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Pagan Studies I: How Should We Define Modern Paganism?
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The Value of Multicultural Awareness
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Lessons from the Lessers: Iris
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Ethics and Numerology
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February 24th. 2013 ...
Top Ten Stupid Mistakes I Made as a New Pagan (Part Two)
February 17th. 2013 ...
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February 3rd. 2013 ...
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January 6th. 2013 ...
Wicca v Witchcraft
NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
Religious Symbolism and Ethical Vocabulary|
Posted: December 8th. 2001
Times Viewed: 3,158
Religious Symbolism and Ethical Vocabulary
by Jonobie Ford
Within the framework of a Wiccan or Wiccan-influenced theology, the Rede, particularly when combined with the Threefold Law, is a perfectly acceptable statement of ethical principles. This works because the Threefold law is the Natural Law that supports the statement of the Moral Law (the Rede). That is, the Law of Threefold Return is part of the Wiccan worldview that explains why the Rede is important. Don't harm people - not only because it's a good idea not to harm them, but also because things done in the world eventually return to the originator (for a good explanation of Natural and Moral laws, see John's The Little Witch and the Christian ). However, the Wiccan Rede is an ethical statement based on Wiccan theology and worldview instead of secular principles, and therefore cannot apply equally to all religions.
When I strongly object to the phrase 'all Neopagans adhere to the Wiccan Rede, ' it's not because I find anything inherently horrible about the Wiccan Rede. It's that there is an incorrect assumption being made about my religious language and belief. An equivalent assertion might be, 'All Wiccans follow Christ's example.' It's not that most Wiccans inherently disagree with the main moral statement of Christianity (essentially another form of the Golden Rule), but they might realistically object to the arrogance of applying Christian language to Wiccan theology, when there already exists a perfectly good expression of Wiccan theology. To some of us who are not Wiccan, and have little Wiccan-influenced theology, the statement that we follow the Wiccan Rede has the same inherent problem - we object to its language and religious expression being applied to us, when we have expressions that are more appropriate to our religion.
There is a difference between secular and religious ethical statements, with religious statements usually being more emotionally powerful re-statements of the former. For example, 'striving to live like Christ' could be considered the religious re-statement of the secular Golden Rule. People of many different faiths (or lack thereof) usually agree on secular ethical statements. Religious statements hold particular sway over those within the religious tradition, because they rely on and are supported by symbols, images, and beliefs within the religion. These symbols, images and beliefs are all things that are 'encoded' in the religion's ethical statement. That is, because of the associated Christian theology, a person striving to 'live a Christ-like life' may make fundamentally different choices in the world than a person striving only to follow the Golden Rule. They make these different choices, not because they don't also follow the Golden Rule, but because they are following an ethical system that is molded and supported by their theology, and whose short statement encapsulates this larger ethical system.
In effect, religious ethical statements bridge a person's religious life and secular life. The most powerful religious ethical statements are those that speak with the voice of the religious tradition we hold most dear, while saying something we believe is important in our secular lives. Religious ethical statements are hard to talk about for this reason - they are neither completely of the secular or religious world, but are part of the cement that fuses the two.
The main problem with the Wiccan Rede is that it is the cement that binds Wiccans and those with Wiccan-influenced theology to the secular world. That is, without the religion's Natural Law (the Law of Threefold Return, or some variant), the Moral Law loses its power. The Rede is not born of my theology, and does not have one side firmly planted in my religious tradition - something that is important for it to adequately bridge my religious and secular life. On the secular side, I find that I am more comfortable with the Golden Rule, for reasons I discuss later.
Within my religious tradition, I would rather take as the formal statement of my ethical code something born from one of the religions that have most influenced my path. Two of these influences are British Druidry and recent attempts to base religious practices on accurate historical information. In particular, I resonate with the heroic culture of the ancient Celts, and their emphasis on (among other things) Truth. I also believe strongly in the concept of Awen, a more modern concept from the British Druid organizations, which posits that there is a Divine presence that touches and is within everything. I believe it important to find a religious expression that balances these two influences.
The Rede is neither born of these traditions nor stated in a way to invoke these beliefs. The existence of Awen in no way prohibits harming things; it means, instead, that I must see Awen in the things I may choose to destroy. I am forbidden to reduce them to a faceless enemy. Further, the existence of Awen means that I must interact with the world in an actively positive manner - if all things are of the Divine, I must see a part of myself in all things I interact with.
Searching for Truth may be implicit in the Rede, but it is relegated to a secondary position. That is, one would presumably seek Truth because to not do so would cause harm to themselves or others. I seek Truth because it is part of right living and because I believe it is what my Gods call me to do, and it has nothing to do with the possible harm of failing to do so.
For secular life, I want an expression of ethics that inspires me to interact in an actively positive way with the world. Between the Golden Rule and the Rede, I find the Golden Rule to be superior. Although the Rede is often treated as Wicca's 'Golden Rule, ' in isolation, it is actually a weaker requirement, being the inverse of the Golden Rule. The Wiccan Rede requires that you don't unreasonably harm others, or through inaction, allow others to come to harm. The Golden Rule doesn't simply forbid unreasonable harm (although it does that, too), but requires that you behave towards others in an actively positive manner. What do I use as an ethical statement that bridges my secular and religious aspects? I have found two statements that, taken together, most closely fit my requirements. The first is the Tuatha de Brighid's definition of a Druid:
A Druid is a Seeker of Truth:
In all places
In all times,
In all ways.
Here, the word 'Truth' is used in both the literal and symbolic sense. In the literal sense, I am required to seek factual knowledge, be truthful, and associate with those who are truthful. Used in the metaphorical sense, seeking Truth means that I am called by my religion to continually seek the ultimate reality.
I also use the Tuatha de Brighid's statement of ethical principles:
I believe that all things are of the Divine. Thus, I strive, to the best of my ability, to treat myself, and all with which I interact, accordingly.
This statement is the short statement of my beliefs about Awen that I discussed earlier. It is the Golden Rule, re-stated in my religious language, supported and modified by my religious beliefs.
These are the words that speak to me from my religion - they ring with the Truth of my inner voice and they speak in symbols and images that are reinforced in my rituals. They are not in conflict with the Wiccan Rede, or with the tenants of Christianity, or with the Golden Rule. But their power is in the bridge they make from my religious beliefs about Truth and Awen to their application in my day-to-day living.
Each person's system of ethics will be more complex and situational than the short form offered as their religion's ethic. However, the religious ethic is a symbol of that person's religious involvement in the world. As such, while each religion may share some ethical characteristics with other religions, to claim the same religious ethic for all religions denies the differences between religions. My religious bridge to my secular life rests on Truth and Awen. To say that I live by the Wiccan Rede is no more accurate than saying I strive to live a 'Christ-like life'. Neither is true, and they both presume to say something about my religious language and motivation that they have no right to say.
Location: , USA
Bio: Jonobie is solitaire living in Austin, Texas. Her religion lies somewhere between Celtic Reconstructionism and British Druidry and she tends to label herself as a 'Modern Druid' or a 'Celtic Pagan'. Currently, she is working on becoming a clan member of Tuatha de Brighid. She hopes to help bring a more visible non-Wiccan, non-Witch voice to Witchvox, given the dearth of similar sites for other religions within Neopaganism. This is her first essay for Witchvox.
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