Sunday, February 24, 2008

Magical Ethics

In comments to my post about his book, Real Magic, Isaac Bonewits v. kindly clarifies his current position on magic and ethics:

I'm a little older and wiser now. :)

I now say that ethics are needed for magic users just like they are for doctors, plumbers, farmers, or just plain folks. The kicker is that the ethical rules followed by most Neopagans don't make a lot of philosophical sense. That's because they are based in a Christian Dualist frame that separates matter from spirit.

It was that sort of dualism I was protesting back in the early 70s. The rule of thumb I use now is that something is ethical to do with magic if it would be ethical to do the same thing physically.

bright blessings,

Which, I admit, is what I thought he meant at the time, especially when you read the entire chapter and not the tiny section that I quoted.

I agree with Bonewits' "rule of thumb." It's ethical to do with magic anything that is ethical. I often hear Pagans say that it's "wrong" to use magic to [insert your peeve here] influence politics, make money, achieve anything for yourself, etc., etc. That's just silly, IMHO. Magic is, as Bonewits notes, a science and an art. I'd say that it, like science and art, is a tool.

My wooden spoon is also a tool. I can use it ethically to mix up a healing tisane for my neighbor or a nourishing meal for G/Son. I can use it unethically to mix up a poison to be given to a nice person or to cook a nourishing meal for someone like Pinochet who really needs to go. It's not the use of the wooden spoon that makes the action ethical or unethical.

Similarly, I can influence politics by voting, writing letters, protesting, and engaging in civil disobedience or any number of other methods. I can also influence politics by doing magic. Me, I like to use a variety of methods. Lawyers are risk-averse creatures, they say, and I'm always in favor of belts and suspenders.

I sometimes hear that it's wrong to use magic to earn a living or to improve one's financial situation because, the argument goes, magic is a "gift from the Goddess, freely given." Yeah. So's the ability to paint lovely pictures, or to sing arias, or catch a ball and run really fast, or to do higher math. People earn money from those freely-given gifts of the Goddess every day. The problem with this kind of thinking lies, I think, in the "Christian Dualist frame that separates matter from spirit" that Bonewits discusses above. Somehow, it's "pure" to, say, heal someone else who is sick, but "impure" to make money for yourself (and politics, of course is way too "impure" and "worldly" for lots of Pagans. Sigh.). This is, of course, bollux. The cognitive dissonance involved in believing that all nature is divine and connected and in believing that your own sustenance and bodily well-being is "impure" has a lot of effects. One of them is an inability to make magic work much of the time.

I'll agree that it's generally not wise to use magic, for example, to cast a poorly-thought-through binding spell. But I'd also agree that it's generally unwise to, for example, try on a whim to kidnap Pinochet on your own and tie him up to keep him from doing evil. Again, the wisdom, or lack thereof, flows from the original goal and the lack of good thinking, not from the method used.


Isaac Bonewits said...

Thanks for phrasing it so beautifully!

Do you mind if I quote you from time to time? :)

bright blessings,

Hecate said...

Do you mind if I quote you from time to time?

I would, of course, be honored!