One of my favorite subjects within Paganism relates to ethics, and the practice of such by those who follow a Pagan/Earth-Based path. I’ve had this article in my Book of Shadows for a couple of years, and thought I would share it. I didn’t write it – I’m not sure how I came across it, but I do think it is well-written and good food for thought. I’ve come across far too many individuals who don’t put enough thought into the ethical side of their spirituality…those of us who profess to being witches, druids, shamans, etc. might do well to read Magdalena’s excellent article. I’m posting it in three parts, here is the first segment.
THE GODDESS MADE ME DO IT!
“The Goddess made me do it”; think of how absurd that statement really sounds to a Pagan. After all we generally subscribe to a belief system that supports both immanent and internalized Deity and, to use a theologically technical term, is pantheistic; we and the Deity are mutually dependent on one another. That is, what we do has a direct effect upon the Deity. If our actions are honorable and ethical the Deity is enhanced by us, and likewise, if our actions are dishonorable and unethical the Deity is correspondingly impoverished.
So if we can’t take the easy way out and pass the buck entirely to the Lady and wash our hands of it then what do we do? What is it that really guides our behavior in the world?
Many would say the Wiccan Rede: An it harm none, do as thou wilt. But is that really sufficient in and of itself? It is my opinion that the Rede, while making a clear cut statement, is very broad and quite abstract in nature. While most of us would wholeheartedly embrace the Rede as a guide for our behavior we would also do well to supplement it with a more specific and well-thought-out code of ethics.
This code, if intelligently constructed, could serve multiple purposes. One, it could give us more concrete ideas about the concept of harm and suggest appropriate Pagan responses. As such it would become a helpful tool for its user(s) in navigating this wild experience we call life. Another good reason for having a code of ethics (and following it) is it gives us credibility in the broader society as an ethical people. Our ethics is one area where we can truly distinguish ourselves from various “satanic” cults and other groups who engage in the various “dark” arts. Having to make this distinction has been with people for a long time. Almost two thousand years ago, Jesus is credited with saying that “by the fruits of their labor you shall know them.” We would do well to heed these wise words even today and let our actions speak justly for themselves.
Let us now take a closer look at this issue of ethics…that elusive, subjective concept that supposedly makes us “civilized”:
ethics; 1: the discipline dealing with what is good and bad or right and wrong or with moral duty and obligation; 2.a: a group of moral principles or set of values; b: a particular theory or system of moral values; c: the principles of conduct governing an individual or a profession; standards of behavior; 3: character or the ideals of character manifested by a race or people.
When we look at this definition we see that the concept of ethics is formed around the concepts of morality, behavior and character. So when we talk about Pagan Ethics one thing we are talking about is the moral and behavioral aspects of the Pagan weltanschauung. On a personal level we are examining our behavior towards each other and towards everyone else, human and non-human, with whom we interact during the course of our lives. We are also examining how we define and implement our moral duties and obligations towards ourselves and towards others. This is not an easy task. Morality and standards of behavior are very subjective by nature and differ quite substantially from culture to culture and even from person to person within the same culture.
At the group level we can talk about our “professional” ethics, the ethics of magick or the ethics of ritual practice for example. While still retaining a definite individual and very personal aspect to them (especially in solitary practice), there is often a broader sphere of influence involved that reaches beyond the self to include others either directly or indirectly. While still difficult these are somewhat easier to define as we can come together as a group and decide what principles and standards we are going to adhere to ourselves and hold each other accountable to also.
And then there is the “global” aspect of ethics; the character or ideals of character manifested by a race or people. This is the aspect of ethics that defines us as either “good” or “bad” as a people. And this is where the majority of misinformation and misunderstandings exist between our actual identity and the identity imposed upon us by stereotypical definitions of “witch” and “witchcraft” so pervasive in our current society. It is at this interface between actuality and indoctrinated fantasy that the rubber really meets the road. If we are to be successful in changing these definitions and the hatred and hostility they breed on a global level we must each on a daily basis strive to our highest ideals of morality and character in every aspect of our lives. Only by presenting a continuing and consistent presence as an ethical and responsible people collectively will those old ideas finally fall with time, as they must when actual human experience doesn’t support and verify expectations. All too often we are thought of first as “a witch”, the stereotype, and then secondly, and usually only when they come to know us, as John or Jane Doepagan, a real person.