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Religion Library: Paganism

Principles of Moral Thought and Action

Written by: Carl McColman

As is the case of the Wiccan Rede, the culturally specific values of various Pagan traditions are not universally accepted - not even within a specific cultural tradition.

Many Pagans consider environmental stewardship and care for the earth to be a central tenet of their religious ethics. Such an emphasis arises less out of traditional maxims or virtues and more out of the widespread contemporary recognition that humanity needs to redefine our relationship with the earth. Consequently, some Pagans feel inspired to engage in personal environmental activities (recycling, organic gardening, using green energy and reusable items like cloth grocery bags), participate in environmental advocacy groups (from national organizations like the Sierra Club to regional and local associations devoted to conservation work), and engage in political action on behalf of environmental causes. Others within the larger Pagan community may choose not to engage in such activity, either because they do not consider it spiritually necessary or because they do not see a necessary connection between Pagan spirituality and environmental activism. For example, they may prefer to engage in spiritual or magical efforts on behalf of nature, rather than emphasizing social or political action.

Indeed, magic and spirituality play an important role not only in the practice of many forms of Paganism, but also in the shaping of Pagan ethics. Magic is grounded in a recognition that self-interest and care for one's own family and tribe are acceptable principles of action; in this sense, Pagan spirituality functions quite well within a democratic capitalist economy, where self-interest is a foundational social principle. However, some magical communities impose restraints on the morality of self-interest, whether in terms of the Rede's "harm none," in terms of classical or mythological concepts of virtue, or in terms of balancing the competing interests of personal self-interest with the mandate for environmental responsibility and sustainable living.

Ultimately, no universally observed ethical principles define the Pagan movement as a whole, although mythologically-derived notions of virtue and honor, the Wiccan Rede, the acceptance of magic as a tool for exercising spiritual power, and a balanced sense of the importance of caring for the environment are widely held values.

Study Questions:
     1.    What is the Wiccan Rede? What does it teach?
     2.    Is the Wiccan Rede universal? What do other Pagans believe?
     3.    Describe the Nine Noble Virtues as used by Norse Pagans.
     4.    How does the environment influence a Pagan’s action?
     5.    What does magic offer to moral thought?


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