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Responsibility and Paganism

By Elspeth Sapphire


"It's not my fault! It's her fault!"

"I didn't know... didn't research... didn't think..."

"You can't blame me... it wasn't against the Rede!"

"Why are these bad things happening to me?? I didn't do anything bad... not really...."

Do any of these sound familiar? As a mother I expected to hear them time after time. After all, one of my responsibilities as a mother was to teach my children to deal with their responsibilities. What has surprised and saddened me is the increasing numbers of times I hear comments like the above from people in the Pagan community.

Perhaps I am a product of the old school, but I was taught early that we reap what we sow ... in this world and others.

I am not talking about something as simple as following the Rede or the Law of Threes. I am talking about taking responsibility for each and every action in our lives, both mundane and magickal.

My Tradition is big on responsibility. Our version of the Rede states: "Do what you will, but be aware that every action comes with a price tag. Be prepared to pay that price." It is that simple. Act as you feel the need, but be willing to stand up and accept the consequences of your action.

Of course, this sounds simple, is simple, and still is sometimes very difficult to deal with.

One of the examples I use with my students is a mundane one; my daughter is raped. Now there are several ways I can react, both mundanely and magickally. If I decide to go after the man who did this and track him down and shoot him dead, then I have to accept that I will probably get caught and sent to jail. That would mean that I wouldn't be available to help my family through the aftermath of the rape. I wouldn't be able to comfort my daughter and help her reach past the experience and go on with her life. But the man would be dead.

Would I do it? Probably not. Taking responsibility for my actions would end up hurting my family as much as the rape. And, to me, claiming that anger and grief drove me to it would be a denial of that responsibility. And still hurt my family.

I see the same things happening magickally. A good example is the growing trend of books encouraging people to use love spells. Not wanting to debate the ethics of such spells, I would like you to look at what can happen. I know one woman who used a sexual seduction spell and then was surprised and horrified when the man raped her. She had decided that she would decide when the moment would be right for them, forgetting that magick often has its own timetable. This lady-who was normally quite bright-- saw herself as a victim, and didn't see how her own actions brought forth the situation. She couldn't accept responsibility for what she set in motion.

Another woman used a love spell and it worked. She got her man. However, once she had him, she realized that she didn't really want him. Two people were made miserable because she hadn't looked forward to see what could happen. Did she then take responsibility for what she had done and see what could be done to make things better? No, she ran to someone like me and expected them to fix things. After all, it wasn't really her fault.

Sigh. I have lost track of how many times people have come to me wanting help. I don't mind helping people, but it is the whining that gets rough to deal with. I know that sounds harsh, but whining is what it is. I would much rather deal with someone that comes to me and says, "I acted like an idiot. Can you help me figure out what to do now?" Instead, I often get people that say, "Well, the spell was in a book! Surely that makes it all right to use! It must be the author's fault!" Or the website, or their teacher or anyone else.

Paganism gets a bad rep in part because of the refusal to be responsible. What message does it send to non-Pagans when they listen to Sally blame her problems at work on the fact that someone must be doing a working against her? Of course, it has nothing to do with that fact that she doesn't do her job well or gossips about the people she works beside. What does it say when John claims that he can't get a date because of his bad aura or shielding? It couldn't have anything to do with the fact he is shy and doesn't bathe regularly!

The coven I belonged to before I became a HPS actually had rules about getting your life in order before dealing with the magickal. Don't whine about no job when you haven't even made an attempt to go out and look for a job. Doing a spell is not enough, and blaming the spell only makes you seem like a child.

Being responsible is not easy. Sometimes it is hard work. And often it is very painful. It is so much easier to blame your lover, your parents, your boss, the universe. Easier, but often untrue.

When someone, even myself, asks, "Why me?", I usually tell them to think about why them. The truth is often there if we but take a look at it. The trick is to not look at your neighbor, instead take a good look at yourself. Be honest with yourself. Think about why you do the things you do, both mundane and magickal. Realize what your true motives are. Then think about what could happen as a result of your actions. Do you want any of that to happen? Are you prepared to deal with the results?

I remember once I was prepared to do a justice spell. I had been egged on by others and I was angry enough at the individual to act. This despite the fact that I know very well that asking for someone else to be judged, holds me up to be judged also.

Well, to make a long story short, on the way to do the spell, I dropped the black glass candle that we had prepared. It shattered all over the ground. This started me thinking with my brain, instead of my emotions. I postponed the working and did some serious thinking. I realized that I was doing the spell because I was pissed and not because the person deserved it. I moaned when I realized that if she and I were judged, then I would be most likely found wanting. Having suffered through a justice spell when I was in the right, I can only imagine what the gods would have in store for me.

Our version of Rede dates from this experience. As does my insistence on each and every member being responsible for their actions.

It has changed my life for the better. I have gotten to know myself. This wasn't always a pleasure. Some of what I saw disgusted and shamed me. Some saddened. And all of it gave me a jumping off point for changing. Now when a fight is brewing between my mate and me, I ask myself if I am refusing to talk to her because of hurt feelings or because I am trying to "punish" her for hurting me. In either case, I then ask myself if I would rather be "right" or be close to the person I love best in the world. When put that way, often the path seems rather clear.

Not all issues are as clear. Some require thought, questioning, truth, and sometimes more thought. Being an adult is never easy, but I believe it has perks. If nothing else, being able to stand up for what I do with a free heart is worth the work and pain.

So the next time when the world doesn't seem to be going your way, before you start to bitch and whine, or even ask why, take a moment to look at your part in what is happening. You might just find that you had a hand in your own problems. And that knowledge might be enough to help find a solution.


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This page last updated March 10, 2004