Black magic versus white magic – it’s all about motive…

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?

11 thoughts on “Black magic versus white magic – it’s all about motive…”

  1. I agree that there is a grey line, at least in terms of our ability to discern the difference between the two, and motive is important, but healing is surely a brilliant example of white magic – what better example is there?

  2. For those who take karma very seriously, the illness may be necessary at that point in karmic evolution. Healing may postpone dealing with the karmic issues. It’s our worship of the body that makes healing so important. If we made the soul the primary importance, it would be way more important to help people find a way to deal with their problems – instead of relying on others to ‘heal’ their bodies.

    Then again – much that is called healing does no more than give temporary relief. Nothing wrong with that – but from a spiritual perspective the question is: does it create dependency?

    I’m not saying I agree or disagree with either position. I’m very much on the fence.

    I’ve been reading Jane Eyre and it’s amazing how far we’ve come from the simple religious attitude that sorrow is part of life and learning acceptance and forgiveness are the most important things.

  3. I agree that illness is a necessary learning experience and that’s why you can cure every illness but not every patient. But karma is being altered every moment of everyday and who is to say whether healing is or isn’t a natural part of that person’s karmic pattern?

    If it’s against someone’s karma to give them healing as you may interfere with their karma, then wouldn’t it also be bad to education them as that can hugely alter someone’s karma? Even being nice to the lady at the supermarket checkout could change their day for the better…

    By making spiritual truth available on your site I imagine you’ve changed some people’s karma for the better – and no doubt your own too.

  4. [Wow that was quick, I guess you’re online at the same time as I am?]

    Yes, in general I agree with that. It really is, ultimately, better to just do what good you can, when you can, instead of waiting till you’re perfect enough to do good perfectly. And the doing will speed up the perfection process more than any waiting could.

    BUT – when healing and money get mixed up, and the healing itself isn’t a permanent thing, things do get mucky in my view – aka grey instead of pure white magic.

  5. Parts of this post and comments reminded me of something taught by the Po Lun San Mei Lu in “The Sutra on the Eight Realizations of the Great Beings“:

    “The Buddha spoke of sickness and suffering as effective medicines; times of difficulty and accidents as times of freedom and realization; obstacles as liberation; the army of evil as guards of the Dharma; difficulties as required for success;….”

    Other portions, bring to mind the thought that Karma simply cannot be interfered with. Who, other than avatars, can presume to be able of judging properly? Yet, still, we have not merely the option, but the responsibility to exist, to act. We must create a positive vision, then use the powers alloted to us to attempt to act in accordance with that vision. In doing so we may erase previous Karmic debts and we may create new Karma, but only for ourselves.

    Whether our powers have the capacity to alter or positively influence the state of another’s experience will, of course, be constrained by that person’s Karma (both from the past, and that generated by his or her current state). Sometimes our attempts to help succeed, sometimes they fail.

    We cannot alter other’s Karma, though we may be an instrument whereby they come to alter it for themselves.

    The influence of such an act (of healing, suggestion or instruction) upon our own Karma, as the last paragraph in the blog mentions, is related to motive.

    The matter of “self-interest” refers to the interest as understood by the ego-image — that false belief that we are separate and not connected to the universe. From this person’s experience, as that false image is slowly challenged and altered, the assumption that the one must master the world (for survival, affirmation, belonging) also slowly dissipates. It is a frightfully long path of following an ideal in darkness before discovering that the universe is a benevolent place. This is a challenge everyone faces when setting out.

    In any case, when considering “doing good,” it is more important to try to create a good nature from which good acts arise, rather than merely acting good in a desire to be good. Returning again to the Sutra:

    “[The Buddha spoke of]…..the act of doing someone a favor as base as the act of casting away a pair of old shoes…..”


    [corrected slightly based on private correspondence with Brad – Katinka]

  6. I’m going to guess a bit here – that this sutra of yours is Tantrayana?

    It’s always hard, I think, to balance priorities. Doing people a favor is something very different from really helping them. Truly helping them is something different from seeming to help them.

    The famous saying that it’s better to teach a man to fish, than to feed him is one example of this. Better to help in a way that the person can go on helping themselves, than to get them through the night. But still, if it’s a choice between doing nothing and helping them through the night – one should obviously help them through the night.

    I’m sure there are enough examples of the Buddha helping others in the pali sutras and Jakata tales to support this.

  7. Actually, it is the version written by Thich Nhat Hahn, published in 1987. In the afterword, he writes that it is grounded in Mahayana and Theraveda viewpoints.

    Regarding the balance of your reply, it seems quite complete and would only be marred by carrying on. Thanks.

  8. I guess I guessed wrong. The subtitle of that book (I looked it up) says: ‘a Buddhist scripture on simplicity, generosity and compassion’ which sounds like it is more compassionate than you made it sound – I’m sure without meaning to.

    The nice thing about Vietnamese Buddhism is that it is so very eclectic: it has influence from all the different kinds of Buddhism still alive in Asia: Zen, Chinese, Theravada etc. Of course Thich Nhat Hanh is quite the master of combining them all in a way that is both wise and relevant for today.

    It sounds like this sutra was written before the divisions between Theravada and Mahayana were as complete as they have been for the past 1000 years. Global communication may change that again though 🙂

  9. Ah, I see how the construction and phrasing of my words has caused misunderstanding. No, it was certainly not intended to say that we shouldn’t try to help people, or sympathize with their suffering.

    In the context of the Sutra commentaries, the quotation given was admonition to each individual. That is, we each should look upon the experience of those situations in the way presented — in our own lives.
    By extrapolation, we can see that the suffering of others would help lead them towards enlightenment if they could take a similar view. But that does not imply that we should leave them to suffer. More appropriate, I think, would be to help with the immediate troubles and also attempt to show ways to put those troubles into the context of spiritual instruction (so they might avoid evoking such trouble again).

    However, the main intention had been to suggest that we cut through the doubts about whether we should help or not, because we cannot presume to know our role in another’s Karma. And, from that basis, to suggest that the only reasonable course is to develop our own good nature, and to always act from that nature.
    Which returns to the main point of the entire post — [good] motive. Which, I propose, derives from a good nature.

  10. Hello dear friends!

    All of it (to be read) appears to me very scholastic!
    You mention Mme. Blavatsky and the ‘Theosophycal Mvnt.’,
    as well as the Dalaï Lama (a politician), etc., etc., etc.
    Our western mind sounds exceedingly rational, carthesian?
    I believe spirituality has to be approached from a different angle?….Which one?……
    I’m looking for facts, real stuff!…I’m tired of theory!…..
    Everybody appears to be having an overexploded EGO?
    And that includes,….people walking down the streets as if they were bone with infused cultural knowledge?…I saw lots of these people while in South-East Asia, I went there twice, (mainly westerners)!!!
    Now, what do you know about real aura-cleansing and psychic-shield protection?
    Best regards,


  11. There is no such thing as ‘magic’ be it black so called or white so called, all manifests under Law ‘Cause and Effect’ thus all INTENTIONS good or bad must return eventually to the sender, Helen Blavatsky had to put up with foolish conjecture on all fronts and the ‘playing with words’ by the profain did not help with Her ‘Intentions’. Even the ‘idea’ of ‘good and bad’ are human concepts with little or no relation to REALITY. Blavatsky also regreted the word ‘Masters’, ‘only children have ‘Masters’ and any real Teacher would always guide the personality towards its own Soul ‘which She did’.
    Regarding any ‘Sheild’ let us not Learn of Love and Compassion and trust nothing outside of our own Soul which will open the correct Doors toward ‘HUMANITY’. Blessings

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