Unsolved:Black magic

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Short description: Magic used for evil and selfish purposes
Illustration by Martin van Maële, of a Witches' Sabbath, in the 1911 edition of La Sorciere, by Jules Michelet

Black magic, also known as dark magic, has traditionally referred to the use of supernatural powers or magic for evil and selfish purposes,[1] specifically the seven magical arts prohibited by canon law, as expounded by Johannes Hartlieb in 1456.[2] During his period of scholarship, A. E. Waite provided a comprehensive account of black magic practices, rituals and traditions in The Book of Ceremonial Magic (1911).[3]

It is also sometimes referred to as the "left-hand path". In modern times, some find that the definition of black magic has been convoluted by people who define magic or ritualistic practices that they disapprove of as black magic.[4]

The seven Artes prohibitae of black magic

John Dee and Edward Kelley using a magic circle ritual to invoke a spirit in a church graveyard

The seven artes prohibitae or artes magicae, arts prohibited by canon law, as expounded by Johannes Hartlieb in 1456, their sevenfold partition reflecting that of the artes liberales and artes mechanicae, were:[2]

  1. necromancy
  2. geomancy
  3. hydromancy
  4. aeromancy
  5. pyromancy
  6. chiromancy
  7. scapulimancy

The division between the four "elemental" disciplines (viz., geomancy, hydromancy, aeromancy, pyromancy) is somewhat contrived. Chiromancy is the divination from a subject's palms as practiced by the Romani (at the time recently arrived in Europe), and scapulimancy is the divination from animal bones, in particular shoulder blades, as practiced in peasant superstition. Nigromancy contrasts with this as scholarly "high magic" derived from High Medieval grimoires such as the Picatrix or the Liber Rasielis.


Practitioners of necromancy or demonic magic in the late Middle Ages usually belonged to the educated elite, as the contents of most grimoires were written in Latin. Demonic magic was usually performed in groups surrounding a spiritual leader in possession of necromantic books. One such case in 1444, Inquisitor Gaspare Sighicelli took action against a group active in Bologna. Marco Mattei of Gesso and friar Jacopo of Viterbo confessed to taking part in magical practices.[5]


The art of geomancy was one of the more popular forms of magic that people practiced during the Renaissance period. Geomancy was a form of divination where a person would cast sand, stone, or dirt on the ground and read the shapes. The Geomantic figures would then tell them "anything" based on geomancy charts that were used to read from the shape.[6]


Hydromancy, a form of divination using water, is typically used with scrying. Water is used as a medium for scrying to allow the practitioner to see illusionary pictures within it. Hydromancy originated from Babylonia and was popular during Byzantine times whereas in medieval Europe, it was associated with witchcraft.[7]


Aeromancy divination consisted in tossing sand, dirt, or seeds into the air and studying and interpreting the patterns of the dust cloud or the settling of the seeds.[8] This also includes divination coming from thunder, comets, falling stars, and the shape of clouds.[9]


Pyromancy is the art of divination which consisted of signs and patterns from flames. There are many variations of pyromancy depending on the material thrown into a fire and it is thought to be used for sacrifices to the gods and that the deity is present within the flames with priests interpreting the omens conveyed.[8]


Chiromancy is a form of divination based on reading palms and based on intuitions and symbolism with some symbols tying into astrology. A line from a person's hand that resembles a square is considered a bad omen whereas a triangle would be a good omen. This idea comes from the trine and square aspect in the astrological aspects.[10]


Scapulimancy was a form of divination using an animal's scapula. The scapula would be broken and based on how it was broken, it could be used to read the future. It was generally broken by heating it with hot coals until it broke.[11]


Main pages: Philosophy:Medieval European magic, Philosophy:Renaissance magic, and Philosophy:Ceremonial magic

Like its counterpart white magic, the origins of black magic can be traced to the primitive, ritualistic worship of spirits as outlined in Robert M. Place's 2009 book, Magic and Alchemy.[12] Unlike white magic, in which Place sees parallels with primitive shamanistic efforts to achieve closeness with spiritual beings, the rituals that developed into modern black magic were designed to invoke those same spirits to produce beneficial outcomes for the practitioner. Place also provides a broad modern definition of both black and white magic, preferring instead to refer to them as "high magic" (white) and "low magic" (black) based primarily on intentions of the practitioner employing them. He acknowledges, though, that this broader definition (of "high" and "low") suffers from prejudices because good-intentioned folk magic may be considered "low" while ceremonial magic involving expensive or exclusive components may be considered by some as "high magic", regardless of intent.[13]

During the Renaissance, many magical practices and rituals were considered evil or irreligious and by extension, black magic in the broad sense. Witchcraft and non-mainstream esoteric study were prohibited and targeted by the Inquisition.[14] As a result, natural magic developed as a way for thinkers and intellectuals, like Marsilio Ficino, abbot Johannes Trithemius and Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, to advance esoteric and ritualistic study (though still often in secret) without significant persecution.[14]

File:Sprenger - Malleus maleficarum, 1669 - BEIC 9477645.tiff

While "natural magic" became popular among the educated and upper classes of the 16th and 17th century, ritualistic magic and folk magic remained subject to persecution. Twentieth-century writer Montague Summers generally rejects the definitions of "white" and "black" magic as "contradictory", though he highlights the extent to which magic in general, regardless of intent, was considered "black" and cites William Perkins posthumous 1608 instructions in that regard:

In particular, though, the term was most commonly reserved for those accused of invoking demons and other evil spirits, those hexing or cursing their neighbours, those using magic to destroy crops, and those capable of leaving their earthly bodies and travelling great distances in spirit (to which the Malleus Maleficarum "devotes one long and important chapter"), usually to engage in devil-worship. Summers also highlights the etymological development of the term nigromancer, in common use from 1200 to approximately 1500, (Latin: niger, black; Greek: μαντεία, divination), broadly "one skilled in the black arts".[15]

In a modern context, the line between white magic and black magic is somewhat clearer and most modern definitions focus on intent rather than practice.[12] There is also an extent to which many modern Wicca and witchcraft practitioners have sought to distance themselves from those intent on practising black magic. Those who seek to do harm or evil are less likely to be accepted into mainstream Wiccan circles or covens in an era where benevolent magic is increasingly associated with new-age beliefs and practices, and self-help spiritualism.[16]

In Western religions

The lowest depths of black mysticism are well-nigh
as difficult to plumb as it is arduous to scale
the heights of sanctity. The Grand Masters of
the witch covens are men of genius – a foul genius,
crooked, distorted, disturbed, and diseased.

Montague Summers
Witchcraft and Black Magic

Main pages: Religion:Magic and religion and Religion:Satanism

The links and interaction between black magic and religion are many and varied. Beyond black magic's historical persecution by Christianity and its inquisitions, there are links between religious and black magic rituals. For example, 17th-century priest Étienne Guibourg is said to have performed a series of Black Mass rituals with alleged witch Catherine Monvoisin for Madame de Montespan.[17]

The influence of popular culture has allowed other practices to be drawn in under the broad banner of black magic, including the concept of Satanism. While the invocation of demons or spirits is an accepted part of black magic, this practice is distinct from the worship or deification of such spiritual beings.[16] The two are usually combined in medieval beliefs about witchcraft.

Those lines, though, continue to be blurred by the inclusion of spirit rituals from otherwise white magicians in compilations of work related to Satanism. John Dee's sixteenth century rituals, for example, were included in Anton LaVey's The Satanic Bible (1969) and so some of his practises, otherwise considered white magic, have since been associated with black magic. Dee's rituals themselves were designed to contact spirits in general and angels in particular, which he claimed to have been able to do with the assistance of colleague Edward Kelley. LaVey's Bible, however, is a "complete contradiction" of Dee's intentions but offers the same rituals as a means of contact with evil spirits and demons.[18] LaVey's Church of Satan "officially denies the efficacy of occult ritual"[18] but "affirms the subjective, psychological value of ritual practice",[18] drawing a clear distinction between.

Black Mass

Main page: Religion:Black Mass

A Black Mass is a ceremony typically celebrated by various Satanic groups. It has allegedly existed for centuries in different forms and is directly based on, and is intentionally a sacrilegious and blasphemous mockery of, a Catholic Mass.[19]

In the 19th century the Black Mass became popularized in French literature, in books such as Satanism and Witchcraft, by Jules Michelet, and Là-bas, by Joris-Karl Huysmans.

Modern revivals began with H. T. F. Rhodes' book The Satanic Mass published in London in 1954, and there are now a range of modern versions of the Black Mass performed by various groups.

In other cultures


A Voodoo doll
Main pages: Religion:Louisiana Voodoo and Religion:Haitian Vodou

Voodoo has been associated with modern black magic; drawn together in popular culture and fiction. However, while hexing or cursing may be accepted black magic practices, Voodoo has its own distinct history and traditions.[20][16]

Voodoo tradition makes its own distinction between black and white magic, with sorcerers like the Bokor known for using magic and rituals of both. But their penchant for magic associated with curses, poisons and zombies means they, and Voodoo in general, are regularly associated with black magic in particular.[21]

In popular culture

Concepts related to black magic or described as black magic are a regular feature of books, films and other popular culture. Examples include:

  • The Devil Rides Out (1934) – a novel by Dennis Wheatley – made into a famous film by Hammer Studios in 1968.
  • Rosemary's Baby (1968) – a horror novel in which black magic is a central theme.
  • The Craft (1996) – a horror film featuring four friends who become involved in white witchcraft but turn to black magic rituals for personal gain.
  • Harry Potter book series (1997–2007) – black magic spells and curses are referred to as "the dark arts" against which students are taught to defend themselves. Made into a film series (2001–2011).
  • Sherlock Holmes (2009) – the first of the three Sherlock Holmes films directed by Guy Ritchie includes elements of black magic although they are later discovered to be false.
  • "Black Magic" (2015) – lead single by British girl group Little Mix, on their third studio album, Get Weird.
  • Odiyan (2018) – an Indian Malayalam language film starring Mohanlal. It is based on the legend of Odiyan, who in Kerala folklore are men with the ability to shape-shift into animal form and assassinate or scare people in the dark.
  • In the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian state media claimed that Ukraine was using black magic to fend off the Russian military, specifically accusing Oleksiy Arestovych of enlisting sorcerers and witches as well as Ukrainian soldiers of consecrating "weapons with blood magick".[22][23]

See also



  1. Melton 2001.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Heiduk, Herbers & Lehner 2020, p. 834.
  3. Waite 2011.
  4. Petersen 2009, p. 220.
  5. Herzig 2011, p. 1028.
  6. Thorndike 1923, p. 110.
  7. Luck 2006, p. 312.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Luck 2006, p. 311.
  9. Thorndike 1923, p. 319-321.
  10. Luck 2006, p. 314.
  11. Luck 2006, pp. 311-312.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Place 2009.
  13. Evans-Pritchard 1931.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Zambelli 2007.
  15. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named summers
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Lewis 1996.
  17. Summers 2013.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Mathews 2009.
  19. Kosloki 2018.
  20. Long 2002.
  21. Owusu 2002.
  22. Gault 2022.
  23. van Brugen 2022.

Works cited