Witches often point to the Law of Three or the last lines of the Wiccan Rede as the source of their ethical beliefs. The trouble is that even those simple guidelines can be controversial. It’s a wonderful goal to “harm none,” but it’s virtually impossible in practice. Just by driving to work, I harm the environment. The Law of Three has so many different interpretations by now that it can really only be a loose reminder that we get back what we send. Further, since we have no central authority, many people object to each of these for their own philosophical reasons.
So what’s left? It’s also easy to point to the words of the Charge of the Goddess, which tell us that “All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.” That’s a great start. Every time you are experiencing or causing love and pleasure, you are in accord with the Goddess. Still, there’s a lot of grey here. You can’t just orient your life around love and pleasure. Your job may not provide either, but that doesn’t make it unethical. I hate vacuuming, but that doesn’t make it immoral.
Thankfully, the Charge of the Goddess also provides us with a list of eight virtues that provide a fantastic guide on how to live our lives. You’re probably already familiar with these words:
“Let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.”
Over the next year, I’d like to explore each of these virtues and how they offer practical ethical guidance to the life of the Witch. There are eight virtues and eight sabbats, so as we turn the Wheel throughout the next year, each installment will come out near one of the sabbats. At this time of Yule, as we await the birth of light in depth of the night, it seems appropriate to start with the virtue of compassion.
Here in southern California, a local professional theater has been performing an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, with the same actor always playing Scrooge, since 1980. It has become a Holiday necessity for many families in the area. My wife and I got to see it this year, and one line really stuck out to me. Early on, a couple arrives at Scrooge’s office to collect donations for charity. In their pitch, they attempt to remind the old miser that “Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts,” and that they select this time of year, “Because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.”
Underneath all the frenetic advertising and online arguments over the true “reason for the season” lies an ugly truth- for many, the darkness of December is not joyous. It’s not about shopping. It’s about facing growing cold, growing darkness, growing pressure, and growing debt. It’s a time of pain and worry, not of joy.
Certainly that’s true for those without adequate housing, but there’s more to it. Advertising constantly tells us what we need to have, yet many families don’t have the means to purchase every new thing that their children have been told they need. The music of the season tells us to be merry, but Dickens’ description of those without access to common comforts still rings true today. Worse, young children don’t understand this. They don’t realize just how hard their parents may work, how little they often are paid, nor how expensive their requests are. Sometimes, all they know is that their friend is getting (fill in name of big deal toy here), and they want one too.
For many families in my community, and probably near yours too, the darkness and cold of the Holiday season is more than just about the disappearing sun. It’s a metaphor for the fear and anxiety that slowly tightens its grip over them as we sit cozily by the fire and sip our hot cocoa. As the darkness grows, their Want, as Dickens would say, is ever more keenly felt.
We can’t all help everyone. That is a basic truth, but it can also freeze us up and keep us from helping anyone. Every virtue in the Charge is paired with another. Compassion is balanced with Power. To me, this is where the balance of Power and Compassion come into play. Most of us have some power to help someone in some way. We have the power to help others if we choose to seek it out.
Every Christmas Eve, my neighbors across the street organize a Toys for Tots delivery. They spend all day loading huge truckloads of gifts to give to local children. We can’t all do that, but most of us can donate a toy or two. Other places have coat drives, sock drives, and other charity opportunities for us to help others make it through this cold and difficult time of year. Whether you are able to donate money, gifts, or time, there are options all around if we seek them out.
At the same time, we can’t forget to have compassion for ourselves. Earlier this year, I posted an article suggesting that compassion includes ourselves. While the response was mostly positive, there were those who vocally disagreed that they taking care of themselves was appropriate or valuable. For some, self-sacrifice is deeply ingrained as an indelible value.
Frankly, I see that attitude as a carryover from Christianity. Sacrifice is an important part of the Christian faith, but it is not an element of Witchcraft. In the Charge, the Goddess says, “Nor do I demand aught of sacrifice.” Helping others is compassionate and good, but you must also help yourself. Doing so helps you become a happier, healthier, and wealthier person, placing you in a much greater position to fill the cup of others. If I’m thirsty, and you give me your last thimbleful of water, the results are just two thirsty people.
One of the hardest things about this time of year is its contradiction. The darkness and cold turn us toward a period of moving inward, yet our culture implores us to be more active that ever in the outer world. We’re supposed to shop, go to parties, prepare family meals, and celebrate. Witches flow with the natural cycles of the earth, so this contradiction can be especially jarring. Compassion for ourselves, then, becomes all the more important. It’s vital to find that balancing point between self-care and outward celebration. It’s there somewhere, and it’s different for all of us. Finding it may begin with balancing your compassion for others with your compassion for yourself. Then, as Dickens encouraged, we may be able to rejoice in mutual Abundance.