I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve encountered phrases like ‘karma’s will get them’ when someone is hurt by the actions of another or ‘that’s against the Rede’ when there is a discussion about hexes and cursing. If I got a pound for every meme, comment or rant I encountered online not only would I be very rich I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog. The level of misinformation and presumption amongst some elements of the pagan community is of epidemic proportions.
Common sense isn’t exactly common in paganism online but I shall try to inject some with this post.
The Wiccan Rede – Why one size doesn’t fit all
Let me start by saying that I am not Wiccan, or wiccan for that matter. I am not initiated into any of the Wiccan traditions and I do not follow any form of solitary path that takes its roots or name from the tradition created by Gerald Gardener. As such I am not a follower of the Wiccan Rede, but let’s just look at it for what it truly is for a moment. The Rede is rhyming couplet originally written by Doreen Valiente in 1964 and reads as:
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill, An it harm none do what ye will
Later this was incorporated into the “Rede of the Wiccae” also known as “Counsel of the Wise Ones” written by Lady Gwen Thompson and attributed to her grandmother Adriana Porter. It is more likely that Thompson created her poem based on the work of Valiente but in the view of this post it is by the by. I include it because the titles ascribed to the “long rede” emphasise the meaning of the word Rede.
Rede means advice or counsel and the Wiccan Rede is indeed sound council in as far as it goes. It’s always a good idea to avoid hurting others if at all possible. It is not, however, a universal law for all Pagans. It’s not even a law in definition.
It does not counsel turning the other cheek when faced with the ill actions of others, or demand we all be vegetarians (yes that’s a thing that has been said). If I want to hex the office bully whilst eating a bacon sandwich by golly I can because as someone who doesn’t identify as W/wiccan the Rede has little impact on me and my practice.
I alway find it very presumptive when someone assumes that because I identify as Pagan I am going to be censured by their invocation of the Rede, especially when they spout the common misnomers that surround it. The Rede as a peice of advice has its place and context but ut is not a one size fits all concept.
The Three Fold Law and The Law of Return
The Three Fold Law is another example of a Wiccan rule which is applied with a heavy brush. Again we can look to the proes of Lady Gwen Thompson for a good example of the Three Fold Law (Rule of Three, Law of Return).
Ever mind the Rule of Three
Three times what thou givest returns to thee
This lesson well, thou must learn
Thee only gets what thou dost earn!
The Rule of Three is first referenced in Gerald Gardeners “High Magic’s Aid” however it isn’t until the 1960’s that it is formalised by Monique Wilson and then published and popularized by Raymond Buckland in an article inBeyond in 1968.
The whole concept of the Three Fold Law is that any magical action that is carried out will return to the sender with three times the force originally send out. This is presented as a universal law which applies to all magical practices and is guaranteed by a higher cosmic/divine force. The main point of this Law is to cause the magical practitioner to review their actions and consider their morality of them however the concepts of right and wrong and the karmic response to actions is more akin to the concepts of virtue and sin as we see in Christianity. Some people remove the magical multiplication and refer to this law by another name, the Law of Return, and state that energy sent out will be returned in kind, good for good and bad for bad. This is still aimed at moralistic review of planned actions, and uses definitions close to ones we might associated with Christianity.
As with the Rede the Three Fold Law is a uniquely Wiccan* concept and whilst people can and do transport it out its context because it matches their own morality however it is not universal to all Pagans. Again, being told by “ye font of all knowledge” on a Facebook group that I am not truly Pagan because I don’t adhere to the Law (in either form) gets my dander up. Apart for the ever irritating presumption I tend to find it is a sure fire sign of closed minded adherence to concepts that they don’t truly understand the origin of.
* since writing I was involved in a discussion where it was suggested that the origin of the threefold increase can be found in the first degree initiation. As i am not an initiate and only have access to outer court information I present this information as is and leave the reader to decide. Personally I find it very interesting.
As we’ve touched on the karmic element of the Three Fold Law we shall move on to this next.
Karma and the Law of Cause and Effect – Ancient Concepts with a New Age Rehash
Karma is an Eastern concept concerned with the effects of actions taken in this life have upon our future lives and incarnations. The concept of Karma in its original form is closely tied up with a belief in reincarnation, the causality of actions and social boundaries (in particular when talking about eastern cultures we are talking about caste systems). The concept is vast and rather than completely derail I would suggest that if you are interested in this spiritual concept that you Google (carefully) the eastern concept of Karma. Instead let’s move on to its more modern usages, particularly in pagan circles.
We’ve already discussed the Three Fold Law and its use of karmic return and divine multiplication, however this isn’t the first westernised form of the eastern concept. The Theosophical Society first adopted Karma in its Law of Cause and Effect, best summed up as “what goes around comes around” however like eastern Karma there is a concern with how karma is accumulated and will affect future incarnations. It is only as we move into New Age and Pagan circles that Karm loses its accumulative effect on the next life and begins to have an immediate impact on the present one.
There are two massive missuses of Karma which I want to address.
Firstly people simply not understanding what Karma is and where is comes from and broad brush applying it to everyone they meet. As with the previous two concepts it’s not so much I have a problem with them holding this view, it’s the fact they wave it like a banner in the faces of others whenever they see something they don’t like. Its also highly irritating to see people appropriate cultural concepts without understanding what it is they are appropriate, especially when they blatantly ignore things like facts about said origins.
Second is the flagrant abuse of the concept. This goes beyond telling someone that “karma is going to get them”. In comparison that’s just petty spite. What I am talking about is using karma to explain negative life experiences, such as miscarriage and rape, as a result of major karmic debt.
No! Just NO!
People who are struggling to come to terms with traumatic experiences should seek appropriate support and Facebook groups and forums are not the best place to find it however there is no call for making vile comments such as “you deserved to be raped because of your karma”.
This isn’t something confined to the keyboard warrior, I’ve experienced it in real life settings with people sitting there with a smile on their face as they explain that their view of karma whilst at the same time engaging in victim blame.
A belief in Karma does not necessitate or excuse this kind of comment, nor does it absolve people from the most basic human compassion. How we relate our personal beliefs to the big questions in life is how we apply checks and balances to our own spiritual development. The sign of an open mind is that ability to recognise when beliefs simply don’t work.
Taking the Consequence
Okay, so let’s sit back from all these high minded spiritual ideas and look at things a little more prosaically. Usually when we think about cause and effect we think about it from a scientific viewpoint so let’s get back to that.
Imagine a child’s ball. At the moment it is at rest. Gravity acts upon it to keep it in place.
Now we add a little pressure to it and in doing so we add momentum to the ball. It leaves its state of rest and begins to move. On a flat surface it would roll until the force of gravity overcame its sense of motion and it would return to a stationary position.
The action here was to add movement, the cause was our pushing the ball, the effect was it moved a short distance, the consequence is probably not a lot but you achieved what you set out to do, you moved the ball.
Let’s add a bit of spice. Imagine the ball is at the top of a hill. You apply the same amount of force to it but this time the ball is carried down the hill. Depending on how carefully you applied said force you might send it smoothly down the hill and it come to rest at the bottom when the motion finally ends. The process of action, cause, effect and consequence is very similar to the first process so lets move it on a step more.
Imagine that the force had been applied haphazardly. You might send it down the hill careering into every curb or passing stranger you meet before finally coming to rest, possibly in an entirely different area of the road than you intended, maybe not. Here the action is to add movement, the cause was our pushing the ball without care, the effect was it went blasting down the hill knocking the feet out of anyone in the way, the consequence was you’ve got the ball down the hill hurting others along the way unintentionally.
Imagine further still that there was a stone in the road which send everything off kilter, or that there was another ball midway down that you knock the first one into. What will the process be there?
Replace the ball with magic and you an analogy for how magic works. You might not set out to harm anyone, or maybe you do and you have a particular person in mind, but without careful application magic can have unintended effects and consequences for those around you. Even when you are careful and considered it isn’t possible to take all things into account. Unseen variables and connections can effect an intended outcome, even the desired effect might have unforeseen consequences.
The ethical concept of unintended consequences is interesting in its own right and I find it works well when considering the pros and cons (rather than rights and wrongs) of using magic in any given situation. Setting aside the benefits of witching in anger sitting back and asking ourselves if we can accept the “what if’s” that might still remain after our careful thought and planning is not only a time to review our potential actions but our own gnosis and development. When considering ethics most people focus on the big things, like healing spells and cursing or even money spells, but by taking the opportunity to review other situations can help in your development as well.
For example Job spells. Regardless of the operation, be it to make you look like the more attractive candidate to interviewers or to increase confidence or generally just have divine/magical forces intervene on your behalf, you are entering a competitive interview situation involving other people who will be impacted by your work (especially if you are successful). What do you do? Do you forget about it and carry on without performing the spell because you might harm someone or do you accept that your actions might have unforeseen impacts upon others, or even yourself, and carry on?
Once we decide to act, however detailed our plans and intentions might be our actions may have unintended outcomes. We put out intent and to a certain extent, because of our inherent limitations, we then have to leave matters in the hands of Fate or whatever divine forces you might believe in. The important thing is to be able to stand up and accept these outcomes and consequences as being a result of our actions.
Sometimes it’s the little things that cause us to review our beliefs, other times its something big. A true test of our beliefs is seeing how they measure up against the big questions in life. Hopefully this week’s Pagan Experience offering has provided a little food for thought in reviewing those big questions.