Ethics: Walking in Light and Shadow
by Elspeth Altvater
I went to a pagan festival recently, hungry for community and like minds. I had spent so many months in the Wiccan equivalent of solitary confinement that I felt desperate for ethical company. I found it at the festival, as well as the joy of community found at most of our gatherings, but I also found a dark aspect to our growth - the realization that many of our community, whether seeker or priest (ess) treat ethics as a practice rather than a lifestyle.
It is difficult for me to understand this as an isolated Wiccan; I feel a keen responsibility to practice both Craft and Religion in an ethical manner. Ethics are not a series of rules. True ethics become a way of thinking and reacting to the people around you, whether part of your community or not. Ethics contain empathy and thought. Any first degree can chant for his or her priestess some variation of the Wiccan Rede. But to use it in a practical manner, one must apply it on a situational basis. I find myself constantly checking and apologizing to people because I act without consideration of "harm". Gossip about a Circle can break it. We are not its judges, but we can be its executioners. Gossip about a person is harmful, but we persist. Gossip within a Circle is its automatic division. Action in pagan space without ethical consideration is irresponsible action and a festival isn't an automatic excuse. If we are not learning or teaching that everything we do is an example to the mundane and magikal world, we are in deep trouble.
In our burgeoning community nothing must be taken for granted. Many students present at festivals are solitary or seekers. Many students who have degrees may come out of young Circles where the Wiccan Rede is considered a simple maxim to remember. If I am to be a grown-up, then I must have real understanding of the people I deal with, both those I consider my own, and those who will interact only briefly with me. I must be prepared to be an example, but only if I have the clear understanding that my feet of clay will always get me in trouble. I am not perfect. I am a seeker. I must stay aware of my actions, biases and prejudices, and actively work to change and overcome them.
Some of the comments I overheard at the festival bothered me greatly. Malicious gossip from Circle to Circle was accepted as a part of pagan life. A class consciousness existed, a certain snobbery, and even those who came with open minds to their own kind could be heard to comment in a derogatory manner about other faiths and other cultures.
There are two types of problems here - ignorance and lack of thought. Ignorance stems from younger pagan people affirming their new beliefs by castigating the religion they left or rejected. Lack of thought occurs when our older, more experienced people speak publicly about others, either in the Craft or not, in a manner inconsistent with their degree and teaching. People are listening to us. They believe what we say. They believe our actions and our attitudes reflect our religion, and they are right. It is impossible for me to represent my religion well all the time. I get tired, sore, and bitchy. I have a temper, and I use it. I must be aware that when I am in public, especially at festivals, I may be the only priestess some people will meet. Their impression of me will be their impression of the work and sacrifice of all who have come before me. If I respect them, if I respect the community, and if I respect myself, I must keep a guard on my tongue. And I must understand that I can never have full knowledge in anyone else's choice, and so cannot judge them or their choices. My judgement is not subjective, and therefore it is harmful. I have violated the Rede.
Our religion is not one of constraint. We are free to love, to drink, to dance, and to be who we are within the magikal gift of community. But because of its freedom, we must be self-responsible. We must consider every situation in the light of "harm". We must be aware that we will always commit harm, despite our best intentions. We must show that freedom equates with maturity and responsibility. Once those things are in place, we can find a balance of light and dark, freedom and constraint. "We are between the worlds, where light and dark, joy and sorrow, death and rebirth meet as one."
 Return to NorthWind Home Page. | Delve In to other Realms! | Contact NorthWind.