What Do You Mean by “Scary”?

I’ve met a new friend. We jumped right into some deep waters. She’s made some less than conventional life choices and has faced the consequences of people she loves telling her that she needs to get right with Jesus. I can relate, I told her. I’ve given many people many reasons to stop talking to me. Not only did I get a divorce in my early twenties, I ran off with a younger woman. Two good reasons for excommunication right there. But, I added, now I practice witchcraft and blog publicly about it, too.

Upon hearing this, my new friend asked ‘scary witchcraft or just pagan stuff?’ After an amused silence, debating in my head what constitutes ‘scary,’ I said: I definitely practice the scary stuff. See, she’d known someone who practiced witchcraft and he started cursing people. I wonder what ‘just pagan stuff’ means. I’m guessing it means nice nature worship and white light blessings. And yet…. even nature worship can be, and often is, scary.

So what exactly is ‘scary witchcraft’? If it’s about using power, cursing and hexing people, then I’ll own that. Plenty of people abuse power, and plenty of people are scared by power. There’s a witching maxim I’ve seen around: that which cannot hex cannot heal. I take that to mean, if you don’t have the power to hex (or curse) then you likely don’t have power to heal either. If your magic only works one way then I’m going to doubt you’ve got magic at all. I’ve never cursed anyone, but I want to reserve the possibility to do so should I feel it is necessary. I have kids, and this mama bear would fight tooth and nail and use any means necessary to protect them. You better believe that includes magic!

I drew Kali yantras a while ago.
I drew Kali yantras a while ago.

But what the question is really getting at is: how do you use your witchcraft? What are your ethics? And that is a much more slippery question. The tradition I practice is big on ethics, not morals. There is no Three Fold Law, where whatever you put out automatically comes back to you three times over. In many ways this is true. We almost always reap the consequences of our actions in some form or another, so ideally that is a deterrent to any unwise action. Yet, we’ve all met plenty of people who do awful things in the world and seem to get rewarded, living the high life; just as we’ve met many wonderfully kind people who have endless obstacles in their path.* Power is merely a tool; it’s how we wield it that matters most.

Morals imply inflexible, black and white rules from without, the opposite of which is immoral. Something is either moral or immoral, good or bad. Whereas ethics imply a set of values determined from within that allow a person to respond to situations as they arise. I choose to have strong ethics and that can appear amoral to many people. That can also be very scary to people.

I’m drawn to the ‘left hand paths,’ traditions and practices that fall on the mystic side of things. Mystics are often perceived as dangerous – even Christians have their mystics! The Tantric branch of Hinduism is perhaps a left hand path, but even within Tantra there is a left and right hand ‘side.’ I can’t say why I’m always finding my way to the left hand side of things. A cheeky response is that I’m so very left-dominant! Even I am amused at my predilections. I’m a happy, mainstream-looking, family gal! Why should I adore Kali, Ana, and feel most comfortable in the dark half of the year (among other things)?

I guess I see the world, nature and the divine as ‘red in tooth and claw.’ It’s not always safe. I don’t think humans are at the utmost pinnacle of importance in our world and therefore set aside for Super Special Status, with a god who has a specific plan for each one of us. I think we decide on our plan and work with the Larger Forces That Be to make those plans happen. Taking our lives into our own hands is scary work, indeed.

*While I do think intent can help us achieve good things, both material and otherwise, I am absolutely no fan of prosperity gospels or The Secret type ideas. It is horrible, terrible theology.

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  • yewtree

    There is no “Threefold Law” as popularly understood in Gardnerian Wicca either.

    There is an injunction to return good threefold. It doesn’t say anything about there being a law of karma that means stuff will rebound on you threefold.

    Really good article.

    I have had this conversation with people, too.

  • Not a comment on the ideas of the article itself so much as language- Don’t morals and ethics have the same dictionary definition? I’ve heard people hairsplit between them before, but haven’t seen any backup for it- seems like the same kind of spirituality = good/religion = bad distinction people make.

    • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

      It depends on who you ask, and what academic department in which university is giving the courses in morals or ethics. (At the Jesuit university I attended, I had a “Christian Sexual Morality” course, and a “Theological Ethics” course; some of the readings for both were the same, and the professor for both was the same…and unfortunately, we never did get around to identifying or defining the difference between the two, but it was pretty well agreed that there “was one,” so…?!?)

    • Henry Buchy

      generally speaking, ‘ethics’ is the study and application of moral principles in everyday life. As Niki pointed to moral principles are usually absolute, “it is wrong to do ‘x’ “, period, full stop. ethics examines “it is wrong to do ‘x’ except when….”, and basically is the situational application of morals.

  • I’m a strong believer that magical ethics are the same as any other ethics. I don’t comport myself spiritually any differently than I do professionally. Separate rules create a false distinction. Power is power.

  • Just a quick comment on this: “There is no Three Fold Law, where whatever you put out automatically comes back to you three times over…we’ve all met plenty of people who do awful things in the world and seem to get rewarded, living the high life; just as we’ve met many wonderfully kind people who have endless obstacles in their path.”

    I have thought – and practiced – long and hard on the true meaning of what, for me, is a central tenant of Karma. It is this: the distribution of energy is a vibration that weaves back and forth between the known, the unknown and back again. I cannot say that this has anything at all to do with Justice and Fairness…but for those who brazenly embrace the power-over and seem to suffer no consequence, I think the Three-Fold Law is reflected on that person(s) heart…the nature of their character. It is here they suffer, unable/unwilling to be compassionate, to be open and vulnerable, to live in the moment of the eternal now. That is their fate, that is their suffering, and that is their Karma.

    A romantic or naive view? Perhaps. But what is the alternative to the scale of Ma’at, of cosmic justice? If, indeed, Hitler recanted in his final moments and gave his soul over to Jesus, is he absolved? Does he ascend to the Heavens and eternal rest? If not this shabby excuse for a human, then what of the rest of us?

    • Justice, Karma, and the Three Fold Law are not the same things, though many people conflate them.

      • I would be very interested in your thoughts on how you view the separation/interpretation of these three elements. Perhaps a future article?
        R. Crumb, the underground cartoonist, once drew a comparison between his own views and that of a fictional banker ‘A.B. Bombasto”, stating one had anti-social thoughts vs. anti-social behavior (Guess which was which!).