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Peter J. Carroll Interview

Q: You've referred to the Illuminates of Thanateros as the "magical heirs to the "Zos Kia Cultus" and as "a satrap of the Illuminati," and in the flow chart on page 8 of the Weiser edition of Liber Null, you make I.O.T. look like the culmination of everything from Sufism to Freemasonry. How do you answer critics who say that this is pretentious?

A: The chart in Liber Null was presented to show the development of certain traditions of esoteric ideas; each of the groups shown appears to have taken some inspirations from one or more older groups and added something of its own. Each group may be considered as the "Illuminati" of its era in the sense that it possessed the keys to the next advance of enlightenment. This, I believe, is all the Illuminati actually consists of, and I like to think that Chaos Magic is the obvious esoteric current for the postmodern era.

Q: As a scientist, you're naturally familiar with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. If it is true, and the universe actually is at some point going to reach a point of equilibrium, won't that obviate Chaos Magick?

A: The Second Law of Thermodynamics was derived from the behaviour of small volumes of gas in cylinders. It takes no account of such things as the strong nuclear force, gravitation, morphic fields, or the activities of information creating systems. I would be very surprised if the law has universal cosmic validity.

Q: You quote from Magick in Theory and Practice rather frequently in your works, and especially Liber Null, but you do not credit Crowley as the author of your thoughts. For example, "Metamorphosis" actually seems but a rewriting of "Liber Jugorum." Was Crowley a major influence on you?

A: Awful Aleister gets his credit in the chart mentioned above where an arrow leading from the "OTO" box which represents Thelema in general leads to the IOT box. I think I have read most of Crowley and he certainly is a major influence. However, I do not collect books, anything worth reading I pass to friends, the rest, I destroy. The only exception being Austin Spare; I keep the collected works as I feel I have yet to fully understand them. I'm more interested in Crowley's ideas than his personality. As Gerald Yorke commented to a friend of mine, "you would not have liked him if you had met him." Indeed, I'm sure that the few things Aleister would have requested of any of his contemporary followers had he still been around would have been wallet, worship, girlfriend and arsehole. This is not the style of mastership which interests me personally.

Q: I take it that A. O. Spare was an influence on you; for example, the section on sigils owes a lot to him, doesn't it?

A: Austin Spare has influenced me greatly, more than Crowley. For me, Spare's great triumph was in uncovering the basic sleight of mind trick which brings the sub or unconscious into play to effect magic. Once this is understood you have the key to the whole field of magic and the role of any particular symbolism becomes rather secondary. Obviously, most successful magicians must have understood the trick intuitively but Spare made it explicit with no bullshit and has thus allowed us to extend the technique in a planned and deliberate fashion rather by mere intuition or hit and miss procedures.

Q: In Liber Null, you advocate, as a tool for "liberating" from conditioning, the exploration of heresies, iconoclasm, anathemisms, etc., including "sexualites which are unusual for you." Isn't this just a rehashing of antinomian vama marga techniques designed to rid the initiate of his/her kleshas?

A: Yes, it probably is, the antinomian techniques are so essential that they must be continually rehashed to suit current needs. One only achieves "overstanding" rather than mere understanding of any so called truth or law or convention by appreciating the conditions under which it is false or inappropriate or unnecessary. My next book will deal with a more extreme form of antinomianism, the elimination of the concept of "being" from thought and speech.

Q: Reading the section on "Augoeides," I was struck by the similarities to Crowley and especially Magick and Theory and Practice and The Law is For All. What is your opinion of him, both as a man and a magus?

A: The further I look into the concept of Augoeides or True Will, the more my opinion hardens against the idea. One can certainly perform operations to achieve it, but I now consider it unwise to do so as it merely bloats one of our component selves to demonic size, at the expense of our full humanity. Crowley was certainly a man of varied and often extreme achievements. More of a mystic rather than a magus, in the sense that he neglected results magic. He was also a bully and an exploiter and an incorrigible self publicist. Although he attracted many interesting people to himself, the best of them seemed to break with him rather quickly. I rather fancy that I would have found him fascinating for a while, but that we would have ended up fighting after a while.

Q: My own theory as to how magick "works" is that by ritual, we reprogram our biocomputers with programs to do magick; that we do this by means of altered states of consciousness, which allow us to manipulate the information in the universal hologram through willed synchronicities. Any comment?

A: Quite so, but I'm sure we could argue for hours about what you mean by the "universal hologram" which would appear to have similar properties to my "morphic information in shadow time." Moreover, I would be pleased to concur with your use of the term "information." Clearly, the concept of occult "energies" is past its sell by date.

Q: When you observe that "the gods came out of Chaos" are you referring to the cosmonogies of the ancients, and in particular, the Orphics, Valentinians, etc.?

A: Not specifically, but I tried to imply that "the gods" arise from the same non-anthropomorphic "forces" which create the universe and us within it. This universe does not appear to be the work of a humanoid sentient deity to me, unless it has a very perverse sense of humour.

Q: I absolutely love the section (in Liber Null) on "Random Belief." You offer a number of reasons why practice of this art is beneficial, though you seem to ignore one rather obvious one: the ability to throw lesser mortals off-guard. For example, if you met a person and came onto them as a pagan polytheist one day and, three or four days later, you encountered them and began talking like a true believer in fundamentalist Christianity, you would be practising what Setians call "Lesser Black Magic," wouldn't you? (Mental sleight of hand.)

A: Yes, this can certainly have interesting effects, but I have often found it a good exercise to try and enter the paradigms of people I meet who hold extreme views and to keep taking those views a little further with each turn in the conversation until a positive feedback leads us into realms where the absurdity of the original premise becomes apparent.

Q: Were you aware that the statement "Nothing is true, all is permitted" has been attributed, I think properly, to Hassan Ibn Sabbah, the "Old Man of the Mountains" and notorious head of the Hashshashin (Order of Assassins)?

A: Yes, it certainly has been attributed to him, but with an understandably wide margin of possible historical error, and the context can only be guessed at. I like the statement very much; it has applications on many levels, but one should never forget that the consequences can be ghastly.

Q: To some, if not all quantum theories, isn't it literally true that "Nothing is true, all is permitted" (merely substituting the word "real" for "true")?

A: According to the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum physics, to which I partly subscribe, I think it would be fair to say, "There is no being, all is doing, and even that is a matter of probability."

Q: When you wrote "…the root of every emotion is also its opposite," were you aware that this is what Kraft-Ebbing said about so-called abnormal psychology?

A: I've not read Kraft-Ebbing; the ideas came to me mainly from Spare, who apparently used to refer to Jung and Freud as Junk and Fraud, even though he obviously was influenced by some of their ideas.

Q: Who was the sage you quoted as saying "Desire is the cause of sorrow" … Siddhartha? Patanjali? Both?

A: Siddhartha, I believe, although there is of course considerable debate about what the historical Buddha actually said. I think it would be fair to say that there are probably much greater differences between current Buddhist traditions than there are for example between Christian denominations. My point about emotional duality is that life is richer if we are prepared to take both sides of what is on offer rather than neither as many schools of Buddhism appear to suggest.

Q: In Psychonaut, you say, "It now seems that magic is where science is heading." Is this in keeping with the fact that the ancients knew intuitively what modern science is only now "discovering"? For example, the Sanskrit Hindu concept of non-duality will seen to have been "born out," so-to-speak, by Bohm's theory of the implicate order?

A: It's all very well to find some ancient metaphysics which equate roughly with modern physics, but the overwhelming mass of ancient theories now seem wrong. Some aspects of Bohm's theory attract me, but only when they don't pretend to be hidden variables; I prefer to allow an element of pure chance.

Q: Your observation that "the creativity of consciousness has mushroomed so enormously that the totality of human ideas seems to double with each decade." Wouldn't it be better to speak of it as doubling every 2-3 years?

A: The doubling period is undoubtedly shortening although much spurious novelty particularly in art and the soft sciences can hardly be called creative.

Q: In "Group Ritual," you observe that "a full-length black robe with hood is most excellent" for depersonalization of ritual, and add, "as is nudity…" Don't you think that the latter might actually be distracting and that one would be constantly reminded: "This isn't a god-form, it's chubby Harry with moles," etc.? In other words, nudity might be a hindrance?

A: You can quite easily get used to nudity so that it seems the most natural thing in the world, or you can reserve it for works of an explicitly sexual nature. In my order, we have used both strategies in the course of week-long meetings.

Q: Your writing on "Magical Combat" is, simply put, the best I've seen. Are you familiar with the "Battle of the Magicians" in 19th century France? Any comment?

A: Sorry, I'm not familiar with that one; apart from Eliphas Levi, French occultism seems to be a more or less closed book to us in the U.K.

Q: In your "Invocation of Baphomet," you mention an essentially Tantric rite of breathing on the muladhara chakra, identifying the latter as the peritoneum. Wouldn't this necessitate major surgery under a full anesthetic?

A: Permit me a joke or two. No matter how wild the celebration of the Mass of Chaos "B," I have never seen anybody actually try this particular ritual gesture! It's optional.

Q: You remark that "There is actually no scientific view of mind at all," and yet, even in the 1980's we had the views of scientists such as Dennett, Fodor, Wolf, Hofstader, Eccles et al. Have your views changed since the publication of Psychonaut?

A: The mind is what the brain does and that is more or less all there is to it, although one must remember to consider the actions of the shadow information fields with brain activity. Behaviourism is almost scientific on a phenomenological level, but limited in scope. Psychology cannot become scientific until we understand the actions of the brain in detail, and this is a long way off.

Q: In the Liber Nox section of Principia Magica, you characterise as "futile" the "heroic efforts currently being expended on projecting quantum physics into the big bang epoch to forge a Grand Unified Theory…" Are you aware that the American congress recently halted construction of a superconducting super collider and would you agree then, that the multi-billion dollar project wasn't worth the money it was eating up?

A: I am devastated the American congress misinterpreted what I wrote and cancelled the superconducting super collider. Particle physics is great fun and worth every cent it costs, but one of the things I predict that it will not do is prove the big bang hypothesis or yield a deterministic explanation of how the universe came into existence.

Q: What is your opinion of Sheldrake's morpho-genetic fields? Do his theories amount to a kind of neo-animism?

A: More of a neo-platonism than a neo-animism, really. The basic theory is fine, but I find no evidence for the persistence of morphic fields from material structures which have ceased to exist. This is a sore point between Sheldrake and I. He has not bothered to perform a simple and definitive crystalographic experiment which I have proposed which could settle the matter. His first book was brilliant, but the follow-up, Persistence of the Past, is a mass of assumptions which I find to be highly questionable.

Q: In Liber Null & Psychonaut, you say that astrology is bunk, yet you provide us with your own natal chart information at the very end of Liber Kaos - why the apparent contradiction? (By the way, Sun opposite Uranus indicates a person who is so self-willed he has difficulty getting along with others, often "rubbing people the wrong way," to quote my Visions software. You apparently like to have things your own way and to be high-strung.)

A: I have no difficulty getting along with others so long as I am in charge. I find that if I pick any sun sign at random the description fits me perfectly.

Q: As did our reviewer, Leo Viridis, I very much enjoyed your explication of the "Psychohistorical" model of the Aeons, though I tend to disagree that acausality, indeterminacy, and action-at-a-distance are, as you put it, "magical [rather than] material" theories. I think writers like Zukav and Capra, among others, have shown how very transcendentalist such theories are. Apparently you disagree?

A: I'd say that only theories within the classical and relativistic descriptions are purely material. Quantum theory, although arising from the scientific enterprise, has begun to touch on matters which I classify as magical. Transcendental theories are those which are neither provable nor falsifiable and they hold little interest for me.

Q: Why do you say that the model "does not predict the nature of the characteristic post-industrial technology for the impeding aeon"? Isn't it rather obvious that the technology is upon us and that it is information itself, or the use of it, leading "mind2 to its reductio ad absurdum: the "pure information" of the implicate order. One of Lily's paradigms of "god" is the computer. Comment?

A: Well, yes, in the absence of disaster, the future is a high tech information culture. However, there seems a general lack of awareness of just how vulnerable such a culture would be to the breakdown of its information systems. A single EMP bomb could reduce everything to a Neolithic level without killing anybody. Imagine a cash-free society that got a serious virus in the whole system. Concerning Lily's paradigm, didn't somebody once say that an ant had once said to him that God was rather like an ant except that it had two stings.

Q: The story of the star ruby and the sailboat in the Arabian sea ends with your musing on whether the octarine stone had been given to you as a curse. I thought you were free of superstitions?

A: A curse perhaps, in the sense that giving someone a Las Vegas poker chip might be considered a curse.

Q: In the section on references, you mention Robert Anton Wilson and suggest that the reader "read all his books." Do you know Wilson personally?

A: I've spent a couple of very pleasant evenings with Robert Anton Wilson and his wife, Arlene, at their place when I visited the USA. Probably the most interesting people of their generation that I have met. Bob has a mind like a ramjet; it sucks ideas in at one end, compresses and accelerates them, and blasts them out of the other. We also drank a great deal.

Q: Have you ever been accused of lacking a sense of humour? (This is a lie; you can be very funny, as, for example, when discussing blue magic - e.g. the myth that the rich are unhappy; that lotteries are only won by the poor because only the poor play and then lose their earnings in a couple of years. I also learned from this section why I am always broke: I hate money. Thanks.)

A: I like to think that I normally exhibit a rather dry sense of humour; in the USA, this is often missed, in Germany, it is rarely noticed at all.

Q: Do barristers and counsellors at law have any innate ability to practice Orange Magic?

A: I understand that in the USA lawyers attract vast amounts of wealth, power, and respect despite that they are seriously undermining the fabric of your society. Over here they seem to have a similar sort of status to undertakers or funeral consultants as you may call them. I suppose that anyone who speaks well with a forked tongue could be regarded as practising orange magic.

Q: I found your remark that homosexuality is "unsatisfactory, if the frenetic merry-go-round of partner exchanges in that discipline is anything to go by," rather curious. Are you aware that some homosexuals are monogamous and thus, put your observation into the category of overstatement?

A: Possibly an overstatement, but I notice that the conquests of promiscuous homosexuals are often a whole order of magnitude greater than what most promiscuous heterosexuals achieve, and good luck to them if that's what they like.

Q: Anything you wish to add?

A: No, but thanks for some interesting questions.