No harm done
by Jason Mankey
Pagans are “not a people of the book.” There are some Pagan traditions with specific rituals and rites, maybe even a couple of rules, but nothing like a Bible or Quran. Pagan morality is a very flexible and fluid thing, but that doesn’t mean Pagans lack a moral code. I find Paganism’s lack of a rigid rule system to be a benefit in modern society. Things are constantly changing, and I’m not sure 2000 year old rule systems are applicable in 2012.
The most common expression of Pagan morality comes from the Wiccan tradition. That expression is made up of eight words and is called the Wiccan Rede*. “Rede” is a Middle English word meaning “counsel” or “advice,” so while it all sounds very mysterious and spooky it’s not all that complex. The Wiccan Rede simply states, “An it harm none, do what you will.”
Many of my Christian friends overlook the first part of that statement and only focus on the second part. It’s often assumed that “do what you will” is just a license for sexual debauchery, rampant drug abuse, and gluttony; nothing could be further from the truth. The Wiccan Rede is actually a pretty complex little instruction, and it truly defines my morality on a daily basis.
What’s most important about the Rede is that it teaches me to respect others and their free will. Unlike a monotheistic tradition, I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with premarital sex if certain criteria are met. Are both partners entering the situation of their own free will? (That means no one is taking advantage of a drunk person and both individuals are of legal age.) Are people engaging in safe sex techniques? Will the potential couple’s lovemaking disturb others? If all of those criteria are met, what’s the problem?
There are many Pagans who engage in polyamorous or “open” relationships. Polyamory is based upon the idea that one can have “many loves,” and I for one certainly believe it’s possible. Pagans can be a very sexual group of folks, and when those around us realize it, sexuality tends to become an issue. If a couple choose to have an open relationship for instance, who is it hurting?
“You’ve had sex outside of marriage? That’s wrong.”
“You are hurting your husband.”
“No, I’m not. We’ve discussed the issue openly and honestly and think it’s just fine as long as certain conditions are met.”
“It’s still wrong.”
“The Bible says so.”
“The Bible says a lot of things — you aren’t supposed to have that tattoo for instance. Besides, I’m a Pagan and don’t follow the Bible.”
“It’s still wrong.”
That’s not a conversation I’ve ever had, but it’s an insight into how the Wiccan Rede can be applied. There’s no strict morality governing the sexuality of a Pagan, however the rule “and it harm none” certainly comes into play. Safe sex techniques have to be practiced, and if you are knowingly wrecking a relationship you certainly aren’t “harming none.” Even in Paganism sex has consequences. Such a scenario certainly beats people sneaking around on their partners, lying, and having clandestine affairs. I’ll take this style of morality every day.
I’m a firm believer in gay marriage because of the Rede — who does it hurt? Gay couples have existed since the beginning of time, they certainly aren’t threatening my relationship. When a conservative pundit sounds off and says idiotic things like, “Gay marriage will lead to people marrying dogs,” I just laugh. First of all, most dogs don’t reach the age of consent, and secondly, dogs can’t consent. In a true application of the Wiccan Rede a person can’t marry a dog because their free will is being violated.
Free will is a major part of the Wiccan Rede. Harming someone is impeding upon their free will, so it’s something that we just don’t do. Unless someone is in really great pain and wants to die (that also assumes they are of sound mind), killing someone would be a major violation of the Wiccan Rede. Stealing would be a violation of the Rede. Pretty much all the major things we are told to stay away from throughout our lives are violations of the Wiccan Rede.
The most complicated thing about the Wiccan Rede is deciding how hard to apply the “none” to it. Are animals covered by “an it harm none” thereby advocating a vegetarian lifestyle? Drunk driving is certainly against the Rede because it puts others in jeopardy (violating their free will), but is it right to kill my own brain cells with hard cider? That’s always a harder thing to figure, but since it doesn’t violate anyone else’s free will, I think it’s probably fine as long as I walk home from the bar and abstain from saying anything too stupid.
So, while Pagans don’t have a long list of rules, we do have an ethical system that can be used in a variety of situations. Our faith teaches us to respect others and their right to live as they choose. It also allows us to enjoy pleasurable things without guilt and eight words are easier to remember then ten commandments (or more).
*There are some people who call themselves Wiccan who claim not to follow the Wiccan Rede. They are rare, but it happens.