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Religious Guidelines

I love to teach, but haven't the patience to handle formal students. So what to do? I found part of the answer on the Internet, with pagan message boards. While the members are primarily Wiccan, there is a liberal sprinkling of other types of pagans and a steady influx of people seeking answers. This gives me ample opportunity to teach. I admit that I also learn, as well.

As a Gwyddon, I have been taught to look for patterns. Well, there are a couple of patterns I've been seeing on these pagan message boards that I find disturbing. For instance, I often see people quoting the Wiccan "Law of Three" (tied in very closely with the Western concept of Karma. The East Indian concept is much different) in a way that has always bothered me. The following is a post by Teri [circa 1998] on 'The Dance' on this subject that I believe you will all find of interest.

As you may or may not know, I have been spending a large amount of time recently talking with people of other faiths, mostly Christian, on a faith forum. One of the most disappointing subjects to come up often on the forum, and one I usually avoid, is discussion over the interpretation of scripture. There have been numerous heated arguments over the interpretation of a line or paragraph, often the source of the scripture is, was it from the KJV bible, or the NIV bible, or the Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic scriptures... and how do you really translate 3000 years old Aramaic into modern English?

I brought this up as I see a similar case in point in (another poster's) question.

He asks...what (does the Three-Fold Law) REALLY mean? Was it this or that interpretation?

Since when do we have scripture? Are there texts of holy writ for Wiccans/witches/pagans? I often see quotes of witches redes, and witches runes, and parables and charges from various sources.

Please, I do not mean to belittle the work of some of the worlds greatest pagan writers and poets.... but remember, these are the words of pagans. These are not the words of God/dess. As such, these are interpretations by the authors of concepts being taught orally and in writing, to those who would follow the Old Ones.

The so called "Three-Fold Law" came from an older and magical source. "As above, so below", "As you sow, so shall ye reap". "That which is manifest will return magnified by the will of the magician".

So you see... the 3 fold law is a simple, easy to remember little ditty to REMIND us to be cautious in our actions. It is not a LAW, it does not define the practitioners of Wicca/witchcraft/magic. And it is not subject to interpretation because of its wording. That practice is for those religions that insist they have books written by their gods..... so they must spend millennia interpreting the word of god. We do not have those limitations, and so should not start to impose them on ourselves now. Yes, our belief system is complicated, hard to define and even harder to simplify. But, we have something many other religions lack.... a real connection to our deities. As such, we always have recourse to the final authority. Do we really want to subject ourselves to limitations of definitions, rede, runes, laws and titles?

Walk lightly, see clearly, Teri

The point is, that I agree with Teri. It should not be taken as dogma or law, but as a warning to be very careful with how you act & how you use your magic. When you take the so-called Law as literal, you descend into superstition.

And that was what had been bothering me! Magic is not an excuse to descend into superstition. We use magic because it works. We have our gods as spiritual aids. We use symbolism to involve the subconscious. But when we start making arbitrary "laws" that make no logical sense, we've gone too far.

Yes, there is always a reaction for every action, but there can be no more force in the reaction than was put into the action, and the force of that reaction usually scatters instead of rebounding to its source unless directed to do so.

I received this from another board member elsewhere [circa 1998]:

It just means that magic is like everything else, and well if you cast a curse on your ex-boyfriend, and then your cat dies, or your car breaks down or something...then don't be surprised. R.

Except that it doesn't usually work out that way, does it? It would be nice if the bad guys "got it" whenever they did something deliberately bad, but we all know that just doesn't happen very often in real life. But there is justice for harmful spellcasting, even if it's not visible to us, and here's how it works. Ok. You cast that negative spell. Where does it start? In your own mind, right? You have gathered together the energy for this spell and are holding that energy and molding it to negative purposes with your naked mind. There's no way to shield yourself from it and still be able to do anything with it. So who's the first one that negativity is going to affect? That's right. You. The caster. As with any container, some of the contents cling. The same way with positive spells. And it is only common sense to assume a cumulative effect. If you continually cast negative spells, that negativity will eventually corrupt your mind. How it would manifest would probably depend on the individual, but I would suspect some sort of insanity at the very least.

umbrellaAs for common sense becoming superstition, well, let's take a look at some superstitions: "Opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck." An umbrella, when open, is fairly large and unwieldy. Having it open indoors is apt to result in you hitting things with it, conceivably knocking things over and breaking them. Common sense, right?

Another one. "Spilling salt is unlucky." At one time salt was so valuable that soldiers were paid their wages in it. Remember an old saying "That man is worth his salt"? It remained expensive and fairly rare until mass transportation methods made it easy to transport, so spilling it was a minor disaster. A warning was needed to be very careful with it.

ladderAnother? "Walking under a ladder is bad luck." Usually the only time a ladder is up is when someone is using it. If they're painting, you could get paint dripped on you. If they're working with other tools, they could get dropped on you. Or you could bump the ladder, causing an accident. Again, common sense that got turned into a superstition.

One last one, although this one has more to do with religious fear rather than common sense. "Black cats are unlucky." This most probably started in Europe just prior to the Black Plague, when cats were supposed to be "agents of the devil" and were being systematically killed. black cat There were even a few instances when cats were put on trial as witches and hung. So all cats were suspect, but a black cat, able to go from place to place "invisibly" in the night (the Devil's own playtime, don'tcha know) was not only evil, but a special agent of the devil. Therefore, having a black cat cross your path was for it to be bringing the devil's attention to you and thereby unlucky. More superstition. (As an aside; this pogrom against cats backfired on the people. Due to the relative lack of cats, rats and other rodents proliferated, so when the Black Plague arrived via fleas on shipboard rats, they spread like wildfire.)

I see the same thing happening with the Wiccan "Rule of Three" as has happened with other common-sense rules. I wouldn't be surprised if other "rules" were also being taken too literally, both by Wiccans and other pagans with sayings and guidelines from their own religions. We are all human, after all. But Pagans are not Christians, most of whom take what is written as literal truth that must be hewn to. Cautionary sayings are good, but . . . think for yourself, and don't make them dogma.

Dafydd Draeconin
(Updated 5/2001.)
Copyright 1998/2001