What are ethics?
Ethics are a standard of right and wrong. They provide directions on what a human ought to do in terms of basic rights, obligations, and fairness. The core of ethical behavior focuses on something or someone other than ourselves as it looks at the benefits to society or the larger group. It requires that we put our own self interest and desires to the side to determine the best course of action. When someone is thinking or acting ethically, they look at the broader picture beyond their own self.
The etymology of ethics derived from the Greek word ‘ethos’ meaning habit, custom, character, or disposition. Much of ethics has been drawn from cultures, philosophies, and religions over centuries. But there is not a single standard or uniform code by which ethical dilemmas are solved. People have different standards of right and wrong that have developed over their lifetimes. Ethics develop from bits and pieces of our lives and the way we individually assemble the bits and pieces about how to behave for the greater good develops our unique ethical code. Ethics develop from our childhood upbringing, religious beliefs, pivotal life experiences, discussions with others (family, friends, coworkers), and potentially from writings by philosophers. Over time, we assemble our code to help us determine how to live a good life, our rights and responsibilities, what is right and wrong, and what is good and bad.
It would be so much easier if there were a single right answer to ethical questions. For many, the ambiguity is difficult to live with, especially when they desire to do the ‘right’ thing. Knowing there is one right answer provides comfort and stability. But for many of us that don’t follow a single text that provides pre-prescribed answers, we must determine our own ethical path. This can be difficult, especially when energy and magick are involved.
Within magickal work are a host of ethical dilemmas. Problems where our brains and hearts often collide, with two or more different possible outcomes. Within the range of outcomes, there is no perfect or right answer. In fact, all the answers might be right, or all the answers might be wrong, and you just have to pick the one you think will turn out best for the greater good. In that way, we are forced to take responsibility for our actions; this feels quite daunting in certain circumstances. It is much easier to simply fall back on convenient rules as it removes us from our need to choose.
Ethics of Spellcasting
Discussing ethical issues can elicit a host of emotions from people. When our core beliefs are challenged by others who think differently, it can shake our own foundation. Even our magickal practice can get shaky too. The idea of ethical spellcasting is a hot topic amongst pagans. Each path from Wicca to Asatru and every path in between takes a different position on ethical spellcasting. And within each path, not every practitioner feels the same way. Some practitioners will use the historical past to note that our witchy ancestors didn’t feel ethically obliged when performing magick. Curses, hexes, and malevolent charms abounded during antiquity, hence the need for magickal protection. These ancient practitioners didn’t consider magick good or bad, right or wrong, white or black. They just performed Magick.
As we grew and matured as humans, so has our magick. And different times call for different measures. The development of the Wiccan Rede (‘An it harm none, do as thou wilt’) developed over time as a framework for ethical spellcasting. Hurting others through spells of revenge or power was found to be detrimental not only to the recipient of the spell, but also to the caster. Remember the Threefold Law: whatever you do, good or bad, comes back three times. Thus, magick that interfered with the personal choices of others or hurt others was deemed unethical by many witches.
But the waters are murky when it comes to determining what hurting others encompasses. Most contemporary practitioners follow the recommendation that magick should not be performed on a person unless they have provided their express permission. But the Wiccan rede is technically just a guideline and not all practitioners are Wiccan and not all Wiccans follow the rede. See how complex it can all get? There are so many circumstances when it is difficult to determine what the ethical answer is in a situation. What about defending your loved one who doesn’t know they are in magickal peril? Or a love spell? Or a healing spell?
The ethics of love spells can definitely be debated. Throughout time, people have sought love spells, charms, and potions to help them in their quest for eternal love. However, a love spell often pushes an unknowing person into an action they didn’t want to or wouldn’t normally choose. The spell goes completely against their will, which for most, means that it is totally unethical. But what about a spell that puts out energy to find your true love? Or to bring love into your life?
And then there are spells to help other people. This is where things get a bit trickier. Let’s say that you believe your best friend’s sister is in a terrible relationship. You feel her partner puts her down, is not supportive, and borders on being emotionally abusive. She vents to you about it one day but has no intention of leaving her partner. You want to do a spell to help her get out of the relationship so she can be happy and find a supportive partner. Yet, you are doing the spell against her will even if you think it is best for her. Now, add in the variable of abuse, and you have a completely different ethical dilemma.
There are a multitude of ways to work a spell to create the outcome you desire. Here is a scenario – you want a job at the best company in town, but so do several other well qualified candidates. A spell to make everyone else sick on the day of their interview is probably not the best magickal course of action. But what about doing a spell to make yourself look better than the other candidates? This type of spell takes away a possible position from someone else which could have a negative consequence, because the magick does not follow the Wiccan rede. What about a spell that gets a person fired so you can take their position? Again, probably not the best choice for being ethical magick. It can be hard to determine the best course of action, but to be on the safe side, it is best to send energy into the universe for what you desire rather than asking for specifics.
While most people would think a healing spell has only positive benefits, if the ill person does not give their express consent, it could be considered unethical magick. Interfering in their life’s course should not be taken lightly. While in our hearts we want people to be healthy, at some point we must all pass through the veil. Is it selfish to hold on to someone when they are ready to pass across? Maybe their illness keeps them mentally strong, gives them a purpose, or helps them feel a part of a group. Taking that away from them may do more harm than good. There are so many sides to each story and we, as practitioners of magick, are not always privy to the private sides of an issue. Therefore, it can be difficult to make a logical decision rather than one based on emotion and feelings when it comes to spell casting.
Passive and Active Spells
Passive spells work in the background while active spells have direct influence on a person or situation. If you are unclear about the ethics of your spell or magick, consider using a passive spell rather than an active one. Your magickal energy can be added to the pool of positive energy to help the person make the best decision for themselves when the time comes. Think about your best friend’s sister – sending energy for her into the universe for support and encouragement skirts the ethical issues of breaking up her relationship. And sending energy into the universe for a sick friend, so that they may make the best decision about their health, might be the best way to go. Giving a boost of magickal energy can be used when needed as a great way to magickally help without getting tangled up in a complex ethical dilemma.
Humans don’t all use a single reference point for the development of our ethical standards, so right and wrong will continue to vary. As this stands true, even with magickal practitioners, there will always be a multitude of ways to interpret ethical magick. We must all do what feels right for our own practice and keep our minds open to the various perspectives of each unique situation. When it comes to ethics, leave thy self behind, and always try to focus on the greater good. Blessed be.
This article is from the Mabon issue of Wicca Magazine. Our most recent issue can be found by visiting https://www.wiccamagazine.com/subscription