The witchcraft community is a varied and diverse place, just like the people who belong to it. It can generally be said thought that there are three main approaches to witchcraft, once labeled white, gray, and black. The vast majority of people prefer to identify as white or benevolent witches, those who focus only on positive energy, healing, blessing, and connecting to nature; they usually strongly emphasize the light. The second largest group are the gray or moderate witches who favor a balance between dark and light; they generally seem to prefer the positive but are willing to use the negative methods when necessary. Finally there are the black or dark witches who are the fewest in number, publicly at least, and who focus on the darkness and on knowledge of hexing and destructive magics.
Obviously this is something of an over-simplification, as very few people are limited to only one view and each tends to blend into the others to some degree. And naturally in discussing it the different paths must be generalized – there will of course be exceptions and slightly different views in each one. It’s also important to note that each approach, light, gray, and dark, all can have followers who use their witchcraft in abusive ways. While it’s easy enough to picture the dark witch as someone who is simply cruel and enjoys hurting people, those same qualities can be found in those who follow the light exclusively. All approaches have benefits and risks. For those of us drawn to honor the Morrigan, undeniably a complex Goddess herself, it is worth taking the time to look at the different paths and how we relate to them.
The most popular path – publicly at least – is the light path. People drawn to this approach tend to see witchcraft as a tool for improving the world, for healing, blessing, and protecting. The light is a path rooted in love and so its emphasis tends to be on manifesting love; people who follow this path generally also follow the Wiccan Rede “an ye harm none, do as ye will”, the three-fold law, and karma. The Wiccan Rede can be interpreted in different ways, from forbidding all harm of any sort under any circumstances, to suggesting that no action should be taken without great consideration of the consequences first. The three-fold law, sometimes also called the law of return, states that the energy we put out returns to us, so that those who do good receive good. The western-ized idea of karma goes along with this and encourages people to be responsible for their actions through the belief that actions create similar responses; those who do good things have good karma and good things happen to them, or on a wider scale in the next life they bring this good energy forward with them. Light witches often refuse to do specific kinds of magic that are considered manipulative, believing that it is wrong to interfere with another person’s free will.
The strength of this path is that it encourages kindness and gentleness. It is a path of love and it encourages people to be positive and loving in life, to heal themselves and others, to bring happiness and optimism into the world. Spirits are dealt with, but usually only those perceived of as entirely beneficial or helpful to people. Plants need sunlight to grow and the world needs light witches to nurture and nourish that fragile sense of joy that is so easily lost. The weakness of this path is that it can tend towards intolerance of those who are not similarly inclined towards unadulterated “goodness”. It can also encourage a rejection of non-light oriented methods that can result in fear and judgment of those methods. Many people are drawn to this path because of its focus on positive things but is often misunderstood by those who don’t follow it who may believe it is shallow, fluffy, or too passive.
Those who follow the Morrigan and walk a light path may find it especially challenging to reconcile her harsher aspects with their rejection of anything harmful or manipulative. There may instead be an emphasis on the Morrigan’s sovereignty, prophecy, and land goddess aspects.
The second most popular path is the gray. A gray witch straddles both the light and the dark emphasizing balance between the two. Gray witches tend to reject either extreme and instead seek to walk in moderation, although in actual practice they tend more towards favoring a light point of view. Some gray witches do follow the Wiccan Rede or believe in the rule of three, but others prefer a morality based in the idea that if you need to cause harm you will, if you have no other choice and with an understanding that there will be repercussions to you. The common sayings which appeal in this path
is “you can’t heal if you can’t hex” and “only act if you are willing to pay the cost”. Gray witches tend to respect both life and death as powerful forces and emphasize the importance of incorporating both sides of human nature into the witch’s practice. Some people practice gray witchcraft as a blend of both light and dark, taking practices from both, while others see it as the line between the two. Magical practices in gray witchcraft often emphasize what may otherwise be labeled Hedge witchcraft, Green witchcraft, or wild crafting, with an emphasis on connecting to the spiritworld through a variety of practices and on applying magic in diverse ways. The gray witch may or may not work to help the larger community or be more personally focused.
The strength of this path is its avoidance of extremes and its willingness to explore a variety of methods and options. Gray witches tend to be open minded and appreciate open mindedness in others. Spirits are dealt with that are mostly benevolent towards people but those that are more ambivalent may also be worked with. The gray witch is necessary in the community because they serve as a bridge between the light and the dark and they, in many ways, represent the most organic approach to witchcraft. The weakness of this path is that moderation can sometimes feel like stagnation and there may be a struggle with feelings of indecision as the gray witch’s morality and practice is not necessarily rigidly set, leading to a need for situational ethics. Many people who follow this path are drawn to its moderate approach, but it can be misunderstood by outsiders as being both hard to define ethically and also reflecting an unwillingness to commit to one side or the other. Some people may criticize gray witches for wanting the public acceptance of the white witch while also having the darker magic of the dark witch.
Followers of the Morrigan who are drawn to gray witchcraft often like to focus on her connections to the Fey, who are also ambiguous in nature, and her psychopomp and justice aspects. Gray witches generally have no issues with any of the Morrigan’s associations and may find honoring her empowering.
The final category is dark witchcraft, the smallest public group and the most misunderstood. Dark witches themselves fall into a variety of sub-groups, but generally people are drawn to this approach because it doesn’t shy away from using the types of magic others consider dangerous. Witches who follow this path often prefer to rely on their own judgment to decide right from wrong. Consequences from actions are seen as the direct results of the actions themselves, rather than an energetic return and value is often placed on doing what is best for the self and those closest to the witch, rather than a more nebulous greater good. Magic and spellcraft are viewed as utilitarian tools, which like an ax or knife can, help or harm depending on how they are used. Knowledge is often valued, even of things viewed as dangerous or unpleasant. As with gray witches the belief is often that you should be willing to pay the cost of any action taken, but where a gray witch may feel that you can’t heal without knowing how to hex a dark witch might say you shouldn’t know how to hex if you aren’t willing to use what you know when needed. Although they tend to have a negative reputation few Dark witches will cause harm without a strong motivation to do so; understanding things like pain and suffering and having an affinity for understanding the darkness in others tends to engender a sympathy towards others along with a cynicism. Dark path witches generally believe that only by confronting and accepting the darkness can a person find strength and overcome fear. Things that other people may avoid or find uncomfortable like death, decay, and negative emotions are things that dark witches are often drawn to; where, for example light witches are empowered by sunlight or moonlight, dark witches look to the darkness and shadows for peace and empowerment. Dark witches often practice some form of necromancy, and emphasize working with the dead, spirits of various sorts, and protective magics.
The strength of this approach is its willingness to confront what others avoid and to deal with the darker aspects of life and of magic. Dark witches tend to be extremely open minded and accepting of people’s eccentricities and flaws, but also tend towards cynicism and introversion; this can be a strength or a weakness. Dark witches who work with spirits will usually work with a wide variety of types,
including those others might avoid. Dark witchcraft also has a strength in its emphasis on the importance of facing and overcoming our own negative qualities. People may be drawn to this path for different reasons, including a personal preference for the macabre, a desire to confront their own fears, or a need to feel empowered. A major weakness of this path is a risk of arrogance in the practitioner and a possibility of becoming too focused on power. This path is often misunderstood by others as being nothing but shock value, evil, or focused on malicious harm for its own sake.
Followers of the Morrigan who are dark witches may tend to focus on her war and battle aspects along with her role as washer-at-the-ford; her lighter aspects such as fertility are less emphasized. Dark witches who honor her may also acknowledge her aspects relating to madness, battle magic, and cursing.
These three paths, light, gray, and dark, have many differences and many similarities – but ultimately for those of us who share honoring the Morrigan her worship should be something which holds us together. We should learn to see beyond the differences in approach and philosophy to the person and the ways that we all ultimately seek the same thing. Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to justify our own beliefs that we lose sight of the value in other people’s, and also the truism that there is no one way that is ideal for everyone. As Nietzsche said: “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist”.
And as to me, well I spent many years as a light-path witch and then, to quote Pratchett and Gaiman’s book “Good Omens” I “sauntered vaguely downwards” into dark witchcraft with a brief stopover in gray witchcraft. That, however, is another story.
About: Morgan Daimler has been a witch since 1991, an Irish reconstructionist since about 1994, and heathen since 2006. She also practice seidhr. She loves studying other paths and other ways of doing things, and enjoys discussing religion, philosophy and spirituality with people from diverse paths.
She is the author of a number of books, including The Morrigan: Meeting the Great Queens, Irish Paganism: Reconstructing Irish Polytheism, and The Treasure of the Tuatha De Danann: A Pocket Book of Irish Myth. See more about her and a full listing of her work on her Amazon author page.