When we begin to talk about magickal ethics, quite often the first thing that will come to a Pagan’s mind is “An it harm none, do what you will”. The Wiccan Rede has been, at least for Wiccans, the measuring stick for magickal ethics – as long as you don’t intentionally harm someone, do whatever you want. And I think that this interpretation of the Rede is solid; it would be impossible to go through life without harming something or someone at all, so it is the intention that matters.
Now for someone who might identify as a Witch, and not necessarily a Wiccan, they are not bound by any specific ethical or moral doctrine, unless they choose to be. And I must stress that just because a Witch might not be bound to Wiccan ethics or beliefs doesn’t mean that they lack ethics and/or religion – they simply (usually) lack the religious and ethical construct of Wicca.
It is my understanding, and correct me if I’m wrong, that Witches may or may not concern themselves with the potential outcome of a spell or ritual, whilst Wiccans are bound by a karmic law of some description. Basically, the way that Wiccans and Witches view the cause and effect of their magick is different. Again, this is not to imply that Witches lack respect for magickal power, nor does it imply that they are unethical.
As for the similarities between Witches and Wiccans – well, we’re all human, for a start. We all hold our own personal beliefs, values, ethics and morals aside from our religious views (or lack thereof, depending on the person). In turn, we all approach our magick in very personal ways, and these ways can be either very simple or very complex, or anywhere in between. Examples of this ‘personalisation’ of magick is evident in where we seek our guidance from and our ways of practice: kitchen witches rely heavily on uncomplicated magick, much of which originates from superstition and folklore; hedge witches (traditionally) and solitary practitioners (as a rule) do not belong to covens. Solitaries depend on self-study, insight, creativity and intuition as ‘guideposts’. Members of a coven rely on each other for this learning and guidance.
So do ‘bad’ magickal practitioners exist, and do they use their knowledge and power for personal gain and/or ill will?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes – but it’s just the same as the existence of bad Christians, bad Muslims, bad Hindus, etc. They all exist. People are people, and there are going to be bad people no matter what. This is part of human nature, and nothing to do with religious beliefs. The good news is that these ‘bad’ people are the exception, not the rule.
Like all people, Pagans face issues on a daily basis that require ethical and moral choices – followers of the Wiccan Rede, for example, face the ultimate responsibility. This Rede states that I cannot harm anything through my actions as a Wiccan, and indeed as a human being. As Pagan, I have the absolute responsibility for myself and all the people around me, and the entire planet.
Most Pagans view magick as ethically neutral; magick is gathered from the life energy of all things and is not black, white or grey. The energy is turned and directed by the practitioner towards his/her goal. Thus, it’s the practitioner’s usage of the energy that makes it black, white or grey magick. Additionally, individual views of what white, black and grey are can differ from person to person; a frustration of personalised faiths such as Wicca – defining anything in even near-concrete terms is almost impossible. Generally, to work ‘good’, ‘white’ magick, there are some general guidelines Wiccans must follow (and let me know if you are of a different Pagan path but agree with some or all of these):
- Wiccans will often follow a three-fold or karmic law – meaning that anything sent out will come back to you; what goes around, comes around. This alone is a very good reason to make sure that your motivations are positive.
- Following on from the above point, Wiccans believe it to be highly unethical to attempt to manipulate another person’s freewill – it cannot be done, and can only end badly if you are successful. This is especially true and most common in love magick. It often poses more questions than answers, like if that object of affection is truly in love or if it’s just the magick. In any case, this type of spell is selfish and is certainly not cast for the good of all. Many Wiccans use the Wiccan Rede (‘And it harm none, do what you will’) in spellcraft, prayer and ritual to assist in guiding energy towards the cause that it is for, and any misdirected energy can be dispelled.
- Wiccans realise that although the human mind and spirit hold unlimited potential, the ability to recognise all possible outcomes of magick is not so unlimited. Humans are not, unlike the divine, omniscient, and sometimes our good intentions do go astray and wield negative or unwanted results. Therefore, it is generally accepted to request the higher, and wiser, powers to help direct the magick towards the best possible outcome.
Now we’ve all seen the man on the corner with his Bible, asking people to come with him and be saved by Jesus Christ. It must be said that Pagans believe in religious tolerance and respect every Path as having potential for human enlightenment. Since everyone is different, it is understandable that the Paths that each individual chooses will be equally unique. In keeping with this outlook and understanding, you’ll never find a Pagan standing on the street preaching about magick or faith (and if you do, give them a good slap for me, would you?!). Pagans believe that people must discover and choose their own Path. In actual fact, by coming from other religious backgrounds, many Pagans have done exactly this.
In closing, do not forget that there is always room for spontaneity and ingenuity in the Craft. Your Craft is just that – YOUR Craft. It’s all about YOU and what you want to do. Do not, no matter what your religious or spiritual belief(s), allow the thoughts and ideals of others override your own sense of judgment, or your beliefs or values. Your traits are what make you you, and no-one should be able to take that away from you.