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§ 2. The Distinction between White and Black Magic 1

Having considered the possible standpoints from which the Rituals may be regarded, we come now to the distinctions that are made between them, and, first and foremost, to that which has been already mentioned and is artificially instituted between White and Black Magic. The history of this distinction

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is exceedingly obscure, but there can be no question that in its main aspect it is modern--that is to say, in so far as it depends upon a sharp contrast between Good and Evil Spirits. In Egypt, in India and in Greece, there was no dealing with devils in the Christian sense of the expression; Typhon, Juggernaut and Hecate were not less divine than the gods of the over-world, and the offices of Canidia were probably in their way as sacred as the peaceful mysteries of Ceres.

Each of the occult sciences was, however, liable to that species of abuse which is technically but fantastically known as Black Magic. Astrology, or the appreciation of the celestial influences in their operation upon the nature and life of man, could be perverted in the composition of malefic talismans by means of those influences. Esoteric Medicine, which consisted in the application of occult forces to the healing of disease in man, and included a traditional knowledge of the medicinal properties resident in some substances disregarded by ordinary pharmacy, 1 produced in its malpractice the secret science of poisoning and the destruction of health, reason or life by unseen forces. The transmutation of metals by Alchemy resulted in their sophistication. In like manner, Divination, or the processes by which lucidity was supposed to be induced, became debased into various forms of witchcraft and Ceremonial Magic into dealing with devils. White Ceremonial Magic is, by the terms of its definition, an attempt to communicate with Good Spirits for a good, or at least an innocent, purpose. Black Magic is the attempt to communicate with Evil Spirits for an evil, or for any, purpose.

The contrasts here established seem on the surface perfectly

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clear. When we come, however, to compare the ceremonial literature of the two classes, we shall find that the distinction is by no means so sharp as might be inferred from the definitions. In the first place, so-called Theurgic Ceremonial, under the pretence of White Magic, usually includes the Rites for the invocation of Evil Spirits. Supposing that they are so invoked for the enforced performance of works contrary to their nature, the issue becomes complicated at once, and White Magic must then be defined as the attempt to communicate with Good or Evil Spirits for a good, or at least for an innocent, purpose. This, of course, still leaves a tolerably clear distinction, though not one that I should admit, if I admitted the practical side of the entire subject to anything but unconditional condemnation. Yet the alternative between a good and an innocent object contains all the material for a further confusion. It will be made clear as I proceed that the purposes and ambitions of Magic are commonly very childish, so that we must distinguish really between Black and White Magic, not as between the essentially good and evil, but as between that which is certainly evil and that which may only be foolish. Nor does this exhaust the difficulty. As will also be made evident in proceeding, White Ceremonial Magic seems to admit of a number of intentions which are objectionable, as well as many that are frivolous. Hence it must be inferred that there is no very sharp distinction between the two branches of the Art. It cannot be said, even, that Black Magic is invariably and White Magic occasionally evil. What is called Black Magic is by no means diabolical invariably; it is almost as much concerned with preposterous and stupid processes as the White variety with those of an accursed kind. Thus, the most which can be stated is that the literature falls chiefly into two classes, one of

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which usually terms itself Black, but that they overlap one another.

In what perhaps it may be permissible to call the mind of Magic, as distinct from the effects which are proposed by the Rituals, there has been always a tolerable contrast between the two branches corresponding to Magus and Sorcerer, and the fact that the ceremonial literature tends to the confusion of the distinction may perhaps only stamp it as garbled. But this is not to say that it has been tampered with in the sense of having been perverted by editors. White Magic has not usually been written down into Black; Goëtic Rituals have not been written up in pseudo-celestial terms. They are, for the most part, naturally composite, and it would be impossible to separate their elements without modifying their structure.

Modern occultism has taken up the clear distinction and developed it Appealing to the secret traditional knowledge behind the written word of Magic--to that unmanifested science which it believes to exist behind all science--and to the religion behind all religion, as if the two were related or identical, it affirms that the advanced occult life has been entered by two classes of adepts, who have been sometimes fantastically distinguished as the Brothers of the Right and the Brothers of the Left, transcendental good and transcendental evil being specified as their respective ends, and in each case they are something altogether different from what is understood conventionally by either White or Black Magic. As might be expected, the literature of the subject does not bear out this development, but, by the terms of the proposition, this is scarcely to be regarded as an objection. For the rest, if many rumours and a few questionable revelations must lead us to concede, within certain limits, that there may have been some recrudescence of diabolism in more than one country of Europe,

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some attempt at the present day to communicate formally with the Powers of Darkness, it must be said that this attempt returns in its old likeness and not invested with the sublimities and terrors of the modern view. Parisian Diabolism, for example, in so far as it may be admitted to exist, is the Black Magic of the Grimoire and not the sovereign horror of the Brothers of the Left Hand Path, wearing their iniquity like an aureole, and deathless in spiritual evil. These enigmatical personages are, however, the creation of romance, as are also their exalted, or at least purified, confrères. Between Rosicrucian initiates of astral processes and the amatores diaboli there is indubitably the bond of union which arises from one fact: il n'y a pas des gens plus embêtants que ces gens-là.


13:1 It should be understood that this section contains what was said upon the subject, and seemed then sufficient to say, in the original edition. It stands now substantially as it then stood; the extensions are in the preface and in the introductory part.

14:1 I am not suggesting that the traditional knowledge was of value, but that, as a fact, it seems to have existed.

Next: Section 3: The Unprinted Literature of Ceremonial Magic