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Ethics of Divination:

An Exploration of the Wiccan Rede as It Applies to Divination

By Marc Chametzky
(Written for Ecclasia)

 

The Wiccan Rede is a great tool for judging the ethics of our actions, be they mundane or magickal. By applying the principle of "harm none" to whatever we do, we can strive to lead a Wiccan life that is respectful of all that is around us. It is difficult, however, to consider what harm there might be when no action is actually taken. This is the trouble in considering the ethics of divination, for just peering into a crystal ball hardly seems like it could harm anyone.

One of the common and perplexing ideas of divination is that by relating the hidden information to the querant, they can then change their destiny and possibly avoid that very event that you've foretold. Were you wrong in the first place, or was it that the knowledge of the event that prevented it from happening? Can someone forcibly seek out a particular destiny, or are we at the whim of cosmic forces that change our lives through what would otherwise be considered random circumstances? (1)

Given the unknown nature that the existence of information will have upon us, it is impossible to say for certain that having access to otherwise secret information wouldn't change our behavior. We must accept the responsibility for our actions as a result of having this knowledge. Because we know something, even if we remain silent about this knowledge, it is all too possible that our actions may change, even subtly.

Let's consider some possibilities of how we might choose to handle this new found information that we'd gained through divination about a person without their knowledge. The most obviously egregious thing would could do is to pass this information around to other people. Clearly, it's none of their business and sharing such knowledge would most likely harm the person (or persons) involved. Besides, Wiccan philosophies tell us that one of the most important things we can do is "keep silent," so let's presume that we don't even go down this path.

What else might we do? We might try to take actions into our own hands. This knowledge might tell us that the person is having a problem. Why not secretly step in and try to fix this problem for the person? Wouldn't that count as a good deed? Many of you by now understand that it's not that simple. The person having a problem doesn't necessarily need to have it solved, especially considering that it may very well be their journey to learn how to solve this problem, and for us to take that away from them would be arrogant.

Perhaps the simplest and safest approach would be to contact the person and let them know just what you've found out. After all, we're not taking any action by doing this and we're leaving it up to them for what to do with the result of our divination. The problem is still the fact that we may very well be changing the natural course of events. If this information is news to the person, then we're changing things by telling them, just as described earlier. On top of that, there's the very likely chance that we might be offending them by having done this divination without their permission. That would certainly count as "harm."

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to handle this sensitive information is with a proposed military-like policy:

Don't ask.
Don't tell.
Don't investigate.

Don't seek out information for which you do not have permission to obtain. Such permission may be explicit if someone should ask you to do a reading for them, or it might be implicit such as a parent looking for parental guidance spiritually.

When you have done a reading, keep the information private. It belongs to the querant and it's up to them what happens to that knowledge. It's not for you to decide who should know about someone's business.

The last one is the hardest. It's very easy for us to come across things in the course of a day through inadvertently overhearing a conversation or even just getting a feeling when you pass by someone. If you feel that someone is not well, you might want to find out what's wrong so that you can find out whether you can help. Unfortunately, if you don't have permission, it's not a good thing to do. If you really want to proceed, then simply ask the person for permission. You can explain that you've got a funny feeling and that you'd like to help.

It's so very easy to be a psychic voyeur. We've all run into situations where we've stood next to someone, felt their "vibes," and maybe even gleaned some particular bit of information, just from being around them. Some people seem to be natural antennas, broadcasting their energy to anyone who might be around. And why not just feel a bit further into the person's aura? No one is stopping you and, truth be told, no one may ever find out just what you've been peeking into. And if you're lucky, no one will ever be harmed by your divinatory glimpses.

Of course, it's not just whether or not you should use divination that requires an ethical decision. Even if you have permission, there are considerations you must make in handling the divination. It's important to consider your responsibility when you pass on the information. You've heard the expression, "Don't shoot the messenger!" There's a reason for that. The knowledge that you've gained as a result of your divination has power, and must be handled carefully, for treating the knowledge without the proper respect it deserves can surely bring harm to someone. Take some time to frame the divination properly and ensure that the message and the way that you present it are both coming from a place of spirit.

That covers the "before" and "during," now let's talk briefly about "after."

The hardest part of divination to pin down ethically your level of responsibility for what the querant might do as a result of having learned what you had to share. In a more traditional view, if you trip someone, and as a result they have to walk on crutches for the next two weeks, that's your responsibility. If they cannot bowl with their team, and their team suffers as a result, then that, too, is pretty much your responsibility, too, since it was your action that caused the team to be short a member. Much like the expanding ripples of a pond into which we have tossed a stone, the ripple effects of your action go on and on.

So, what if after the querant's divination experience, they decide as a result of what you've shared to quit their bowling team and the team similarly suffers? Are you responsibility? How much does free will play into the alleviating your level of responsibility? Again, if it weren't for your (divinatory, this time) action, they might not have chosen to quit. Should you take responsibility for what happens after the divination is done?

Many people to whom this question has been posed said that it's impossible for us as diviners to anticipate, and therefore accept, all the possible actions that the querant might take after such a reading. They have free will, and may very well choose to do things entirely counter to what would otherwise be expected of most people. Because of their ability to choose their own actions, anything that they then choose to do is their responsibility and not yours.

I disagree with this sentiment. I strongly believe in the ripple effect and I think that our very presence on this Earth causes an enormous number of tiny ripples. Every breath we take removes just a little bit of oxygen from the world around us. These ripples might very well be inconsequential, but they exist nonetheless. The "butterfly effect" states that a butterfly's flapping wings can cause a storm thousands of miles away. Now, that's a pretty big ripple!

Just as we strive to minimize our negative impact on the environment, for we can never truly eliminate all harm from what we do, we should similarly accept our responsibility, but realize that we are limited in our ability to lessen our impact in some circumstances. If I have a really strong divination reading and share with the querant that they will be getting a divorce soon, and they decide to do something terribly drastic, I believe that it is still somewhat my responsibility even though I had little control over their choice of actions within their free will.

As with other things well suited for discussion as part of the Wiccan Rede study, the ultimate point is that we all have free will, and we choose what we're going to do in our lives. It's essential that we at least acknowledge that our actions, be they physical, magickal, or by means of divination, are our responsibility and that, like those ripples in the pond, we are therefore responsible for those things that happen in reaction to what we've done.

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1. According to the theories of quantum physics, all things that are possible are true. Some facets of destiny are fixed and you can navigate your life events toward those particular facets. Others are fleeting and require many intermediate steps, some of which may seem completely inconsequential. Think about the relationship you have with your significant other or your best friend. Did you actually plan to meet them and set things up so that you'd be able to start your friendship right away? Perhaps instead you met as a result of some other happening and you developed your relationship without any planning at all.

 


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This page last updated March 10, 2004