The Ethical and Virtuous Witch

Dear Pagani,

I am a Witch, of the type popularly called Wiccan.  In my case this means religious and British Traditional Witchcraft inspired Neo-Pagan Religious Witchcraft.  I came to this path, and later fell off of it for a while, nearly 17 years ago. This essay is my attempt to discuss the core values, ethics, and virtues I have found within the path and faith of Witchcraft.

I can only speak for myself, as a Witch, especially a Solitary one.  These are what I have found, your mileage may vary!

After having studied Witchcraft for a few years and Invoking the Divinities, seeking Them through Ritual and Gnosis.  I prayed and read and studied what I could find at the time… I wanted more, I felt the need to dig deeper.

So the first thing I did was take a good look at The Rede.

Now anytime one talks about ethics or values in the Neo-Pagan Witchcraft world, especially from the Wiccan or Wicca inspired end of the spectrum; the topic of the Rede comes up.

“An ye harm none, do what thou will.”

The Rede is almost always (and in my oh, so humble opinion incorrectly) cited as the only rule, ethical statement, or religious law of Witchcraft. While I disagree with the only part, I would say that examining the Rede, and really thinking about it, is central to understanding the philosophy of Witchcraft.  So let’s take a look, shall we?

First let’s focus on the word Harm…

“HARM (noun): Physical or mental damage.”

Nouns are words that name a person, place, thing, quality, or action. Eliminating the person and place we have Harm describing a thing, quality, or action. This would seem to say that Harm is something that is done by one party or group to another. To do something, to do anything in fact, you need intent. So while you may not always succeed at it, if you strive to do no harm to yourself or others you are practicing the Rede.

Now let’s look at the word “An” in “An ye harm none, do what you will”. An, is the archaic form of “If” so a more modern wording would be…

“If you harm none, do what you will.”

“If” is darned important.  “IF” means that we have the choice to do harm, to ourselves and to others, but that we must face the consequences of our actions.

If… So what if you harm someone, with intent? Since Witches don’t believe in the Devil, we can’t say “the Devil made me do it?” or “It was because I was a sinner!” or “It’s not my fault because I was acting under medication for my sinus infection”.

In fact Witches and a lot, if sadly not all, of our fellow Pagans believe very strongly in personal responsibility as a part of their life paths.  We choose our actions, and we are capable of choosing our reactions, so we are always responsible for what we do and the choices we make.

Harming “none,” also includes oneself. This is a key ingredient in my decision making process… Is it more harmful to myself to allow this situation to continue, than any harm X, Y, or Z might encounter as a result of my decision?  The thing is to be a Witch you must be willing to strive to do no harm. There may come times in life where you have a choice and no matter what you chose someone will be harmed by your actions, but in most cases you have a choice open to you to NOT harm anyone or yourself.

So that takes care of the “Harming None” aspect of the Rede, what about “Do what thou will.”?

This is another area worthy of some examination.   Are you thinking about will as in doing whatever you want?  That’s ok, as far as it goes, but we can dig deeper!  Like a lot of Witches, I look at the Rede’s similarity to certain Thelemic ideas and consider the will discussed in the Rede as being True Will.  Will, with a capital “W”, as being an ongoing effort to live from moment to moment a path of action in perfect harmony with Nature or the Universe; to seek ones ultimate Destiny.

So another wording of the Rede might be…

“Strive to do no harm, and seek a path of harmony towards your destiny”

This is a little more complicated, and adult, than just doing whatever you want; even if you are trying to mind the consequences!

Now the next thing a lot of folks seem to think about, in connection with the Rede, and with the topic of virtues and ethics in Witchcraft, is the Three-fold Law

“What you do comes back to you Threefold!”

Some Witches maintain that this is a core value or belief, other Witches look upon it and go

“Meh, Newton said it better!”

There is some variation of the Golden Rule or the Ethic of Reciprocity in most of the world Faiths.  While I respect the idea of the Rule of Three, as it is also known, I just can’t see myself grounding my actions and values in a system where I am fearing punishment or seeking reward.  That just seems somehow childish to me.

So I moved out from the Rede and the Rule of Three, in my own explorations  trying to figure out how to actively live as a Witch and carry my faith with me into the world.  Then I began to really look at Doreen Valiente’s Charge of the Goddess.

A few passages especially stood out…

“For mine is the Spirit of Ecstasy, and mine as well is joy on Earth, and Love Unto All Beings is My Law.”

“Keep pure your highest ideal; strive ever towards it; let nothing stop you or turn you aside.”

“Therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, and mirth and reverence within you.”

These are the things the First Goddess of my heart demands of me.  I remember being so shocked that none of the books I had read talked about the implicit instruction aspect of the Charge of the Goddess.

“Love unto all beings is my Law.”

This passage was the first that sort of hit my in the face when I started really looking at the Charge for moral and ethical guidance.  It is the only place in this sacred piece of poetry and inspiration where The Goddess lays down Her Law… not a recommendation, not a suggestion, Her Law.

The thing is, Love, is complicated!

Love for your family, and friends, and beloved.  Love for your neighbors, your co-workers, and your acquaintances.  Love for the people who cut you off in traffic, love for the scary and possibly schizophrenic homeless guy you walk by on your way to work.  Love for all beings, no matter how violent or vile their actions or pasts…

Now loving someone doesn’t require us t unconditionally or blindly love them and it doesn’t require us to to accept their immoral or unethical behaviors.  As long as it is truly rooted in love, we can practice Tough Love in those cases.

Then too there are those people in the world and in our regional and religious communities who have committed crimes; sometimes horrible and “unforgivable” crimes like murder or rape or worse.

Please Note: I use the quotes because it is easy to forget, especially if we or someone we love has been victimized in the past, that unless the person we are faced with actually victimized us then it is not our place to forgive them.  Only their own victims can possibly do that!

However, if they have served their debt to society, and seek to live a moral and ethical and sane and healthy life now, then all I can do is to be cautious and watchful in my Love for them; because She demands I find within myself, and act with, Love for them!

Like I said, Love, is complicated.  The Law of the Goddess is not unlike the goal or practice of Metta or Loving Kindness of the Buddhists.

So, to paraphrase, again…

“Live a life of Love,” She says do good things, and act with balance and wisdom! She says…

Striving to find Love for all beings, and striving to identify and live out and act upon our Highest Ideals.

You know though, I am still still struggling to identify and articulate my highest ideals; heck that was one of the motivations for starting the International Pagan Values Blogging month blog carnival in the first place!  For me, my ideals are wrapped up within the Rede, and The Law of The Goddess, and the U.S. Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence, and many other sources and inspirations.

Then too, as someone who is barely making ends meet, and who is desperately seeking for a second job or one full-time job, a lot of my sense of actively working for my highest ideals; well, it feels on hold.

I do try to do good in the world where I can.  Writing and speaking out in favor of Gay Civil Rights, and Pagan Community.  I participate in workplace giving with a few dollars of each paycheck going to some charitable causes.  I tell myself that I will do more as I am able, but a lot of times that feels nowhere near enough.

So, for now, I try to hold to my ideals as best I can and pray to the Gods for guidance and good things for myself and my family and for the opportunity to act upon my ever evolving Highest Ideals.

It’s not like I, as a Witch, don’t have some guidelines in how to act…

“Therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, and mirth and reverence within you.”

These 8 virtues or qualities are what the Goddess wishes me to try and embody, each and every day.   They are a part of the plan the Goddess has laid out for us, Her Witches.

I have copied down the dictionary definitions of those 8 goals/ideals/virtues, I have sought out quotes about them that strike the same chords in my soul as the Charge does, I meditate and contemplate the meanings of the words and how others have related to them trying to puzzle out my own relationship to them.   I have in this very blog tried to articulate what some of the virtues mean to me, and rambled a bit about striving towards my highest ideals, and of love unto all beings.

The truth is though that these are things I think and pray upon on a daily basis,… now.

“Mother Celestial, and Father Divine,

Let me walk in Beauty and Strength,

Exhibiting Power and Compassion,

With both Honor and Humility,

Let me always remember Mirth as well as Reverence,

That I might be worthy of Thy Perfect Love and Perfect Trust,

And that of those in whose hearts you dwell.

Blessed be, so mote it be”

Originally I did that work studying definitions and contemplating meanings and looking at what others had said or thought about these qualities of character; and then, somehow, I sort of set it aside.   I got distracted from the important matters and guidelines of spirit by the pressures of everyday life, and by giving in to some of my more self-destructive impulses.  It has been a long and winding, educational and rough and yet not entirely unpleasant road back to living my Witchcraft on a regular basis; I am still working on it, and suspect I shall be doing so for the rest of this lifetime.

I have failed to live these ideals in the past, sometimes grievously, but I keep trying… one of the definitions of Strength relates to perseverance…and persevere I do!  Each day I pray my prayer, sometime it comes out more like a memorized recitation than a heartfelt speaking and sharing with the Deities, so I will repeat it… sometimes mantra-like until I feel I have truly thought about each of the virtues and what they mean to me and have had a moment of connection to Them as I contemplated these Virtues I am ordered to embody.

She wants so much from me!  I can get intimidated sometimes thinking about it, yet when I offered myself  to Them they accepted me.  So I persevere and I struggle and I keep going,

And still I struggle, Beauty and Strength, and by extension Health are  issues for me lately.  Well, Beauty is always something I have struggled to find in looking at myself, and to find myself worthy of striving for.  But Strength and health are things I have let slip in the last couple of years.  She expects more of my, and through Her love I have learned to start expecting more of myself.

As I write this I am realizing that one of the key things, for me, about the values and virtues I have found within Witchcraft is that they are things each of us must work with.  Whether you are a Solitary or in a Coven, no one else is responsible for your Grace, your Gnosis, your encounters with the Numinous Divine.

Each of us must look to the values and ethics and ideals and morals we find in our many Pagan Paths.  We must not only study and contemplate them, we must wrestle with them daily as we try to live them and as we carry them with us into the world where we will act in accordance with them.

Peace, and Love, always Love,

Pax

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9 thoughts on “The Ethical and Virtuous Witch

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  3. I too have found the Charge of the Goddess to be instructional for values. I’ve seen a few people write about it over the years, but not as many as one would think.
    Thanks for the post! 🙂

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