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by Rachel Raymond

The Wiccan Rede, "Do what thou will, an it harm none" has become for many Wiccans (Witches) an oath to live by. Yet no two Wiccans are likely to agree on what living by the Rede entails.

Some feel that to live by the Rede is akin to taking a Buddhist vow of harmlessness. Others feel that the rede only applies to magical workings. In other words, it's okay to wear rare furs, eat veal, and litter the wilderness with aluminum cans as long as you don't inflict a love spell on an unwilling recipient. I have also heard a more philosophical interpretation that as long as you are doing what "Thou wills" (as in that divine-Thou-that-resides-within), then you are aligned with the Universal Will and are incapable of causing harm.

Ethics is the study of the definition of harm. This article addresses the following questions: How is the use of magic affected by ethical considerations? How do you go about defining a set of ethics for yourself? Finally, I provide a small list of deities to assist you in times of ethical quandary.

Defining a set of ethics and living by them can have far-reaching consequences in all phases of your live. Ideally, a set of ethics should fit like a good pair of shoes. It is a creed that supports and protects you while you walk around; one that is not so tight that your toes get pinched, but not so loose that you keep getting tripped up.

Ethics in Circle

The ethical considerations of a solitary are going to be different than those for a circle. Unfortunately, the most common ethical problems among Wiccans occur between members of the same circle. Circle leaders have a responsibility to use their power carefully. Is it ethical for a circle leader to make a profit on circle activities? Is it okay to have circle members do a High Priestess' personal chores for free? What happens when a couple in a circle split up? How does the circle deal with conflicts between its members? If you are uncomfortable with the ethical conduct of your circle, then I would highly recommend finding a new one.

Energy Vampirism

Another common breach of ethics is energy vampirism. Have you ever noticed how some people seem to make you tired just by talking to them? They may be sucking the energy right out of you. Often the people who do this are totally unaware of what they are doing. Grounding and shielding is the best way to make sure that your energy goes where you want it to go.

Empaths and Telepaths

Empaths and telepaths must be careful not to reveal information that others thought was hidden. This is not as easy as it might sound. I am a strong empath and have blurted out observations that seemed obvious to me, but which were actually carefully concealed feelings, unseen by most casual observers. I have learned to keep my mouth shut unless the circumstances are dire enough to warrant the risk of hurting someone unintentionally.

Ethics of Spells

Some magical acts will expose you in ways that you had not considered. A binding spell will do more than bind your target ... it will bind you to them as well. An aggressive magical act will leave you open to attack from others. A working designed to create a false impression will make it hard for you to perceive the truth about others.

Healing spells, spells for peace and resolution, and spells that impart strength and wisdom, are designed to make the world you live in a better place, and shouldn't create many ethical dilemmas. You may feel, as some do, that performing a healing spell for someone whose permission has not been asked is a violation of their free will. If I ever attain a degree of magical proficiency that allows me to completely heal somebody--whether they want to be healthy or not--then I will contemplate that knotty ethical issue. Should you feel unsure about it, you can turn your healing energy over to the Goddess and let Her use it to heal your loved one if She wills it so.

It is wise, when doing a magical working that is intended to affect another person, to contemplate whether or not you would want the same thing done to you. I avoid using magic as retribution because I am not omnipotent. Everyone has, at some point, been the victim of false accusation and rumor. There might be something I don't know about the situation that would make my retribution the greater crime. Therefore I avoid taking justice into my own hands and instead I invoke the Ancient Greek Goddess of justice, Nemesis, and let Her handle it.

Creating Your Own Ethics

When I teach Wicca 101, I assign my students the following thought problems in order to assist them in creating their own personal code of ethics.

1. What is harm? - This is an deceptively simple question. Is killing harmful? If so, can you kill ants or chickens with impunity? Can you say that killing an ant or chicken does not cause harm? Would it be different if you were planning to eat the ant/chicken?

Exercise #1: How do you define harm?

2. Are your magical ethics and the ethics of your daily life connected? - Sometimes practitioners must lead double lives, hiding their magical activities from their community or even their family members. Such people may feel the need to develop two sets of ethics.

Exercise #2: Are your magical ethics and mundane ethics different? If so, how are they different and why?

3. Does the use of magic obligate you to uphold a higher set of ethics than the use of non-magical means to obtain a goal? - The real issue here is: does the use of magic give you an unfair advantage? Generally, successful magic users also happen to have strong-willed and persuasive personalities which may be a big factor for their success in any endeavor. However, there are certain natural human talents that can be defined as magic (such as telepathy or empathy) which do call for a special set of ethics.

Exercise #3: Should magic workers have professional ethics? If so, what are they?

Last but not least, for a code of ethics to truly be of service it must be alive, like you. You will need to change your ethics as you grow and learn. Becoming a parent changed my code of ethics overnight. When I began to teach Wicca classes and lead circles, I adopted my ethics accordingly. For example, I don't steal the power raised by a circle to solve my personal problems.

Defining your own code of ethics will assist you in your magical workings by focusing your will and intent. It will help you to achieve your goals and to create the type of life that you feel comfortable living. By contemplating these issues deeply and with an open mind, you will become more tolerant of others and more forgiving of yourself. May you do your will with a sharp mind and a soft heart, and may you harm none.

May you do your will with a sharp mind and a soft heart, and may you harm none.


Deities Connected with Ethics

Aphrodite: Greek goddess of love and ethical matters of the heart.

Artemis: Greek goddess; protector of wild creatures and the young. Cerridwen: Celtic Great Goddess; protector of families and clans.

Fides: Roman goddess of fair business practices.

The Furies: Greek goddesses of retribution.

Hera: Greek goddess; protector of wives and mothers.

Hermes: Greek god of trade and commerce.

Maat: Egyptian goddess of truth.

Oya: Brazilian goddess of justice and memory.

Varuna: Hindu god of judgment.


Source: 1998 Llewellyn Witches' Calendar



Om Shanti. Blessings of Peace and Balance to you!