Pagan Ethics

Jul 12th, 2014 | By | Category: Articles

By Joanna van der Hoeven

jhp52e769df7b29aHow much of our Paganism do we allow to be defined by others? If we follow a specific or established spiritual tradition within Paganism, we look to those who have gone before, and those who are a part of it now, to inform our ideas about the path that we are journeying on. We can find great inspiration in doing so, finding relevance in the ideas of others that resonate deep within our souls, through the words and actions of those whom we may look up to, or feel a sense of rapport with. Equally, we may become frustrated and disappointed when those who follow the same spiritual path are at odds with our own beliefs, behaving badly, seeming to work in opposition to the very ethics that Paganism, by virtue of its deep-seated root in respect and love for nature, provides.

What are the ethics of Paganism? More and more, this topic is being discussed by prolific Pagan writers, teachers, organisations, established members of the community and newcomers to Paganism alike. We could look at what defines the Pagan community, but this is just too vast to cover in a blog post, as Paganism itself is so vast a subject. Therefore, the ethics that surround such a vast subject are numerous and varied according to each individual, if not organisation. For some, this is the brilliance of Paganism – for others, it is the downfall.

When the ethics that we hold dear to our heart are not being followed by others who claim to be a part of our tradition or spiritual path, we begin to question our path on so many levels. How can I be a part of this, when people behave like that? Issues with Pagans whom the media court may frustrate us, as we may feel we are not being represented properly or with due respect. Issues arising on social media, where wars with words are carried over into many different spheres can confound or simply clutter one’s newsfeed – these are all a part of being a modern Pagan, should you wish to use the term. Gossiping, griping, flaming, bullying – all these issues can make us question whether we want to be a part of this whole Pagan thing at all.

Yet this is simply only one aspect of Paganism – though it seems to get a lot of airtime. The question is whether or not we allow it to affect us in our own practice. Author Emma Restall Orr has withdrawn from Facebook, and on her website states that she no longer calls herself a Druid [, accessed 25 Feb 2014]. She questions in her essay, “After Paganism” in Essays in Contemporary Paganism (Moon Books, 2013) whether she is even Pagan. After reading her essay several times, allowing the words to sink in, combined with the words of others in the Pagan social media community, it has led me to question just how much we allow others to define our path. (This is not what Bobcat has said or done, per se – it just led me to wonder about this. She states that she is now devoting her time to SunRising Natural Burial Ground.)

With social media we have greater access to less than desirable behaviour which is at best questionable, and at worst downright appalling.  Yet that is simply one aspect of human nature, and one that is entirely divorced from the natural flow of things in an abstract environment to which we may not have quite come to terms with yet in the rapid world of technological advances. Then again, some people are just downright nasty no matter what environment they are in.  This is equally contrasted by those who are an inspiration to all, whose words can flow through cyberspace and reach millions, millions who may never hear their words in any other circumstance.

Yes, there are Pagans who do not seem to fit with the tenets of respect for nature and honourable behaviour, both online and offline.  They may leave offerings that harm the environment, crawl upon ancient monuments, light fires in barrows, bully those who hold differing opinions, consume mindlessly, allow their egos to dictate everything they do and claim that their path is the best.    Yet these people exist in all communities and societies, regardless of spiritual paths or religious beliefs.  These people need not define us.

For me, Paganism allows us to see the divinity within nature, and therefore the nature of the divine. It is about finding our place within the world, and yes – we have to look at other humans in order to see where we fit in with the human aspect. However, that is just one small aspect of the bigger picture. Taking a step back from an anthropocentric view of Paganism, we are led to explore ideas of immersion and integration. We may find a few other Pagans who share this or a similar point of view – yet the majority of Paganism still seems to be focused on the exploration of the self, the betterment of the self, and ends there. For others, that is simply the starting point – a lifetime of service, of integration and immersion follows.

In this lifetime of service lies the heart of Pagan ethics, and what essentially defines our path.  Using the self as a starting point, once we have attained true knowledge of our own souls can we then work in the wider world to create peace and harmony, healing and awareness of the issues that are at the core of what we hold dear to our hearts – the environment, human and animal rights, a cessation to war, etc.  Not everyone on the Pagan path may agree with this, however, or be at that point in their journey yet. However, that need not define our own path or where we are on it at any given point in time.  We are all journeying together, though we walk separate paths. 

With everything on this planet, we have to take the good with the bad.  We work with forces of nature that have no interest in ethics at all – the gods of wind and rain, sun and storm, landslide and volcanic eruptions.  We establish a relationship with the world in order to better understand the world.  We may no longer even call ourselves Pagan, yet still hold the tenets of honour, responsibility and courage deep within our hearts, expressing them in our love for this planet.  We need only let our own actions define our own selves, and not those of, or for, anyone else.

Perhaps therein also lies true peace, courage, honour and integrity.


Dancing with Nemetona:

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