"Eight words the Wiccan law fulfill: An it harm none, do what ye will."

"Though a coven of thirteen is apt to give you fourteen different opinions on the subject, Wiccan beliefs can be roughly summarized as follows:

"Worship of both Goddess and God;
"Reverance for nature as sacred;
"Belief in reincarnation;
"Acknowledgement and use of magic;
"Disdain of proselytizing / evangelizing."

Which is all well and good, except that those fourteen different opinions do count. Theological discussion rages on-line and off: Does "harm none" prescribe vegetarianism? or that one mustn't eat at all? or breathe? Is oneself included, so that "harm none" means one shouldn't smoke or drink caffeine? How do Wiccans feel about suicide? Define "harm" -- only physical, or mental and emotional too? How abstract does it get? Does every change inflicted upon an unwilling being constitute harm?

     I've known Wiccans with all sorts of drug addictions. I've known Wiccans who eat meat, Wiccans who don't, and Wiccans who adhere to strict "no kill" diets (carrots are off-limits; apples aren't). I've known potential draft-dodgers and potential Armed Forces recruits. There are those who won't move magically at all for fear of the consequences, and those who prescribe spells for every hour of the day, including love spells and hexes.

     And the Gods! Whole pantheons of them! In ones, twos, and three thousands! Some prefer the Celt Deities, some the Egyptian Gods, some the Greco-Roman family, and some just make them up as they go. Wiccans range from literal-minded piety to pragmatic atheism and all points in between.

     So how do we know what the hades anybody means by saying, "I'm Wiccan"? Well, it's not as hard as I make it sound. Like Christian denominations, the varying Wiccan traditions tend to differ only over minor points of liturgy. You know: Gods' names, shades of interpretation on the "Threefold Law", dietary habits, whatever. The important things tend to remain constant.

Gods and Goddesses

     The traditional mythology, going back to Gerald Gardner's initial creation of the religion as we know it today, is based on the cycles of nature. The Goddess changes with the Moon, Her colors being silver and white, Her time being night. She is as constant as the Earth, Her colors being green and brown, Her nature that of a Mother. At midwinter She gives birth to the God, who, like the plants and animals, grows strong in His youth through spring and summer, grows weak in His age through the fall, and finally dies on Samhain Eve during the harvest. He is also said to impregnate the Goddess with Himself, so that He can be born again the following Yule. He is the John Barleycorn, who grows from his Mother the Earth and lays her seeds upon her, and is then cut down to feed us. He is the Sun that waxes and wanes with the year. And as women emulate the Goddess in their monthly cycles, men follow the Sun's slower changes throughout the year.

     Most Wiccans I've met don't read this pageant literally, though they often re-enact it during community Sabbat rituals. In fact, the belief I most often encounter, and of which I also partake, holds that no named God or Goddess is a true God or Goddess. There is a Source, a Prime Mover Force, the beginning and the sum of All That Is, who is infinite and therefore unknowable by finite minds. We feel Its influence, and we long to connect with It, and so we create the Gods whose names, genders, and species fit our ideas of what a God or Goddess should be.

     I will freely call upon the muse Calliope, enacting a ritual of black coffee, candles and dream-writing, when I sit down to write. At that time, it is a Deity of word-creation I need most. It is that segment of the Infinite that can most help me. For me, She became real the first time someone imagined Her, and continues to be real as long as She is worshipped, believed in, supplicated. But she is not the One True Goddess (hmph! the very idea!), but simply a useful channel to the Source.

     Not all Wiccans subscribe to this bit of metaphysics philosophy. Some do believe in the God and the Goddess as literal Deities, albeit multi-named ones. Some stick out their tongues when they hear the cliche, "All Goddesses are One, and all paths lead to Her." But the majority of Wiccans I've known tend towards a sort of pragmatic agnosticism. Their rites and prayers take on the light-hearted but powerful quality of sacred role-playing.

Ethics and Morality

     The "Wiccan Rede" sums up our religious ethics, though "harm none" is wide open to interpretation. Some fulfill the Law through vegetarianism. Some, insisting that "harm none" includes the self, refuse to smoke, drink, alter their bodies, or condone suicide. Most will refrain from "hexing" people, preferring spells to "bind" dangerous characters rather than harm them, and many will never cast a spell at all, not even for healing, without the subject's explicit permission. Manipulation, too, is a form of harm.

     Wiccans also tend to be practical, I've found, and "harm none" becomes an ideal rather than an absolute. Obviously, our physical needs mandate that something die so that we live -- even if it's just a carrot. I tend to adulterate the Rede a little; "An it harm none unnecessarily, do what ye will." Or, "without justification." This means that I should examine my actions to ensure the least harm to all involved. Self-defense, agression of any sort, and fetus abortion all are realms of action in which potential harm to one party must be weighted against potential harm to another.

     Of course, nobody's perfect...

     The Rede defines morality in terms of how we treat each other and ourselves; few Wiccans recognize the idea of "sins against God." For example, we tend to support gay rights and all sorts of equality, and decry homophobic, racist, sexist, or superpatriotic rhetoric. The harm done by two women in love is nonexistant; the harm done to them by intolerance, persecution, and hate-crimes is despicable. I personally have a hard time justifying causing misery on the say-so of what may be a fictitious character, and if I'm wrong, I'd rather be sent to Hell than to spend eternity in His Heaven, thank you very much!

     (more later)


Last updated December 1, 1998
"May the Circle be Open, But Unbroken"
Beliefs explained here are solely mine, and in no way representative
of Tripod, [MYSTERY SCHOOL], or even the [MYSTERY SCHOOL] Student Pagan Alliance.