Color associations are complex, multi-layered things, which are predominantly based on cultural and personal understanding. They are not immutable or universal, and the meanings change depending upon the circumstance in which they are used. In the context of Black Lives Matter, white color magic is not necessarily positive or beneficial.
The color red is an excellent example of the varied symbolism of colors. It can be associated with things as diverse as love, rage, action, change, passion, good luck, bad luck, cursing, blessing, revenge, fighting, conflict, and more. All of those meanings are valid, and can be used in spellwork.
When you are choosing red as your working color, you are usually appealing to just one or two or these associations, but not all of them. This is because you don’t usually need every meaning, and the meanings can be contradictory. Context of the spell tells you which meanings you are appealing to, and which meanings are being ignored or omitted. That doesn’t mean red no longer has those meanings, just that those meanings don’t apply in that particular situation.
Black and White Function as Colors when Working Color Magic
I’m just going to get this out of the way for those readers who want to dismiss the whole issue by stating that black and white aren’t really colors. Regardless of the physics of light and the creation of black and white, we view black or white the same was as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, or any other color. Our brains interpret them as colors, and treat them as colors, even in magical context.
When you work color magic and utilize black or white for symbology in your workings, you are treating them as colors. So, for the purposes of this article, we will call black and white “colors”.
While it is true that in Western society white is normally seen as the color of justice and purity, any color can potentially be used to symbolize justice. Context matters. In the context of Black Lives Matter, you are working against white supremacists and entrenched systems of structural racism and violence against black people, which are symbolized by….
White is the color that symbolizes the stranglehold of white supremacy on current legal systems, and their entrenched idea of “justice”, which oppresses people of color. White is the color that symbolizes white-as-default in so many aspects of our society. White is the color that symbolizes the oppression of black people. White is the victory color of the oppressor.
In a more general sense, white can also be the color of surrender, peace, calm, clarity, uniformity, conformity, diversity, hope, power, direction, understanding, knowledge, wisdom, and more. Those meanings matter, and you can of course appeal to them in your workings, even those involving Black Lives Matter. However, given the greater cultural context of “white” in the struggles of people of color, in this particular case I strongly recommend using another color to represent “justice”.
If all you have are white candles (they are the least expensive and most easily available color), then of course use your white candles! In that case, I recommend NOT appealing to color magic in the candle color, and just using the candle as a candle. If you want to add in color magic, you can dress your candle or your altar or working area with the color(s) you want to use for your spell.
Unpacking Racism in Black and White Esoteric Symbolism
On the whole, black and white magic is a fallacy. Magic is a tool of manifestation and change, and all magic will have beneficial and detrimental effects (even that spell to get that great job for yourself means other people miss out on the same job). Even if you want to examine the “good” or “bad” effects of a spell, labeling it “black” and “white” is an inaccurate description which appeals to racism. Unfortunately, the symbolism behind the beliefs associated with black and white magic are profoundly entrenched in modern occult, pagan, and witchcraft practice, and thus factor into color magic when using black and white in our spellwork.
Black is the color of beginnings, endings, the womb, growth, the underworld, the misunderstood, the marginalized, the unseen, death, life, mystery, distraction, nurturing, retribution, fertility, and more. It is a profoundly complex color which can represent innumerable aspects of existence ranging from the birth of all reality out of primordial soup, to the most hidden and buried aspects of ourselves, to the nurturing fertility of the unseen, to the dead, to the ending of all things.
Most of those associations are positive, so why is it that we automatically think of curses and baneful magic when we think of “black” magic? The answer lies in racism, and racist symbology, and the cultural use of “black” as a synonym for “evil” in Western society. Correspondingly, the association between white and justice stems from the cultural use of “white” as a synonym for “good”.
In reality, a lot of good comes from things we associate with black, and a lot of evil comes from things we associate with white. Buying into the traditional associations helps to support and reinforce the very systems of racial oppression that we are trying to destroy through social activism and social justice magic.
If that makes you uncomfortable, good! It is never comfortable to confront foundational beliefs and habits. If you are uncomfortable, that means you can change how you view black and white and good and evil, and with time and effort, you can undo your symbolic associations which are damaging to black people and their ancestral magics.
If you are interested in a lengthy and thorough read on the history and problematic nature of black and white modern esoteric symbolism, I recommend reading White Light, Black Magic: Racism in Esoteric Thought by Brandy Williams. It is a free .pdf article, and well worth your time.
Using Red for Justice
Using red to symbolize justice is anything but conventional, but the changes we want to affect are anything but conventional. The changes we seek are an upheaval of how law enforcement and justice has worked for centuries. The conventional systems are a huge part of the problem.
If using a different color than red makes more sense to you, by all means use that color. Take some time to meditate on the meanings of the colors you are considering, and make a conscious decision about the symbolism you want to use in your spells, regardless of the color(s) being recommended by other people.
I am predominantly using red to symbolize justice. I am seeking radical changes to the justice system and law enforcement. I am passionate about it. I am angry about the injustices which have been perpetuated for centuries. We need as many people as possible to actively fight for change. I love those who have been oppressed, and want to see them freed from the structural violence which has too often defined their existences, and their deaths.
Red is the only color with symbolism that includes all of those associations: radical change, passion, rage, conflict, fighting, and love. Red can symbolize justice in this context because love, rage, fighting, and passion are needed to facilitate the radical changes necessary to achieve even a sliver of justice for people of color. As an added bonus, red can also symbolize luck and good fortune, and we sure can use as much of that as we can get.
Using Black to Uplift, and for Peace, Health, Protection, and Revelation
I am using black for most of my spellwork to uplift black people, and to support the health and protection of protestors and people of color. I am doing this not just because I am working to uplift and aid black people, but because I want to reinforce the idea that black does not equal evil or bad. Black is beautiful. Black is nurturing. Black is good. We need to nurture the truth that black is good in order to achieve equality.
We are all born out of darkness. We spend the first nine months or so of our existences snuggled and safe in our mother’s womb, where light cannot reach. Seeds usually sprout in the darkness of soil. Insects are born out of dark nests, and caterpillars transform into butterflies within the dark sanctity of their cocoons.
When we need respite, we retreat to cool, calm, dark places where we can recharge and replenish without all the distractions of busy life. We often call upon the darkness of the night, and the power of the moon, even when it is cast in darkness, as a central part of our practices. Darkness can hide monsters, but so can light.
Black is an ideal color to represent protection and health for protesters and people of color because darkness is protective and nurturing. It provides a hiding place, where we can have peace from oppression and engage in self care before stepping back out into the fray. It gives us sanctuary and calm where we can regroup and support each other. It is anathema to and ward against the whiteness of race-based oppression.
Black is a color of power. It is the power of root, and of liminal spaces. It has the ability to build amazing things, completely unseen until the time is right to burst forth and change the face of the earth. It is a foundation upon which new realities can be formed.
Black is a color of resilience and perseverance. The brighter the light you shine, the darker and deeper and stronger the shadows become, even if they are pressed into the smaller recesses. The only time you don’t have shadows is when you have a light in the center of a room, and nothing else is in that room. Life is not an empty room. It is a very full room, and no matter how hard you try to eliminate shadow, the effort itself creates more shadows, amplifying and casting them in multitudes of directions.
Light is blinding. Many white people across the United States are finally waking up to the fact that their white privilege has blinded them from seeing the oppression faced daily by people of color. They were so busy basking in the safety provided by whiteness that they couldn’t see into the shadows where the oppressed had been stuffed away, out of sight and out of mind.
Have you ever been in a room where the lights were so bright that you couldn’t see? Have you ever stood under stage lights, so bright that you couldn’t see the rest of the darkened room? We need to dim the lights on white privilege, so we can see into the shadows and finally comprehend, as a country and a people, exactly what we have been allowing to happen under the bootheels of the justice system.
So, I use black to uplift black people and work to bring them the equality all people deserve. I use black to protect those who would be harmed by racism and systems of oppression. I use black to heal those who need to retreat from the fight so they are able to fight again. I use black to dispel the spotlight of white privilege so everyone can see what is happening to black people in our society. I use black because I do see color, and those colors are beautiful. I use black because I work for a new beginning and the birth of a new society where white privilege no longer exists, and people of color have the same opportunities as anyone else. Even if I never see it in my lifetime, that is the goal.
Using White Color Magic Associations Productively
Even though it is an error to use white to symbolize justice for Black Lives Matter, there are other associations which can be helpful and beneficial when using your white candles for social justice workings.
White is the color traditionally used to indicate surrender on the battlefield. Focus on that symbology, to manifest the surrender of white supremacy and systemic racism, so that they may give way to more equitable systems.
Since white is the color of the established systems of white supremacy, you can focus on the flame of the candle burning away the strength and efficacy of those forces. As the white candle disappears, so too does their power.
Symbolic meanings can be deeply personal, so if you have another meaning that makes sense for your practice, by all means use it. Just be mindful of whether or not that association reinforces the existing systems of racial oppression in the context of Black Lives Matter. If it does, use a different color which can represent your intent.
Meditation on Color Symbolism
Are you uncomfortable with ditching the traditional symbolism of black = bad and white = good? Do you want to get more comfortable with that idea, and change your symbolic associations?
This meditation is just one way to consciously change your symbolic associations, and it is not sacred or set in stone. Feel free to change any details you would like, or use completely different methods. The important part is that you consciously consider the symbolism you use, increase your understanding of where it is accurate or problematic, and internalize changing your symbolism so it more accurately reflects the worldview you want to have.
In addition to these meditations, you can also use methods of shadow work to address changing symbolic understanding. Symbolism around black and white is culturally formative, meaning that we tend to internalize that symbolism as very small children, making it subconscious and part of the shadow self. That is part of the reason it can be so stubborn to change, but makes it especially important to change or we will unknowingly pass it on to the next generation.
I recommend having a journal or some paper handy, so you can jot down thoughts. If you do these meditations repeatedly, you can look back over your notes and examine how your thought process is changing over time. Breaking down and reforming symbolic understanding is a long process. It is unlikely you can change it in just one session.
You can make this meditation as simple or complex you want. You can start and end with a full ritual circle, using all the candles, incense, and tools, or you can just sit down in your favorite chair and contemplate for a few minutes. Use whatever meditation technique works for you. Frame the meditation with whatever works best for you, your practice, and your situation. The most important part is to do the work.
If you have trouble visualizing, place in front of you something which is your focal color. This can be literally anything, so if you don’t have a candle of the focal color, you can use a ribbon, scrap of colored paper or cloth or felt, a piece of paper with the color drawn or painted on it, or even a mundane object of the right color.
If you are using a formal ritual or circle casting, do that first.
Get comfortable, and take a few deep breaths to center and focus before you begin the meditation.
Without judgement, contemplate the meanings that come to mind when you think of the color. Acknowledge the fact that before you can change your symbolic understanding, you need to understand what must be changed.
Make a list of your associations. Be as thorough as you can, while acknowledging that you may not think of every association in one sitting. The associations may seem contradictory, and that is fine. Be as honest as possible.
Go back over your list. You don’t have to consider each association in the order you wrote it down, and you don’t need to consider every association in one sitting.
Contemplate why you have that association. Is it a ubiquitous association in your society or community? Is it because someone taught you that association existed? Did you read it and memorize it from an abstract list of correspondences? Did you learn it from your parents or other adults as a child? Did you learn it from research, or personal experience? Do you not remember where you learned it?
Contemplate reasons why that association does and does not make sense. Does it relate to or contradict your personal experience? Does it have depth of meaning in your tradition or culture? Does it support or conflict with your worldview, or the worldview you are cultivating in yourself? Does it support or conflict with your magical goals?
Contemplate how the color is used as a subtle tool for oppression. Is it generally associated with “good” or with “evil”? How does that association play into racial bias? How does it enable white privilege, and criminalize being black? How does it contribute to fear of people of color?
Contemplate how “good” and “evil” associations are misleading. Think on a particular situation or life event when the color symbolized “good”. Why was it “good”? Who and what was it “good” for? Who and what was damaged by the situation or life event, and from that point of view, could it be seen as “evil”?
Think on a particular situation or life event when the color symbolized “evil”? Why was it “evil”? Who and what was it “evil” for? Who and what benefited from the situation or life event, and from that point of view, could it be seen as “good”?
Contemplate how there are benefits and detriments to any situation and any event.
Contemplate how very little in life is truly “good” or “evil” in an absolute manner, but instead that “good” or “evil” is a product of your point of view and priorities.
Contemplate where you want to draw the line on what you consider “good” and “evil” in terms of social justice. How does that play into your current associations with your focal color? Are your goals for social justice compatible with your current associations, or do your current associations damage your ability to seek that social justice?
What associations would better support your social justice goals? Why would those associations better support the changes you want to see in the world?
Will you commit to changing your associations so they are more in line with the world you want to create?
Sit with your thoughts as long as you would like and write down as much or as little as you want to.
If you started with a formal ritual or circle casting, dispel it.
Repeat this meditation as often as you need to.