Question of the Week: Moral Systems


Most Pagans hear about the Wiccan Rede and Threefold Law when researching Paganism for the first time.  This is because both the Rede and Law are everywhere.  Seriously, everywhere on the Internet.  There are 291,000 Google search results for the “Wiccan Rede,” and 2,310,000 results for “the Threefold Law.”  It’s not unreasonable to think that the Rede and Law are discussed again and again on many different websites.

But this week’s question is this:

If you identify as Pagan, but not necessarily Wiccan, then what sort of ethical and moral system do you follow when working magick? 

Do you follow the Rede and/or Law?  Do you maybe follow a variant of the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have others do unto you)?  Or do you follow a personal sense of right and wrong as your magickal morality?

I realize this is a rather personal question, so I don’t expect many people to answer.  Rest assured, no flaming or serious fighting in comments will be tolerated, but I would love if you readers would post your insights into this topic.

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2 responses to “Question of the Week: Moral Systems

  1. Augh, you are my daily writing prompt, it would seem. XD

    In 11th grade, we read Dante’s Inferno, and were assigned the project of creating our own nine circles of hell. Most people took the traditional route: this is where God or Satan puts you if you have committed the sin of x, y, or z. I did something different: this is where you go, in this life, in an abstract sense, if you fuck with yourself mentally and emotionally in a certain way.

    Karma is no more than grasping what you failed to grasp at an earlier point. It will hurt if you did something with poor consequences at an earlier point. It will feel wonderful if, at an earlier point, you just weren’t ready for a certain level or source of joy, and now you are. The sense of punishment or reward for choices we’ve made is an emotional response to some change. Mastering our reactions leads to a much richer (and yet far less expensive) life.

    Then there is stuff that happens that’s neither punishment nor reward (in the “shit happens” category, “bad things happen to good people”, and “life’s not fair”, etc), but everything can be taken as a spiritual challenge, and our response to such events is how we shape ourselves and our works. The world mostly leans towards entropy, chaos. Life, by definition, creates order, and being alive we seek to extend that order far out into the universe, beyond death, beyond pain and senses, into the senseless actions of our own kind – to create more of ourselves and our personal will in the vast Out There. This is silly, but silly need not be evil. I am not free of the organismal tendency of creating order in my world, but the acceptance that there is no pre-existing or objectively superior order results in me making my own rules as I go (the listing of which would be a terribly long, boring, autobiographical snore-fest). Like most sets of spiritual and religious rules, they are vast and contradictory, context-dependent, with some passages forgotten and some cherished, and we don’t have everything in writing.

    So how do I shape my world? Jack Parsons wrote, “Freedom is a double-edged sword”, in which he essentially argues “With great power comes great responsibility.” I am completely free of preset morals and creeds. I choose as I go. But I am responsible for the consequences (mental and emotional) of what I believe (or fail to believe, if it’s right in front of me and not wise to doubt). I am responsible for the actions I take in response to those beliefs of mine, and their consequences, and I’m responsible for their upkeep and revision. My gauge is emotional, but not selfish or shortsighted. “Feels like shit” or “will probably feel like shit if I do it” stops me from doing something. “Feels great” (whether it’s relaxing great, or the kind of great deriving from hard work or good exercise, or even from purging/excreting gross things) is my green light. I put myself first, but often my feelings are affected by the feelings of those around me, so it’s not as though I’m an amoral sociopath. Everyone, I believe, puts themselves first, and the most tiresome people are those who pretend that they don’t, as they often play out dramas in which they are vainly nailed to some cross, calling out insults to their supposed persecutors that amount to no more than psychological projection. Even the Mother Theresas and Ghandis, I’d wager, knew that their base of operations was the self, dwelling in a single body with singular needs and tendencies. Selfishness, like silliness, is not necessarily evil. Selfishness is an essential consequence of living in a body.

    I don’t believe some karmic force is going to kick my ass if I do wrong, or give me brownies if I do right. But I know and have experienced my own ability to kick my own ass so hard it almost killed me. And much of my work has been opening myself to feel joy and light, to shape myself as I will, and not worry about what anyone – ANYONE – deserves, or thinks I/others deserve. My internal psychological backlash prevents me from intentionally hurting anyone; my experience being strong-willed and stubborn and wont to making my own mistakes thank you very much, not to mention my experience having things done to me without my consent, prevents me from doing spells for others without their consent and full understanding (<– important! or else they'll treat magick in a totally n00bish, psychologically damaging, stupid way); and my desire to not get caught up in stupid bullshit when, for all I know, I may only have one life (and in any case, I only have one life to be ME, with this family, these friends, these particular talents and traits), prevents me (finally, for the most part, and always there's room for a lesson) from doing stupid shit.

    Rules, like matter and form, are ultimately for breaking (in defiance, in honor, in ignorance, or in forgetting). But seeing what we can build is a thing of beauty – and letting it go – and building again. I don't have cherished rules, but beauty is my elusive template.

    What about you? Even if you follow the Rede and Threefold, the question of HOW, EXACTLY, could prompt just as lengthy and complex an answer. 😉

    • Kind of long (but I think you know that…) but you bring up some good points. How does karma fit in to a magickal ethics system, for example, and how does a person account for things that happen seemingly without reason, etc.

      Myself, I don’t necessarily follow the Threefold as it’s written, but I do adhere to the Rede. Though I mainly identify myself as simply Pagan, I lean more toward Wicca than anything else, and I find the Rede helpful when thinking about what kind of energy I’m sending out and why, and what kind of effect that energy could potentially have on myself or others. For example, I’m working on clearing the house of negative energy, but I have to do so carefully since whatever I do could potentially seriously cause harm to the other people in the house if there’s a drastic change in the energy within the house.

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