Always there are arguments about what constitutes each colour, as though the world should conform to such a narrow view and those who, like me, reject this classification completely.
White magic is most commonly seen as good and selfless. It is positive and constructive and involves healing and harming none and yoga and tantra and all sorts of feel good positive self-esteem stuff.
People who claim to only use white magic or be white witches often spout platitudes regarding karma, threefold law, personal gain is bad and not using magic to affect the free will of another.
This is the nasty stuff. This is doing magic to destroy or harm - binding, cursing and hexing primarily. In some texts, a black magician is not a real witch because they only do good things.
Sometimes this is also referred to as Dark magic or Shadow magic. The people who like to claim this will often also try to convince you of how twisted, tortured and terribly gothic they are.
This is a balanced place. Using both sides of the polarity as needed. It's a middle path that sometimes seems to have one foot on both of the other paths.
Grey magicians will use phrases like "harm none but take no shit" or "I do only positive magic unless you threaten me or mine".
What These Really Mean
Each of these colours are completely vapid ways to categorise and classify witches and magicians in such a way that the person doing the labelling comes out in a morally superior position. It is nothing more and nothing less than a way to sit on your high horse and look down your nose at someone you feel is less than you.
Doing only White Magic means you do no magic. None at all. In fact it means you do nothing in your life.
Harm None - in modern popular usage, not it's traditional meaning - is a completely impossible rule to live by. You may choose a vegetarian diet for this, but plants have feelings too, the rainforests of Sumatra are being stripped for palm oil plantations which has made the native tigers endangered and severely harmed the survival of other species of rainforest flora and fauna. Where were your shoes made? Under what conditions were the materials obtained? Do you drive a car? Do you have any idea of the worldwide damage that comes from fossil fuels? Not just climate change, but wars for control of oil fields, the damage to the land from roads (the road itself, the emissions and the volume of animals killed on the roads) and the thousands of people killed and injured every year in normal vehicle use.
Free Will is one of my favourites. I think that not affecting the free will of another is the same as a truly selfless act - there is no such beastie. If you do magic to protect your property from theft, burglary or unwanted intrusions, you are restricting the free will of the thief, burglar, the Jehovah's Witnesses or your mother-in-law. If you look deeply into any spell, there is nothing you can do that will not affect the free will of another.
Doing only black magic means you build nothing in your life. I also believe it's like true anarchy or chaos - it doesn't really exist except as an abstract concept. An order will arise regardless - growth and patterns will emerge and there will be constructive elements and not just destructive.
Grey magic is a difficult one for me. It describes how I feel for the most part, but I still don't like the colour application. I frequently say that I have two hands, why would I tie one behind my back and not use all the tools at my disposal?
I also feel that while polarities can be useful to partition up the world around us, balance must come from more than two points (black and white). When casting a circle, you are creating a crossroads of north and south and east and west, but also your place between upperworld and underworld. There, you are at the centre of six directions made up of three polarities. Those polarities are also symbolic of states of mind or being - active and passive and logic and intuition among many others.
I've heard it said recently that white and black magic came from racist roots - that the implication was that white magic was tied to white folk and black magic to black folk. I personally think this is a superficial look at the origins of the terms. I believe that in the black vs white usage regarding magic white is tied to light - to daytime when most things are visible and seen, when we are made to be active and doing things to improve our lot in life. Black is tied to dark - to night-time, to sleep and dreaming and shadows. To the times when most things are concealed by the darkness and our fears come out to play.
All Colours of the Rainbow Magic
But then we have other colours of magic now coming into popular usage. People are describing themselves as purple witches and red witches and all colours of the spectrum. I can cope with Green Witchcraft - that is less of a colour descriptor and more of the colour of the things they work with. Green Witchcraft concerns a lot of plant work, herbcraft in particular. But the rest don't seem to make a lot of sense to me.
There are spells that use colour correspondences for a specific area of life. I suppose it can be turned around to say that an emotional spell is blue magic or warlike spells are red magic but it feels rather contrived and simplistic to me. I am aware that Isaac Bonewits used this system of classification in his book Real Magic: An Introductory Treatise on the Basic Principles of Yellow Light. I haven't read the whole book, but I have read the excerpt in which this system is described and can only hope that the content improves.
While it may be a useful (or not depending on your viewpoint) way to classify different spells, I still struggle with taking that "colour of magic" and turning it into the colour of the practitioner. Does this mean that a red witch will only do magic for anger, sex and the things they're passionate about? Are they unable, unwilling or does it not fit their path to do magic for wealth or healing? How does that work? It seems terribly limiting and to be honest, rather childish to narrow your options down in such a way.
I know that some people like or need to categorise the world to make it easier to understand. To be able to file things in little boxes in their minds and have everything cross-referenced from there. I don't get it. I like to try and see the whole picture, rather than cut it up into small chunks.