The Ethics of Witchcraft/Wicca

The Ethics of Witchcraft/Wicca

Much has been written about magical ethics. Usually a list of clear dos and don’ts and thou shalts. The Wiccan Rede—“ An it harm none, do as thou will”— and the three-fold law—“ what you do comes back to you three-fold”— get bandied about as being the ethical pillars of Witchcraft. As I’m not Wiccan I don’t subscribe to these ideas. In the 1950s Doreen Valiente wrote a lovely poem called The Wiccan Rede. It drew on many sources including a poem from Aradia: Gospel of The Witches by Charles Leland, some Aleister Crowley material and older teachings. The last part, often referred to as the Rede is the well-known “an it harm none, do as thou will” although the whole thing is often reworded to mean “do whatever you like as long as you’re not hurting anybody”. I believe that in a time when witchcraft was being redefined and made out to be something nice and benevolent, it may have been important to defuse outside ideas about what witches do and make them appear “good” by instilling a moral code of sorts. The Wiccan Rede only applies to Wiccans however, not all witches or magicians.

Many following the Rede try to never think ill about anyone or use it as a reason to become vegetarian. The problem I see is that “harm none” includes yourself. Some blood and body types aren’t suited to a vegetarian diet. In addition every breath or step you take on the earth may be harming small creatures and organisms. Does this mean that we only apply “harm none” to those creatures we choose? If so, who decides what can or cannot be harmed? What is the criteria for a bug or organism to be added to the “none” category?

Harm None is also the wrong part of the rede to be focused on. Of the eight word shortened version, Harm None is the least. Will is the important part, this is discussed further later on.

The other thing about the Rede is that the word ‘rede’ means advice. Not rules, not law and not even guidelines. Jack Sparrow’s Pirate Code has more credence. The Rede is more akin to your Auntie pulling you aside to talk about boys (or girls). She’ll tell you what she thinks you should do, she may even tell you some of her horror stories. Her advice may be valid and sound but in the end the decision to act on her advice is all yours.

The three-fold law is, in some form or another, the golden rule in every culture. In Christianity the Bible states “as you sow, so shall you reap” and “an eye for an eye”. The Hindu and Buddhist faiths know it as Karma. Although Karma is not the cosmic instant reward and punishment system that New Age thought promotes it as, if you want to understand Karma, learn about it from the Hindi. Modern colloquialism expresses it as “what goes around, comes around”. However it is referred to, by whichever culture, it speaks of a consequential result for what you do in life.

In Witchcraft the three-fold part is often misunderstood. I read a blog post about how you should give money to a witch because of their three-fold law. If you give them $ 10, you’ll get $ 30 back. In the same vein if you do something bad it will be three times worse for you. The mistaken belief is that the three fold will come back at you three times when for those who believe in it, it’s on three different levels— Mind, Body and Spirit. I’ve found that there is often (but not always) a backlash. In physics— every action has an equal and opposite reaction, in Witchcraft it’s not necessarily as simple as it’s made out to be. There is also a theory that the threefold law was introduced as a way to keep beginners and learning witches safe from themselves.

It’s frequently stated that you shouldn’t interfere with another’s will. That you can’t or rather shouldn’t do a spell that will affect another without their permission. This is often said by people who then send healing energy all around the place without being asked for it and don’t see their own hypocrisy. I personally believe that it’s rarely a good idea to cast a spell regarding another person. Even if it’s “for their own good”. Who are you to decide what is best for another person? Who died and made you a God? They may have a life lesson going on, something that they need to learn from or learn how to cope with in order to grow. By ‘helping’ them you may in fact be harming them by preventing their own personal growth. It’s also a slippery slope, once you start ‘helping’ people, you can’t stop and it’s a short step away from interfering. This is different from binding and cursing but we’ll delve into that later.

Unless you belong to a faith that has its own ethics, you need to figure out what is ethical or not for yourself. Many people will assume that as a witch, you follow their system, or that witches are automatically Wiccan or Pagan and that you must subscribe to their own personal moral code in order to call yourself that. When it comes down to it, you need to ignore all the “know-it-alls” and be true to yourself. If you do ‘bad’ things there may be a backlash, but sometimes it’s worth it. Only you can know that for sure.

The Common Sense Spell Book
Debbie Dawson