- Religion and Philosophy
What are Pagan Ethics?
Every religion has a system that, in the way of the particular tradition, attempts to make the adherent a better person. It tries to instill in them certain ethics, or codes of behaviour.
Paganism is a very broad term and covers many different belief systems. The most well known ethic is that of “harm none” from the Wiccan tradition. Many Pagan paths follow a similar ethic, so for simplicity, I shall use this here. This is an intensely in depth topic and could likely fill volumes of books, but I shall try to convey the essence as best I can.
It sounds rather simplified to say “harm none”. When broken down however, we see that it is really much deeper than it appears on surface. Can one truly live without ever harming anything? Every breath we take disturbs microbes. Every sip of water we take, every time we wash, something is destroyed. Even vegans understand that the act of simply living causes harm to things that cannot even be seen.
The point here is to live in a way that causes the least amount of harm possible. Do not cause harm purposely. Be mindful enough to not cause unintentional harm. And if you do inadvertently cause harm, do what you can to rectify the situation. This also applies to the self. How many ways do we cause ourselves harm on a daily basis? For instance, foods we eat that are not at all good for us, drinking to excess, smoking. You get the picture. Taking this further, think about internal dialogue. How many times a day do we speak to ourselves in a way that we would never speak to another person? We leave the house, realise we have forgotten our wallet and say to ourself “How could you be so stupid?”. This is a form of harm. We start to believe these words and consider ourself to be unworthy. There are many compassionate people out there who deny compassion to themselves.
In daily life, we often are busy and in a rush. At such times, it is easy to cause harm without intending it. For example, late for an appointment, a person cuts someone else off in traffic. That person was already having a bad day, and being cut off caused them more stress. This in turn causes them to go home and yell at their spouse, and so on. Subtle, but causing harm none the less. Is the person who cut in front a bad person? Of course not. They did not realise the end result of a simple action that we all do. The only thing lacking was mindfulness, a topic for another discussion.
In this age of social media, let us also consider posting something about another person that may be mean spirited or false. Such a post could harm that person in many ways. Perhaps a potential mate may see it and reconsider becoming involved with that person, or an employer may come across it and lose respect for them.
Also, this ethic encompasses being mindful of how we impact others on a global scale. For instance, being aware of fair trade practices as opposed to corporations that destroy the earth and exploit the workers. Keeping in mind where our money goes when it leaves our hands is not easy or always possible. If given a choice, however, we should try to go with a product or company that doesn’t discount the land or people.
The Law Of Return
There is a belief in some Pagan traditions that what you put out in the Universe, good or bad, will be returned. Some say it will be returned times three, or even ten. This philosophy is a good way to make one think about their actions. If you are purposely intending harm, wouldn't you think again if you believed that this harm would befall you three times worse? It leaves some bases uncovered, however. There is debate as to whether this would include instances where harm was not intended. Some will say that it is truly the intent behind the action that matters. If you believe in the law of attraction, like attracts like. That means that if you are putting out harmful intent, it will return to you, even if it is only times one. While I like to think that those of us on a spiritual path do good solely for the reason that it is right, we are also human. For instance, if someone's life, or family, is threatened one does not always think clearly, or of consequences. I truly hope that no one is out to cause harm merely for the sake of causing harm. In theory, the thought of a threefold return should not be the reason behind doing good and refraining from doing intentional harm. It can be a good reality check, though. Whether or not you believe it to be literal, the idea can keep you mindful of your purpose. It can also help you consider things from all angles.
It is Always Possible to be Kind
I am in no way suggesting that we must all become vegan and move to a cave where we will never risk injuring another living thing. Each person has different view points and dietary needs (remember - going with a diet that does not nourish you personally is a form of self harm!). We all do what we can to live our lives in a way that makes the world a bit better for our having been here. In addition, it is not physically possible to live without ever harming another in any way. These are guidelines to help us assess our actions. And again, to fully explore this topic would require more space then I could imagine.
This is not meant to be a sermon on how one should live, but meant to explain the thoughts behind some Pagan ethics. Simply stated, take into consideration the rule that is found in every tradition or path in one shape or form - the “treat others as you would like to be treated” rule. To paraphrase the Dalai Lama, when possible be kind, and it is always possible to be kind.