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Western Ethical Guides, Magical and Religious

To: FiatLVX Elist (For Magical Christians)
From: Nocifer (
Subject: Western Ethical Guides, Magical and Religious
Date: Kali Yuga 49941027


Important words to consider within my vocabulary: 'moral'; 'ethic'.  When
I say 'moral' or 'morality' or 'moralism' I intend to mean an association
with social judgement and behavior-prescription-schemes.  When I say 'ethic'
or 'ethics' or 'ethical' I intend to mean an association with personal
feelings and/or personal systems of self-restraint.  Thus 'amoral' to me
merely indicates withdrawing from judgement on another person's affairs,
while 'unethical' indicates to me that a person has no sense of what is right
for them.  I think it important to consider that some (like myself) don't
engage morality and may not construct a system of ethics, following our
intuition and the feelings of our heart.

Meat (:>)

Comments in reaction to Lainie's post follow.  She referred to the following
phrases, popular within the occult and religious communities.

1. 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.' is a quote from
   _The Book of the Law_, a text claimed to have been received by Aleister
   Crowley in April of 1904.  Out of context this phrase has been used
   by all manner of individuals for a variety of reasons.  Some see it
   as an indicator of a new system of ethics of which they are proponents,
   some use it to identify themselves within a social movement given
   its initiative by Crowley, and some intend to duplicate Crowley's own
   usage of these words as what he called 'Thelemic Greetings' (that is,
   a magical commitment of energy and dedication expressed within social
   circumstances; possibly equal to self- and social-programming).

   As an indicator of a system of ethics (or lack thereof), there is no
   absolute and pre-defined meaning for the phrase, even when taken in
   context.  Crowley himself, when providing an overview and reflection
   of the phrase, claimed that all meanings are true if but the reader
   be illuminated.  I think it imperative to note that within the Thelemic
   community itself there is a quite healthy debate over the meaning of
   'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.', along with very
   many other similar and related phrases.

   To illustrate the range of possibility here, some consider that the word
   'thou' indicates the divine and that 'what thou wilt' is equivalent to
   'the will of God'.  Thus if one were to take 'do what thou wilt' as a
   dictum within these meanings, one would hear 'do the will of God'.
   Of course the other end of the spectrum, and perhaps that which is most
   popular among the *individuals* aligning themselves with these words,
   is that 'do what thou wilt' is very literal and simply implies that what
   is spoken of here is the ethic of doing whatever one wishes to do.  The
   more perspicacious among us will of course point out that it is somewhat
   important not to overlook the balance of the phrase ('shall...').  In
   any case, rest assured that, as with most religious and philosophical
   speculation and doctrine, there is no widespread agreement as to what
   constitutes the meaning of this phrase as a foundation of ethics.

   It should also be noted, however, that (perhaps expectedly) organizations
   which promote themselves as 'Thelemic' take a rather more conservative
   perspective on the meaning of that phrase when they offer any interpre-
   tation at all.

Personally, I understand that phrase as an observation of Natural Law, in
that we shall always do what we will no matter the consequences, and as we
accept this as the context of our actions so is our life made more peaceful.
>From there of course we may wish to set about devising all sorts of moralistic
and ethical systems to guide and constrain us to 'proper behavior'.  I don't
choose to participate in these last, of course. :>

2. 'An it harm none, do what thou wilt' (and its variants) is often referred
   to within the Neopagan community as 'the Wiccan Rede', and it is quite
   important that it has this designated title.  While the more conservative
   will conveniently forget and the novices will perhaps be unaware, a 'rede'
   is merely a guideline, a recommendation.  It does not participate in
   moralism in the slightest, and those who use it in this way can be said
   to be interpreting the rede as a law where their predecessors did no
   such thing.

   There is some controversy about the meaning of 'harm' within the Wiccan
   community and the Neopagan community at large.  Those unaccustomed to
   philosophical speculation on the meaning of the Rede are quick to include
   all manner of damage to all of life, therefore making the guideline use-
   less except for suicidal ascetics (since we must kill to survive).  Others
   are more conservative and maintain that 'harm' need only mean unnecessary
   suffering, bringing into question what actions are 'necessary' and when
   an animal or plant 'suffers' prior to our consumption.  Needless to say,
   there are a few Wiccans who maintain that in order to abide this rede one
   must become vegetarian (if they have any ecological background), though
   I'm not aware that such is a trend among either Neopagans or Wiccans.

   Seldom is the word 'thou' used as a pointer toward 'the divine' unless it
   be 'the Goddess', since many Wiccans are formerly Christian with a dislike
   for anything resembling their upbringing, and when they accept 'God' at
   all, most are likely to identify this with the agrarian Lord of the
   Animals and Sun King and reject the transcendant divine altogether.  Thus
   'thou' is usually interpreted as implying the individual Wiccan.

Personally I see the Wiccan Rede as one of the most useful of ethical guides,
and I understand 'harm' to be intentional action or inaction which violates
or coerces another being outside the parameters of the necessities of self-
sustenance.  I have difficulties with the way humans treat other living
beings, as I've mentioned before on this list, and I think that that issue
is representative of the controversy within the Wiccan and perhaps Neopagan
community over what actions need be taken in order to completely follow the
Wiccan Rede.

3. 'That which you would have done unto you, do also unto your neighbor.' or
   one of the many variants on this phrase (the Golden Rule) is quite common
   amongst the doctrines of the world religions.  It is quite often taken
   as a moral and ethical rule, and for this reason I think it differs quite
   markedly in character from the two previous phrases.

My own impression is that it is only of limited use, for our tastes from
culture to culture and even home to home may not make this a worthwhile
rule.  Example: I am depressed and want someone to kill me.  By the Golden
Rule I ought go out and kill.  Another: I take great pleasure in being
flogged with a cat-o-nine-tails (whip).  By the Golden Rule I should go
about flogging people.  Obviously these are extreme exceptions but they
do point out a problem with it as the basis for a system of ethics.

4. .  I have often thought that these and
   the teachings of Jesus Christ were the basis for the Christian ethical
   system, and that this was true *regardless of context*.  That is, it
   does not matter whether one is engaging politics or magick, these moral
   proscriptions and prescriptions are sufficient to guide one along the
   Righteous Path.

My own preference is to interpret these as I'm able (which I gather is
somewhat encouraged by Jews at least, regarding _Torah_), and to place
what bits of wisdom I may have received directly from God BEFORE these
teachings, so I have little use for systems of morality or ethics at
all.  I therefore see these as very important social rules which steer
the behavior of those who do not yet have a deep relationship with Christ,
and while I tend to follow them within my daily activity (as I understand
them), I do not always think that they apply to me.

I'd love to hear comment on any of the above and would gladly engage
discussion on same (preferrably within the list and maintaining the
connection to Christian magick).  Thanks.



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