Observations of the light and the dark of what is, was, and might be in the Pagan community's expansion and evolution.
Not Black, White, Or Gray
My friend Rebecca, asked me to write a blog about good and evil from a Pagan perspective. As the owner of the metaphysical shop, I have customers that come from a variety of belief systems, and often a part of their questions or discussions relate to good and evil. More often than not, these terms are used by people that follow one of the Abrahamic paths. I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked if I believe in good and evil. What I can give you is one Pagan's perspective on good and evil and why I rarely use the terms.
Ultimately, good and evil are defined by a person's morality. Whether or not the terms are used with much precision is a function of that person's moral code. Moreover, I often find there is not a clear distinction between morals and ethics.Volumes have been written about morals and ethics, but I will give you an extremely brief way of distinguishing between the two. Morals are beliefs or articles of faith derived from religion, philosophy, or personal experience, and as such are not easily changed by debate. Ethics are a set or a system of rules of conduct or behavior developed, tested, and enforced by a profession or a society. Ethics judges not whether an action is fundamentally wrong but rather whether it is appropriate or safe. Much of what I've seen labeled morality tends to be ethics when examined more closely.
In most but not all Pagan paths, there are no systematically enforced and indoctrinated moral codes. These tend to be derived and created by individuals for themselves. There are a significant number of Pagan paths that do have explicit codes of ethics. Whether or not these codes exist within any particular Pagan system, most of the people that I interact with have been raised in a culture that is permeated with the Abrahamic teachings about good and evil. Developing a Pagan perspective on good and evil also requires internal work to differentiate between what you are choosing and professing and what is your deeply embedded upbringing. Personally, I find the terms good and evil only apply in rare instances. More often than not, I apply the terms healthy and unhealthy with a greater degree of clarity and comfort. Most of the despicable behavior that I've seen on the part of individuals or collections of individuals, have their roots in some sort of pathology. Most of the unnecessary pain that I've seen inflicted in the course of human affairs stems from trauma or from trauma’s long-reaching shadow across generations. I would also go so far as to suggest that much of the miscommunication that then leads to suffering is also caused by or strongly assisted by the cumulative damage done to the individual and collective psyche by cultural and psychological disease.
This all applies to beings that have bodies and to those that don’t have bodies. When people speak to me of demons and evil spirits, my first thought is that there are also beings that are not physical that are also sociopaths. The lesser ones may be the vandals and the delinquents of the spirit world. All that we see in the physical world has analogues in the spirit world. There are also embodied and disembodied beings, that strike out because of fear or anger. A history of vilification can also cloud perceptions and judgments thereby setting off self renewing cycles of feuds turned by the cosmic version of the Hatfields and McCoys. Is a nature spirit evil when it defends lands that we have despoiled? I think not, but it is easy to see how the spirit’s actions may be interpreted that way by humans that do not understand their transgression.
In the end, depending upon your moral code, you may decide that certain actions by humans or by spirits are indeed evil. Your perspective will also be the judge of whether or not something is healthy or unhealthy. I will also say that there is a third category (and probably more) of situations that fall into the ambiguous zone that contains the pain and suffering that is simply the artifact of living and evolving. As an example, our lives subsist upon death. Whether you are an omnivore or a vegetarian, you must kill to eat and thus live. For me every blessing of a meal is in part the giving of thanks and in part a request for forgiveness. Since all the other animals that are on the planet are in the same boat, I’m pretty sure forgiveness is given when it is sincerely requested.
Regardless of whether I see something as unhealthy or evil, my response tends to remain the same. In fact I usually find it a waste of energy or a distraction from the task at hand to make that determination. I find it more useful to see if there is something that can heal or mend the damage to the world. And by the world, I mean the small world that is each individual, the larger world that is their family, larger world yet that is their community, and all the greater worlds that we can envision. My response usually means changing myself as much as it means changing the situation. Generally those responses that break repeating cycles of violence or suffering require a multidirectional approach. Lest you think that I’m pacifist, I’m not. I prefer peace and strive to seek it first, but it is not always an option. To continue the comparison to healing work, sometimes surgery or harsh herbs or medicines are the only remaining recourse. If the severe option is the road taken, then there is a need for healing on top of the healing.
As a Wiccan, I do not believe in a being that is the chief summation of evil. I think of pure evil as a conscious and willful intention to stay out of harmony with the universe and to flow in a contrary direction to the unfolding of evolution. This also means that I think that evil has a terminal illness. It may take countless years, perhaps countless lives (embodied or not), but in the end evil destroys itself. So when I am asked why evil persists if there is not a Deity of evil, I simply say the universe is constantly in the state of creation and change. If you wish to abolish all things evil or, if you prefer, all things that are unhealthy, then you simply stop the universe. I prefer to be part of the ongoing great dance, the music of the spheres, and if there are missteps or sour notes, then let us learn to do better. And remember that even if we get it right, we only get it right until the next new song and dance begins.
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