I found myself the other week trying to explain a Pagan view of good and bad and evil to a group of non-Pagans. It was a question I hadn’t really even thought of very much myself. Do Pagans, and more specifically, Wiccans, believe in evil?
I said no. I don’t think we do. I’m speaking more in the terms of a Wiccan point of view and manner of belief, but parts of this may apply to the broader Pagan community–forgive me if I happen to generalize at times. Also, this concept isn’t even fully formed in my own mind, so pardon if I backtrack or even contradict myself in my musings–I’ll try not to, but no guarantees.
I don’t think we believe in evil. That doesn’t mean we don’t understand the concept, or that we don’t have a concept of evil, but I don’t think we believe in it as a part of our spirituality. “Evil” here has the meaning of an act that is so far beyond reprehensible that it can barely be conceived. Evil is an act or a person that causes unimaginable levels of pain or harm to a person, a group, or another living being. Hitler, for example, is considered evil by a great many people.
The problem (as I see it) with relation to the concept of evil is that many Pagans believe in a natural order. Death is not evil, but natural. Harm is not evil, but merely something to be avoided because it’s bad, and it happens. It’s an accepted fact that we will all be hurt at some point in our lives–the only unknown is how badly we’ll be hurt. But that doesn’t necessarily equate to evil. This part seems to be a matter of degree. A little pain, a little hurt, all falls within the natural order, but great pain and great harm that goes beyond what one person should in theory be able to accomplish falls under “evil.”
As a moral person, I can see that. But it’s not a part of my spirituality, it’s outside of it. The concept of evil, to me, doesn’t enter into or come from my beliefs. The greatest concept of evil that most people either believe in or can understand is the concept of Satan and the Devil. Many people say that evil comes from Satan. This understanding of evil comes from the religious beliefs of that person and tends to mean that what is evil is unnatural, created by the Devil, sinful, and/or morally reprehensible. This idea is directly related to the spirituality in the fact that believers have a model held in front of them saying that if X, Y, or Z is done, then you can’t get into Heaven or be a good person or be a moral person, etc.
Pagans don’t have that. We believe that everything has its natural place, and you can do pretty much whatever you want to if you’re willing to accept the legal, moral, and/or karmic consequences of the action. Doesn’t mean the community will like you, or condone what you do if it’s found you are actually causing harm, or tell you you’re wrong. It just means that spiritually, from a faith standpoint, there is nothing in the belief system that says what action is wrong or evil and what action is not. From a moral standpoint, I think most of us would agree that murder is wrong. But from a spiritual standpoint and a Pagan worldview, murder is acceptable if you, the perpetrator, are willing to accept the consequences of your actions knowing that this carries heavy karmic implications (if you believe in karma) and heavy legal and moral implications. Mind, I’m not saying we advocate murder or anything like that, because we don’t–what I am saying is that the emphasis is placed on making the choice. If I were in a situation where I had to murder someone because it was the only way I could protect myself or my family, I’d probably do it, and accept the consequences. Would I go and commit outright murder? No, because I know that’s wrong. But nothing in my spiritual beliefs says that it’s wrong or evil to do so–that is coming from a moral standpoint, not a religious one.
What do other Pagans and Wiccans think? Do you think we have a religious or spiritual basis for the concept of evil, or do we not? I’m interested in what others think on this subject, so please, weigh in!