The Shamanic Witch and Ethics
When ethics from a Pagan perspective are discussed in the public domain the ultimatum of “Harm None” arises. I have written on the Harm None ethic and the Pure Will in my book, Spirited. When I write, I am conscious of the fact that I cater to a wider audience than those of the decidedly shamanic and traditionalist inclinations, therefore I aim to be largely accessible. For this reason, some people misinterpret me as decidedly eclectic, when I am actually avowedly syncretic within my personal path.
I am also an initiate of the WildWood Tradition of Witchcraft. I do not say these things to place myself above the eclectic philosophies, which are entirely valid and of completely equal worth, I merely wish to assert my personal practice as distinct from the implications derived from my publications thus far (1) .
Not all Witches of the WildWood share the same focus or emphasis on the shamanic arts (ecstatic, visionary, Gnostic, etc.) as I do; however these aspects of spirituality innately inform our philosophies and cosmologies. We teach one ‘ultimatum’ when exploring ethics and the Craft, and it can be summed up by the following – total freedom equals total responsibility. “An ye harm none, do what ye will” is contextualized by this precept of freedom and responsibility.
Let me orient this flow of philosophy; I will begin with our definitive foundation – What is a Witch?
A Witch is an individual who through ignited, expanded and deepened awareness serves and celebrates the Life-Force as manifest both in unity and plurality. Our belief in, experience of and reverence for the interconnectivity of all things creates an aptitude for the magickal arts and through science and craft (spiritual philosophy and technology) we are able to consciously ride the tides of change, which rule the cycle of birth, death and renewal.
This is by no means an official definition of ‘Witch’, however this definition has been an evolving and shared understanding within the WildWood over the past three or four years. We uphold it because it conveys that Witchcraft is a spiritual and mystical discipline without implying dogmatic interpretations of ritual or theo (a) logy. It allows for the personal connection, supported by a fertile paradigm, which implies its own ethic.
That all are divine, and equal in that divinity, that we are held in Being by Mystery and we are alive and conscious creates a self-reflection. This reflection speaks tomes on the sacred realities of interconnection and the rhythms and tides of vitality. A Witch knows, by virtue of his/her spiritual experience, that humanity (and all of life) is not inherently moral. Nature (what Is) teaches us that Life feeds from Life, but always with balance. The All equalizes itself – this is the power of death; that energy transforms and evolves is testimony to the rise and fall of flesh.
Witches embrace matter as Mother (Latin ‘mater’) and declare and experience the physical world as intelligent, sentient and holy. Flesh and form are merely receptacles for and of Spirit, they are the perfect expression of Spirit – the Temple houses the God.
An ethic that derives from the sacred autonomy of an aware individual is informed and directed by experience. One cannot warn a youth of this or that unless it is contextualized, relevant and pragmatic. One cannot say, “Do not lie because lying is sinful!” If lying as an act is considered holistically and as interwoven with the entirety of the faculties, then it can be said that if one beholds integrity and honours the implicit balance of Life and wishes to flow and be, rather than to ‘disregard and desecrate’, lying becomes relative. The onus is on an individual’s autonomous self-determination, in other words, according to one’s principles as a collective how would lying impede on or dishonour my personal ethic?
Personally I hold honesty as valuable and therefore sacred. I cannot hope to cultivate honesty in my life unless I myself perpetuate the ethic. I am only as virtuous as I choose to be. I do good because it is good, rather than as the opposite of or alternative to ‘evil’.
When ethical behaviour concerns itself with the rejection of evil as core principle (motivation to make a contrasting example) we enter the realm of morality. When a Wiccan declares that he/she will do no harm because the threefold law would mean that thrice-greater harm would return, this is morality equal to the often-Christian desire to secure heavenly-admission by performing acts of charity. An ethical Witch claims virtue as a lamp to bring clarity to circumstance, rather than to blind hidden demons in the shadows. If we perceive the natural as adversary rather than ally (albeit volatile) we engender the philosophy of dualism, and this paradigm has often proven to be at the source of the world’s imbalance and injustice. To be able to look upon one’s reflection and see the attempt of virtue, here and now is the truth of compassion revealed.
If I am intrinsically free and thus entirely responsible for ‘self’, then the ‘virtue’ of Life is in understanding that self is in all things. Thus ecstasy is the natural product of virtue. Ecstasy forms the foundation of shamanism, and thus Shamanic Witchcraft (2) . This is not limited to the physical sweating, shaking and shivering which characterize the methods of some medicine people; I speak of ecstasy as something of a metaphor. This metaphor relates directly to the word’s etymology – ek stasis, Greek for ‘outside standing’. The qualifying factor of ecstasy is, in context, that the boundary of the ego is dissolved…there is no limit to self because the perspective has shifted and we understand the true nature of self as unbound and free, and therefore responsible. Divine Unity creates Divine Synchronicity and to those who have eyes to see and ears to listen the ‘magick and miracle’ of Life opens up.
Witchcraft is a sacred spiritual discipline that has manifested the world over as magickal tradition – Witches have been and are feared because we do know, we do see and we are powerful. All this because we accept the Immanent Divine and see ourselves as woven into it.
Every act then becomes imbued with consciousness – my being here now is a gift and I intend to honour the giver…this is in right relationship with the world, and all is in balance because of it.
(1) My most recent publication, By Land, Sky and Sea: Three Realms of Shamanic Witchcraft, speaks briefly on the contrast between eclecticism and syncretism.
(2) I tend to teach that Witchcraft is inherently shamanic at its core.