This is part 1 of my series on ethics. You can read part 2 here, and part 3 here.
Most of us with a religion ground our ethics within that religion. At their root, most religions share basic ethical ground. In Wicca, we have three laws or rules that govern our ethics and behavior:
I’d like to talk a bit about what these mean, and then relate that meaning to religious and magickal practice. In later posts, I’m going to broaden my scope.
‘An it harm none, do as thou wilt.
Know as the Wiccan Rede, this guiding law can be deceptively simple. “Do as you will” is the part most people will see first. The important part, though, is “‘An it harm none.” Think about it for a minute, and you will begin to see how incredibly challenging it can be to follow this law. Harm none. Practically speaking, it is impossible to follow this law perfectly. Everything you eat was once a living being, and your consumption equals destruction. Walk across your grass, and you crush its leaves and step on its inhabitants. We are imperfect beings, and destruction and chaos are a part of our existence. The Rede forces us to consider the harm we cause in our actions, and to reduce or eliminate that harm whenever and wherever possible.
When it comes to ritual and spellwork, the injunction against harm is a defining line between black and white magick. Most magick is, of necessity, some shade of gray. Again, the Rede forces a consideration of harm versus good in every magickal action. Does my spell initiate harm or destruction of any kind? If so, how can I find a way to accomplish my goal without causing that harm?
What you do comes back to you, times three.
This is known as the Threefold Law, or the Law of Return. It is a magickal/ethical companion to Newton’s Third Law, but with a twist: the return is not equal, but magnified. To understand why this is, think about dropping a stone into a pond. The action of the stone hitting the surface of the pond causes a small wave. That wave encompasses a larger and larger area as it moves away from the stone, until the ripples can fill the entire pond if the stone is large enough. Another analogy is the Butterfly Effect of chaos theory, which states that something as small as a butterfly flapping its wings can eventually lead to a large change like the creation of a hurricane. The ripples of our actions move outward and magnify to fill the whole world. When those ripples bounce back to us, they are magnified and multiplied. Thus, our actions return, magnified.
The Threefold Law acts as a cautionary support to the Wiccan Rede. You don’t want to cause harm in your actions, because that harm will come back to you, multiplied. If you focus on putting out good in your actions, then that good will likewise come back to you, multiplied. When creating a spell, think about what it would be like to be on the receiving end of that spell…because you are.
Compulsion is black.
It is generally accepted among white witches that compulsion of any kind constitutes black magick. Spells to bind, spells to compel, spells to change a specific person’s behavior without their knowledge or consent, all of these constitute compulsion, and all are black magick. Practicing this type of magick constitutes harm, violating the Wiccan Rede, and the repercussions for this magick will likewise follow the Threefold Law.
Avoiding compulsion, for witches, can include things like not doing healing spells for anybody without their express permission. It includes not doing spells to “make somebody love me,” not binding a harmful person, even not visualizing the desired action of another person. There are always alternatives. It is easy enough to ask for permission before doing a working on another’s behalf. Love can be attracted to you rather than forced from another. Harmful actions can be shielded from and reflected. As always, every action should be carefully considered as to its components and consequences.
Tomorrow, I’ll look at how I apply these laws in my mundane life.