I don’t have any hard evidence, but based on reading The Chronicles of Amber I have suspected for a while now that Roger Zelazny was into chaos magic (or at least some kind of magic/occult), and specifically that he got into it between the Corwin (books 1-5) arc and the Merlin arc (books 6-10).
Having only read his Amber series, I was not aware of the implications from his other work, which Chaos Magic News is covering here. They show examples of Zelazny having a clear understanding of the nuts and bolts of chaos magic. It was nice to see I wasn’t the only one who had this idea about Zelazny and to discuss, so shout-outs to Co-Host!
The first thing that struck me when reading through, was that the way he wrote magic changed between books five and six. In books 1-5, magic in Amber was very D&Dish, very fantasy-setting, very “say the magic word and the thing happens”, and a lot of it is tied to the royal bloodline/pattern.
Starting in book 6 however, you have regular humans learning magic through practice or mentorship, occult bookstores, paintings of the tree of life, and if memory serves I’m pretty sure there was even a Crowley reference in there (let me know in the comments).
Even just the mention of the tree of life at all, and it’s specific parts, points to a magical practice in my opinion. Most non-magicians who think about magic do so in terms of stereotypical witches, Arthurian Merlin, or pop culture like Dungeons & Dragons. They don’t know the details of the Kabbalah.
One thing I didn’t consciously clock (but I probably should have) was pointed out by the All Roads Lead to Amber podcast (thanks): The number of magic-users dramatically goes up in the Merlin arc (books 6-10).
So not only did the quality of magic in the books go up, but the quantity did too.
All Roads Lead to Amber also pointed out that Zelazny’s idea for the series originated with Jungian archetypes and the tarot, which: ’nuff said:
The magic alone might not normally point to the author having an actual magical practice of their own. Maybe he just researched it for his book right? However when you read more about Zelazny himself the dots begin to connect.
When he had a personal interest in something it came through like this in his writing and he went the extra mile with the details. When he smokes his characters smoke, when he quits they dont. He had an absent father, his characters have absent fathers. He studied martial arts and writes his fight scenes as a martial artist: by going into a lot of details many people don’t care about, like subtle shifts in weight or adjustments of foot position of only a few inches.
In light of this, it seems to me that the sudden shift in detail with magic and the occult in his books point to a sudden interest on the part of the the author himself.
The Corwin arc (books 1-5) ended in 1978 with the publication of book five: The Courts of Chaos.
Chaos magic was “officially” kicked off in 1978 with the release of Liber Null, by Peter J Carroll.
The timetable is very suspicious to me. And if anyone would have found chaos magic at the time, it would be a guy like Zelazny who just wrote 5 books about magic and order/chaos, and was about to write 5 more that focused more on the chaos side of things.
It seems impossible to me that someone in the literary world like Roger, who wrote about magic and chaos, would have failed to notice Liber Null, which is how I suspect he got into it.
Also besides just the magic getting much more in line with how people actually practice, books 6-10 also introduces techno-magic, which is a featured heavily in chaos magic.
Not just any techno-magic either. This was around 1985 and computers sucked pretty bad at the time, yet Zelazny’s writing managed to fairly prophetic of where this was going. He had magical search engines, AI, AI generated trumps. Now in 2023 we are using AI chatbots as servitors and generating sigils for use in magic using AI art.
Now I don’t know many non-magic-users who can see a new piece of technology like a personal computer and their mind immediately goes to the logical and practical evolution of their use in magic.
This is another big tell to me. I feel like someone who simply wrote about magic may have added computers but not necessarily in a practical, workable, and prophetic way. It’s usually the people who practice that have a good sense of how practice will evolve.
The Chaos Star?
Still not conclusive proof since this was from the excellent RPG books and I’m not sure how directly involved Zelazny was with those, but it’s a little suspect that there’s a giant chaos star (the symbol of chaos magick) right on the back of Shadow Knight:
Impact on Chaos Magic
Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber has had a profound impact on my personal magical practice, which I will get into more detail about later.
I’ve also noticed in this book by Seth Cardorra he talks about lynchpins and hanging spells on the Logrus, which was ripped straight from Amber too.
Fair warning, this is exactly how it’s described in the Amber series, so if you’ve read Amber already you won’t get anything new from Seth’s book.
In conclusion, I still don’t have any hard evidence but it seems really obvious or at least very probable to me that Roger Zelazny practiced or was at least very aware of chaos magick, actual magical practices, and the occult.
I’ll be adding some of my personal practices that relate to Amber in the future.