Blavatsky was rather fond of the concept of ‘black magic’ and I’ve had this on my list of topics to write about ever since I started this blog. But it’s a difficult topic, a messy one. For one thing – I’m not too happy about labeling people, especially into such (literally) black and white categories. So first let’s get some things out of the way. When I talk about black magic, I’m not talking about skin color or the devil. Instead I’m talking about ideals.
The ideal of white magic is that of serving all of humanity. Anything partial to a group of people or one person is not white magic.
The ultimate black magic is selfish: it’s about me, myself and I. But Blavatsky included all forms of magic that were partial to a particular country or group in this. So if one prays for the United States to win out in Afghanistan, it could be considered black magic. That is – everything done at the expense of another is not pure hearted. Everything done with the good of all parties in mind IS pure hearted. I think that’s what the Dalai Lama meant when he said:
There is no real distinction in the long run between the true self-interest of a person and an unpleasant duty. There were unfortunately people who persisted in doing things which were going to harm them above all as well as others. He spoke with quiet compassion about these ignorant though cunning evil-doers. It would be most wrong for us, he implied, to condemn them or to dismiss them out of the horizon of our sympathy, as they did more harm to themselves than to other human beings, although they could not see it. Sometimes people were able to see the truth but through selfishness they could not apply it. There were also people who were utterly misguided in their view of what was in their own interest. If only they could know, if only they were not so short-sighted through their own desperation and through their own false concepts, they would see more clearly what was in their interest and that this could not be so very different for different peoples. In all conflicts the combatants ought to realize that their ultimate interests were the same, but this was exactly what was so difficult. Therefore, it was always the people who could stand outside a violent conflict in any part of the world to-day, who, by their awareness of this ultimate identity of interests between both sides in terms of their common survival and in relation to the whole of humanity, could be an active force for good. They could act as a check on the recurrent and ever-increasing nature of evil, generated by folly, selfishness and above all short-sightedness.
I like how the Dalai Lama puts this – he makes it clear that selfishness is ultimately not in anyone’s best interest, and at the same time reminds us that people who don’t know this are to be pitied. He has often repeated this idea after that conversation: that it is ultimately very selfish to be a good person, because karma rewards goodness.
Very specifically – in any war situation it is in everybody’s best interest to fight for peace, but most people are incapable of seeing that when in the process. This unfortunate psychological fact has kept people fighting in Ireland for so long and are now keeping people fighting in Israel/Palestine and in the Pakistan/Afghanistan/North-East India region.
Theosophists have sometimes used the term ‘black magic’ to condemn people they disagreed with. This is not a very compassionate thing to do. Instead it would be wiser to be aware of the wrong people are doing, while at the same time doing as the Dalai Lama suggests: be sympathetic, even while condemning their actions.
I would like to add that with power of any kind comes responsibility. For ordinary people it is quite natural to be partial, but for a president it’s a problem if he favors one group over another. Similarly spiritual power comes with responsibility too – the pope is answerable for not understanding today’s issues. Advertisers are answerable for spreading unhealthy messages and getting people to smoke when it’s been clear for years that smoking is unhealthy.
From a theosophical perspective any misuse of power is black magic. Misusing occult power is included in that. But where does use begin and misuse start? It’s a grey line. Some would go so far as to say that any interference with karma is misuse.
This means that healing is already near the grey line. Marion Zimmer Bradley portrayed this classic occult approach very well in her novel The Fall of Atlantis. It’s not for nothing that many people distrust the pharmaceutical companies so much: they have a vested interest that interferes with healing sometimes. But this vested interest is there for anybody who asks for money for doing ‘spiritual’ work, which is why money is such a loaded subject in these circles.
So it comes down to motive and self-interest. But who among us can afford to not pay some attention to self-interest?