Imposing a Magickal Moral Code (and they Tyranny of Harm None)
I hear it all the time “Harm none”. It has nothing to do with me, but I hear it all the time. Because Wicca is the best marketed of modern magico-religious paths, its Rede is trotted out whenever a moral dilemma comes up, regardless of whether anyone involved is Wiccan. Never mind that the Rede does not say “Two words the rede fulfill”, but pointing that out is like trying to argue a Christian about what Jesus said, even though it’s all written out for anyone to see. This shouldn’t be my problem or my business except that it has been made so because those two little words are thrown at me nearly daily. “harm none”. So, although I don’t want to, I’m going there.
The truth is, I do have a moral code. It’s not “harm none”. I think it’s better. Harm none and the baggage it carries actually violates some of my moral codes. Harm none is a cop-out. It is a limp, lame excuse for morality and I’m sick of hearing it. Before you get mad at me, let me explain:
I am a witch and also a Hellenic Polytheist. These identities are distinct, though there is some overlap, after all, they co-exist in one person. They each have their own values and sense of morality inherent within them, and yet they are each colored somewhat by the other.
As a witch, I embrace my power. Yes, I have the power to heal, to draw good things, but also to bring illness and misfortune. That is the nature of a witch. That is what witch means, not this happy rainbow fru-fru stuff. A witch uses what’s at her disposal, a witch is practical, a witch does what needs to be done when others are afraid or incapable. As a witch I must follow certain moral codes, simply because I understand how the energy of the Universe works and I know that if I don’t, I could find myself in an unhappy situation.
(By the way, karma has nothing to do with this. The word karma is so misused, it makes me feel sorry for it, even though the real pre-appropriation concept of karma is somewhat abhorrent to me. )
As a witch, I understand that every action has a reaction. As a witch, I understand that the energy that I cultivate is the energy that will affect my own life. As a witch, I understand that there are finite resources (money, sex, housing, jobs, food, sparkly thing, etc.) in our environment and whenever one person gets some it means everyone else must have less, so giving is almost always also taking away. As a witch, I understand that everything is relative. An evil man is someone’s beloved father or son. A good man may be someone’s oppressor. These things color my moral code. They are truths that must be considered not just before I take magickal action, but before I take any action.
Far too often I see rules applied to magick that aren’t applied to material action. This confuses me.
People often say that it is wrong to use magick to manipulate the Will of another. Yet these same people will use all sorts of physical, psychological and emotional means to manipulate another’s will. Will manipulation is rampant in our culture. If you don’t believe me, just watch your Facebook feed for a while, or worse, watch television for a bit. People whine, beg, cajole, cry, threaten and present ultimatums to those we claim to love all the time. If you work in sales, politics or marketing, will manipulation is your job. We spend hours talking people out of one viewpoint into another, verbally or in writing(look, I’m doing it right now). We send our children to bed when they don’t want to go to bed, we send them to school when they don’t want to go to school, we talk them out of things we know they aren’t good for them. (Very skilled parents will make their kids think this was their idea. My mother is a master at this.) This is all will manipulation. So is stopping a crime, imprisoning a criminal. All interfering with another’s will.
Some of these things we may put in the “bad” category in our mind while others we might put in the “good” category. For the “bad” things, I might ask “Why is it okay to do these things through emotional, mental and physical means, but not magickal means?” and for the “good” things I might ask “Why exactly is using magick to accomplish this a bad thing then?”
This often comes up with regard to love spells. Emotion, by the way, isn’t Will. They are two different things, but I digress. The truth is, forcing someone to give you sex, by any means, is rape. Whether you use drugs or magick to cloud their mind, or tie them down, or threaten to take away their livelihood, it’s all rape. There are many types of love spells, some more problematic than others. The knee jerk “harm none” reaction to a love spell does not help with the education of the new. More words are needed because for some reason there’s this separation in people minds between magickal and mundane actions that make the same thing okay in one sphere but not in the other.
If I wouldn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t do it in material space, then I shouldn’t do it in magickal space.
Another rule I keep hearing is that you shouldn’t use magick to accomplish what you can accomplish without it. Well, frankly, there are few things I can’t accomplish without magick that I can accomplish with magick, so I have no idea where the logic is here. It seems to come from some sort of fluffy Harry Potter mindset that implies that magick is some amazing force that can accomplish unnatural feats. It’s not. And even if it was, you’d better believe if I could enchant a broom to clean my house while I sat on my butt, I’d be doing it. All day, every day. And I’d sell them too, which is a nice segue into my next point except that I’m not done with this one.
I use magick for just about everything. But I also use physical means. If I’m looking for a job, I meditate, I use divination, I enchant my resumes, I cast a spell to draw me to the perfect job, I look on online listing sites, I pound the pavement in town, I ask around, I fill out applications online. When I worked at the University I used my parking space spell daily. And I tried to time my leaving the house with when I knew the volume in the parking lot would be lower, even though it meant getting to work early. I lock my doors at night, and I set wards. I teach my kids to be safe, and keep a watchful eye on them, and cast protection spells over them. I mix herbal remedies and cast healing spells on them. I mix my own cosmetics and cast beauty spells on them. Seriously. Everything. All day. Every day. Explain to me why this is a bad thing?
In fact, reserving magick for special occasions only leads to a witch who doesn’t know to do magick. That is, if you don’t do magick, how the hell can you call yourself a witch at all? Witchcraft is a craft. It needs to be practiced. Daily, hopefully. If a carpenter can just as easily buy a shed, or hire someone else to build a shed, as build it himself, why should he build it himself? Because he’s a carpenter! It is what he does. Assuming he’s not building a ton of sheds for other people and simply doesn’t have time, of course. Oh look, there’s another segue.
Charging other people for magickal services; I just can’t fathom why this is a bad thing. As a Hellenic Polytheist (and I should think any Polytheist who identifies with the Gods of an honor culture would probably agree) I find it morally abhorrent to accept anything without giving something in return. So, giving away services for free, and getting nothing in return, means that I have given something to someone who is, in my view, morally bankrupt. I think not. But besides all of that, these things take time, and time is valuable. The time I spend casting a spell for someone else, I could be at an office, earning money, or writing an article to earn money, or preparing food for my family, or spending time with my family. All of this is worth something to me. I tell my current boss that I won’t leave the house for less than $100 and my musician husband won’t come perform for you for less than $100 because we have other things we could be doing that are also valuable to us. I can certainly set a minimum for how much it’s going to cost you for me to walk away from my child and spend my time and energy doing your thing. No matter what that thing is.
I also often hear that you shouldn’t use magick for personal gain. Why not? How on earth do you expect to help someone else if you can’t help yourself? Who else are you going to practice on? Going back to the carpenter we just talked about, don’t you think he should practice building stuff for himself before he goes off building stuff for other people? You know, just to make sure he knows what he’s doing?
As a Hellenic Polytheist I have a few moral obligations. The first, is Arete, Excellence. I must be the best I can be. Keep my body in the finest shape I can (okay, I suck at this) and hone my skills to my best ability- that means practice. The next is the Code of Hospitality, which is basically a do unto others type of thing. And the third is Reciprocity, what is given to me, I must give in return. And everything given to me creates a debt that I must pay. Finally, Justice. It is my duty to expose and answer any wrong done to me or any wrong that I witness or am made aware of. If I do not do this, I share the guilt when the wrongdoer victimizes another.
These obligations have to come before any morality I place on my magick, as they must come before any morality associated with anything else I do, but because I place the same morality on my magick as I do on my mundane actions, there is no conflict here. But, I am sure you can see now that “harm none” and all its baggage can actually conflict with what is truly important to me. I have the right, the duty to protect myself and my family. I have the right, the duty, to set a value on my work. And I have the right, and duty to put my well being before that of others. Because my primary job is to take care of my family. Magick is a tool. And I will use it without guilt. And someone may be harmed.
Which brings us back to “harm none”.
Harm none is freaking impossible. Everything you have is something someone else doesn’t have. Your spouse, your house, your job. When you got these things, someone missed out on them. Someone may, in fact, have felt harmed by this. Someone may have been manipulated into giving you what you want. Every time you eat, you harm something or someone. (Quite often in America, we are harming ourselves when we eat.) Smoke? Harming all kinds of people, including yourself. Wear cheap clothes? Think about the people who made those clothes? What kind of lives they must lead? Cosmetics? Where’d those come from, how were they safety tested? Are you sure they aren’t going to give you cancer? It is impossible, to harm none. So get down off your moral high horse, and quit that shit.
But “harm none” isn’t just irrelevant, it’s damaging. It renders you impotent. The entire quote says “An it harm none, do as ye Will”. This implies action, while “harm none” implies inaction. Most often when I hear “harm none” it is a cop-out. A call to inaction. I would do something about it, but I “harm none” so I will just let “karma” sort it out. I can’t claim to know, but seriously doubt that that is what the founders of Wicca intended. By ignoring the other five words in the Rede you hold so dear, you are giving up your Will. You are ignoring the challenge to find a way to deal with a situation that will bring the least amount of harm while still bringing about your Will. You are saying that my Will is unimportant and that your Will is not important. And I say to you that my Will is important(and so is yours but that’s for you to figure out). And that I will do the least amount of harm that I can manage, but I will do what is best for me and my family.
But I have to ask: if your Will is so unimportant to you, why are you studying witchcraft?