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"Nothing is Real, Everything is Permitted."

Neat saying you got there. What the f*ck does it mean?

4 months ago

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While belief is just a tool to be utilised by a chaos magician as and when it is necessary, we often ignore the wider question of an ultimate truth out of simple expediency.

We assume it to exist in some nebulous form while we force reality to give up its secrets one hard earned drop of gnosis at a time.

Yet all the paradigm piracy, experimental psychology and bleeding-edge science inevitably leaves the seeker faced with the disquieting idea that reality as a constant may not even exist at all. And for those who stand beside the eight-pointed star, this has ever been the case.

The aphorism 'nothing is true, everything is permitted' was the core concept that drove the early chaos magick movement towards becoming a path which held personal autonomy and freedom of expression above all other considerations.

Championed by occult authors such as Peter J. Carroll and seen quoted on esoteric message boards since the earliest days of the internet, few are aware of the muddled path by which the phrase made its way from medieval folklore to Western occultism.  

Rumoured to be the final words of Hassan-i Sabbāh, an Eleventh Century Islamic leader and master of the dreaded Hashshashin, the phrase is accepted to have first seen print in the West in Friedrich Nietzsche's highly influential philosophical work 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra' published in parts between 1883 and 1885.

That this was no simple grammatical coincidence is further supported by his eagerness to highlight the sect again within the pages of 'On the Genealogy of Morality' some years later. This book, published in 1887, held the assassins as one of the highest examples of a free society that existed without the need to accept anything approaching absolute facts.

The quote would then return to its origins on the lips of a dying man within the pages of ‘The Master of the Assassins’ by Betty Bouthoul.

This French language work from 1936 was a historical biopic of sorts, detailing both the life of Hassan-i Sabbāh and the intrigues which beset his people. Like much early Twentieth Century literature, it can be viewed as overly romanticised and no doubt highly inaccurate, published long after both the commander of the Hashshashin, and his small but influential sect, were lost to the sands of time.

Largely forgotten in its original form, Bouthoul's book would still receive reflected glory through the writings of William S. Burroughs, an author who himself forms an important intersection between counterculture and the occult arts. That both Burroughs and Nietzsche have been cited as inspiring some of the philosophy which fed directly into the early chaos current is obviously no coincidence, nor should the inherent memetic power held within the simple aphorism that brought these otherwise unrelated thinkers together be underestimated either.  

Yet the ease with which this simple sentence can be incorporated into an otherwise general narrative leaves many who encounter it mystified by the worldview it describes.

Said confusion is further compounded when the realisation dawns that the Hashshashin left very few written records, and as such, their leader may never have really uttered this phrase at all. Indeed, the statement that nothing is true may itself be false, thus adding weight to its own premise and further fuelling an endless circle of ever deepening paradoxes.

Just like Crowley's much misquoted 'Do what Thou Wilt,' Hassan-i Sabbāh's supposed last words prove useless without context or self-control.

Far from offering an excuse for excess, that nothing is true instead pushes the chaote towards excellence, reminding them reality is ultimately malleable based on their actions and interactions within the communal spaces society creates. While everything may be permitted, freedom of choice can become equally limiting without the knowledge to move towards the end result in the most pragmatic way possible.  

Many who stand beside the eight-pointed star accept that the idea of an ultimate truth is irrelevant to what they do.

As a result, Chaos Magick demands a level of self-sufficiency that seems to be sorely lacking in other spiritual systems, as well as a keen eye for finding the correct tool for the task at hand.

Yes, having too many options can lead to the same paralysis of action that blights the lives of those who have run out of ideas. But it is highly unlikely that even the most eclectic of chaotes will have such a poorly defined sense of self that they find it impossible to pattern their responses to situations in a way that makes sense - even if it is just to them.

Please leave a comment and let us know what you think!

Gavin Fox

Published 4 months ago

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