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Internet Book of Shadows, (Various Authors), [1999], at

      Getting Specific about Magical Ethics
                Sometimes a clichejust wearsout. It losesmeaning or, worse,begins
      to say things we never meant. I think it's time to retire the phrase "black
                Saying"black" when we mean "evil" is nasty nonsense. In the first
      place, it reinforces the  racist stereotypes that corrupt our  society. And
      that's not all. Whenever we  say "black" instead of "bad," we  repeat again
      the big lie that darkness is wrong. It isn't, as people who profess to love
      Nature should know.
                Darkness canmean the inside of the womb, and the seed germinating
      within  the  Earth,  and  the  chaos  that gives  rise  to  all  truly  new
      beginnings. In our myths, the  one who goes down to the  underworld returns
      with  the treasure. Even death, to the Wiccan understanding, is well-earned
      rest and  comfort, and a preparation  for new birth. Using  "black" to mean
      "bad" is a blasphemy against the Crone.
                But even if we no longer speak of magic as "black" or "white," we
      still need to think and speak about the ethics of magic. Although black  is
      not evil,  some actions are  evil. It simply  is not  true that anything  a
      person is  strong enough or  skilled enough to  do is OK, nor  should doing
      what we  will ever  be the whole  of the law  for us.  We need a  clear and
      specific vocabulary that enables us to choose wisely what we will do.
                We need  to replace the word "black," not simply to drop it. Some
      Pagans have tried using "negative" as their substitute, but that turned out
      to be confusing. For some people, "negative" means any spell to diminish or
      banish anything. Some things  - tumors, depression, bigotry -  are harmful.
      There's nothing wrong with a working to get rid of bad stuff. "Left-handed"
      is another common term for wrongful practice, very traditional, but just as
      ignorant, superstitious and potentially harmful as the phrase "black magic"
      itself. So in Proteus  we tried using the word  "unethical."  That's a  lot
      better - free of extraneous and false implications - but still too vague.
           Gradually, I began to wonder whether using any one word, "black" or
      "unethical"  or whatever,  might just  be too  general and  too subjective.
      Perhaps all I really tell a student that way is "Judy doesn't like that."
           I won't settle for blind obedience. If ethical principles are going to
      survive the  twin tests of time  and temptation, people need  to understand
      just what  to avoid, and  why. Even more important,  they need a  basis for
      figuring out  what to do  instead. Especially when  it comes  to projective
                Projectivemagic means active workings,the kind inwhich we project
      our will out into the world to make some kind of change.  This is what most
      people think of when they use the  word magic at all. Quite clearly,  magic
      that may affect  other people is magic that can harm.  This is the basis of
      the proverb "a  Witch who can't hex  can't heal." Either you  can raise and
      direct  power,  or you  can't.  Your strength  and  skill can  be  used for
      blessing or for bane. The choice - and the karma - are yours.
           Just as some people feel that strength and skill are their own
      justification, others feel that any projective magic is always wrong - that
      it is a distraction  from our one true goal  of union with the Divine  or a
      willful avoidance  of the judgments of  Karma. I think  these attitudes are
      equally inconsistent with basic Wiccan philosophy.
                Weare taught that we will find theLady within ourselves or not at
      all, that  the Mother of All has been with  us from the beginning. We can't
      now establish a union that was always there. All  we can do, all we need to
      do, is become aware. Knowing what it feels like to heal and empower,  again
      and again  till you can't  dismiss it as  coincidence, is  one of the  most
      powerful methods for  awakening that awareness.  It makes  no sense to  say
      that  the  direct  experience  and  exercise  of  our  indwelling  divinity
      distracts from the Great Work.
           Indeed, it is this intimate connection between our magic and our
      self-realization  that our ethics protect. Wrongful use of magic will choke
      the channel. No short term gain could ever compensate for that.
                The karmic argument againstpractical workings seems to meto arise
      from a  paranoid and  defeatist  world view.  Even if  we  assume that  the
      hardships in this life were put there by the Gods for a reason, how  can we
      be so sure that the reason was punishment? Perhaps instead of penance to be
      endured, our difficulties are challenges to be met. Coping and dealing with
      our  problems, learning magical and mundane  skills, changing ourselves and
      our world for the better - in short, growing up - is that not what the Gods
      of joy and freedom want from us?
           One of the most radically different things about a polytheistic belief
      system is that each one of us has the right, and the need, to choose which
      God/desses will be the focus of our worship. We make these choices knowing
      that whatever energies we invoke most often in ritual will shape our own
      further  growth. Spiritual practices are a means of self-programming. So we
      are responsible for what we worship in a way that people who take their One
      God as a given are not.
           Think about this: what kind of Power actively wants us to submit and
      suffer, and objects when we develop skills to improve our own lives? Not a
      Being I'd want to invite around too often!
                So it will not workfor us to rule out projectivemagic completely;
      nor   should   we.  Total   prohibitions  are   as  thoughtless   as  total
      permissiveness or blind obedience. Ethical and spiritual adults ought to be
      able to make  distinctions and well-reasoned choices. I offer  here a start
      toward analyzing what kinds of magic are not ethical for us.
                Baneful magicis magic done forthe explicit purposeof causing harm
      to  another  person.  Usually  the  reason  for  it  is  revenge,  and  the
      rationalization is justice. People who defend the practice of baneful magic
      often ask "but wouldn't you join in cursing another Hitler?"
           For adults there is no rule without exceptions. If you think you would
      never torture somebody,  consider this scenario: in  just half an  hour the
      bomb will go  off, killing everybody in the city,  and this terrorist knows
      where it is hidden.... 
           It's a bad mistake to base your ethics on wildly unlikely cases, since
      none of us honestly knows how we would react in that kind of extreme.
      Reasonable ethical statements are statements about the behaviors we  expect
      of ourselves under normally predictable circumstances.
                We all getreally angry on occasion, and sometimeswith good cause.
      Then  revenge can  seem like no  more than  simple justice. The  anger is a
      normal, healthy human reaction, and should not be repressed. But there's no
      more need to  act it  out in magic  than in physical  violence. Instead  of
      going for revenge - and invoking the karmic consequences of baneful magic -
      identify what  you really need.  For example,  if your anger  comes from  a
      feeling  that  you  have  been  attacked  or violated,  what  you  need  is
      protection  and safe  space.  Work for  the positive  goal, it's  both more
      effective and safer.
           The  consequences of baneful magic are simply the logical, natural and
      inevitable psychological effects.  Even in that rare and  extreme situation
      when you may decide you really do have to  use magic to give Hitler a heart
      attack, it means  you are choosing by  the same choice to  accept the act's
      karma. Magical attack hurts the attacker first.
           The only way I know how to do magic is by use of my imagination, by
      visualizing  or otherwise  actively  imagining the  end  I want,  and  then
      projecting that  goal with  the energy of  emotional/physiological arousal.
      All the techniques I know either help me to imagine more specifically or to
      project more  strongly. So the  only way  I can send  out harm is  by first
      experiencing  that harm  within my  own imagination.  Instant  and absolute
      karma - the natural, logical and inevitable outcomes of our own choices.
                I would think, also, that somebody dumb enough to dosuch workings
      often  would  soon  lose the  ability  to  imagine  specifically, as  their
      sensitivity  dulled in  sheer self-defense.  That callusing  effect is  the
      reality behind the pious proverb that says "if you abuse it, She'll take it
                But not every othermagician is ethical. Psychic attacksdo happen.
      Should we not defend ourselves? Of course we should. Leaving ourselves open
      to psychic  attack is no good example of the autonomy and assertiveness our
      chosen Gods  expect. But first, how can we be sure what we are experiencing
      really is psychic attack?
                Thefantasy ofpsychic attackis often aconvenient excusethat allows
      us to avoid looking at our own shortcomings. When lack of rest or improper
      nutrition  is the cause  of illness, or  a project isn't  completed on time
      because of distraction,  it's a real  temptation to  put the blame  outside
      ourselves.   Doing this too  easily betrays our  autonomy just as  badly as
      meek  submission to attack does. Then, to compound matters, projected blame
      becomes  an excuse for unjust revenge --  and that is baneful magic without
                Once in a rare while, some fool really does tryto throw a whammy.
      It's hard to predict when you might be targeted. Passive shields are always
      a good idea. Like a mirror, these are totally inactive until somebody sends
      unwelcome energy. Then a shield will protect you completely and bounce back
      whatever  is being  thrown. You  may not  even know  consciously when  your
      shield is working, but the result is perfect justice.
           Perfect justice; elegant and efficient. You won't hurt anybody out of
      paranoia or by mistake. And perfect protection, even though we do not have
      perfect knowledge.
                Bindings, according to some, arecompletely defensive. They do not
      harm, only restrain. But imagine yourself  being bound - perhaps by someone
      who believes themselves justified - and notice the feeling of impotence and
      frustration. Binding is bane from the viewpoint of the bound.
           Even if restraint were truly not harm, bindings are just plain poor
      protection. They target  a particular person or group. What  if you suspect
      the wrong person?  Somebody harmless is bound  and your actual attacker  is
      not bound.   Shields, which cover you, not your  supposed enemy, will cover
      you against any enemy, known or unknown.
                So, baneful magic,  besides being  painful in the  short run  and
      crippling  in the long  run, is never  necessary. There are  better ways of
      self protection, and retribution is the business of the Gods.
                Coercive magicis magicthat targets anotherperson to makethem give
      us something we want or need. When most people think of the "Magic Power of
      Witchcraft," this is what they have in mind.
           The spell to make the teacher give you a good grade, or the supervisor
      give you  a good evaluation,  the spell  to make the  personnel officer  or
      renting  agent choose  you, the  spell to  attract that  cute guy,  all are
      examples of coercive magic.
                So, what's  wrong with high grades,  a good job, a  raise, a nice
      apartment and a sexy lover? There's  nothing at all wrong with those goals.
      An it harm none, do what ye will. As long as nobody is hurt, go for it! But
      don't strive toward good ends by coercive means.
           Although there is no deliberate intent to do harm or cause pain in
      coercive  workings, other people are  treated as pawns.  Their autonomy and
      their interests are ignored.
                For Pagans, to do this is total hypocrisy. We profess to follow a
      religion of immanence, one that  places ultimate meaning and value in  this
      life on  this Earth,  here and now.  We claim  to see  every living  thing,
      humans  included, as a sacred manifestation. To do honor to this indwelling
      divinity, we  place great value  on our own  personal autonomy. How  can we
      then justify treating other people as objects for our use?
           Nor is it harmless. Forcing the will, controlling the independent
      judgement of another human being, is harm. Once again, empathy leads to
      understanding. Just imagine you are the person whose will and judgement is
      being externally controlled. How  does puppethood feel? From the  viewpoint
      of the target, the harm is palpable.
                The Pagan and Wiccan community asa whole is also hurt by coercive
      magic.   One  of the  main  reasons people  fear and  hate  Witches is  our
      reputation for controlling others.  This is an  old, dirty lie, created  by
      the  invading   religion  in  an   attempt  to  discredit   the  indigenous
      competition. Today,  that reputation  is mostly  perpetuated by  people who
      claim to be "our own," who teach  unethical coercive magic by mail order to
      strangers whose ethical sensitivity cannot be evaluated long  distance. May
      the Gods preserve the Craft!
                People who are connected to thesituation, but invisible to us,may
      also be  seriously hurt: the  cute guy's  fiancee, the other  applicant for
      that job.  What  you think of as a  working designed only to bring  good to
      yourself can bring serious harm to innocent third parties, and the karma of
      their pain will be on you.
                That  isn't the only way an incomplete  view of the situation can
      backfire.  There's  a traditional saying that goes, "be  careful about what
      you ask  for, because  that's exactly  what you will  get." What  if he  is
      gorgeous,  but  abusive?   What  if  the  apartment  house is  structurally
      unsound?  Better to state  your legitimate needs  (love in my  life, a nice
      place to live) and let the Gods deal with the details.
                Finally,remember this: asking specificallylimits us towhat we now
      know or what  we can now imagine.  But I remember a  time when I could  not
      have imagined  being a priestess.  What if  the cute guy  in the office  is
      perfectly OK, but your absolutely perfect soul-mate will be in the A+P next
      Wednesday? The more specifically targeted your magic is, the more you limit
      yourself to a life of tautology and missed chances.
                And  beyond all the scenario spinning lies the instant karma, the
      natural,  logical and inevitable consequence  of the act.  It's more subtle
      than in the  case of baneful magic, since you are not trying to imagine and
      project pain, but the damage is still real.
           Every time you treat another human being as a thing to be pushed and
      pulled around for your  convenience and pleasure, you are  reinforcing your
      own alienation.  The attitude of being  removed from and  superior to other
      people takes you out of community. As the attitude strengthens, so will the
      behavior it  engenders. The  long term  result of  coercive magic,  as with
      mundane forms of coercion, is isolation and loneliness.
                Are youbeginning to think thatmagic is useless?Did I justrule out
      all the good stuff: love charms, job magic, spells  for good grades? Not at
      all. It is not only ethical but good for you to do lots of magic to improve
      your  own life. Whenever it  works you will  get more than you  asked for -
      because along with whatever you asked for comes one more experience of your
      own effectiveness, your power-from-within.
                Work on yourself and your own needs and desires without targeting
      other people. Then feel free! Ask for what you want. Visualize it and raise
      power for it and act in accordance on the  material plane. "I need a caring
      and  horny  lover with  a  good  sense of  humor."  "I  want an  affordable
      apartment near where my coven meets with a tree outside my window." "I need
      to be at my best when I take that exam next week." Fulfill your dreams, and
      sometimes let the Gods surprise you with gifts beyond your dreams.
                Manipulative magic is magicthat targets another person forwhat we
      think is "their own good," without regard for their opinions in the matter.
      In the general culture around us, this is normal. As you read this, you may
      have some friend or relative praying  for you to be "saved" from  your evil
      Pagan ways  and returned to the fold of their preference. These people mean
      you well.  By their own  lights, they are attempting  to heal you.  We work
      from a very different thealogical base.
                Aspolytheists, weaffirm thediversity of thedivine andthe divinity
      of diversity. If  there is no one, true, right and  only way in general, do
      we dare to  assume that there is one  obvious right choice for a  person in
      any  given situation? If more than  one choice may be  "right," how can one
      person presume they know what another person would want without asking them
           No life situation ever looks the same from outside as it does to the
      person who is experiencing it.  Are you sure you  even have all the  facts?
      Are  you fully aware of  all the emotional  entanglements involved? Perhaps
      that  illness  is  the only  way  they  have  of  getting rest  or  getting
      attention. Perhaps  they stay in that  dead end job because  it leaves them
      more energy to concentrate on their music. How do you know till you ask?
                And,to furthercomplicate theanalysis, it'spossible thatthe person
      you are  trying to  help  would agree  with you  about  the most  desirable
      outcome, but fears and hates the very idea of magic. They have as much of a
      right to keep magic  out of their own life, as you have  to make it part of
                Ourreligion teaches thatthe sacredlives withineach person,that we
      can hear the Lady's voice for ourselves if we only learn to listen. "... If
      that which you seek,  you find not within yourself, you will  never find it
      without."   In  behavioral terms,  when you  take another  person's opinion
      about their  own life seriously, you  are reinforcing them in  thinking and
      choosing for themselves. The more you  do this, the more you encourage them
      to listen for the sacred inner voice.
           Conversely, whenever you ignore or override a person's feelings about
      their own life,  you are  discounting those feelings  and discouraging  the
      kind  of internal  attention that  can keep  the channels  to wisdom  open.
      Although well-intentioned  meddling may actually help somebody in the short
      run,  in the longer  run it trains  them to dependency  and indecision. Few
      intentional  banes damage as severely. This is especially true because even
      the  untrained and unaware will instinctively resist overt ill-will, but in
      our culture we are trained to receive "expert" interference with gratitude.
                Check byasking yourself, "who'sin charge here?" Theanswer to that
      will  tell  you whether  you are  basically  empowering or  undermining the
      person you intend to help. 
                And,  as  usual, the  effects go  both  ways. The  same uninvited
      that  fosters passivity  in  the recipient  will  foster arrogance  in  the
      "rescuer."   It's control and ego-inflation masked as generosity. It's very
                If you makethis a habit, youwill come to believethat other people
      are  incompetent and powerless. Then what  happens when you need help? Your
      contempt  will make it  impossible for you  to see what  resources surround
      you.  Manipulative magic is ultimately just as alienating as coercive magic
      - and it's a much prettier trap!
           The way to avoid the trap is to do no working affecting another person
      without  that person's explicit  permission. Proteans are  pledged to this,
      and I think it's a good idea for anybody.
                You don'tneed to waitpassively forthe person toask. It'sperfectly
      all right to offer, as long as you are willing to sometimes accept "no" for
      your answer.  For the person who believes s/he is unworthy or who is simply
      too shy,  offering help is itself a gift. Taking their opinion seriously is
      an even greater gift: respect.
                Therule is thatwhenever itis in anyway physically possibleto ask,
      you must ask. If it's not important enough to pay long distance charges, it
      certainly  isn't important enough to violate a friend's autonomy. If asking
      is literally not possible, then and only then, here are a few exceptions:
                Sometimesan illness or injuryhappens very suddenly,and the person
      is unconscious or in a coma before you could possibly ask them. If you know
      that  this person is generally comfortable  with magic, you may do workings
      to  keep their  basic body  systems  working and  allow the  normal healing
      process  the time  it needs.  If they  are opposed  to magic,  for whatever
      reason, back off!
                Traditionally, anunconscious personis understood tobe temporarily
      out  of  their  body. Maintaining  their  body  in  habitable condition  is
      preserving  their option,  not choosing  for them. Doing  maintenance magic
      requires a lot  of sensitivity. At some  point, the time may  come when you
      should  stop and  let  the  person go  on.  Be sure  to  use  some kind  of
      divination to help you stay aware.
           This is a hard road. It may be your lover, your child, lying there
      helpless. Any  normal human being  would be tempted  to drag them  back, to
      force them to stay regardless of what is truly best for them, regardless of
      what they want. Don't repress these feelings, they do no  harm, even though
      your  actions might.  It takes  great strength  and non-possessive  love to
      recognize that your loved one knows their own need. You may be calling them
      back to a crippled  body, to a life of  pain. You may be calling  them back
      from the ecstasy of  the Goddess. And  this is no more  your right than  it
      would be to murder them.
           If a person is temporarily not reachable, you may charge up a physical
      object, such as  an appropriate talisman or some  incense. When you present
      it to them,  give them a  full explanation. It is  their choice whether  to
      keep or use  your gift. By interposing an object between  the magic and the
      target in  this way, you  can work the  magic in  Circle, with the  coven's
      power to draw on, and still get the person's permission before the magic is
                With all these rulesabout permission, perhaps it would besafer to
      work  only on ourselves?  Safer, yes, but  not nearly as  good. If you have
      permission, you may do any working for another person that you might do for
      yourself.  Coercive magic is  just as unacceptable when somebody  else asks
      for it, and you may not do manipulative magic on your friend's mother, even
      at  your  friend's  request. The  permission  must  come  from the  magic's
      intended target and from nobody else. With proper permission, working magic
      for others is good for all concerned.
                Every act of magic has two effects. One is the direct effect, the
      healing or  prosperity working  or whatever  was intended.  The other  is a
      minute change in the mind and the heart of the person who does the working.
      Everything  we  experience,  and especially  everything  that  we  do in  a
      wholehearted and focused way  - the only way effective magic  can be done -
      changes  us. Each  experience leaves  its tiny  trace,  but the  traces are
      cumulative. They mold the person we will become. Our karma is our choice.
           Instant karma can also be good karma. Logical, natural and inevitable
      outcomes can be desirable. When you send out good, what you send it with is
      love. Love is the driving force. When you let love flow freely, the channel
      down to love's wellspring stays clear and open. When you send out good, you
      direct  it along the web  of person-to-person connection,  and awareness of
      that web is reinforced. The totality of that web is the basis of community.
           When you send out good it feels good. In the same way that sending out
      bane  requires  imagining pain,  sending  out  blessing requires  imagining
      pleasure, strongly and specifically.  And, when you send out good, just the
      same  as  when  you call  it  to  yourself,  you  reinforce your  sense  of
      effectiveness  in  the  world. Blessings  grow  in  the  fertile ground  of
      mutuality, to the benefit of all.
                A pattern isbecoming visible.In baneful magic,the magicianintends
      to harm  the target.  In coercive  magic, the intent  toward the  target is
      neutral.  In manipulative  magic, the  magician  actually means  the target
      well. But  no matter how  different the intent  may be, in  all three cases
      magic is done to affect another person without that person's permission. In
      all  three cases, the target, the practitioner and ultimately the community
      are all  hurt. And in all  three cases, there are safer  and more effective
      ways to reach the valid goals that we mean to aim for.
                So,  perhaps there is a descriptive word that covers all wrongful
      magical  workings after  all.   How  about  "non-consensual" or  "invasive"
                There's one thing left to examine: the paradox of making rules to
      protect personal autonomy.
           If we make some of our choices as a community, by discussing things
      together  and  arriving  at  a  common  understanding  about  what  magical
      behaviors are  acceptable among us,  then we choose  and shape the  kind of
      community we become.
                Or wecould give up ourright to choose,because we feelwe shouldn't
      tell  each other what  to do.  Some people  believe that  a refusal  to set
      community standards promotes personal autonomy. It never has before.
                Appeals toindividual rights can bereal seductive. Noneof us wants
      Big Brother looking  over our shoulders, telling us what to do "for our own
      good."   For Witches in particular  - members of a  religious minority with
      bad  image problems -  this is a  very legitimate fear.  But make sure when
      somebody talks about "rights"  without specifying something like "religious
      practice rights" or  "the right to consensual sex," that  you find out just
      what "rights" they mean.
                Rhetoric about"rugged individualism" hasbeen usedin recenthistory
      to  fast talk us into  letting the rich  or strong dominate  all our lives.
      Without anything  to stop them,  they can destroy  the forestland, or  deny
      jobs or  apartments to  "cultists." Personal  autonomy for  most  of us  is
      diminished when we allow that.
                Magic can be used for dominance,just the same as muscle or money.
      There is no difference, ethically, between the magical and the mundane.  We
      are not obligated to tolerate power trippers among us. We are not obligated
      to  run our own community by the  slogans and ground rules of the dominator
                Thinking  about "rights," or about "laws" for that matter, in the
      abstract leads to "all or nothing" thinking - immature and slogan driven. I
      don't think we should ever "just  say" anything. We need a deeper and  more
      mature analysis.   We need to  ask questions like "right  to do what?"  and
      "law  against what?"  We need  to get away  from absolutes  and to  look in
      practical terms at the advantages or disadvantages of our choices.
                Once more,our religion itself showsus the way tosteer between the
      false choices. "An  it harm none,  do what you will."   What a  person does
      that affects only herself - magical or mundane - is truly nobody's business
      but  her  own. For  example, consensual  sexual  behavior affects  only the
      participants. But toxic waste dumping affects everybody in the watershed.
                As  long as we  look at behavior  in terms of  private choices or
      individual will, we obscure the distinction that really makes a difference.
      If we're serious about wanting to give each of us the most possible control
      over our  own  lives, then  decisions  should be  made  by all  the  people
      affected by the behavior - not just by the people acting.
           As soon as another person is magically targeted, that other person is
      affected. If we allow such targeting without consent, we are not supporting
      personal autonomy, we are subverting it!
                When the behavior begins to affect us all - for example when real
      estate  development threatens  the  salt marshes,  and  ultimately the  air
      supply -  or, very specifically,  when invasive  magic erodes the  trust we
      need to  work together -  then we have  a right to  protect ourselves  as a
      community. No ideology should  turn us into passive victims  when something
      we hold precious stands to be destroyed.
                Invasive magichurts the targetfirst, and soonthe actor, butin the
      long run  it hurts all of  us. It's been so  long since we've  been able to
      meet  together,  share  our knowledge,  help  one  another  in need.  Pagan
      community is very new,  and still very  fragile. It can  only grow in  safe
                The People of  this Land forbade skirmishes  around the pipestone
      quarries, keeping that sacred source open to all. Otherwise, no sane person
      would go there, and the Old Ways would wither. For much the same reason, we
      cannot tolerate poppets in our council meetings.
           An atmosphere of coercion and manipulation and magical duels does not
      nurture community. Eventually, for self protection, the gentle will either
      change  or  go away.  We could  lose what  we  have misguidedly  refused to
            As within, so without: our karma is our choice.
                                    Judy Harrow

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