I teach at an online school and I am currently taking one of the classes and the question of ethics and morals came up as part of a lesson. It’s interesting really because in another course offered, I wrote a lesson on this particular topic. The assignment looked at a few ‘rules’ or ‘mottos’ across the Pagansphere, ones commonly thought to be what most follow. The question in the assignment was (with my answer):
1. Of the “rules” mentioned within the lesson, do you follow any of them? Do you follow this as part of your religious practice or just what you feel is important to you in your witchcraft path? If you do not follow any of them, do you have a different “motto” that you base your practice on?
I’m not religious so I tend to more follow them as it were as more of a feeling that it is right. To that end I suppose in a broader sense of my practices I would “follow” Do Unto Others however that is shortly followed up with ‘within reason’ because if I do nicely and others do harm, I’m not going to just sit there and take it. I try to be practical in my ethics, I do believe in cause and effect or as Einstein said ‘every action has an opposite and equal reaction’. I don’t follow the Rede or Threefold Law or any such thing like that because I find them impractical but mostly I would say my ethical code is personal responsibility – I think about the consequences or outcomes that can come from a decision I make and weigh them up, good or bad, and decide whether or not I want to move ahead, accepting the responsibility for that decision or choice.
I think I answered it in the best possible way as it pertains to my particular belief system and path but it does beg the question: As witches how much of our ethics and morals play into our craft? But what are ethics and what are morals?
Ethics:1. (Used with a singular or plural verb) a system of moral principles: the ethics of a culture.
2. The rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.: medical ethics; Christian ethics.
3. Moral principles, as of an individual: His ethics forbade betrayal of a confidence.
4. (usually used with a singular verb) that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.
Morals:1. of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong; ethical: moral attitudes.
2. Expressing or conveying truths or counsel as to right conduct, as a speaker or a literary work; moralizing: a moral novel.
3. Founded on the fundamental principles of right conduct rather than on legalities, enactment, or custom: moral obligations.
4. capable of conforming to the rules of right conduct: a moral being.
5. Conforming to the rules of right conduct (opposed to immoral): a moral man.
6. virtuous in sexual matters; chaste.
7. Of, pertaining to, or acting on the mind, feelings, will, or character: moral support.
8. resting upon convincing grounds of probability; virtual: a moral certainty.
To me the dictionary reference to these two areas is very much defined by society’s expectations of what we should and should not do. As a society over the years we have defined what we expect from the population as a whole and within this mindset there is not much room for deviation from the norm (however there is a whole subset of people who are not included in the ‘norm’ and rightly so – serial killers, rapists, pedophiles etc) and if there is deviation from the norm – aforementioned wrongdoers excluded because they are ethically, morally and ever other kind of wrong - we are considered to be ethically or morally wrong. It is considered by some factions that being a witch is wrong – morally so because it goes against the Bible or some other religious belief system. There are those within the Pagan world that consider not having some sort of ‘Harm None’ philosophy in your personal practice is ethically wrong.
In witchcraft, I believe that most of us consider personal responsibility to be our ethical and moral compass. I also think our personal belief system would contribute. I know it’s wrong to kill or injure some one without cause (most would say there never is cause to kill some one) but if this should happen in the course of protecting my home, my family and my life I would not consider it morally wrong, not that I would use my craft to kill some one but I would bind, curse or hex them if I felt they were threatening myself or my family. Cursing, binding and hexing are forms of self defense and to some Pagan branches considered ethically and morally wrong because it is not within their realm of practice or religious belief. Sometimes I think those of us who are witches and practice as such without the restrictive dogmas or rules and redes of other branches get a bit of a hard knock because we choose to not adhere to those expectations. There are those of us who practice craft that was practiced before the Gardenerian introduction. By researching, learning and reading we are able to get an idea of what came before – anthropology, mythology, herbalism and archeology are generally where witches will start to learn the ways of old. We don’t crack open the Wiccan books unless there is something in there that interests us and we generally don’t give a thought to the eastern mysticism that has been combined with western mysticism and history to create ‘modern witchcraft’ as Gerald Gardener presented it.
I’m not saying it is wrong, far from it. Wicca is a beautiful religion, but it is not the religion for me. My ethics and morals may differ from the traditionally accepted norm of the Pagan world but it doesn’t make them wrong. It just makes them mine.