So, I have come to a conclusion; we cannot look to government for development of ethics. Ethical government is an oxymoron. One of the biggest. Christians, Jews, Muslims and all the other religious colours of the world can’t look to their various theocracies for ethical instruction. Again, ethical religion – oxymoron or relative to the particular arm of the clergy , depends on who is doing what to whom.
And what about us, holier than thou, Pagan-types? Stick a pin in your self-righteous, inflated egos, my friends. We are no better. We have no ethical structure; we have the tools but few are willing to take them up and build something solid. Something workable.
You see, ethics are relative and there is no changing that particular little harsh bit of reality.
I’m not a friend of Wicca nor have I been for many years now. I think the whole Wiccan Rede thing is a pile of crap. It’s a poem for chrissakes. It wasn’t handed down from on high. It was poem, written for a magazine (Green Egg) by a Gwen Thompson. Not a bad piece of work but it is poem. It isn’t a Law. It isn’t a commandment. It was not bestowed by a god or a demi-god. It was one woman’s feelings and experiences in her belief system. End of story. And Gerald Gardner? Alex Sanders? I refuse to even entertain the thought that either of them were leaders in ethical standards.
Do what thou wilt an’ it harm none. Yeah, ok. Not exactly earth shattering stuff and absolutely impossible to incorporate into life in a literal sense. The thought behind it has been said before and before and before. “Do unto others” sums it up in a far less pretentious manner.
Witches have another little saying: “A Witch who cannot kill; cannot heal.”
Some like to believe that this relates to our knowledge of herbs and plants. Folksy medicines. Seems to make us far more palatable to the general public., but, in reality? No. It actually reflects a Witch’s ability to understand both side of the life coin – light and dark. If you can’t summon up a good old fashioned hex? Well, then – you are missing 50% of the whole deal. We are about cycles; night, dawn, daylight, dusk, life, death, re-birth, good and not so good. The light and the dark. Male and Female. Demons and Angels. It’s a package deal.
You need a firm grasp of ethics to know when each can or should be applied. But life is about free will. All religions seem to agree that we have been given free will. In a most bizarre turn of events? Most religious adherents/clergy feel it is their right, their obligation to remove that free will from us. Free will is our right, no one should have the power to take it from us; it is what we do with it, that is important.
Applying our personal ethics with consistency as opposed to applying them when it is personally convenient to do so is a key to this gift of free will. Knowing that with freedom of any kind, comes responsibility. Free will is the root of all freedoms, of all decisions we take. It is deciding our own destiny, our own future and is serious, serious work. More and more young people are finding their way to Paganism, by and large for the wrong reasons but regardless, they are finding themselves in our midst. Stupidities like the movie and television shows like Charmed or even Twilight have left their scars on the psyche of the young. A good lot of the time, they come to us because they feel powerless, in a big world that is less than kind toward the needs of youth. In a world where there is precious little actual interaction with parents anymore, where parenting is relegated to daycare workers, teachers and sadly, even sports’ coaches. And we’re condescending to them. Their opinions are of no importance. How strange for adults to be feeling this way, seeing our own coming of age, included the demand to be heard regardless of our age.
Hobbes – an old debating foe pointed out that we love to tell young folks what to do, all the while doing the opposite. Don’t tell him I said so, but he is absolutely right.
* Don’t do drugs, we tell them as we reach for a cigarette, a doob or a drink.
* Don’t steal as we walk out of the office loaded down with office supplies or call in sick to catch a ball game.
* Don’t drink and drive as we turn the ignition of our vehicles, after a bull session in a local pub or watching the ladies do their pole thing.
* Don’t have unprotected sex, while the joys of our lives may well be the result of our own little foray into the barrel of monkeys that is sex.
* Don’t kill as we watch the latest Die Hard flick or CSI episode.
We are a morass of contradictions ourselves; no wonder the young folks are confused.
So, the million dollar question; how do we explain Pagan ethics to the young people flooding our ranks, our public rituals, our festivals, when we have no idea what Pagan Ethics would entail ourselves?
What would Pagan Ethics be?
For starters, it is based on Free Will. The right to choose, to decide, with no interference from government, church or community. Free Will? Why is the concept of telling these young people about the concept of free will so terrifying? Free will is an extremely rough road to walk. It involves the words that seem to send shivers down our collective spines, personal responsibility.
Let’s take an example – we’ll go with abortion as this one is one far too many young men and women face every day.
- Determine what an abortion is – let’s not get stupid – we all know it is the termination of a pregnancy. But pregnancy is what? For some of us, it is the creation of life. So to undergo an abortion is to terminate a life.
For others, it is relative to the stage of pregnancy. From a scientific point of view, the embryo is, actually, a parasitical life form. Feeding off the mother, unable to sustain outside the host.
2. Determine the pros and cons of the situation. Is this a life threatening pregnancy? Was it the result of a violent, invasive act? A rape or incest? Or did it occur the usual way, an act of passion between a man and woman? Accidentally. What’s done is done.
Now the consequences of irresponsible behaviour must be faced.
3. What is the point of view of the individuals involved, beyond the whole her body, her choice rhetoric. The point of view should be as equal as possible. Yes, the man has a stake in this but it is the woman who has to undergo the physical transitions. This will be a life time commitment, not necessarily to each other but to the child.
4. Should the woman decide to go ahead with the pregnancy, and the man is adamantly against this decision? Then, his free will must be respected and his obligation can then be removed. That’s it. Game over for his parental status. But this also means, said woman CANNOT come back on him 5 years down the road, seeking child support. She made her decision as is her free will to do but he also made his decision, as is his free will to do. Any future change must be of mutual consent.
5. Should the woman decide to go ahead with termination? Free will. Unfortunately for the man in this position, a man who is opposed to the abortion? His free will must take a backseat to hers. All options discussed, as openly as possible of course, but in the end? It has to be her free will that dominates. And perhaps lesson learned, albeit a very painful one.
No one is going to get this perfect each and every time. It is a pain in the ass, admittedly, to consider a decision from every possible ethical angle and then execute the choice based on this brain burning exercise. And young people, may the gods love their impulsive little hearts, are not patient enough to examine all the angles. Which is why, as elders, we have a very huge responsibility of reminding them of the burden of free will. Screw the Rede and the whole “An it harm none” bullshit. These young people aren’t stupid. They can spot hypocrisy a mile off.
Before teaching rituals or tools or spells or invocations…all the neat-o stuff; it would seem to me that good old fashioned discussions on ethics and applying them in life, from a Pagan perspective, should be the first order of business.
Follow that up with some history – true history, not the mythical Avalon crap or that we date back to Stonehenge. History that states, organized religions as we have known them are in their terminal phase in the Western World. Paganism has grown out of them as a result of the refusal to accept the concept of free will.
Some of our forbearers were less than stellar in their motivations to create something new but create they did. We have the choice, the free will to build on the constructive aspects and toss out the stupid stuff. The secrecy thing is a real bother to me – makes sense within the context to magickal teachings, invocations but not-so-much within the greater society aspects of it all. We all know or know of, some piece of pond scum who has found a way to exploit the secrecy aspects for their own personal gain. Applying personal ethics to this kind of situation has the greatest degree of offering protection. If it is wrong as per your sense of right and wrong? Tell ’em to stuff it and walk away. Free will.
Above all. Feels wrong? Then your sense of free will is being threatened and you need to step back, examine, think and re-apply your views to the situation.
Ethics are determined or should be determined by the responsible application of Free Will. This is what we need to teach young Pagans. Not what side the chalice goes on, not what size, colour, shape or sharpness and Athame should be – that is just nonsense. Paganism 101 should focus, in all paths, on the concept of free will and the burdens that this will entail.
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