The emotional dynamics of black magic
Fascination with black magic drives vampire stories. And not just vampires. The Dark Arts are a lure across fantasy and horror fiction. Mad scientists, tampering with Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, are a staple of science fiction.1
This fascination can go beyond fiction, into real life. Some “left-hand path” Tantrikas, occultists, and Neopagans practice “black magic.” Similar emotional dynamics play in various “dark” subcultures: goth fashion, consensual sadomasochism, body modification, extreme musical genres like death metal and industrial noise, and political ideologies such as anarchism, neoreaction (the “Dark Enlightenment”), and revolutionary communism.
I share this fascination, to a degree. I have spent much time on the margins of such subcultures, although I’ve never identified with them. I’ve been more interested in figuring out why I find these things interesting (despite their repellent and absurd aspects) than in practicing them. I think I do understand now:
Black magic can be a powerful, sometimes positive, method of personal (and even social) transformation.
Two obvious objections:
- Black magic is evil.
- Magic is silly make-believe; it isn’t real, doesn’t work, and is a waste of time.
I will suggest that:
- Black magic can be harmful, but not always.
- Black magic can’t raise the dead or kill enemies, and is often an ineffective fantasy, but it can radically alter your psychology, sometimes for the better.
So, it is far from the ideal method of transformation. However, it may be the only method available, particularly if you have internalized an excessively rigid ethical code. Black magic is one way of overcoming your own fundamentalism. So, I think blanket condemnation or ridicule is a mistake.
There is enough to say about the emotional dynamics of dark culture to fill many books. I intended to write just a web page, but it grew out of control, so I’ve split it into several. They are listed at the bottom of this page, after the footnote.
- 1. The excellent TV Tropes article on the Dark Arts lists “artificial intelligence research” as an example. This delighted me when I first read it, since I spent my twenties as an AI researcher. While writing this page, by coincidence, I watched Terminator 2 for the first time. Now I am feeling distinctly queasy, because the line of research I and a few others initiated, around the time the movie was made, is now being used to program autonomous military machines. Perhaps I had better send a robot back in time to kill myself.