Friday, March 18, 2016

The Colors and Techniques of Magical Problem Solving

Recently on a Facebook forum, the concept of Left-Hand path was raised. A person suggested that a Left-Hand practitioner of magic was a person who worked magic, but was an atheist. That's not a definition I've ever heard of. Another poster suggested this article on Left-Hand Path. While it does speak of the general community's fear or disdain for Left-Hand practitioners, it described them as people who work a magic outside of the mainstream practice or that are trouble-makers. I'm not a fan of trying to define a thing by what it isn't.

So here's my take on Left-Hand vs Right-Hand magic. I also need to point out that I studied Left-Hand path off and on for about 1.5 years with a mentor whom I greatly respect. Not everyone will agree with my take on this, but this definition makes sense to me.

Simply put, Left-Hand and Right-Hand magic describe magical techniques or styles that define how you approach a problem or how to achieve a goal.

  • Right-Hand (white magic): increase the probabilities of achieving the goal. 
  • Left-Hand (black magic): remove obstacles in the way of achieving the goal.

So let's use an example to illustrate this style choice. Let's say you are applying for a job and decide that you will perform a spell to boost your chances of getting it.

  • Right-Hand technique: a few days before the ritual, you could craft a spell that ensures that the weather on the day of your interview is bright and shiny, that your interviewer wakes up refreshed, happy, and in a good mood, ready to be impressed by what you have to say.
  • Left-Hand technique: you craft a spell that removes the other applicants from the running, which reduces the number of people you need to compete with for the position.

Now I know that the Left-Hand technique sounds pretty ominous, but this is where your personal ethics come into play. You don't need pianos to fall from the sky to squish your competitors and remove them from the job pool. You could just have them find work in other places or have them no longer be interested in the job, which in effect, removes them as obstacles. How they get removed is completely up to you and will reflect your values as a human being. Make the right choices.
Note: Remember that the magic can't do all the work. If you want that job, you still need to be well-dressed, clean, alert, and arrive on time. No amount of magic is going to help you if you show up late or disheveled. 
Let's look another more ambiguous example. Let's say that you have a friend who is very sick and you decide that you will perform a healing spell.
  • Left-Hand technique: you do a spell that banishes the sickness from the body, removing the negative effects that make your friend sick.
  • Right-Hand technique: you do a spell that boosts the person's immune system, allowing his own body to fight off the illness.
One aspect I discovered during my studies is that Pagans tend to practice both paths in their application of magic, but rationalize it as they see fit. In the Sick Friend example, a Pagan may say "Destroying the sickness is not Black Magic because it promotes health!" That's using the result to justify the action, and historically, this type of philosophy rarely ends well.

The Left-Hand path is all about removing the problem, so it would be very left-hand pathy to remove the sickness and very right-hand pathy to boost the immune system. These are just different angles and techniques to solve a problem, but it's your ethics that determine the flavor or the morality of those techniques, not the techniques themselves.

When you boil it down to its essence, Magic does not have color, nor does it have morality. It is a tool that is wielded by the practitioner, but it has no nature of itself. You can use a hammer to build a table, or you can use a hammer to kill a person, but in either case, the nature of the tool does not change. This is why we do not have Black Carpentry to build guillotines and catapults and White Carpentry to build tables and chairs.

I'm not a huge fan of the color associations. They are very North American in their nature and come with tons of connotative baggage. Why is White Magic good and Black Magic evil? I'm not going to explore the historical significance of those choices here, but I'm sure you can find articles on the InterWebs that describe both.