The Nature of Good and Evil?
Good and Evil are concepts that are used by certain established religions to enforce their way of thinking. Remember that, according to some of those religions, we are Evil simply by virtue of not being part of their faith. How, then, can any Pagan hold on to these concepts while seeking to explore his or her own faith?
Let me just say that what I seek to discuss here is Good and Evil, not good and evil. The difference is quite great, as a perfectly ordinary human being can commit an evil act or a good act without necessarily recognizing any fault. Evil and good are a matter of perspective. But Evil and Good, with the capital letters, are grandiose abstracts.
One of the first things that I learned when I became a pagan was that Good and Evil do not exist as the great abstract powers that I was always taught about in church, nature (in paganism) being a matter of balance rather than opposition. Recently, however, I have heard individuals of the Pagan persuasion talking about Evil entities in exactly the same way Christians would describe devils and demons. It has made me wonder, not whether Good and Evil truly exist, but whether any of us can really escape the heavy-handed religious teachings of our childhood.
There is a reason why I say that Good and Evil do not exist. It’s quite simple, really: Have you ever seen an Evil animal? An Evil stone or tree? No, because in nature there is only motivation and action. Balance is maintained because it is the way things work. Humans have been led to believe that because we are cognizant, we are better than animals. This is the source of the idea of Good and Evil; our ability to think about our actions beyond the instinctive level is taken to mean we have greater control over ourselves, which is true to a certain extent.
Being capable of thinking about our actions should mean that we are able to accept the consequences of our actions and not blame an abstract concept of Evil or Good. It is easier to excuse an ill thought or downright malicious action by saying ‘The Devil made me do it’ than to admit that you are at fault. It is easier to say ‘He’s just plain Evil’ than to realize that society is failing a lot of people and allowing psychologically disturbed individuals to go unnoticed (In these cases, perhaps the nature of Evil is apathy and complacency, of which we may all be guilty.)
When I hear intelligent Pagans talking about Evil or Good entities, I have to ask myself if there is not some misunderstanding. All the spirits and energy entities with which we work have their own motivations (which they are very unlikely to disclose). There are malign beings who will use the unwary to suit their own goals, but that makes them no more Evil then any human being seeking to use another to meet their ambitions. People do morally abhorrent, stupid, ignorant and pointless things every day, but they are not necessarily labeled as Evil: just human. Why should spirits be any different simply because they are incorporeal?
I don’t claim that spirits are the same as living humans, but they exist when we are not calling upon them, and so must have their own reasons for doing things. Perhaps if we understood their drives and aims a little better, we would be more selective as to how, when and who we called upon to aid us in our workings or we might find that we could allow ourselves more freedom in our communications with Otherworld inhabitants.
So, what of the nature of Good and Evil? As Pagans we should not use these terms, but rather acknowledge that intent, motive and action are all part of free will and that by choosing to act in a particular fashion, we also choose to accept the consequences for what we do, be that physical or metaphysical.
By proclaiming ourselves to be Pagans, we have rejected the established religions that preach of Good and Evil, telling their followers of what glory or damnation await in the next life and that the absolution of all acts in this life that can be achieved through their chosen devotions. There are reasons for these established faiths to maintain their belief in Good and Evil, but I cannot think of one that is positive. These concepts are used as a ruler with which to rap the knuckles of unruly followers, rather then expecting the faithful to learn through discussion and explanation. Good and Evil are the religious equivalent of ‘It just is’ giving no further reasoning and offering the believer no leeway in which to make up his or her own mind.
I know as I write this there will be a number of you who are thinking about Hitler/Stalin/Mussolini, etc. Even theyweren’t Evil and by thinking that they were, we give more power and importance to such individuals than they deserve. Most of history’s monsters are misrepresented by the documentation, or they were so mentally disturbed that it is a wonder that they could function on a day-to-day basis at all. Yes, their actions were evil, but in most cases they had delusions that it was for the greater good of their people or nation. Only later were they consumed by their own addiction to power.
Paganism is meant to be as much about thinking for ourselves in all aspects of life as it is about worshipping the Gods of our ancestors. When a Pagan uses Good and Evil, he or she brings into his/her thinking something that belongs to book religions that seek followers who do as they are told, rather than thinking believers willing to argue and change what they think. When you are researching and studying, remember that when a writer uses the words Good or Evil, you need to look beyond and find more information from different sources and perspectives because that source is not providing you with enough information.