Black and White Magic

Welcome fellow souls to « The Human Family Crash Course Series, » a new project collaborated together by and Together we will be working on a different topic for each crash course; our seventh topic is focused on «Magic». Each topic will have ten posts with posts on Mondays and Thursdays. We hope you enjoy our series and we look forward to knowing how our posts have inspired you!

Before the Renaissance and the new acceptance of magic, there was the ruling Roman empire. All magic was rejected by Rome and its followers and thus magic entered into Europe on a negative note. It wasn’t until the 13th century, the beginning of the Renaissance, that people began to look at magic in a new light. Being that “renaissance” means rebirth or revival, it seems fitting that the rejection of magic was slowly diminishing. The study of magic was, in fact, being actively encouraged. The people of the renaissance began to believe that if the relationship between humans and the supernatural was strengthened it would be largely beneficial to human life. 

White magic is magic used to do good in the world. This new practice was used to further Christianity, as Christianity was presumed to be the ultimate good for everyone at the time. Much of what is believed of magic is based upon religion; paganism or primitive religions seem to better describe what some think of as magic and to equate magic with a miracle would even offend some. With the pre-renaissance fear of magic (paganism) greatly diminished and magic (as miracles or phenomena) becoming something able to contribute to Christianity, any person gifted in white magic (called a magus) became highly respected and revered (Jones). It was believed that a magus was a master of techniques that could bring a human soul closer to God and the more ancient the magic was, the more powerful it must be. 

Magic and science will always be at odds. The goal of science is to come up with rational explanations for supposed mysteries. Naturally, some of the mysteries that science attempts to solve are what Christianity deems miracles (magic).  The line between the two blurs mainly in an effort to define what magic falls under black magic and what magic (white magic) can be used to further Christianity. Black magic is generally defined as the use of spirits to effect events in the world . It is used solely for the advancement of one person, the practitioner, and thus did not fall into the moral category of Christianity. It is a commandment breaking practice because of the requirement to pray to spirits other than God. Ultimately the rise of magic, though blurred in places, depended entirely upon the churches’ preservation of magic that might serve it. 

According to Flint, the general belief was that magic was acceptable and even wonderful if it had some effect that would advance the church or cure illness. This is not to say that everyone of the time approved of magic. There were still people who operated on the theory that all magic has the potential to turn evil and become uncontrollable. These people generally believed that magic should be destroyed, some even went as far as saying that magi (practitioners of magic) were a product of the union of mother and son and therefore must be inherently evil. Not all of the fear of magic had dissipated yet, the lines between black and white were still blurred. How was it possible to know for sure who practiced what kinds of magic of who had what abilities?

Despite the leftover fear of magic from the Roman Empire, the Renaissance was a time for rebirth and discovery and among the many important happenings in this period of time was theatre. This was the time in which Shakespeare lived and wrote and it is evident in his plays. Perhaps Shakespeare was trying to suggest that you never really know people. Maybe it was a subtle reminder that the person standing next to you in the audience of the Globe could be secretly practicing black magic and you should probably NOT push him out of your way. It could be that he was just inspired by the general excitement of the Renaissance and wasn’t thinking one way or the other about what kind of magic was being practiced, perhaps he was just enjoying writing and didn’t care. 

Whatever Shakespeare may have been thinking while writing this play, whatever his veiled intentions (if any) were, this play is just another prime example of how magic was slowly accepted into the culture, be it black or white, and in a way became general knowledge. It was known that black magic was the use of spirits to effect events, and it was known (in truth or superstition) how to ward oneself against them. Magi were revered as practitioners of white magic because they were closer to God and knew ways to help others achieve that closeness and security.

Which magic is right, I do not know, I will leave that to the reader’s – Your discretion. Hope you find this article informative.

Reference : 

  1. Flint, Valerie. The Rise of magic in Early Medieval Europe. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990. Print.
  2. Jones, Thomas O. Renaissance Magic and Hermeticism in the Shakespeare Sonnets; Like Prayers Divine. Vol. 9. Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen, Ltd., 1995. Print.
  3. Mebane, John S. Renaissance Magic and the Return of the Golden Age. Nebraska: University of Nebraska, 1989. Print.

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