A note from Witchy Words: At the beginning of the year, I asked the circle I coordinate, Circle of Fountains, if they'd each like to do a guest article based on a topic that I might not be able to cover. This is a great effort by my amazing circle to give you information that you might not otherwise encounter here at Witchy Words. The following article is written not by me but another member of Circle of Fountains, with credit and notes about its author below. Enjoy!
I thought about this article for a long time. Considering the political climate in America, I think that we could all use a refresher course on morality. I'm not pointing fingers, of course; as a wise man once said, when you point the finger of blame, you have three more pointing back at you. Self-examination and self-awareness can save a lot of people a lot of anguish, and it's not something that's exclusive to Wicca, or any religion, for that matter.
There are quite a few people that believe that Wicca, a sect/brand of Paganism, can be summarized with: "An it harm none, do what thou will." I think that Wicca is much more than 'harm none,' but what is Wicca? Here's the short and sweet version:
Wicca has no real central authority. It was sort of 'created' in the 1940s and 50s by Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente as a modernization of old Pagan traditions, made suitable for the modern life. It took the core beliefs, rituals, practices, etc., and made it accessible to the modern person. At its core, Wicca has:
• Nature-based living
• Cyclical themes, existing as harmoniously as we can
• Deities of all genders
• The Rede
You'll hear about The Rede a lot, and it can all be summed up with "an it harm none, do what thou will." This means that you are free to do anything you like, so long as it harms none. I've heard the argument that "Wiccans use the 'do what thou will' to do any sinful/jerk-ish thing they want," but I respectfully remind those to remember that the full saying includes "harm none." For me, learning "harm none" was the hardest part of my adulthood, because harm none means to include the self. As in, no harm to ME. Many Wiccans use this as their basis for their moral code, and I'm one of them.
"And harm ye none, do what ye will"
Living a 'harm none' lifestyle is difficult and highly nuanced, just as one would expect in trying to live by any religious/moral code. Many interpret this to say that Wiccans shouldn't eat meat or consume animal products whatsoever. I personally consume animal products, but I have the privilege of sourcing my products locally and through purveyors/producers I trust. Living in the midwest does have those advantages and, while it can get expensive, I make it a priority in my own life.
What about every day? If I were to truly commit to my 'harm none' morality, I would have to sift every little thing I say, do, and think through the sieve of : "Am I hurting someone somewhere by saying/doing/thinking this?" Is that exhausting? Is it time-consuming? Is it worth it? Will anyone actually care that I'm making this effort? Will anyone stop and pause, look at my behavior, and step outside themselves to do the same, even though they're hurting themselves, or me, in the process?
I think so.
Living a moral life in a modern privileged first world society should be really easy if you look at it from a purely objective standpoint. We don't have to kill people for money or basic survival. We don't have to stab another guy in the face to keep from pillaging our land or raping our wife and murdering our children. We don't have the struggles of the pioneers and the settlers. If we're hungry, we can go to the store, a restaurant, the kitchen, or even our own backyard if you're a gardener. If we're cold, we can put on a sweater or turn up the heat. If we feel a little crusty, many of us can just shower with perfectly clean water that runs down the drain magically [Witchy Words note: Certainly not ignoring the unclean water plights plaguing many US cities and indigenous reservations, but that's a topic that should be looked at with deeper focus.]. When all the basic human needs of survival are taken care of, what is left but to move forward?
I'm not shy about my past and I know I've been sort of a serial monogamist. I had an ex-boyfriend that I fought with often and he would say very hurtful things when we argued. Still, I tried my very hardest to argue in a way that I thought was right. I made a very conscious effort to not say "you do this" or "you're such a this." I always did my best to say things like "I feel like this is" or "I don't know if that's." Did he ever notice that I was making the effort to do that or did he change because I used this method? No, but his not noticing did not void my need to maintain my moral code. Did it hurt to walk away? Yes, but "harm none" includes yourself.
"Do no harm, but take no shit."
We have emotional, existential struggles. Many Americans have pretty darn okay lives (food, water, shelter, etc.). When the need for survival is sort of put in the back of our minds, we have the ability to focus on other things. Every person is different and all paths lead to one in my view, but what one does on their own path is just that: Their own path. In this fast-paced American world of 2016, it's easy to forget that every person is fighting their own battles every day.
So, what does Wicca do for me?
I've been a Wiccan since I was 13 years old, so that's 15 years now. I wasn't initiated or introduced to it by an outside source, necessarily; I just stumbled upon a copy of Edain McCoy's Making Magick six days before my 13th birthday. I remember reading it and thinking, "this is all things that I already believe in." I remember feeling immediately connected to it. It wasn't so much a challenge to my thinking but an affirmation that everything would be alright.
In that book, which has lead me on my journey to read more and to seek out more, I learned things like the Threefold Law and The Witch's Pyramid. These principles, combined with the Rede, have become the core of my beliefs as I've grown up.
The Threefold Law
This is something you'll often hear when faced with Wicca. It basically means that what you send out into the Universe will be returned to you by threefold. I like to think of it as a "naturalistic cause-and-effect" principle. If you're nasty and awful, you'll only get that back. If you do good deeds, it will return to you in some form or another. I've always liked to think of the astral plane as a special place that exists right above you. I think of it as a place that you can create what you wish with your mind, and I've always loved the idea of a special place that I could go and create my own world. When it comes to spell work or just living your everyday life, however, the uses can be more practical.
Say you want a promotion at your job. If one were to use the Threefold law, one might say that, to achieve this end, you put in extra hard effort in to your job already. If you were to do a spell, the idea is that this energy is put out into the Universe, into the astral plane, and left to grow until it gets so big and so heavy that it has no choice but to fall out of the Astral Plane and into the real world. This is the idea of basic spell work.
Can this rule be scientifically proven? Could you keep a tally of every good deed you've ever done, if only for the sake of seeing if you'll get three-times that in return? You could; but I don't think you'd truly enjoy those little blessings you were receiving if you were spending all of your time keeping score. Being a good person for the sake of being rewarded for it later isn't always the most-rewarding thing in and of itself. Being a good person for the sake of being a good person, however, is often its own reward, and there's nothing wrong with celebrating that.
The Witch's Pyramid
The Witch's Pyramid, which is also referred to as The Four Pillars of the Witch's Temple, creates the basic mindset one needs for successful spellwork. One could also take it and apply it to living life every day. The four pillars/the corners of the pyramid are:
• To Know
• To Will
• To Dare
• To Be Silent
To Know: I imagine this as the big base of the Pyramid. Wicca teaches to seek out knowledge, to question why, to grow your mind, body, and soul through knowledge. With knowledge as the foundation to a good life, one can approach it pragmatically and with a fairly open mind. I believe that having knowledge and the desire to seek it out plays a great role in living a moral life, especially in this day and age with the American election going on. Googling articles, checking Snopes, going through fact-checkers, citing sources... all of this is the enemy of ignorance, and ignorance is the enemy of empathy.
To Will: Once we get up from the base, we're moving up the structure of the pyramid to 'to will.' The will is a powerful thing, and I think it's more significant than to just want something. To desire something is to simply want it without the gumption to seek it out. With knowledge as the base of your everyday actions, going through your day with knowing what you know, you can live a good life by willing goodness into existence. Don't just send out 'thoughts and prayers' when a friend is going through a real struggle, such as losing a beloved pet or dealing with depression or being in a car wreck. See them, see their struggle, make the choice to project your imagination so to put yourself in their place. In applying "to will" to morality, I believe one has to really make that vulnerable choice of finding that dark place within yourself, remembering what it feels like, and finding that struggling person and telling them that they aren't alone.
To Dare: This is the part where you actually do something. This is the part where you take the risk. This is where you donate $10 to that charity, even though it might be a scam. This is the part where you give the homeless guy your spare change, even though he might use it to buy drugs. This is the part where you reach out and say "Hey, how are you?" to that friend you haven't seen in forever. This is the part where you call them first to say "I'm sorry." This is, I find, the hardest part of the pyramid to do. It's so easy, especially with the internet, to say literally anything you want and never be prompted to actually walk your talk. It's so hard to remember that behind every profile picture is a person, just like you, dealing with absolutely everything and nothing like what you're dealing with right now. It's easy to forget to connect. You want to live a more moral and empathetic life? Reach out. Be bold. Dare.
To Be Silent: This is the part that's essential in spell work. Say you do a spell; do you tell everyone that you did it? Will their thoughts and energies screw with your own thoughts and energies on your spell? How about when you do something nice for someone else? Say you bought the coffee of the guy behind you. Do you go on Facebook and tell everyone that you did that? This can be nuanced, and I've honestly given it a lot of thought: Doing something nice for the sake of smug bragging rights is honestly kind of dick-ish, but still acceptable, because you did still do something nice. Doing something nice, then telling people about it to encourage good deeds in others? Of course that's acceptable, as well. Doing something nice can be its own reward, and while it benefits others to be a good person, it'll be good for you, for your soul, in its own quiet way.
Where do we go from here?
Now that we've gone over the tip of the iceberg in Wiccan morality, are we finished? Are we ever finished? When does one feel satisfied with their philosophy? Does following this particular philosophy mean that you are a Wiccan? Or are you merely following along with my interpretation of Wicca and its practices because you agree with them?
There will always be questions in morality, just like there will always be questions in the world. I wanted to keep this article open and fairly non-theistic, both to be respectful to my dear friend, Witchy Words, but to also be inclusive to all that may read it. I'm not trying to preach to you, dear reader, believe me. I'm merely a Wiccan girl, going through her own path in life, sharing a bit of knowledge with you in hopes that you may take some of it for the benefit of you and those around you.
And it harm none, do what thou wilt with it.
Along with being the Nutritionist for Circle of Fountains and a dedicated Wiccan, Kolika is the owner of Pistachio Bakehouse and a member of the ACF. You can find her blog and read more about her adventures at Wanna B Gourmande and like her Facebook page here.