Solitary: A Self-Directed Spiritual Life

Let's talk. Come sit with me under a tree or by a lake while we chat about being alone in our practice and our beliefs. Solitary practitioners choose this path for many reasons and have a unique perspective. As a solitary witch, I want to share how I keep true to my beliefs and practices whether I'm working on my own, in a small group or attending a large group gathering. Author of Moon Affirmations, meditations based on the phase of the moon.

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An it harm none

An it harm none do what you will at first glance seems to be an invitation for any kind of behavior.  However, this founding concept for most nature based religions is not as simplistic as it first appears. Paganism has two leading ethical principles, the Wiccan Rede and the law of return.  According to Marion Green in A Witch Alone “An it harm none, do what ye will. None in this case implies everyone and everything! An in old English means In order that and will is your soul’s own true will, not the whim of the moment.” (pg 41)  In other words - In order that no harm comes to anything or anyone do what your soul’s own true desires.  The law of return basically means that whatever energy you put out it will come back to you, three, ten or a hundred fold depending on what path you follow.  As with other religions, this is interpreted in a variety of ways.  The law of return, which is a western version of karma expounds personal responsibility.  According to Rabinovitch and MacDonald in An Ye Harm None there are two central concepts on morality “1) that there are causes for and reasons why something happens and 2) that every action you take will have effects.” (page 5)  In its simplest form the rede is the guide for making life choices. The law of return is the penalty or prize for any action taken.  

In any discussion concerning Pagan morality and justice it is difficult to pin down the one overriding belief the entire community has.  Paganism, Witchcraft, and the other nature-based belief systems are very individualistic, which is part of their appeal.  This means that those practicing these systems have to determine their own ethical and moral beliefs based on the minimal guidance found in whatever path they choose to follow.

Non-pagans feel these two principles are not enough of a guideline to live a moral life.  Where are the thou shall nots?  Where is the outline to tell us how to live our lives?  In reality this broad general concept allows each individual to take responsibility for one’s own actions and morals while attempting to live by them.  This is not an easy task.  It forces the individual to look deeper and more seriously at any action taken.  If I do this – will it harm anyone?  If I don’t do something will it cause harm?  It is easy to get caught up in the moment, to just go along with the group and follow with the actions everyone is taking.  It is not easy to step back in the heat of the moment and say is this a correct action to take.  Am I thinking and acting in accordance to my core beliefs or am I just reacting with no thought to the consequences.

As with any religion, it is a learning process to follow this rede.  Each new situation forces the individual to truly examine their beliefs before taking action.  The individual needs to look at all the options and avoid tunnel vision when determining the correct action in a situation.  Often this is not possible because life happens and it doesn’t always allow for time to contemplate.  This is why it is key to practice one’s core beliefs.  It is also important to be able to bring yourself to a place of peace and balance in a moment.  So when you react, you will hopefully come from a balanced and centered place rather than simply reacting to situational stimulus.

Additionally the rede and law of return allow the practitioner to make informed decisions based on their experiences rather than a hard and fast set of rules. Many other religions outline what a person can or cannot do like the ten commandments in Christianity.  One of these commandments is the honor one’s parents.  If parents have proved they do not deserve the honor, then honoring them really isn’t a moral justice but a moral injustice.  With the rede, honoring people who are unworthy of honoring is harmful so the practitioner is not bound to a law or guideline which produces negative consequences. 

Karma or the law of return is complex.  It isn’t as simple as tit for tat.  This is a very simplistic point of view.  There isn’t any force out there keeping tally of your actions.  The universal flow of life brings about a balance over time and lives.  In some cases, lessons can be learned from a negative situation so when is harm caused?  Rabinovich and MacDonald point out that there is a difference between harm and hurt.  Hurt is short term while harm is long term or permanent (page 9). 

The rede and the law of return are meant to make us stop and think about our actions.  Responsibility for actions and choices are key components of this belief system.  The two dominant guidelines are meant to help us take a step back when we are angry, scared, frustrated, and off balance in order to do the right thing even in a difficult situation.  

Many Pagans or Wiccans believe that you should always practice from a place of love and light.  In an idealistic world this might be possible but there are times when the issue an individual is being faced with isn’t quite so clear cut.  Often times it is a matter of what is the best option rather than a clearly defined correct action.  The point at these times in our lives is to know and take responsibility for the actions you do take.  For instance if someone is giving you a hard time, some Wiccans feel you should not send the energy they are giving to you back to them.  Obviously it would be a negative thing to participate in the same behavior they are.  But is your only option to turn the other cheek and let the negative behavior continue?  Often when there is negative behavior and it goes unchecked it can only escalate.  So what happens when you have turned both cheeks, had discussions with the person asking them to stop and the behavior continues?  Patricia Telesco in How to be a Wicked Witch discusses options that are open to you.  A mirror spell which reflects the energy back to the sender is often very effective.  This spell is simple in that it basically is like holding up a mirror to the person and saying what you send out comes immediately back to you.  Some Pagans consider this morally wrong.  Others believe that so long as you are conscious of your actions and have tried to do everything else within your power to get the person to stop that this action is not morally wrong.  So long as you are aware of the repercussions and take responsibility for your actions then it is acceptable.

People new to the craft and this ethical system can sometimes get caught up in applying the basic concept of the rede and law of return without looking deeper at the topic.  As an example, a poor person must be poor to learn a lesson or it is karmic payback for the person to be poor.  A person who contracts a disease must need to learn a lesson from having the disease or is being paying back some negative karma.  These are attitudes that are judgmental and superficial.  This is a harsh and simplistic approach to the rede and law of return.  Poverty, disease, and other social or physical difficulties are not just caused by an individual’s actions.  Many factors go into them with only a small portion of it being the person’s own actions.  When addressing larger issues like this, there are many factors which play a multitude of roles in the issues.  

Like other religions, Paganism and nature-based religions have a complex moral standard which is applied individually based on the path the practitioner follows.  Application of the moral code, depends on the individual’s beliefs and experiences.  So while the rede and the law of return may seem overly simple and without direction or consequence.  Both remind the practitioner that whatever energy is put out will come back to them and offers specific direction on how to live life.

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As a solitary, I consider myself a pagan witch who is seeking. Residing in rural Wisconsin, by day I work as a clerical worker and at night I spend my spare time writing. Writing is my way of expressing my feelings about my world and life. Raised on a farm, I have a love for nature and am inspired by the beauty and power I find there. I've been married for 33 years and have three adult daughters. Some of my other interests include cooking, genealogy, reading and crocheting.  
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