At the time that I was playing Zangband, I was faced with a lot of contingency: myriad uncertainty related to aspects of life I couldn’t control.  Rather than see this chaos as a hindrance, playing a Chaos Knight helped me learn to embrace this chaos as a source of energy.  Because, as occultist Ramsey Dukes and (more recently) TV’s version of John Constantine remind us, we all make deals with forces beyond ourselves just to function on a daily level.

Everything I needed to know about life I learned from Elric.  All Patrons are Chaos Patrons. I wear a Chaos star because I learned to revel in this uncertainty.  Blood and Souls for My Lord Arioch . . .

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