The Ethics of Wicca

Posted on 27 August 2006 at 7:19 pm in Articles, Magick.

The first, and sometimes only, ethic found in Wicca is the last two lines of the Rede: An It Harm None, Do What Ye Will. “Rede” is an old word meaning, “counsel or advise.” The word “an” means “if.” The Rede advises us that “If it harms none, do what you want.” In this sense, the Rede echoes the Buddhist ethical concept of “ahimsa” [from the Sanskrit for “non-injury”] or total harmlessness. The Rede, on the other hand, recognizes that sometimes injury is unavoidable or necessary. Eating, for example, is essential to human life – but is obviously injurious to the plant or animal eaten; and self-defense may require injury to another in order to prevent injury to oneself. If the Wiccan ethic was a dogmatic “Thou shalt not harm,” it would be impossible to live up to.

Instead, we are told that the path of least harm is the ethical path. We are expected to think before we act, and to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions, as well as our failures to act, because not acting to prevent harm is to cause it, by an act of omission rather than commission.

Original Sin and The Question Of “Evil”

Wiccans do not believe that humans are born or conceived in sin. Although there are a few exceptions, the natural process of reproduction is a celebration of the Divine. Furthermore, we find the concept of “sin” harmful to the human spirit, causing as it does a sense of separation from the Divine. For us, the idea of a divided or contested universe as a battleground between some divinely-created but rebellious Principle of Evil and the Divine itself is (frankly) absurd. Evil needs no supernatural force to manifest and the stepping aside of personal responsibility that usually accompanies the cry of ‘the devil made me do it’ is as close to a sin as we come.

There are actions we perceive as “evil” based on their effects, usually violence against another. Although we avoid calling an action evil simply because we do not like the effect, we nonetheless recognize that acts such as rape, or child molestation, are not permissible under any system of ethics. We acknowledge the force of destruction as an innate part of the cycle of life-death-rebirth and that, in many cases, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are subjective evaluations of actions and their consequences.

Karma and The Threefold Law

The Threefold Law states: Whatever you send forth, whether good or ill, will return to you threefold. This is one version of the Law of Cause and Effect (for every action, there is an equal reaction) where the returning energy is magnified three times. (The number three is symbolic, rather than literal.) In our mechanistic, Newtonian-ruled reality, cause-and-effect play an important role and that is the antecedent of this Law. It is not a moral code, it is a statement of belief in how things work and so it would better be described as the Law of Return (That which you send forth shall return).

In the sense of the Law of Return, it relates closely with the correct concept of karma: consequences of actions. Karma, despite what many writers have said is not a system of reward or punishment; it is a system for regulating (life) lesson learning.

A witch does not need external systems of reward or punishment – we are not donkeys! Instead, we realize that we are responsible for our own actions, and reactions. We see ourselves as dwelling in a world that is divine and holy, and so we treat it with reverence. That reverence is the basis upon which we conduct ourselves with all aspects of the world: plants, animals, all living beings. We have a tremendous freedom, balanced by the responsibility to not engage in behavior that does harm to the sacred.

Love Of Nature

We see the Divine manifest in, and as, Nature: the Earth is our Mother from whom we are born, by whom we are nourished, and She devours our bodies at death. As we are part of Nature, so harming Nature is harming ourselves; and therefore ecology is a vital concern to a Witch. The life-cycle of Nature is not something we are separate from, but which we are directly involved in and with. While not every Wiccan is an ecological activist, we strive to preserve the natural balance necessary to the continuation of all our fellow beings.

The True Will

Every man and every woman possesses a spark of the Divine. That spark may be kindled into a shining blaze with the complete alignment and understanding of the True Will. In other words, the True Will is the Will of the highest and divine Self, the actualized potential of that Divine Spark. It is the Higher Self expressed as a verb: expressed through action within manifestation. Just as we have a moral obligation to pursue our own spiritual evolution, we have the same obligation to discover, and then act in accordance with, our True Will.

There are some corollaries that follow naturally from the foregoing. The first of these is that no one’s True Will can truly be in conflict with another’s: both are part of the Infinite Oneness. The second is that the energy of the Universe is behind the True Will. The third is that the inertia of the Universe is opposed to actions that conflict with the True Will of the person performing those acts. The fourth is that each individual who realizes and actualizes her/his True Will makes it easier for others to do so, by increasing the inertial force of the Universe. The fifth is that when two individuals collide, one or the other is off their proper course; one or the other (or both) has strayed from doing their True Will.

Know Thyself

The phrase “Know Thyself” was written over the front doors of ancient temples of the Mysteries and Wiccans understand their obligation to the Divine within to strive to know, to understand, to comprehend their Divine Nature – to achieve spiritual self-realization – and then to actualize that Divine Potential by bringing it into full manifestation.

In doing so, the Witch examines her/his nature, character, and feelings, and works to absorb and dissolve the neuroses and complexes that interfere with her/his spiritual evolution. We recognize that these inhibitions were once necessary (as a crutch is to the person with a broken leg) to help survive and function in adverse circumstances. But when they have become counterproductive they must be transformed into functional ways of dealing with life’s needs and interactions with others.
 
Perfect Love, Perfect Trust

These “Perfect Words” on one level mean “Perfect Love for the God/dess, Perfect Trust in the God/dess” and might be re-phrased as “let go, and let God/dess.” On another level, they speak of the relationship that must exist between the members of the working group (a.k.a circle, or coven).

Perfect Love is unconditional love, it is not blind. One loves the other, warts and all, in spite of — and sometimes because of — their flaws and blemishes. It means loving the other as an evolving manifestation of the Infinite Oneness, in whom the Divine is made manifest. It means accepting them as co-travelers on the path of spiritual evolution, members of the close-knit “spiritual family by choice” you Work with. It also means forgiving them when they hurt us, whether inadvertently or in the heat of emotion.

Perfect Trust is trust that is earned and returned, at the same time and on both sides. Again, it is not blind because it takes into account the flaws and blemishes which Perfect Love forgives, and does not attempt to exact a burden from the other which that other is not capable of bearing. Perfect Trust means trusting that the other person has our best interests at heart, and would never deliberately intend us harm, even when their actions might hurt our feelings or do us injury. One must have Perfect Trust in each other member of the magickal group before one joining that group. Therefore, the members of the magickal group must have demonstrated their worthiness of that trust before we join them. (Of course, one must have earned the Perfect Trust of the members before being accepted among them.)

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The ethics of Wicca are based on an assumption of self-responsibility and discernment; actions are evaluated in terms of their motivations. Witches learn to distinguish between intentional harm, and unintentional harmful effects. In either case, the person is responsible for the consequences of her/his actions; but inability to foresee those harmful consequences is different from failing to think ahead; and both are different from a deliberate, conscious intent to cause harm. The ethics of Wicca are far from being the “free love, free will, no consequences” code that others have attempted to portray us having. In taking responsibility for what we do – and don’t – do we hold ourselves to a high standard.

~ Lisa Mc Sherry

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