Witch Ethics

Witchcraft for Tomorrow - Doreen Valiente 1993

Witch Ethics

Some determined Christian opponents of witchcraft will, no doubt, consider the heading of this chapter to be a contradiction in terms. How, they will demand, can witches, who are devoted to evil and the worship of Satan, have ethics?

Such a question can, of course, only be asked by those who are determined to identify witchcraft with Satanism. Satanism, however, by its very nature, can only be an offshoot of Christianity; because before you can worship Satan you have to believe in him. Before you can celebrate a Black Mass, the essential act of which is to defile the sacred host, you have to believe in the real Mass. And if you believe in the real Mass, you are a Christian!

Satanism, in so far as it is genuine and not either a literary invention or an excuse for an orgy, seems most probably to have arisen from the oppressiveness of the Church, in either Roman Catholic or puritanically Protestant countries, which engendered a spirit of revolt. This expressed itself in practical forms, such as the formation of the notorious Hellfire Clubs in England, or the enthronement of the ’Goddess of Reason’ (impersonated by a pretty actress) upon the altar of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in revolutionary France.

Sometimes the expression of this spirit of revolt took on much darker hues. When it shaded into real black magic, an aberrant mind might conceive the idea of deliberately committing evil deeds, and even ritual murder, in order to propitiate that evil power which some religious people believed to be everywhere, counterbalancing and apparently as potent as the power of good.

This ghastly belief, however, is really nothing to do with the old religion of witchcraft. Nor is it really very much to do with Christianity, or at any rate with the Christianity that Jesus taught. To ascribe to Satan a power co-equal with that of God, to divide the universe between dual contending forces, is to go back to the ideas and beliefs of Zoroaster, the religious teacher of ancient Persia who flourished about 650-600 B.C. He preached a religion which interpreted the world as an age-long struggle between good and evil, the principle of good being called Ormuzd and that of evil Ahriman.

Because of the Persian conquest of the Jews, the faith of the followers of Zoroaster had a strong influence upon the later Jewish religion, and thus indirectly upon Christianity. Out of Persia also came Mithraism, which was very influential throughout the Roman Empire in the first three centuries of the Christian era. Its background was the dualistic faith of Zoroaster, and many scholars believe that ideas derived from it became incorporated into Christianity during the latter religion’s formative years.

I cannot profess to be a theologian; but it seems to me that Christians who believe in a personal, superhuman Satan have got themselves into a logical impasse with regard to their own religion. For either God cannot prevent the mischief of Satan, in which case He is not omnipotent; or else He could do so if He wished, but will not, in which case He is not benevolent. Fortunately, being a pagan witch, I am not called upon to solve this problem.

I prefer to look back to the ancient roots of our race, and consider the teaching of the pagan mysteries upon the deep questions of the significance of human life and how it should be lived.

Although Druidism, the ancient faith of Britain in pre-Roman times, is generally regarded as a barbarous religion, its ideas were nevertheless somewhat more enlightened upon the question of human destiny and the afterlife than is generally realized. They were certainly more so than those of the hellfire-and-damnation type of Christianity. As the following quotation will show, the beliefs of the Druids have much in common with the age-old Dharma of the east, with its teachings about Karma and reincarnation:

The transmigration of souls. The Bardic dogma on this head was, that the soul commenced its course in the lowest water animalcule, and passed at death to other bodies of a superior order, successively, and in regular gradation, until it entered that of man. Humanity is a state of liberty, where man can attach himself to either good or evil, as he pleases. If his good qualities preponderate over his evil qualities at the time of his death, his soul passes into Gwynvyd, or a state of bliss, where good necessarily prevails, and from whence it is impossible to fall. But if his evil qualities predominate, his soul descends in Abred into an animal corresponding in character to the disposition he exhibited just before he died. It will then rise as before, until it again arrives at the point of liberty, where it will have another chance of clinging to the good. But if it fails, it must fall again; and this may happen for ages and ages, until at last its attachment to good preponderates. It was believed, however, that man could not be guilty twice of the same sin; his experience in Abred whilst undergoing punishment for any particular sin, would prevent him from loving that sin a second time; hence the adage, ’Nid eir i Annon ond unwaith’.

The views of the Gaulish Druids, as far as they are expressed by Caesar, do not appear to differ from the above. ’They wish to inculcate this idea, that souls do not die, but pass after death from one body to another.’ The only thing that may be supposed to be different is the passing from one body to another, which, in the original Latin, seems as if it meant from one human body to another human body, ’ab aliis ad alios’. But in reality there is no inconsistency between the two systems, even in this respect; for, though the soul of a good man was considered in general as entering an angelic body in the circle of Gwynvyd, and the soul of a wicked man as entering the body of a beast, a reptile, or a bird, in Abred, yet, it was thought that occasionally the good soul returned from Gwynvyd to inhabit a human body, and that the soul of one punished by death, against his will, for an injurious evil, passed to another human body. There is no doubt that this, with the Cymry, as well as with the Gauls, acted as a strong incentive to bravery, especially as they considered that to suffer in behalf of truth and justice was one of the greatest virtues, and was sure to bring the soul to everlasting bliss.*

Many questions are raised by this quotation from a book too long forgotten, of which I am fortunate to possess a photographed copy. An immediate one, of course, is how on earth the Druids knew of the existence of such minute forms of life as water animalcules? They are recorded as being very interested in astronomy as well. Do the sciences of microscopy and telescopy go back much, much further than we have supposed? At the time when Barddas was published, such a suggestion would have been laughed to scorn. Today, Erich Von Daniken has published in his books Chariots of the Gods and In Search of Ancient Gods photographs of crystal lenses found in ancient tombs and now in the British Museum. One came from Helwan, Egypt, another from Assyria. I do not by any means endorse all of Mr Von Daniken’s conclusions; but—there are the lenses!

Things like this lead us to conclude that the secrets of ancient fraternities of initiates may have been very real indeed, apart from their metaphysical teachings. Also, that they seem to have been of world-wide distribution and curious similarity, allowing for local differences of outlook. Reincarnation, for instance, was believed in literally from Tibet to Cornwall, in various forms of the same basic idea. It was accepted by many of the early Christians, until the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 553 declared it to be a heresy.

Gerald Gardner, who initiated me into witchcraft, was a strong believer in reincarnation and the working-out of karma, and most witches I have met accept this belief also. In general, however, believers in reincarnation today do not think that a human soul can regress into an animal body. I would not like to be certain about it. Indeed, there would be real justice in some of our more callous scientists being reborn as monkeys, rabbits or guinea-pigs, destined for the experimental laboratory; or in some of our hearty blood-sports enthusiasts coming back as foxes and hares. Moreover, if a person insists in this life upon living at the level of a beast, why should they not be reborn at that level? After all, it was their choice.

However, we should recognize the fact that karma does not in itself involve our ideas of reward and punishment; the carrot dangled in front of the donkey to make him go, and the stick applied to his posterior if he refuses. Our ideas of justice are necessarily limited, ’for here we see as through a glass darkly’. Karma is simply a Sanskrit word meaning ’action’, without any implications of reward or punishment as we envisage them, but rather the idea that every action must bring forth its appropriate reaction, somewhere and somewhen, as a law of nature, not something being handed out by a sort of heavenly magistrate sitting up in the sky.

Later in British history, the Anglo-Saxons embodied the idea of destiny or fate, the western equivalent of karma in a sense, in the mysterious goddess whom they called Wyrd. She was originally conceived of in triple form, and is evidently analogous to the Three Fates of classical myth. The Romans called the Fates the Parcae, a word which seems to be linked with the verb parere, meaning ’to bring forth’, in the sense of ’giving birth to’. The Greeks called them the Moirai, from the word moira, meaning ’a part’ and they were said to refer to the three ’parts’ or phases of the moon. These are the waxing moon, the full moon and the waning moon, symbolized as a young maiden, a beautiful mature woman and an old crone. The Scandinavian people of the further north knew the Fates as the Nornir, or the Three Norns, who dwelt at the foot of the World Tree Yggdrasill and preserved it with water from their magic well.

Originally, the triple goddess of fate was supreme even over the highest of other gods, because she embodied the lingering idea of the Great Mother and the ancient days of matriarchy, the archaic form of human society. Later she was incorporated into Christianity as being another word for providence or destiny; hence the old phrase, ’to dree one’s weird’, meaning to work out one’s destiny.

From being hidden and almost forgotten down the years, the idea of the triple goddess of fate emerged again from the shadows, thanks to the genius of Shakespeare. She is the original of the three witches in Macbeth:

The Weird Sisters, hand in hand,

Posters of the sea and land,

Thus do go about, about.

Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine,

And thrice again, to make up nine.

Peace, the charm’s wound up.

These are evidently not merely three old women, but supernatural beings, ’posters of the sea and land’, who can vanish and appear at will. It is generally agreed by Shakespearian scholars that some of the later appearances of the witches in the play, where they are represented as doing the commonplace misdeeds, such as killing swine, causing tempests at sea and so on, which were attributed to witches in the popular superstitions of the day, are probably interpolations into the text by a later and inferior hand, perhaps that of Thomas Middleton. Even so, they show the witches as worshipping, not the Devil as the witch-persecutors alleged, but Hecate, the ancient Greek goddess of witchcraft.

The moon was the measurer. She measured out time, by means of man’s earliest astronomical observations. She measured also the ebb and flow of the tides, and the mysterious alternations of female fertility and barrenness. Once in a lunar month, she ran her course through the twelve signs of the zodiac, in each of which she had a different influence. In the swiftness of her observed motion, she also forms astrological aspects to the sun and planets which astrologers believe to affect the events of every day, and which are accordingly listed in popular magazines still. The almanac gives the days of new moon and full moon, which old-fashioned gardeners and farmers believed to be important in finding the right time to plant crops.

Mystery and romance, as well as fate, are attributed to the moon; nor does she shine any less brightly because in our own day man has essayed the great adventure of walking upon her surface. The full of the moon is still the high tide of psychic power, and witches still hold their Esbats, or monthly meetings, at that time, as they did in centuries past. It is therefore entirely natural for them to believe in the ancient idea of fate, destiny or karma, ruled over by the triple goddess of birth, life and death.

As Gerald Gardner says in his book The Meaning of Witchcraft, witches in general are inclined to accept the morality of the legendary Good King Pausol, ’Do what you like so long as you harm no one’. This idea has been put into a rhymed couplet called the Wiccan Rede:

Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfil:

An it harm none, do what ye will.

This can be expressed in more modem English as follows:

Eight words the Witches’ Creed fulfil:

If it harms none, do what you will.

This quite honestly seems to me to be the only moral code that really makes sense. If everyone lived by it, would not the world be a very different place? If morality were not enforced by fear, by a string of Thou-shalt-nots; but if, instead, people had a positive morality, as an incentive to a happier way of living?

It is curious how people seem to accept morality as a system of not doing things, rather than doing them. If a person is, for instance, a non-smoker, a teetotaller, a vegetarian, they are regarded—in some circles at any rate—as being ’good’. Well, Hitler was all of these things! Outwardly, he was very ’respectable’ sexually as well; the world did not know about Eva Braun until the grisly marriage ceremony in the Berlin bunker. And even in those circumstances, the man who had soaked the soil of Europe in blood, and committed and encouraged every sort of crime against humanity, was concerned that he should pay his debt to ’respectability’ by being lawfully wedded to his mistress!

It is notable that the enemies of human liberty, be they Fascist or Communist, are always very concerned with moral policing, as well as with political repression. With what tender care do they guard their subjects from ’decadence’, by censorship of all kinds and by the earnest promotion of a puritanical moral code! In sexual matters, that is; when it comes to tyrannical cruelty, oppression and mass murder, these moral puritans become very easy-going indeed.

The eminent psychologist, Wilhelm Reich, himself a refugee from Fascism, has most cogent things to say in explanation of this apparent paradox, in his book The Function of the Orgasm. He points out the great need of humanity to free itself from false teaching, imposed as the instrument of oppression throughout the centuries, and achieve a normal, happy expression of sexual love. People are beginning to listen to Reich in our day. The man himself died in an American federal penitentiary; a fact which future historians will rank with the murder of Socrates and the imprisonment of Galileo. But his voice could not be silenced, because in spite of appearances he was not saying something new, but something very old; something, in fact, primordial, which breathes from the earth and blows in the wind.

We think today that we have a permissive society. In fact, what we really have is a state of affairs in which some taboos have been relaxed, because it has been found financially profitable to do so. What is being permitted is not sexual satisfaction, but sexual exploitation. Very large numbers of people are just as unsatisfied as ever, because their ideas and attitudes have not basically changed. They are ’uptight’, armoured against life, fearful of their own freedom.

Sexual freedom does not mean freedom to spend one’s money to watch some ugly pornographic film; it means freedom to enjoy sex. Unfortunately, most people are so battered and damaged by our so-called civilization, founded as it is on humbug and greed, that they are no longer capable of realizing what natural sexual fulfilment is.

There are signs, however, that younger people in particular are rejecting the double standards of morality that are part of the patriarchal Judeo-Christian religious outlook; and this rejection is expressing itself in many ways, as the old aeon draws to its close. People are seeking for new knowledge, new standards, a new outlook on life all together; while at the same time, what Wilhelm Reich called ’the emotional plague’ rages throughout our neurotic world, bringing violence and misery along with it. Any organized religion or political system that is anti-sex is anti-life.

The words of the Wiccan Rede will inevitably be compared with the famous dictum of Aleister Crowley: ’Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law, love under will.’ Crowley, a strange genius who regarded himself as the Logos of the Aeon of Horus, or the new age, obtained this saying from his inspired writing Liber Legis, or the Book of the Law, which he claimed to have received from a ’preterhuman intelligence’ as the result of a magical ceremony in Cairo in 1904. The full text will be found in The Magical Record of the Beast 666 by Aleister Crowley.

In practice, however, Crowley was just as much imbued with the mental attitudes of the old aeon as anyone else. As Gerald Gardner commented in The Meaning of Witchcraft, Crowley’s pupils and followers soon found out that for them what Aleister Crowley willed was the whole of the law! Anyone showing signs of thinking for themselves, or differing from the views of the master, soon found themselves consigned to outer darkness. (Incidentally, old Gerald’s quoted comment shows that he was by no means the unqualified admirer of Crowley that he has been represented to be. He admired Crowley as a poet, but had no illusions about him as a man.) Moreover, Crowley was a male chauvinist pig of the crudest kind. This appears plainly in his book Liber Aleph: The Book of Wisdom or Folly, a series of letters to his magical son, Frater Achad, which were never published in his lifetime but have been recently issued in the USA. In this writing, Crowley declares that in the nature of woman there is no truth, nor possibility of truth; and that although ’in a certain sort’ women could obtain the experiences of vision, trance and so on, yet nevertheless woman has no capacity for advancement in magic. The limit of her aspiration, says Crowley, is to be obedient to the right man, so that she may have better luck next time in the round of rebirth, and be born in a masculine body!

These views did not, however, prevent Crowley from occasionally dressing himself up as a woman, with wig and makeup, and parading about as ’Alys Cusack’, in which guise he sought to ’seduce’ his male pupils. I have heard of a psychological phenomenon called ’penis-envy’; I am beginning to suspect that the possible origin of male chauvinist piggery is ’vaginaenvy’.

To be fair to Crowley, however, by ’Do what thou wilt’ he did not mean merely ’Do as you like’, but that people should find out what their true will really is and then do that and nothing else. He said that if everyone did that, there would be no trouble in the world, because people’s true wills were in harmony with each other and with the course of nature. The will to crime, for instance, was a false will, born of a dis-ease of the spirit. Because of centuries of repression, people have lost the knowledge of their original nature. Their true will is the essential motion of their being, the orbit of that star which the Book of the Law declares every man and every woman to be.

This is really a very profound teaching. Crowley’s remarks upon how the true will may declare itself by the images appearing in dreams and fantasies, are reminiscent of the present-day teachings of the Jungian school of psychology. We should not let the posturing of Crowley as ’the Master Therion’, or his prejudices and crudities, blind us to the splendour of his poetry and prose or the stimulation of thought and understanding to be found in his writings.

This teaching of Crowley’s, embodied in the dictum quoted above, ’Do what thou wilt’, is by no means new, and was not invented by him. Long ago, Saint Augustine said, ’Love and do what you will’. The initiate of ancient Egypt declared: ’There is no part of me that is not of the gods’. The pagan Greeks originated the saying: ’To the pure all things are pure’. The implication is that when one has reached a high stage of spiritual development and evolution one has passed beyond the comparatively petty rules of religion and society at some particular time and place, and may indeed do what one wills, because one’s true will is then knowable, and must of its own nature be right. The Upanishads or sacred scriptures of ancient India tell us that the knower of Brahma is beyond both good and evil.

Such a teaching has even acquired for itself a theological name: antinomianism. As Sir John Woodroffe has pointed out in his book Shakti and Shakta, it is particularly associated in the history of religions with ideas of pantheism, the belief that God is all and all is God. As such, it is found both in east and west; a number of Christian heretics have taught it to their followers. We may quote as typical the doctrine of Amalric of Bena: ’To those constituted in love no sin is imputed’. Curiously enough, a number of these heretics celebrated an Agape, or love-feast, very similar to the witches’ sabbat. They may even have had some relation with the witch cult itself, though they are generally believed to be derived from the Gnostics, meaning ’those who know’, the mystics who were the inheritors of pagan philosophy which they cloaked in a Christian guise.

In the east, the Tantrics who follow the ancient scriptures called Tantras, among whom are to be found both Buddhists and Hindus, also have this doctrine in a more or less esoteric form. The Hindu Tantrics regard mankind as being naturally divided into three Bhavas or dispositions: namely, Pashubhava or animal disposition, corresponding to Tamas guna, the qualities of grossness and darkness; Virabhava, or heroic disposition, corresponding to Rajas guna, the qualities of activity, force and fieriness; and Divyabhava, or divine disposition, corresponding to Sattva guna, the qualities of balance, equilibrium, harmony and perfection. The Pashu is not permitted to take part in the secret rites, which include wine-drinking and sexual intercourse; these are reserved for those who are capable of understanding them correctly, from the point of view of an initiate. (See Chapter 11, for a further discussion of this important point.) By taking part in such rites, the men and women of Virabhava, who have the will to spiritual attainment, may arrive at the highest disposition, Divyabhava. They are then said to attain to the state of Svechchachara, which means, in effect, ’Do what thou wilt’. They are the achievers of Mukhti, or true liberation.

This is in complete contrast to the ideas of attainment by repression of the natural instincts and renunciation of all earthly pleasures. As the Kulanarva Tantra says: ’By what men fall, by that they rise.’

The Buddhist Tantrics are somewhat more puritanical in their outlook than the Hindus; nevertheless, there are similar beliefs to be found among them also. For instance, among the ’Precepts of the Gurus’ given in Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines, we find under the heading of ’The Ten Equal Things’ a number of sayings with a general meaning strikingly similar to that of Svechchachara. They imply that once a person has attained to spiritual enlightenment, and become in their heart a true follower of the Dharma, the ancient wisdom-religion which was from the beginning of time, and of which all the Buddhas have been exponents, then it matters not whether that person observes conventional codes of conduct or no, and whether or not he or she takes part in worldly activities and pleasures. Having attained mastery of mind, such a person will act from non-attachment, and therefore will not err.

Such then, it seems to me, is the inner meaning of the teachings of both Aleister Crowley and the cult of the witches in this respect. Is it healthier and wiser than the string of Thou-shalt-nots, the morality of fear and repression? I can only ask people to think about it and judge for themselves.

Today, we have an urgent need to find a new way of living, a new outlook on life, because man has at last become capable, literally, of destroying not only himself, but all life on this planet. What Buddhism calls the three fires, greed, wrath and ignorance, could burn up the world.

With this new scientific capacity, however, has come a new relevation of nature. For the first time, we have seen our earth as it looks from space, incredibly beautiful, like a great jewel, a cloud-wrapped mandala, a harmony of water, land and sky; a sight wondrous and awe-inspiring. We know, too, that matter and energy are interchangeable terms; that everything we see around us is energy, manifesting in such a way that we perceive it as the three-dimensional world. Occult philosophy of both east and west maintained this for ages; now science says it. What is this energy? What sustains it? What is its source? What, indeed, can it be, but the One Divine Life?

Our limited minds, through ignorance, have distorted this beauty. Our greed has polluted the earth, air and water of this planet. Our wrath has ravaged it with war. Now we are like a spaceship with its life-support systems breaking down and its crew fighting among themselves. Spaceship Earth is in deep trouble; when that happens, we need to get in touch with our base.

Our base is the Divine Life of the universe. Our means of keeping in touch with it cannot be through any man-made dogma, but through nature, which man did not make. Men’s hands wrote all the holy books and sacred scriptures; only the book of nature was written by divinity.

We cannot put the clock back to the days of the old paganism; but we can build a new paganism, which will take account of humanity as it really is, with its dreams, its frailties and its needs. Perhaps by that means humanity can advance towards what it might be. Science tells us that at the present time we are only using about one-tenth of our brain capacity. What are the other nine-tenths for?

The things which today are regarded as paranormal phenomena, such as clairvoyance, telekinesis, telepathy and so on—will they one day become within everyone’s capacity? And how will it affect our lives if we are able to find, not faith or belief, but proof positive, of our minds’ continuance beyond physical death?

We shall certainly need a new ethical standard, when these things come to pass.

* Rev. J. Williams Ab Ithel, Barddas; or a Collection of Original Documents, Illustrative of the Theology, Wisdom and Usages of the Bardo-Druidic System of the Isle of Britain, (Welsh MSS Society, 1862).