"Black" Magick, "White" Magick

Many practitioners of magick use the term "black magick" to refer to magick which might be considered unethical, typically magick to harm or control others. "White magick" would be the reverse - magick which is ethical and/or harms none. Those who don't wish to ascribe a negative connotation to the former type of magick frequently refer to it as the "Left Hand Path"; however, "black" and "white" continue to be the primary terms of reference for these concepts. Following is an explanation of why I don't use these terms.

1. I think the racial connotations of the words "black" and "white" are a problem. We still live in a society with a lot of racial inequality and I consider it problematic to use these terms to describe "negative" and "positive" magick (respectively).

2. These are very simplistic and vague terms, which don't really convey a lot of information about the subject beyond a moral judgment. They divide magick into polarized categories which are somewhat arbitrary and relative. For example, I hear that Jane performed a spell to "bind" her friend's abusive partner and prevent him from injuring her friend. Some might consider this "black magick" because it controls another person; others might consider it "white magick" because it will protect Jane's friend.

3. One aspect of Witchcraft which many people appreciate is the emphasis on the balance between different aspects of life; the balance between light and dark is often cited as an example. If we truly believe that both light and dark are natural forces to be respected, then why would we associate "darkness" with a type of magick that many of us consider to be wrong or coercive?

4. Sometimes I hear the term "dark" applied to magick which is not considered wrong or coercive, but is considered more serious or more emotionally difficult. For example, I've heard the term "dark" used to describe magick having to do with: sex, coming to terms with death, or facing one's own shadow side. This may have a less negative connotation, but is still a vague way of describing something (since, as you can see, it may apply to a wide range of very different magickal activities). I prefer more concrete terms which convey more information to the listener.

For all these reasons, I don't use the terms "black" or "white" when describing magick. Rather, I try to use more accurate and specific terms to describe what I mean, such as "magick to control others" or "magick I consider ethical" or "magick that has to do with facing my fears."

Some time after writing this piece, I came across Judy Harrow's essay, Only If None Be Harmed: Getting Specific About Magical Ethics. This is a full exploration of exactly what my piece was meant to address, and I absolutely recommend it.

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