Good Witch, Bad Witch
Probably every person who admits to being Pagan gets this question at least once. I’ve never addressed it here, so I thought it might be a fun way to kick off the new year. The question of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is a hard one to answer, in my opinion. Not because what I do or don’t do in my practice is questionable, but because of the very nature of black and white thinking. Categorizing something as either/or leaves out a vast canvas of grey, which I think most things could be said to be. There are a lot of factors that go into determining whether something is good or bad, not the least of which are intention and perspective.
Morticia Addams said it best, ‘What is normal to the spider is chaos to the fly.’
Take healing spells, for example. Most people would say that the intent of a healing spell is to help someone who is ill or feeling poorly. Few would argue that the intent of a healing spell would be classed as ‘good’. But if the person you worked a spell for feels that anything to do with Pagan practices is ‘evil’, and you knowingly violated that person’s belief/preference, would that still be classed as ‘good’?
There are those would would argue that all witches are evil. Quoting the bible, Exodus 22:18 says, ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.’ That’s pretty damning, most would say. But surely all witches aren’t evil? I don’t consider myself to be evil, or even mostly bad. Short of swearing and a little social drinking and smoking every now and then, that’s about the worst of my vile habits. Even in my spiritual practice, I am cautious when it comes to affecting change in a way that might be destructive.
Many people who have an inkling of familiarity with Pagans may think that all Pagans are Wiccan, and as such, follow the Wiccan Rede, which states, ‘An it harm none, do as ye will.’ That’s not so; while Wiccans are Pagan, not all Pagans are Wiccan. Wicca is a specific style/belief/practice set within Paganism, and even though it has different ‘flavors’, that’s only a small part of the larger Pagan community. I’m not actually Wiccan, so I wouldn’t follow Wiccan dictates any more than I would follow Catholic ones (though those two particular religions have practices and ‘rules’ that are remarkably similar to one another, but I digress). That doesn’t mean that I take the idea behind the Rede, or even the Christian sentiment of the Golden Rule, any less seriously. Most cultures and religious or philosophical maxims have some version of it; I think it’s because at their core, most people strive to be good – to do good and be well thought of by others in their community. Even the concept of karma, and ‘the rule of three’ emphasis that what you put out there is what comes back to you.
For myself, I choose to strive to be good. My version of ‘good’ may vary slightly from yours; for example, I enjoy firearms as a sport, and other weaponry. While my interest in them does fall towards ‘sport’ and less towards ‘protection’, if pressed, I wouldn’t have an issue protecting myself or my children with force. I believe that doing so, even should it result in injury or death, would still be ‘good’. That’s more pragmatic than many ‘fluffy goodness and light’ Pagans might like, but I believe that there is more than just black and white; good and bad.
In light of recent world goings-on, I have had many discussions with my children about how ‘good’ and ‘evil’ develop, particularly within the political realm. While current politics don’t hold my interest the way that history does, I can see alarming correlations between some of the American Presidential candidates’ positions and policies that historical figures that we almost universally categorize as ‘evil’ once held. But to truly avoid repeating those same mistakes, we can’t dehumanize the villains in those accounts. They were men; not monsters from a fictional story. They were men who, through charismatic, enigmatic and persuasive arguments and speech, appealed to fear, a need for safety and an idealized (but unattainable) ‘better’. And people flocked to them. They came running, willing to set aside their personal values and concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in order to work towards a goal that someone else imposed upon them. And there are those who would unequivocally say that those leaders were ‘good’ men. Chaos for the fly, indeed.
On the flip side, we have examples of non-violent lifestyles taken to extremes. Some might say that inaction in the fact of injustice is ‘bad’, but who could argue that refusing to harm or kill another living being is anything but ‘good’. But if my child were harmed or killed through someone else’s deliberate inaction on their behalf, I’d probably fail to see how they rationalize being a ‘good’ person after that.
My point is that black and white thinking is a form of cognitive distortion (another subject that interests me greatly). When you categorize something, and more importantly, someone as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, you box them, and yourself, into a corner. You tend to put ‘good’ people up on a pedestal, unable or unwilling to see their faults, and have the potential to grossly wrong someone by judging them as ‘bad’ simply because their perspective or worldview is different from yours. We all do it to some degree; it’s natural. But being aware of it is the first step towards questioning our snap judgement and perceptions and getting to the grey.
Then again, according to the quiz, maybe I am just here to tempt you to the Dark Side of the Force.
So, are you a good witch, or a bad witch?