Recent events have led me to think about the ethics of spell crafting, and what (at least in my opinion) a Witch1 should and shouldn't do. My goal is to clarify and put away the misconceptions that led to people like FastSpells.com to be able to set up shop in the first place.
In essence, everything a Wiccan does, be it spell craft or going to the grocery store, boils down quite simply to the Wiccan Rede, commonly phrased as "An it harm none, do what ye will." No matter what a Wiccan does, considering whether or not it harms another person must be considered. This is also then supported by the Rule of Three, which says that everything you do comes back to you Threefold2 - which means whatever you put out there will come back to you three times stronger.
Now, this does make certain things quite clear. Anyone following the Rede would obviously know that putting a "curse" on a person that hurts them would be a clear violation of the Rede and probably the harbinger of some massively unpleasant threefold feedback, and that doing any sort of vindictive magick is a big mystical no no. Revenge is not the path of the Witch.
But things aren't always as simple black and white as that. How does one gauge whether or not something is doing harm to another person when it comes to life's much more common gray areas? How do they decide whether or not they're doing the right thing? Where does a spellcrafter draw the line?
Take for example the much touted "Love Spells" I see advertised on the websites of hucksters and charlatans. A person at first glance might think that this sort of spell wouldn't harm anyone, but a closer look is certainly in order. The idea of casting a spell that could make someone love you (besides being fairly unlikely to work in the first place) would be one that interferes with that individual's free will. You take away that choice from the person, and are effectively forcing them to do something that you personally want them to.
It would be, in effect, a form of emotional and mystical rape.
Anything that forces a person to feel something that they don't already feel, or do something without their consent is something that is clearly doing some form of harm. Others may disagree with me, but think about it for a few minutes. Imagine that someone has forced you to feel a certain way about someone, and say you found out. Wouldn't you feel violated? Wouldn't you feel harmed? Would you trust your own feelings anymore?
But is altering the free will of another always a bad thing? Some Wiccans, including Gardner himself, while being against harming another advocate "binding" a person who could possibly hurt another person. This sort of Magick would restrain a person from a certain form of action, and clearly would suppress their will. I personally don't agree with this sort of thinking; however, there is a solid argument to be made for this. The spellcaster though would in these practices still inflict any relevant threefold onto themselves, but they justify this by stating it is for the greater good.
But I prefer to think around a problem a little more.
While in physical confrontations we are often left with little choice but to intercede or strike someone back, spellcasting is about creativity, and in many ways its about making sure that we act within the rules and limits we set for ourselves. Rather than bind someone, why not build protective spells around that person's target? Why not cast a spell to mirror whatever is cast upon a target back up its caster, making it so someone who tries to hurt that target ends up hurting himself or herself? A very creative defense is significantly more effective than a simple offense in my opinion.
And lets return to that earlier idea of a "love spell." Now, while it is clearly wrong to cast a love spell upon someone else, that doesn't mean you can't cast something upon yourself. I prefer to think of this sort of thing though as "Coincidence Magick." While I know it sounds a bit silly, if you're so desperate for love in your life, why not cast something on yourself that will increase your odds of meeting someone you might naturally be compatible with? With that sort of Magick you aren't altering the will of anyone else, but instead altering your own choices. Do you go right or do you go left that day? Which person do you choose to talk to at a party? The only person who you effect and the only will you've bent is your own.
I guess what it all comes down to is that we, as Wiccans, must exhibit empathy in what we are doing. We must put ourselves in the shoes of others and ask the question "Would I want this to happen to me?" It is only from there that we can truly claim to be "harming none" as often as possible, and not acting from a selfish place instead of an enlightened one. We must also not take shortcuts because they seem to be the easiest route, and instead take things from a much more creative angle.
Because creativity is magick's spark.
1 - In this essay, I use the words Wiccan, Witch, Witchcraft, Spellcrafter and the Craft interchangeably. While some of these words can apply to many other groups besides Wicca, I'm only referring to Wicca within the context of this article. Why? Because for literary purposes I feel silly writing the same word over and over again.
2 - While it is true that some Wiccan traditions don't follow the Rede and/or the Rule of Three, these people are few and far between, and the vast majority of Wiccans adhere to it. There is some debate in the community about interpretation of the Rede, but I'll cover that in another essay.