On Gray Magic: Why Black and White Magic Don't Exist

A wise person once said to me that there is no such thing as white or black magic, just as there is no such thing as green and orange polka-dotted magic. Although the second image may seem funnier to you, all of these notions are equally absurd. If I were to leave it at this, that would just be unfair, so I will have to elaborate. 

Honestly, writing about black/white/gray magic is my pleasure because there are simply too many people out there who believe in this misconception. I realize that most of you reading this may find my claim presumptuous, but I truly hope that you will understand my viewpoint by the end of this post. :)

What is Magic? 

I covered this topic in much more detail in my previous post entitled "Magick and Wicca" so I won't dwell too long on this section of the post. But just to recap, basically all the existing definitions of magic say the same thing; that magic(k) is the art of making something happen (or change) with a certain intent by directing energy. 

The very idea that magic really works makes sense to most Pagans and Wiccans because an integral part of Pagan ideology is the belief that everything is interconnected and that everything vibrates and thus has a specific frequency. The latter belief is also something that Pagans share with scientists. In any case, these beliefs explain how energy can be sent, received and how it circulates in general. Magic is the very process of sending/receiving energy (not the energy itself!!!). As everything is interconnected, it isn't a problem for this energy to travel from point A to point B. Also, when a practitioner performs magic, they realize that everything has its own frequency. The goal is to get two (ore more) objects/ideas to vibrate at the same frequency. When this is achieved, magic happens, or rather something is made to happen (and the practitioner's goal is realized).

Black and White Magic

Let's get this out of the way before we continue, shall we? Obviously, we are dealing with two opposites here. Many people will say that white magic is good magic and that black magic is bad/evil magic. 

White magic is also referred to as "unselfish"; this implies any form of magic which is performed for unselfish purposes such as some systems of healing (but only when the healing is done with the permission of the patient!), protective magic and some would even say love magic (but only if does not interfere with any individuals' free will). 

Black magic would, in contrast, be "selfish"; i.e. any magic which is performed for an individual's or group's personal gain (this would also by contrast include healing without a person's permission and taking away a person's freedom of choice and free will). Hexes and curses are common examples of "black magic".

As I have stated before, magic is the very process of sending/receiving energy, not the energy itself!!!. Energy is neither good nor bad; it is neutral and adaptable. Hopefully, it is more than clear from what has been said up to now that the practitioner's intent and goal are what make the magical process "good" or "bad". So a person's intent can be "black" or "white", but energy cannot.

The above definition of black magic leaves the practitioner between a rock and a hard place because most people perform magic in order to gain something (money, health) or to get rid of something bad in their lives (a bad influence, habit etc.). This is also personal gain, is it not? But how can anyone perceive this as bad if it has positive side-effects? Well, not everything is black and white.

Relativity and Gray Magic

"Why, then, ’tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
William Shakespeare, "Hamlet", Act 2, Scene 2

This quote is one of my personal favorites when it comes to ideas of black and white. It basically says that the notions of good or bad (i.e. white and black) are very relative. Each individual may perceive them differently and depending on their intent, goal and many uncontrollable external factors, something that seems good may turn out bad, but something thought of as bad may have very positive side-effects. 

Let me give you two examples to make this clearer. If they are a bit extreme, please do not take this the wrong way; I'm just trying to illustrate my point in the clearest way possible so exaggeration helps somewhat.

Imagine you are asked by a friend to perform some healing magic on a friend of theirs (let's call them X) who has some fatal disease. As we have said, healing magic falls under the category of "white magic", right? So what can go wrong? Well...a lot of stuff. So X gives their consent and you heal them (whether or not western medicine had anything to do with this is irrelevant now). X is now healthy and alive, so you did something good, right? Now imagine X kills a person or an animal, or to be more elaborate and realistic starts a business which ends up destroying forests, or personal lives, or harming animals etc. The possibilities are endless really. But did you do good if this one life ended up causing so much harm? A very gray area in my opinion.

Here's another example.

Imagine person A decides to do some "black magic" because they hate person B. A decides to throw a curse on B and cause him/her to fall ill. B is now sick in bed with a very high fever and incapable of going to an important business meeting which will determine their future. Now imagine that B always takes the bus at 7:30 a.m. to get to work on time. This particular day, B is at home sick and isn't on this bus. Now it just so happens that the bus crashes that day and that most of the passengers die (not to be pessimistic, but this is just hypothetical anyway). By cursing B, person A actually saved a life! So was this really black magic? The intent may have been bad, but the outcome was indeed positive from one perspective. 

So what's really happening here? When on paper, notions of "black" and "white" magic seem very simple and straightforward, but when transferred to reality, they are much much more complicated.

Obviously, one cannot speak of only good or bad. Everything we do can be placed in a morally gray area depending on whose perspective we take, what the initial goal was, what intent was behind the whole process and so on. Just to add a bit of humor to the post, here's how Adam Sandler puts it:
"Chemistry can be a good and bad thing. Chemistry is good when you make love with it. Chemistry is bad when you make crack with it."
Good and bad and consequentially black and white are indeed very relative. When something is relative, it must be considered in relation or in proportion to something else. Ultimately, it changes its characteristics according to the surrounding factors. 

Gray Magic and Gray Areas

So if magic isn't strictly black or white, it has to be something in between, right? The most logical thing to do would be to call it gray, so that's what everyone did! Even Raymond Buckland comments on this topic in his The Witch Book and says: "There is an area between the two [black and white magic] that is neither positive nor harmful; this is called "gray" magic". He claims that binding spells are an example of gray magic. These kinds of spells simply "bind" a person or rather stop them from speaking ab something that is potentially harmful to an individual or group. Buckland gives this example:
"A number of years ago, a group of professional men and women were investigating and experimenting with Ceremonial Magic, attempting to conjure one of the entities that supposedly had been invoked in centuries past by the ritualists of the period. The group was operating solely for academic reasons, yet an acquaintance of one of the would-be magicians, upon hearing of the project, thought he might make some money selling the group's story to a tabloid newspaper. He was apparently unconcerned that his expose might seriously harm the reputations of those involved.
When the magicians learned what the man was planning to do, they decided to stop him by using sympathetic magic. To do this, they made a poppet - a clay image of the man -and held a ritual in which they bound the figure and sewed-up its mouth. Subsequently, the man found that he was totally unable to tell anyone of what he knew, no matter how hard he tried. The spell had no other effect on him; it simply made him mute on that particular subject.
That binding spell is an example of gray magic. The man was not harmed, so it was not black magic. He certainly was not helped, so it was not white magic. Instead, the spell covered a gray area between the two.
I actually believe that ALL magic is gray. As with all actions, magic also has its consequences. Indeed, every single thing we do has consequences (some more serious than others). Some of the aftermath is out of our control; the Cosmos, karma, external factors or whatever you call it might have something to do with this, but whatever the forces governing the outcomes, we still play the passive role occasionally. 

Everything we do falls into a moral gray area because we can never fully control our actions and their outcomes. There are simply too many factors included in our lives which have their sticky fingers all over us...their interference is inevitable.

Assuming that you all want to be "good people" (as do I), you are probably asking yourselves the following question:

"So what can I do?"

When there are so many things influencing us and our actions, we may feel as if everything is out of our control. This isn't completely true. We can channel our intentions and actions in a certain direction and even redirect them later on. We can correct our mistakes, or at least try to. I will always say that intent is the most important part of magic, but also of any action we take in life. Intent is where it all begins; intent is the core of any action. Some of you may not agree with this, but hey, you're free to have a different opinion. :)

Just to end on a more positive note, here's a cute motivational picture for you!

Until next time. Yours,
Witch's Cat

3 komentara:

  1. The only problems I have with this article is that

    1. It doesn't state that "what magic is" is hat magic is under your paradigm". Paradigms vary from person to person.

    For instance, in my paradigm, mac is energy, and witchcraft is the method by which you direct the energy to an end goal. See how they differ? Another example is when you say "intent is the most important part of magic", and yet I can name, off the top of my head, about 5 established practices who operate under the paradigm that the materials or words you use are more important than the intent you put into it.

    It's always important to let readers know when you're talking about personal definitions and paradigms instead of using generalizing terminology.

    2. The act of labeling magic in colors has roots in racist mentalities and terminology... Not so much "selfish" vs "selfless" (this is actually one of only a handful of times I've ever heard anyone define black/white magic in such terminology. It's definitely not the common unless you're talking to people who are trying to rationalize "grey" magic).
    Instead of continuing to used color-based terminology (thus forcing us to continue ascribing to a binary system of labeling, even if "grey" is included) we should be taking the "morality is subjective" and "even "bad" things can be used to god ends" approaches... Which is sort of what you did here, except there's still the problem of you using the colored terminology to do it and promoting "grey magic".

    All in all, it's better to strike color-based systems and terminology from our language entirely due to the racist origins of it.

    1. I'm not quite sure what you meant by "It doesn't state that "what magic is" is hat magic is under your paradigm". Paradigms vary from person to person." because of grammatical issues in the sentence but if I understood correctly, you think that I didn't define clearly the difference between magic as in energy and magic as in hat tricks? I didn't do this because I explained the linguistic difference in the linked post (Magick and Wicca).

      As for your claim that witchcraft is the method by which a person directs energy, this is your viewpoint. From what I have ready, witchcraft is so much more; even though practicing magic is an important part of it, this is a whole belief system for itself. It is actually an entire practice, and not only one method.

      According to all the definitions of magic I have come across, as well as from my personal experience, magic is an entire process which only includes directing of energy. I'm not trying to belittle your opinions; I would simply here more thoughts that back up your opinions. :) if you don't mind of course.

      I'm assuming that you are referring to Ceremonial Magic and similar practices when you mention "established practices who operate under the paradigm that the materials or words you use are more important than the intent you put into it"? Maybe I was a bit unspecific in not mentioning that it is my personal standpoint that intent is the most important. Intent stems from thought when you look at it. Even words and actions have to come from thoughts. This is why I believe that words and actions cannot be the core of magic.

      As for your second point, I'm not sure what to comment on your not hearing about these ways of defining black and white magic. I have read and heard many people talk about them in this manner, although I did give additional definitions.

      Also, I see nothing racist in using the term "gray". If it can be used to refer to "gray areas" then why not gray magic? I understand why "black" and "white" are more sensitive terms which is all the more reason to move away from them.

      I used color terminology (gray magic) because this is an established term and it makes communication easier. For this same reason, I also used "black" and "white" but tried to put them in quotation marks to emphasize their realtivity.

      Since we're on the topic of relativity, I think it goes without saying that morality is subjective and also that "bad things" are subjective. But this is what relativity is all about, isn't it?

      As for your final suggestion, I understand where you're coming from, but as a linguist, you can't just strike out terminology just like that. You have to think of new and more importantly BETTER terms to replace the older terms. Unless you're willing to suggest any, I'd rather stick to "gray" for now because everyone understands what I mean when I say it. :)

      Anyway, don't take my response as an assault of some kind. I simply like to justify what I say and think as best as I can. :)

      P.S. it's lovely to see some quality, critical comments! :D Thanks!

    2. Sorry! Yes. Definitely the grammatical errors. I didn't realize I had missed some typos. The sentence should read: "It doesn't state that "What magic is" is what magic is according to your viewpoint/ in your personal paradigm"- which is why I had mentioned that in /my own/ viewpoint it differs and that's why it's important to make it clear when defining things that you're talking about personal definitions and viewpoints (though you get points for making sure they knew yours drew off of common definitions usually used. Most people don't do that).

      "Also, I see nothing racist in using the term "gray". If it can be used to refer to "gray areas" then why not gray magic? I understand why "black" and "white" are more sensitive terms which is all the more reason to move away from them."

      Sorry, I should have been more clear. that's an error on my part. "Grey" terminology itself is not a derivative of racist terminology like black and white magic are.

      The problem with "Grey" is that it usually feeds into the already established black/white binary system. It takes an inherently problematic binary set, and then uses its own language to sort of "dismantle it", by feeding into the terminology.

      "Moral Subjectivity" is saying the same thing as "Grey Magic", yes... But it's doing so without the foundation of an inherently problematic system behind it if that makes any sense.

      In terms of suggestions though, one thing I've seen suggested to not allow "grey" to feed into the problematic black/white dinary, is by calling what would usually be referred to as "black magics" as "unsavory magics" and "helping magics" instead- which leaves it open to greater interpretation of what is "unsavory", including "selfish" magics like what you talk about, and what "helping" is, including healing and protection, etc, even without the permission of the person.

      Though using the Unsavory/Helping binary usually decreases the need to use "grey magic" as a descriptor of magics that fall in between. Usually I've seen the "but what if something can be both" referred to being based off the subjectivity of morals. You could, plausibly, still use "Grey Magic" as terminology to describe those in between points, though.


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