These eight words the Rede fulfill: if it harm none do what you willThe Wiccan Rede
The subject of harmful magick in witchcraft is often a highly-debated one. Many other witchcraft philosophies don’t believe it is wrong to practice harmful magick. In Wicca, however, harming none is one of the major points that makes Wicca what it is.
“A witch who can’t curse, can’t heal.” “I don’t let anyone walk all over me.” “I don’t follow all those rules and regulations.” “I don’t believe that everything is all ‘love and light’.” These are all reasons I have heard given as to why it is actually ok, and even superior, to practice negative magick. All of them show a complete lack of understanding as to why Wiccan witches don’t practice harmful magick.
Probably the greatest common thread that goes through all of these objections is the concept that somehow not practicing magick in a harmful manner is somehow a weakness. It is not that way at all.
It takes a great deal of energy, wisdom, and trust to not work negative magick. Energy because you have to both feel your emotions and yet not let them drive you to actions you consider immoral. Wisdom because you have to see beyond the immediate situation/provocation/problem to your higher good, and that of others involved. You have to come up with solutions that are actually harder in the long run. Better, but harder. Trust is a factor because you must trust in the Divine and trust in your own innate abilities and strength. It’s not about you being too weak to perform negative magick. It’s about being too strong and too mature to.
As adults, we’re supposed to know that acting in a revenge-oriented manner doesn’t bring blessings upon us. We’re supposed to be able to look past our immediate emotions and act based on our values and principles and not those of others. Negative magick doesn’t lead to any of this. Instead, it promotes a mindset of “You pick on me I’ll pick on you”. And we all know how effective THAT is in solving problems.
Another common thread is that practitioners of negative magick believe those who aren’t doing it are lacking or handicapped as witches. “Fluffy” witches don’t practice “real magick” but “real witches” know how to get the job done. The frequently quoted “A witch who can’t curse, can’t heal” has this mindset behind it in spades.
In no other field would we accept this argument. If I’m a doctor, do I need to know how to rape and get away with it before I can treat a rape victim? Do I, as a writer, have to know how to slander someone in order to know how not to slander them? It is one thing to know the mechanics of how the action happens and another to truly know it- know it from experience, know it from doing it, or know it by reading about it with the plans to do it. If we know to do positive magick, we know what to do to practice harmful magick. Although I am sure there are tricks that practitioners share, the structure of magick and how you work with it stays the same. This philosophy does implicitly acknowledge one thing: taking the no-harm route is the higher path. Otherwise, what does it matter if the witch knows how to heal? Why is the study and practice of harmful magick a stepping stool to doing good magick?
You get this in the mindset where people say “It’s not all sweetness and love and light. Real witchcraft embraces the night; the shadows.” To embrace the darkness is one thing, it’s another to act upon our own darkness. We accept these parts of ourselves, and there are “dark parts” that absolutely should be integrated into the whole self. Others, though… the discovery of it does not mean a need to act in accord with it. We are supposed to be acting in accord with our highest self. We are supposed to be working in union with the God and the Goddess. Are either of these goals compatible with harmful magick? We go against the whole purpose of practicing magick when we act in accord with lower-level emotions and feelings. Acknowledge them, deal with them, yes. Try to bring them into reality, no.
I find the “rules and regulations” complaint an amusing one. Just about as many people argue that Wicca has no structure and you can do what you want. I think it’s probably a sign that Wicca has done good in hitting the middle ground.
In any case, Wicca doesn’t have rules, it has principles, just like the principle of those who practice negative magick is that it is ok and necessary. Rules are blindly followed barriers that are laid down. Principles are overarching guidelines that shape the situation. Principles require self-examination as to why you are following this principle. Rules you don’t have to know why you follow them, you just have to go along. The Wiccan Rede is a principle, not a rule. What “harm none” means can vary from person to person, although it has been a standard interpretation of it from the writers of it on that “harm none” refers to not doing harmful magick. But in the day-to-day details of life, “harm none” is going to look different to each person. Some Wiccans are vegans, feeling that the truest expression of harm none involves animals as well and that since we no longer need animals for food, it’s not appropriate to eat them. Other Wiccans are in the military, standing as our modern-day warriors, honoring gods and goddesses such as the Morrigan or Athena, or Lugh. Others are pacifists. It is impossible to literally harm none- we have to eat something, even if it is plants. How do we express it from there?
I think that is why it is important to look at Wiccan morality as a positive morality. That is, it doesn’t define itself by what you cannot do but what you can do. Systems such as the Ten Commandments are mostly negative morality- “Do not murder”, “Worship no other gods before me”, etc. It defines itself by what is and is not allowed. That isn’t the case in Wicca. The goal is not to get by with the bare minimum, but to become the best person you can be.
If a rule-based/punishment-based system worked, our world wouldn’t be in the shape it’s in. The two largest world religions (Christianity and Islam) both believe in a punishment-based morality. Both have a literal hell as part of their theology. The overwhelming research in psychology says that punishment-based discipline isn’t effective. It does not build morality, just a sense of the rules. And if the rules can be broken and you can get away with it, or if you’re willing to accept the consequences, there is no intrinsic motivation to keep them. Another problem with it is that it builds fear and uncertainty. Why would the Divine only want us to be with them because we’re scared of hell? Why would the Goddess only want us to think about how far we can bend the rules without breaking them? Why would any parent, Divine or otherwise, want their child to be distant from them because they are scared of punishment? There is no reason to think that the way we learn changes when we are adults.
Another reason to not practice harmful magick is that we get back the energy we put out. I’m not speaking of karma here (although that is another concern). I am talking about the fact that when we put negativity into the world, we are feeding negativity both in the world at large and in our own life. Like attracts like. If someone has hurt you, for example, you are dealing with the consequences of their negative energy and your own grief. Why would you want to add your own output of negativity to the situation? Yes, it is harder to not lash out than to respond without thinking. But that is all part of becoming the person we want to be.
The most compelling reason, however, not to perform harmful magick comes from understanding the nature of magick for what it really is.
…If you are of the mindset that everything on Earth is part of the Goddess and God, and that all things are connected, you won’t be the sort of person who will need the Law of Three to tell you how to behave. You will see the world as sacred and all beings as sacred and will try to treat them as such. You will understand that for every action there are consequences, and that we make our choices to the best of our ability with the knowledge we have at the time.Dianne Sylvan, The Circle Within: Creating a Wiccan Spiritual Tradition
There are people who say they are practicing Wicca and who claim that the energy they work with is neutral. They say that it is like electricity: You can use it to play your stereo or to fry someone in an electric chair. The energy itself has no innate quality except power and you can use it as you choose. Whenever I hear someone describe magical energy in this way, I know the person making these assertions is someone who isn’t opening him/herself up to the energy that powers real magic. They’re thinking in the old, patriarchal terms of the world lacking innate divinity. Certainly, if people are just projecting their energy out into the Universe in that manipulative, instant gratification, gimme-the-goodies approach to magic, they’ve probably missed the whole point anyway. But…there is only one word that approaches the true nature of the power you experience—love. The energy that Witches work with, the energy that makes magic, that powers spells, fuels rituals, and crafts a Witch, is the energy of the Divine. And the energy of the Divine is love.Phyllis Curott, Witch Crafting
For some reason, I’ve found this is a controversial point of view. I don’t see why, to be honest. If we believe that the Goddess and God interpermates all of creation, all of the universe, then it only makes sense that Their energy would be the energy we draw on for magick. What other kind of energy could it be? They are the source of all. And because it is Their energy, to misuse it is what would be called a sacrilege. The word sacrilege literally means “to steal the Sacred” and stealing is a great analogy for what we do when we take the energy that the Divine gifted us with and twist it.
Note that when the authors above spoke about love, the innate dwelling of Divinity, and energy they were not saying that it’s all sweetness and light. We’re not talking Valentine’s Day love here. We’re talking about the love of the Divine that made both the gentle breeze and the tornado. There is depth and width to this love that we will never plumb the limits of on this earth.
Some may say that if that’s the case, what does it matter if someone performs negative magick because it won’t work anyway? There’s a couple of different options for an answer to this. One is that even though the energy is of the Divine, They allow us to misuse it if we so choose as an expression of our free will.
“Child,” he replied… that is what happens to those who pluck and eat fruits at the wrong time and in the wrong way. The fruit is good, but they loathe it ever after.” “Oh I see,” said Polly. “And I suppose because she took it in the wrong way it won’t work for her…”. “Alas,” said Aslan, shaking his head. “It will. Things always work according to their nature.C.S Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew
If this is, indeed, the case, then it would explain how you do hear of the occasional curse supposedly working.
Another option is that cursing and hexing are simply a form of psychological bullying, and that unfortunately for people it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, the nature of magick is love, and those who misuse it are not successful, because they are not using it according to its nature. The vast majority of curses/hexes are not being practiced by a skilled practitioner of magick, but by someone who is ticked off at you and either did a silly ritual to curse you, or did nothing and is just telling you they did because they know you believe in negative magick and they want to scare you. Then, if you get scared, all of a sudden all your bad luck becomes a result of this curse.
The second one is the option I personally believe in. I am sure that will earn me comments saying how people have either practiced negative magick successfully or that they were the victim of negative magick. I do believe binding, mirror, and specific person protection spells are not negative magick, just self-defense. But there is a huge difference between being negatively affected by a person’s negative energy and/or needing protection from another person for a good reason (abuse, threats, bullying, etc.) and deliberately trying to harm them. “Return to sender” type spells are simply a way of using the natural laws to return their energy back where it belongs.
Whether or not curses are real, there are things you can do to protect yourself. One is to have a strong belief in your own power and the lack of ability of someone else to cause you that kind of harm. This is a powerful protection. If you believe you are under the protection of the God and Goddess, and that you are competent and capable of defending yourself, this keeps your mind from going down the path of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you at all can, laugh at it. Bullies hate being laughed at.
Another suggestion which I know goes against our nature, but is important, is to examine your own conscience. What was your contribution to the situation that made someone feel their best option was to curse/hex you? I’m not saying it’s your fault if something happens to you. I am saying that we need to look at our own responsibility in a negative situation. Sometimes there will be no responsibility once you examine it carefully, and if that is the case, that is fine. But negative situations are often a chance to grow as a person, to grow as a witch, and we can’t do that without some introspection.
There are several protection spells and techniques out there. One is visualizing a protective bubble of light around you. I have done this in several situations where a person I was uncomfortable with was getting uncomfortably close, and each time it has resulted in them acting as though I had physically repelled them- they stayed away as much as was possible. Other techniques include imagining a mirror between you and the person who is trying to curse or hex you, and letting their own negative energy bounce off the mirror and return to them.
There are other magickal ethical issues, but this is the foundation for the others.
Inclusion in this list doesn’t mean I agree with all the points in the article, but these links should give you lots of ideas to protect yourself from the negative energy out there. You can also search for “protection spell” or “binding spell” or “mirror spell” on Pinterest and you will get multiple options.
To harm none is the main Wiccan principle when it comes to ethics. There are some sub-issues, though, that come up when trying to practice that.
There are generally two situations where you are allowed to target a specific person without their explicit permission. One is a binding or protective spell. Again, with those, you aren’t wishing the person harm, but you are seeking to have their attempts to harm become unsuccessful and that their negative energy will return to them.
Another one is healing spells. Unless the person is too sick to consent, having their explicit permission is usually seen as the right thing to do. The reason why is because whenever you do magick directly for another person, there is always free will to take into account. There is also the person’s sensibilities. If you know the person would be horrified to have a spell done for them, then it’s not appropriate to do so. You aren’t left with the option of doing nothing- there is prayer, you can make offerings for them, but it’s seen as a violation of their free will to push magick on them if they don’t want it.
Person-specific love spells definitely fall under an attempt to violate the free will of another person. If that person has not chosen you, or has chosen to leave you, then that is their choice. To attempt to sway that with magick is morally wrong. You would not like to be bound to another person in that way, someone who you either did not like or who you wanted to end the relationship with.
That’s not to say that Wiccans don’t perform love spells. We can perform spells to increase self-love and make us ready for a partner, we can perform spells to bring the right person (unspecified) to us, and we can do spells to increase love in our lives. But those are spells we do for us, not for another person, which is the only person we seek to control and shape through magick. We cannot do another’s interior work for them.
Remember when I used the term sacrilege? Well, it fits in here just perfectly. There are so many things wrong with this it’s almost hard to know where to start.
First of all, no Wiccan owns magick, and they don’t have the right to sell it, any more than you have the right to sell prayers. It’s no different than those televangelists who promise to do some miraculous thing for you- provided, of course, that you “contribute” to their ministry. Even in Catholicism, where it is customary to offer a stipend for the Mass being offered, it’s usually a very small stipend. It also has its roots in historical tradition. People used to bring the ingredients for the Mass in the early church; they would supply the bread and wine. Since this is no longer the case, a small stipend is your contribution to the sacrifice they see as happening. And a priest is strictly forbidden to refuse a Mass request because the person can’t afford to pay.
An average price shown by a quick search through Google results is approximately a hundred dollars. The materials certainly don’t cost that much. You’re paying for the person’s time- if indeed they actually perform the spell. You are paying for a person who obviously doesn’t understand how true magick works, or they could not charge for what they do. It is one thing to compensate someone’s time spent in teaching or preparing materials, or for an actual legitimate service offered, such as Reiki or Tarot readings. This is seeking to manipulate the nature of magick for their own profit.
The vast majority of these spell casters have absolutely no problem performing negative magick, and many brag about the fact that “they can cast” Voodoo spells as well, or black magick spells, or other spells from different religious traditions. What is honestly the likelihood, setting aside the morals for a minute, that they truly have developed proficiency in all those areas? It’s a marketing ploy, a way to manipulate a person. However, you as a Wiccan have a responsibility to not perform baneful magick. If you ask someone to do it for you, that doesn’t lessen your responsibility, and you will still suffer the consequences just as if you were the person who did the spell because you made it happen.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that they usually don’t work. What makes a spell work is your visualization, your energy, your intent. How is a complete stranger going to have any of that? If you are simply a name and some money in their PayPal account, they may say the right words and do the right actions, but that isn’t enough for magick to happen. After you’ve spent that kind of money and invested hope in it, however, there is a likelihood of a placebo effect.
There are other ethical dilemmas that come up with the practice of magick. Part of the cost of making magick is your responsibility to engage in magick in a way that is for your highest good and the highest good of others. The results, however, are well worth the effort.