Black magic may be invoked to kill, injure, or cause destruction, or for personal gain without regard to harmful consequences to others. As a term, "black magic" is normally used to describe a form of ritual that some group or person does not approve of. Not everything that is called black magic has malevolent intentions behind it.
The differences between black magic and white magic have been explained by several theories:
- All as One: All forms of magic are evil, or black, magic. This view generally associates black magic with Satanism. Some people on the left-hand path would agree that all magic, whether called "white" or "black," is the same. These people would not contend that all magic is evil so much as that morality is in the eyes of the beholder -- that any magic can have both good and bad consequences depending on who judges those consequences. In this school of thought, there is no separation between benevolent and malevolent magic because there is no universal morality against which magic can be measured.
- Dark Doctrine: Black magic refers to the powers of darkness, usually seen from a left-hand path point of view. This may or may not contrast with White magic, depending on the sorcerer's acceptance of dualism.
- Formal Differences: The forms and components of black magic are different, due to the different aims or interests of those casting harmful spells, than those of white. Harmful spellcasting tends to include symbolism which seems hazardous or harmful to human beings, such as sharp, pointed, prickly, caustic, and hot elements combined with very personal objects from the spell's target (their hair, blood, mementos, etc.). This distinction is primarily observable in folk magic, but pertains to other types of magic also.
- No Connection: Black and white magic are both forms of magic, but are completely different from the base up and are accomplished differently, even if they achieve similar effects. This stance is the one most often presented in fiction, including the Harry Potter series. In such books, the two classes of magic-users are portrayed as being both ideologically and diametrically opposed.
- Separate but Equal: Black and white magic are exactly the same thing, differentiated only by their end goals and intent. According to this theory, the same spell could be either white or black; its nature is determined by the end result of the spell.