The Black & White Magickal Dichotomy

by John L. Steadman

In H. P. Lovecraft & the Black Magickal Tradition, I define black magick as simply magic performed for the purposes of gaining knowledge and/ or power, as opposed to white magick, which is centered on the goal of spiritual attainment.  It is scarcely necessary to observe that this distinction has no connection with any concepts of morality, or with simplistic notions of “good” or “evil”.  And certainly, black magick should not be understood as evil, nor should white magick be interpreted as good.  In Lovecraft’s fictional works, his view of the magickian is definitely black, but not necessarily evil.  Lovecraft’s magickal practitioners perform their craft either to gain knowledge or power; the fact that some of these practitioners end up becoming evil is largely beside the point.  For example, Joseph Curwen, in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1927), performs necromancy to raise the spirits of dead persons; this activity is not inherently evil.  However, Curwen also commits wholesale murder; this, of course, classifies him as an evil man. Thus, the goodness or the wickedness of Curwen is based almost exclusively on his behavior and not on his beliefs.

Two prominent magickal practitioners have elaborated on the black/white dichotomy in magick and tried to widen the traditional views of magick by arguing that magickal practice should embrace the whole spectrum of colors.  The late Isaac Bonewits, founder of Ar nDraiocht Fein, the largest neopagain Druid organization in the world, in Real Magic (1993), Chapter Five, “Black Magic, White Magic, and Living Color,” argues that magickal practice can be defined to correspond to the psychic energies fields , or so-called auras, that are presumed to surround the human body. Bonewits’ system of correspondences introduces a variety of different “types” of magick: red magic, orange magic, yellow magic, green magic, blue magic, indigo magic, purple magic, ultraviolet magic (which he further identifies with traditional black magick), and brown magic.  But Bonewits himself rightly admits that magick, in itself, has no color and that his system is merely a series of associational devices.

The Black & White Magickal Dichotomy

As we examine the different types, it becomes apparent that such a classification is an unnecessary complication and elaboration, since each type of magick can be placed into the two categories that I identified in the previous paragraph.  Red magic, for example, involves blessings and curses; this is, obviously, magick performed for knowledge or power.  Indigo magic, on the other hand, is performed to control the weather, or to astral travel; again, this is magick performed for knowledge or power.  Blue magic, unlike the others, focuses on religion and spirituality in part, and thus, this type of magick could be interpreted as white magick.  After perusing all of the different types of magic articulated by Bonewits, it quickly becomes clear that such an elaboration is not necessary at all; the black/white dichotomy, as defined previously, is sufficient.

Peter J. Carroll, author of Liber Null & Psychonaut (1987) and Liber Kaos (1992), and Chancellor of Arcanorium College and Past Grandmaster of IOT Pact, posits a similar system in Liber Kaos, Part 2: The Psychonomicon, Chapter 4: Eight Magics.  Here, Carroll raises the issue of auric energy fields, just as Bonewits did, but then he sensibly drops this issue, seeing that auric fields are largely irrelevant to magickal practice, and argues instead that there are eight different types of “magics”, as he calls them, which can be attributed to the seven classical planets, plus Uranus, and which signify emotional states.  Carroll’s list is certainly creative: he gives us octarine magic (an instinctive drive toward magic); black magic (destruction and entropy), blue magic (material wealth); red magic (combat and aggression); yellow magic (changes to the ego or personality; illumination); green magic (love magic); orange magic (wit and intellect); and purple magic (sex magic).

All of these categories, however, can be placed into either the white or black categories and thus, Carroll’s system is, like Bonewits’ system, an are an unnecessary elaboration.  Yellow magick is clearly white magick, while the other seven colors are focused on black magick, i.e. on power, knowledge, or a combination of the two.

For more discussion of the black-white magickal dichotomy in Lovecraft’s work, as well as a full examination of Lovecraft’s connection with the great black magickal systems in the western world, the Vodou cults, the Wiccan religion, the Typhonian order, the Church of Satan and the Chaos Magick Pacts, please read H. P. Lovecraft & the Black Magickal Tradition, released by Weiser Books on September 1, 2015


John L. Steadman is the author of H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition, a scholar of H. P. Lovecraft and western occultism and has been a magickal practitioner for more than thirty years. He is currently a college English professor at Olivet College in Michigan.

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