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
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
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
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
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.