Speaking Only Truth

stuttgart-68754_1280In the branch of witchcraft in which I practice, we believe that words and thoughts have real impacts on the world around us, that what we speak into the world has a life and a force that can have extraordinary power to it. Therefore, it is important to be conscious and deliberate about the words we speak and even our thoughts. I’ve learned a variety of techniques to practice this
kind of consciousness and deliberation, but none of them really stuck, until I began working with the god Hermes.

Several years ago, when I began working more closely with Hermes, he asked me to commit to only speaking things that were true. This doesn’t mean complete honesty, of course, as partial truths and omissions can be misleading, but still it was a commitment to a more radical honesty than is usually practiced in our culture.

What do you say when you feel horrible, physically or emotionally and someone asks you a social “how are you?” How do you respond to requests for your opinion on someone’s taste when you have a dramatically different taste? What if someone you love asks you to be on their side in an argument, but you think they’re wrong? I have been carefully trained to tell small lies to get out of situations like this, the small social lubricant lies that our culture uses, theoretically to keep us all from being horribly offensive all the time.

I have found, though, that I can be kind and tactful and gracious and still be honest. I can affirm what I can affirm and choose not to comment on the others. I can report that I am “okay” all the time – I’m not in imminent mortal peril, so on some level I’m “okay,” even if “fine” is too much of a stretch. Really, the small places where I might have been tempted to lie before this commitment are easy enough to negotiate.

I’ve been reflecting recently on the many other situations in which I might be tempted to lie. One is hyperbole. I’ve noticed a distinct penchant for exaggeration for effect in my way of relating my experiences. Now, I notice these moments of not-quite- truth or blatant exaggeration and feel compelled to correct them.

Another situation in which I might be tempted to lie is to get myself out of a sticky or conflicted situation in a relationship, either in my life or my work. From things like why I’m late to a particular meeting or why I did something that the other person is angry about, it can be tempting to cover over the real dynamics of a difficult situation in order to make peace. The trouble is, even before making this commitment, I had noticed that the less honest I am in situations like this, the more the conflict tends to grow or have a life of its own over time.

So, instead, situations like these call for taking a deep breath, summoning my courage, and telling the truth about my shortcomings and my experience of the situation. Usually, I find that  others respond to that vulnerability and honesty with a similar offering of trust and desire to find a way to repair the relationship. Not always, of course – that would be too easy – but most of the time.

What I have learned most from this practice is to be conscious of my words all the time. To think about what I’m saying and take responsibility for it. If I am committed to never saying something that isn’t true, then I have to listen carefully to everything I say. When I have said something untrue, I need to correct it, as soon as possible. On occasion, I think this might make me an annoying conversation partner. (“Actually, what I should have said was…”) But for me, it gives me a push toward consciousness of my words and their consequences that I didn’t have before, and this has been such a valuable window into my own consciousness and into my impact on the world around me.

How do you stay aware of your words and thoughts? How do you practice accountability for their impacts?

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  • There is a Universe out there listening to every thought.Sometimes I have to explain what I really meant.

  • Diane Maenad Schluter

    So… Maybe you might not want to have a trickster God, a thief and a Liar, as the pic for this article? I say this a someone who strongly honors Hermes, but I would not use Him a symbol of truth…

  • Bert Ricci

    I believe that speaking truth adds weight to the power of my words when I do workings, and other actions. They are also magick tools. I want to use them correctly and consciously. I might say something that another person would think was a lie, but (and here is a definite nod to Mercurius) I did not think it was and my word choice could have been either with my intent, or the others presumption. Such as when someone asks me what I think of a movie they love I might say it was, “Amazing.” What I meant might be couched in the addition of, “… that I sat through the whole damn thing.” Or I might lie outright, such as when the boss wants you to say you’re wrong, and you know you were right, but you want to keep the job. In that way I might look on the word Tool as being like a knife, sometimes it is has to cut good material to save something else. Perhaps there is a loss to the power stored up, but it seemed necessary at the time. Odysseus is also an archetype to keep in mind when dealing with what you say.

  • maggiebea

    I’m so glad to see someone writing about the power of the words we use, especially of the ones we speak aloud.

    If I could stamp out one linguistic habit in people speaking in my vicinity, it would be the use of “you” to mean “someone,” or even “I.”

    First, because it disempowers the speaker, distancing them from their own experience of whatever reality they’re trying to communicate. A very important second, because it imposes on the listener, instructing them that they are to share a reality which they may actively reject.

    Such expressions as, “when you’re called to the patient’s bedside, the first thing you think is always …” serve as a magical instruction and pre-program for what “you,” the listener, will think when you are called to the patient’s bedside — whether it’s what you ‘should’ think or not; whether it’s remotely useful to either you or the patient, or not. An individual instruction of this kind might not take, of course — but when I hear the same thing over and over again, it has an effect.

    Keep your ‘you’ off my ears, thanks. Even moreso in explicitly magical contexts.

  • My initial response was the same (and I had a similar experience in 2010, only it was Apollo, who simply said “No more lies”), but since Hermes is also a god of communication, it makes sense for him to want a follower to do what they need most to do. I would say that having that kind of message come from him makes it even stronger.

  • Erica_Baron

    Very good point! Thank you.

  • Erica_Baron

    Well, since it was Hermes who asked me for this practice, that’s where this came from. I do think it’s interesting that a God not known for his own honesty, in particular, was the one who asked me to follow this practice. But in reflecting on how conscious it has made me of my words, I think that it makes a sort of paradoxical sense.

  • Erica_Baron

    Also, I tried to find an image of speaking, but couldn’t find one I liked. 🙂

  • Erica_Baron

    Yes, for sure there might be cases where lying outright is a useful Tool. But it’s one I have taken out of my own toolbelt, so to speak, and it has been interesting to see where this has led me. I’m not arguing that everyone needs to adopt this practice, just reflecting on what it has taught me.

  • Dawn Lamm

    When someone asks me a difficult question about something that could offend or hurt their feelings I always ask if they want the truth, because I will always tell the truth, but I think it’s a fair warning they might not like what they hear. Usually it makes them stop for just a second and think about it. And then they say yes. It has led to much better conversation and a much deeper understanding of myself and my interactions with those around me.