What is white magick? Is there a positive side of the occult? Here’s a handy guide to a term that’s often thrown around but seldom well-defined.
Students of the occult, particularly new ones, often come across the phrases “white magick,” “black magick” and “chaos magick.”
These distinctions can be confusing, especially since different people can define them very differently, and the definitions have changed over time as magical culture has changed.
In practice, you will actually very seldom hear advanced magicians using these terms at all, since advanced magicians tend to be far more concerned with the phenomena of consciousness itself rather than its manifestations (we’ll also cover this more advanced approach under “high magick,” later). However, getting clear on the distinctions between white, black and chaos magick can be immensely useful and even life-saving for the beginning magician.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at each of them. This will be the first in a series of articles dedicated to discovering the differences between these practices and uncovering what they mean in a modern context.
I’ll start with white magick, the most overlooked of all three—it’s perhaps little surprise that it’s always the dark side (Crowley, Satanism, edgy grimoire bullshit, etc. etc.) that gets all the press, completely eclipsing the light side to the point that many so-called students of the occult don’t even believe it exists.
After all, the light side is hard work for next to no personal gain, while the dark side promises quick results (while of course neglecting to tell you about the massive and crushing personal cost). And in a me-first gimme-now culture, few have the time or patience to do the right thing.
So let’s take a look at the light side of the force, shall we?
What is white magick?
White magick is spiritual work undertaken for the benefit of humanity, rather than the pursuit of the selfish goals of the individual.
Instead of figuring out how to satisfy her or his selfish desires (which are only transitory and illusory anyway), the white magician undertakes efforts aimed at spiritualizing their own being, and works to benefit the whole of humanity as their larger self as a coefficient of this individual spiritual progress.
If we broadly define magick as efforts undertaken to change consciousness (both one’s own and that of others), then we can find many clear examples of this approach in many different spiritual traditions throughout the world.
The Indian yogis have perhaps most perfectly developed this line of pursuit. By the eight limbs of yoga—yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi—the aspirant slowly, surely and steadily works to file down their individual ego, untangles their karma and works at replacing their own desires with the singular pursuit of bettering the lot of humanity. This selfless service is, indeed, its own entire branch of yoga, entitled karma yoga, the yoga of action, in which the yogi pursues unselfish action in the world, for the benefit of humanity, as a way to work out their own negative karma accrued over many past lives.
Likewise, Buddhism, taking a cue from the earlier and broader tradition of Indian yoga and Vedanta, highly emphasizes selfless service for the benefit of humanity. Buddhist monks, especially those of the Mahayana and later traditions, are extolled that their own meditations and work towards enlightenment must be undertaken in the context of the goal of the enlightenment and liberation of the world, and that there can be no individual liberation without the liberation of others.
Christian ethics deeply emphasize the concern with others over the concern for self, as potently symbolized by the crucified Christ; Christ’s eleventh commandment, superseding Moses’ original ten, is to love thy neighbor as thyself. From this, many Western esoteric orders take a direct cue. The Rosicrucians, for instance, were commanded to profess nothing but the ability to heal the sick, and otherwise worked for the advancement, benefit and liberation of all humanity, which manifested as the birth of science and the Western Enlightenment.
How do you practice white magick?
Practitioners of white magick, or the right-hand path, tend to be adherents of organized spiritual groups or societies. You can find them in churches, meditation circles, prayer groups, guru satsangs, Buddhist sanghas, Sufi orders or, these days, keeping a low profile in non-profit organizations.
White magick, in whatever form, tends to be practiced internally through various techniques that aim to still the individual ego and bring it closer to divinity, the transpersonal source. It is practiced externally through activity in the world aimed at bettering the lot of humanity—physically, mentally or spiritually.
This is in sharp distinction to so-called “black magick,” which is solely focused on strengthening the individual ego to the detriment of other beings, and is remarkably limp when compared to white magick techniques. A far worse class of offender than the standard adolescent “d00d Slayer!!1!” black magician, however, is a white magick practitioner who falls from the path and whose pathologically inflamed ego, empowered by real occult techniques, becomes an immense hazard to everyone around them, as well as to the world at large. (See: Aleister Crowley.)
(There are, of course, many accounts of black magicians having a change of heart after seeing the disastrous suffering their evil and selfish efforts have caused others and themselves. These “black-hat” magicians have consequently repented and become fiercely dedicated aspirants of the right-hand path. One of the most famous examples is the Tibetan sorcerer Milarepa, who lamented his use of magick for evil and became a Buddhist yogi of the Kagyu school after meeting his mentor, Marpa Lotsawa, who put the young edgelord in his place and showed him a higher path.)
Power on the right hand path is power that the aspirant is lent to better the lot of humanity with, and is given in direct co-efficient to their surrender of their own ego and lower self, as well as their strict adherence to the guidelines and ethical constraints of their path (see: The 8 Buddhist Precepts, first two rungs of Yoga, 10 Commandments, etc).
All serious progress on the right hand path occurs within the constraints of serious spiritual orders, who are (or should be) stringent in the extreme, both in who they admit and the constraints they place upon their initiates, particularly as they progress through the lower grades and their egos and impurities fry off, which can lead to disaster if not carefully managed.
This last tricky bit leads to the next question, which is:
What are the pitfalls of white magick?
All this white magick stuff sounds quite noble, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, there can be pitfalls with this approach, just like any other, so don’t get too excited yet.
The first is ego inflation. This is a gigantic danger. It’s easy for somebody taking this approach to get a messiah complex. You’ve probably met people who’ve decided that they’re on a “special” quest to save the world, or that they’re a (or even, God forbid, the) Messiah. We tend to avoid these people, and they’re so common as to be a bad joke. Undoubtably they think that they are uniquely blessed or gifted with some type of special power or dispensation to save the world.
The second danger is spiritual arrogance. This is similar to the first danger, but slightly different: You’re so convinced that you’re one of the good guys that you start attacking the people you perceive to be bad guys. This is particularly obnoxious when people are actually a lot less spiritually advanced than they think they are, and have decided that they have the “one true path” and that everybody else is wrong. This is where we get religious war and jihad from; it’s a slippery slope between deciding you know the truth and what’s best for humanity and attempting to enforce your ideas with violence.
The third danger is cultism. This, again, relates to the previous few pitfalls. People on the “right hand path” tend to generate large amounts of charisma and personal magnetism, which can quickly lead to attracting armies of sycophants, and such would-be gurus can quickly start falling into the primary danger of top-down management, that is, of surrounding themselves with people who only tell them what they want to hear. This can also become dangerous for would-be acolytes who find themselves drawn into the cults of personality that spring up around right-hand path personalities and consequently get sucked up into the maelstrom. Many times such would-be right-hand path gurus think they are far higher up in the world’s spiritual hierarchy than they actually are, and can crash and burn when they get too big for their britches.
The fourth danger is taking on way too much. Similar with the messianic approach, it’s happened more than once that right-hand pathers decide to make themselves responsible for healing all the (perceived) suffering in the entire world. Next thing they know, they’re drowning at the bottom of a landfill of toxicity. To paraphrase the great Ramsey Dukes, to consciously become a white magician without proper training or boundaries is kind of like signing up to work a call center to field the complaints and suffering and misery for all of humanity. This leads to excessive martyrdom, as in “look how much I’m suffering… why doesn’t anybody notice or care?” Bad scene, man.
The fifth danger is becoming a wing-nut New Ager. White lighters are not known for their critical thinking skills. They are often very willing to take on any old world view as long as they “feel good” about it. The next thing you know they are surrounded by crystals and airbrushed images of ascended masters… and not really doing any actual work in the world.
The sixth danger is spiritual bypassing. This means thinking that spirituality, mysticism or even martyrdom will fix all of the individual’s problems, inadequacies and neuroses. This is not the case, because spirituality does not heal the personality. At best, it simply bypasses it, and at worst, it inflates it to disastrous dimensions with spiritual arrogance and ego inflation. (For more, see the great book Shadows on the Path by Abdi Assadi.)
The seventh danger is polarity. It’s extremely easy to get into a dualist or even Manichean trap on the right-hand path: That is, of seeing the world as black vs. white, us vs. them. In practice, this can result in paranoia, conspiracy theories and grand overarching cosmologies unconsciously designed to explain why life just isn’t working out the way you wanted it to. (For more on this, see my article The 7 Biggest Mistakes People Make When Learning Magick.)
The cure for many of these pitfalls is to realize that you are not special, and that there’s more than enough work to go around. Nobody has the weight of the whole world on their shoulders. The human experience is a team effort; if you want to join the team of people helping, there’s plenty of ditches to be dug and toilets to be cleaned out if you’re ready to lend a hand.
Finally, immersing oneself in the real world instead of disengaging from it into spiritual flights of fancy is often a good idea. That means working a normal job, eating right, seeing a therapist to heal your personality, maintaining healthy adult relationships and generally not running around declaring yourself the Grand Poobah of Dimension X.
How do I begin learning white magick?
The best way you learn “white magick” is by not doing any.
What I mean by that is that real progress on the right-hand path begins (and ends) with establishing yourself in a solid discipline of meditation, prayer or similar practice within a legitimate spiritual tradition, under the watch of real spiritual authorities… not trying for superheroics right out of the gate. It might be best to start with your own spiritual tradition, the one you were raised in. (Or the one your ancestors were raised in; as many these days grow up in the postmodern void with no access to living traditions, uncovering this can be a major work in and of itself.)
Much of this is dependent upon karma—sincerity is key, and when the student is ready, the master appears.
The discipline of meditation and prayer should be solidly grounded and persisted in with zeal for years. Goal the first is fixing yourself and sorting your own shit out. That in itself should comprise “the whole of the law” for aspirants to the Path.
In the absence of (or, preferably, as a preliminary to joining) a living tradition, Magick.Me, our online school for magick, offers the basics of magick in an easily digestible format that is available to the public. Of particular interest should be our Hardcore Meditation course, which teaches the basics of mastering the mind and the eight limbs of yoga. These courses are not offered in a way to suggest that they are part of a real school, tradition or carry any kind of final spiritual authority. They are informational products offered to the public to impart the basics and as a goad to establishing a foundational practice. That said, I’m very proud of them and think that they are excellent first steps on the path.
If you’re interested in learning more, I hope to see you in class at Magick.Me!