Do what you will and harm none.
Pagans have seen this message over and over again. We know it, we live it or we strive to live it. For most people, it means don’t carry out a form of magick or spell-casting that will harm anyone, including ourselves. Well, that’s pretty easy. I won’t cast a spell on mean Joe Schmuck, the pagan-hating neighbor, for throwing his garbage on my lawn. It also means I won’t call a curse down on the person who cut me off in traffic. I’m not talking about saying something like, “Damn you,” because in most cases that falls under the category of being an expletive. It doesn’t carry the force of magick or higher energy behind it.
Almost everyone will agree that the above forms of magick (spell-casting and drawing down curses) can harm, and they’re fairly obvious. What is not as obvious are the subtler ways we can harm someone. One common trap is love or attraction charms and spells. Many a “good” neo-pagan book written by upright followers of the path has listed spells that are potentially harmful. To cast a spell that brings beauty to you or makes you more attractive is a beneficent charm. However, there are spells that instruct “write the name of the one you love or want on a piece of paper” and perform a certain ritual. There are several versions, all of which are to attract someone specific and to bind them to you. That’s psychic and spiritual bondage — slavery. Those spells can cause serious backlash.
I found out the hard way many, many years ago when I thought I was practicing harmless witchcraft. I had inadvertently fallen in love with a man who was a customer where I worked.
When I figured out what was wrong with me (I was depressed), I did a spell of attraction. It should have been a spell that just made me more attractive. It might have been a spell that made me more attractive to that particular man, but that would have been manipulating his view and feelings. Instead, it was a spell to make him want me and be attracted to me. And unfortunately, I did a very powerful spell.
Did it work? In spades; I was terribly burned in the process. What I put out came back to me threefold. (Oh yeah, there’s that law for a reason.) I almost became an alcoholic, I had an eating disorder that went completely ballistic and I was dreadfully, emotionally wounded in the process of this guy realizing that he didn’t want me. I had done this in all innocence, believing unthinkingly that I wasn’t doing any harm.
Lucky for me, I woke up after the fact and realized what I had done. I didn’t do it again. Seven years later, with that man as far from here as is possible, I had a chance to mend and heal the old wounds and set things aright with him. No, I’m not with him, but there’s a peacefulness and a wholeness that took many years to accomplish.
We learn a lot from our lessons through life, if we don’t do irreparable harm along the way. That means that you can’t even heal someone unless they want to be healed. Now, on a psychological level, many of us know this to be true. You can’t change someone unless they want to change. But if a person is in a coma or hurt beyond asking for healing energy, what do you do? You can perform rituals to heal, but you have to send them out with the addendum, take the energy if you wish it. Some people don’t want to be healed, even if they are at death’s door. Some people do want to be healed, even if they’re trying to take their own lives and won’t ask for the help.
The ethics of healing with or without permission, even on the purely physical level, is one that everyone, from the medical community to shamans, is debating. It is a larger question for another article. There may never be a completely right or wrong answer. The situation I’m looking at, though, is that of manipulating, threatening or changing someone without their knowledge or permission, or against their will.
Another pitfall for the witch is using magick to get someone to leave you alone or ignore you. Yes, I was caught by this one too but not in as severe a way as the attraction spell. I had had problems with a certain person’s attitude and his behavior, so I did a ritual to take back my power that he was trying to manipulate, and to make sure that he would leave me alone. Well, the first part was fine. The second part fell into the category of me magickally manipulating him. It wasn’t even a problem I noticed until I had to talk with this person and found he did not remember having talked to me on previous occasions, and that he had not remembered even seeing me.
I had been much more careful how I had worded my ritual and in what I was doing, so in the long run there wasn’t as much manipulation or damage. It was essentially a protection and empowerment spell. I should have left it at protecting myself from harm, ill thoughts and so on and not in repelling a specific person. I’ve fixed that one after the fact, too.
Another area of magickal concern that has probably escaped most people’s attention is the Internet. In this day of instant communication, the same idea can fly around the globe in minutes. All of us have probably received the same joke within a day from various people in different parts of the country or world. One noticeable form of communication is the preponderance of chain letters. These take the form of adding your name to a list to possibly get the free trip to wherever, to spreading the news and good wishes for the dying child/man/woman with MS/cancer/brain tumors whose church/hospital/town will donate so many pennies per message, and lastly to the good old-fashioned chain letter. In this letter, there may be a touching story about caring for someone, or some truisms and proverbs or even a humorous little joke. At the end, inevitably, is the direction to send this to 10, 20 or 50 of your friends. If you do this, they’ll send it back to you to show their love or friendship, or more likely you will experience good luck, your fondest dream come true or, if you don’t send it out, you will have some type of bad luck like an elephant falling on your head.
These chain letters abound. Almost every time someone gets an e-mail account or starts discovering the ancestry of e-mail jokes, they pick up the chain mail torch and run with it. I received many and sent a few on. I started sending the jokes on and deleting the good luck admonition at the end. I started deleting them wholesale. I sent one out a while back that had great proverbs. It had the “get good luck and send this to your friends” blurb at the bottom. I deleted that and then added my own letter that said, “I’m tired of being threatened with luck.” That’s exactly what’s happening. Someone who “believes” that chain letters work, and who sends one on, is threatening a person with luck. Call it magick, juju or a spell if you will, but whether it’s good luck, bad luck or no luck, it’s still a threat or a promise.
As practicing pagans who believe “Do what you will and harm none,” it’s time to take responsibility for the power we put behind words, whether written or verbal. Even if they’re not our own, we empower them with our belief. This is the basis of magick and spells — belief. Our belief makes them strong, and if you send willy-nilly to people the good luck wish with “If you don’t send this on you receive bad luck,” then we are harming some.
Let’s put it in another perspective. How would you feel if a person came up to you and said, “I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors, as long as they agree with mine.”? Or: “I wish you prosperity as long as you find the one true religion (fill in the blank here).” There is not much difference between these wishes and a good luck chain letter that says, “Unless you recruit and scare 10 more people with this, your luck won’t improve.”
There are many traps and pitfalls in spell and magick making. I might still get caught, but it happens less frequently. I walk ever more carefully with my eyes opened wider, and questioning with what-ifs all the more. The more adept one becomes, the easier it is to tap into higher power and more of that power. It is therefore more important to be extremely careful and check over rituals and spells for potential harm. As well, even our wishes can influence and change the world we walk in.
Like the Internet joke about the old lady/man who finds a bottle. S/he gives it a rub, and out pops a genie who says, “You have three wishes.” First wish: The old man/lady says, “I would like to be young and beautiful.” Poof, it happens. Second wish: “I would like enough money/wealth to live well and have all that I want.” Poof, it happens. Third wish: S/he looks at her/his cat and says, “Why don’t you turn it into a handsome/beautiful young man/woman?” Poof, it happens. The gorgeous creature walks toward the wishmaker and says, “Aren’t you sorry you had me fixed?”
Be careful what you wish for — you might get it.