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The Ethics of Love Spells

Subject: The Ethics of Love Spells

   Text only Version

   'Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to
   true happiness.'

   -- Bertrand Russell

                         The Ethics of Love Spells

                              by Mike Nichols

    To gain the love of someone: On a night of the full moon, walk to a
                             spot beneath your
   beloved's bedroom window, and whisper his/her name three times to the
                                 nightwind.

   --Ozark love spell

   It seems to be an immutable law of nature. You are interviewed by a
   local radio or TV station, or in some local newspaper. The topic of
   the interview is Witchcraft or Paganism, and you spend the better part
   of an hour brilliantly articulating your beliefs, your devotion to
   Goddess and nature, the difference between Witchcraft and Satanism,
   and generally enlightening the public at large. The next day, you are
   flooded with calls. Is it people complimenting you on such a splendid
   interview? No. People wanting to find out more about the religion of
   Wicca? Huh-uh. People who are even vaguely interested in what you had
   to say??? Nope. Who is it? It's people asking you to do a love spell
   for them!

   This used to drive me nuts. I'd take a deep breath and patiently
   explain (for the thousandth time) why I won't even do love spells for
   myself, let alone anyone else. This generally resulted in my caller
   becoming either angry or defensive, but seldom more enlightened. 'But
   don't you DO magic?', they ask. 'Only occasionally,' I answer. 'And
   aren't most magic spells love spells?', they persist. That was the
   line I really hated, because I knew they were right! At least, if you
   look at the table of contents of most books on magic, you'll find more
   love spells than any other kind. This seems as true for the medieval
   grimoire as for the modern drugstore paperback.

   Why? Why so many books containing so many love spells? Why such an
   emphasis on a kind of magic that I, personally, have always considered
   very negative? And to make matters even more confusing, the books that
   do take the trouble of dividing spells between 'positive' and
   'negative' magic invariably list love spells under the first heading.
   After all, they would argue, love is a good thing. There can never be
   too much of it. Therefore, any spell that brings about love must be a
   GOOD spell. Never mind that the spell puts a straightjacket on
   another's free will, and then drops it in cement for good measure.

   And that is why I had always assumed love magic to be negative magic.
   Years ago, one of the first things I learned as a novice Witch was
   something called the Witch's Rede, a kind of 'golden rule' in
   traditional Witchcraft. It states, 'An it harm none, do what thou
   will.' One uses this rede as a kind of ethical litmus test for a
   spell. If the spell brings harm to someone -- anyone (including
   yourself!) -- then don't do it! Unfortunately, this rule contains a
   loophole big enough to fly a broom through. It's commonly expressed,
   'Oh, this won't HARM them; it's really for their own good.' When you
   hear someone say that, take cover, because something especially nasty
   is about to happen.

   That's why I had to develop my own version of the Witch's Rede. Mine
   says that if a spell harms anyone, OR LIMITS THEIR FREEDOM OF THOUGHT
   OR ACTION IN ANY WAY, then consider it negative, and don't do it.
   Pretty strict, you say? Perhaps. But there's another law in Witchcraft
   called the Law of Threefold Return. This says that whatever power you
   send out, eventually comes back to you three times more powerful. So I
   take no chances. And love spells, of the typical make-Bobby-love-me
   type, definitely have an impact on another's free will.

   So why are they so common? It's taken me years to make peace with
   this, but I think I finally understand. The plain truth is that most
   of us NEED love. Without it, our lives are empty and miserable. After
   our basic survival needs have been met, we must have affection and
   companionship for a full life. And if it will not come of its own
   accord, some of us may be tempted to FORCE it to come. And nothing can
   be as painful as loving someone who doesn't love you back.
   Consequently, the most common, garden-variety spell in the world is
   the love spell.

   Is there ever a way to do a love spell and yet stay within the
   parameters of the Witch's Rede? Possibly. Some teachers have argued
   that if a spell doesn't attempt to attract a SPECIFIC person into your
   life, but rather attempts to attract the RIGHT person, whomever that
   may be, then it is not negative magic. Even so, one should make sure
   that the spell finds people who are 'right' for each other -- so that
   neither is harmed, and both are made happy.

   Is there ever an excuse for the make-Bobby-love-me type of spell?
   Without endorsing this viewpoint, I must admit that the most cogent
   argument in its favor is the following: Whenever you fall in love with
   someone, you do everything in your power to impress them. You dress
   nicer, are more attentive, witty, and charming. And at the same time,
   you unconsciously set in motion some very powerful psychic forces. If
   you've ever walked into a room where someone has a crush on you, you
   know what I mean. You can FEEL it. Proponents of this school say that
   a love spell only takes the forces that are ALREADY there -- MUST be
   there if you're in love -- and channels them more efficiently.

   But the energy would be there just the same, whether or not you use a
   spell to focus it.

   I won't attempt to decide this one for you. People must arrive at
   their own set of ethics through their own considerations. However, I
   would call to your attention all the cautionary tales in folk magic
   about love spells gone awry. Also, if a love spell has been employed
   to join two people who are not naturally compatible, then one must
   keep pumping energy into the spell. And when one finally tires of this
   (and one will, because it is hard work!) then the spell will unravel
   amidst an emotional and psychic hurricane that will make the stormiest
   divorces seem calm by comparison. Not a pretty picture.

   It should be noted that many spells that pass themselves off as love
   spells are, in reality, sex spells. Not that there's anything
   surprising in that, since our most basic needs usually include sex.
   But I think we should be clear from the outset what kind of spell it
   is. And the same ethical standards used for love spells can often be
   applied to sex spells. Last year, the very quotable Isaac Bonewits,
   author of 'Real Magic', taught a sex magic class here at the Magick
   Lantern, and he tossed out the following rule of thumb: Decide what
   the mundane equivalent of your spell would be, and ask yourself if you
   could be arrested for it. For example, some spells are like sending a
   letter to your beloved in the mail, whereas other spells are
   tantamount to abduction. The former is perfectly legal and normal,
   whereas the latter is felonious.

   One mitigating factor in your decisions may be the particular
   tradition of magic you follow. For example, I've often noticed that
   practitioners of Voudoun (Voodoo) and Santeria seem much more focused
   on the wants and needs of day-to-day living than on the abstruse
   ethical considerations we've been examining here. That's not a value
   judgment -- just an observation. For example, most followers of Wicca
   STILL don't know how to react when a Santerian priest spills the blood
   of a chicken during a ritual -- other than to feel pretty queasy. The
   ethics of one culture is not always the same as another.

   And speaking of cultural traditions, another consideration is how a
   culture views love and sex. It has often been pointed out that in our
   predominant culture, love and sex are seen in very possessive terms,
   where the beloved is regarded as one's personal property. If the spell
   uses this approach, treating a person as an object, jealously
   attempting to cut off all other relationships, then the ethics are
   seriously in doubt. However, if the spell takes a more open approach
   to love and sex, not attempting to limit a person's other
   relationships in any way, then perhaps it is more defensible. Perhaps.
   Still, it might be wise to ask, Is this the kind of spell I'd want
   someone to cast on me?

   Love spells. Whether to do them or not. If you are a practitioner of
   magic, I dare say you will one day be faced with the choice. If you
   haven't yet, it is only a matter of time. And if the answer is yes,
   then which spells are ethical and which aren't? Then you, and only
   you, will have to decide whether 'All's fair in love and war', or
   whether there are other, higher, metaphysical considerations.

              Document Copyright  1988, 1998 by Mike Nichols

   This document can be re-published only as long as no information is
   lost or changed, credit is given to the author, and it is provided or
   used without cost to others. Other uses of this document must be
   approved in writing by Mike Nichols. Revised: Thursday, April 2, 1998
   c.e.

   The term Witches Rede mentioned above is a guideline for the Wiccan
   religion, and in the views of the editors of this website shouldn't be
   confused with any ethical values of Traditional Witchcraft or beliefs
   of Traditional Witches.

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