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No One is Watching... But You
by Taliesin RavenHawk, Sibylline Priest
Every spiritual path or religious expression contains some element of morality, ethics, or expectation of acceptable behavior from their respective practitioners or followers. For those on the Judeo-Christian path, as well as followers of Islam, this is clearly outlined (or maybe implicitly stated and subjectively interpreted) in the Talmud, the Bible, the Koran, and various other texts depending on the particular denomination, church, mosque, or synagogue. Buddhists also have texts that outline what is in accord with spiritual and secular pursuits, and most other Eastern paths have similar written instructions.
The creators of these texts, whether they be prophets, messiahs, or inspired devotees, all seem to have come to the same conclusion that no matter how powerful, beautiful, or meaningful their particular path is, there are still countless challenges to living a spiritual life in a world filled with options; some of which may be more detrimental to one’s path than first realized. These options also leave room for interpretation of the texts and teachings, which, as anyone who has played a good game of “telephone” can attest, may easily lead to outright negligence of the inherent reason these rules were proposed in the first place. “Love thy neighbor” was around long before the Church capitalized on “Thou shalt not suffer a Witch to live, ” yet it was through interpretation of an objective source that could not argue its own merit that the latter gained acceptance within the Christian religion of the time. It is, in essence, no different from the modern-day legislative process that seeks to take words, manipulate them, find grammatical loopholes, and arrange them in ways that validate a person’s or group’s beliefs about how the world should be, and how the people in the world should conduct themselves. Personal responsibility can take a back seat to holy writ and legislation, as one’s actions can be confirmed through some sentence somewhere that says it’s okay.
Indigenous people that practice an Earth-centered and life-oriented religion, however, have no texts. They have stories, myths, tales, and the world around them to clearly show how one’s actions affect the world, which, in this case, may only appear to be the group or tribe, as well as the Earth they live on. They do, however, have taboos and social norms that serve to direct the members' daily and religious lives in a particular manner. Again, this is in an effort to help the people of the tribe live in accord with spiritual and mundane realities.
Wicca and Neo-Paganism, however, do not fall in any of the aforementioned categories. Like the Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists, we have texts that outline how we perceive our Gods and how we can conduct our lives in a way that is in sync with those beliefs. The Charge of the Goddess is a perfect and almost universally known example of Wiccan liturgy, and many of the books on the market today seek to guide the practitioner in doing the same, regardless of the particular path. Although these texts may not be officially sanctioned nor considered infallible, they serve the same purpose as any other sacred text or writing. As Wiccans and Neo-Pagans, however, we obviously have much in common with the indigenous people and their religions as well. Much of our inspiration comes directly from Nature, and much of our religious experience occurs in a direct way that does not require an intermediary. What makes us drastically unique from both of these camps is that we are each priests and priestesses of our Gods, individually given the power to shape our lives, and our religion, as we see fit and in accord with our relationship to the Divine. This is what makes personal responsibility the cornerstone of our path.
For Wiccans and many, though not all, Neo-Pagans, the single, moral tagline usually redes (pun intended) “Do as ye will, an it harm none.” Of course, this places tremendous responsibility on the shoulders of every practitioner, as it is up to the individual to ascertain what could be harmful in any given situation. Unfortunately, some people have tried to take the traditional religious route of interpreting the Rede literally, or defining it in very specific terms so as to make it something like Wiccan “scripture.” Others have taken the opposite route, and eagerly point out that the word “rede” just means “advice” and they see it as something that’s good to think about, though not proclaimed from the mouth of the Goddess Herself. Although both groups have their reasons and merits, there is another, third group that views the Rede as a natural way of life for anyone that is truly living the path of a priest or priestess, and is continually crafting a more meaningful connection to the Divine.
One of the most profound concepts of Wicca and Neo-Paganism is that the Divine is both transcendent and immanent. The Gods are greater than the world, but permeate all of existence. This leads to one of the greatest Mysteries, often affirmed in the Circle: Thou art Goddess, Thou art God. We are not just followers of Deities, mere mortals, hopelessly lost sheep, but Gods in our own right; even if we are just toddlers in comparison. If the Gods are our parents this only makes sense. After all, when two human parents get together to create a third, it comes out to be another human without fail (hopefully). Maybe this little human can’t do math like the bigger ones, describe things in poetic detail, or even coordinate its movements enough to feed itself let alone cook a beautiful meal, but it is still a human, slowly learning how to claim these powers for him or herself. However, we as Wiccans and Neo-Pagans know that we are not alone in our Divinity. Every other person, creature, or being one encounters is also a God or Goddess. This is what makes our interaction with life a religious experience, and why self-responsibility isn't so much an issue, but an understatement.
Walking around knowing we’re holy is not all it’s cracked up to be either. That’s a pretty tall order for anyone to fill, let alone people who have regular lives to keep up with. It does, however, clarify the whole Rede dilemma. If you lie to, steal from, cheat, or otherwise carelessly and selfishly manipulate another being, you are not living in accord with the knowledge of one’s Divinity, and the Divinity of the being you have manipulated. Yes, it is true that we have to perform actions that necessarily impose our will on other creatures and beings. For example, we have to kill to eat, to have clothes, to grow a garden, to keep our homes sanitary, etc. On a more magickal note, we also have to banish unwanted entities, thoughtforms, and various other astral pains in the you-know-what that occasionally occupy our space. If it is done, both killing and banishing, with the intention of keeping a healthy balance and for the good of all concerned, then it is a beneficial interaction, in keeping with the knowledge of immanent Divinity. If it is done in order to satisfy an ego trip, exert power over someone or something, or done in a way that is wasteful with little regard for consequences, then you are acknowledging to yourself that you are not Divine, you are not powerful, you are only an evolving lump of flesh that is trying to fight its way to the top of the food chain, Darwin style. Don’t get me wrong, I am not at all attacking Darwin or evolution, but we are much more than just organisms trying to get food, get laid, and satisfy our various biochemical processes and our transient wants and needs.
In essence, self-responsibility isn't an option for a Wiccan or Neo-Pagan;
it’s a way of life. Perceiving the world around us as sacred requires
us to interact with it in a sacred way. Also, since we have no text to
ultimately refer to, or religious official to tell us the “truth,
” if we feel we are not as close to the Gods as we would like to
be, there is only one person who could possibly be responsible. Our Gods
are also not leaning over our shoulders, watching for any mistake we might
make. The Divinity that lives within us is our only authority, which makes
our hearts the ultimate judge of whether or not we are living the path
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