The Evolution of Wiccan Ethics

Asking Permission

by John J. Coughlin

Often a debatable element of Wiccan ethics, the idea that one must ask permission before working magic on someone's behalf, even if it is a healing, is a relatively new addition or interpretation of the Wiccan ethical stance.

The arguments for this idea varies from the questionable claim that the unexpected energy could harm or shock the subject, to interpretations of the Rede that dictate that doing something without the recipient's knowledge is equivalent to going against their will and thus is a form of "harm".

Sadly with the rise of "instant-Wicca" and lack of organized or in-depth study, often personal opinions are interpreted as ultimate truisms and accepted without question or reasoning. The fact that when I question this belief I am met with hostility or vague reasoning has been of great concern to me since such reactions indicate a blind faith that can ultimately lead to fundamentalism.

Since it is not the scope of this paper (or for that matter this site) to offer my personal opinion or to justify or disprove this belief, I hope to find and document significant references in hopes of finding a pattern or path of influence. It also offers a chance for us to reflect on our personal beliefs in a non-threatening way, so that we can deepen our understanding of why we believe what we do. My goal is not to rock the boat for the sake of entertainment or to change the readers view. I do hope, however, that the reader will walk away with a stronger foundation in those beliefs that the reader has accepted as his or her own.

Although I have not yet formally researched this aspect of Wiccan ethics, I have naturally been keeping an eye out for any ethical references while researching the various papers on this site. I have therefore decided to share with you what I have found so far in hopes that readers may be able to help by directing me to books and articles that discuss this topic.

I have yet to find any references at all prior to the 1980s in Wiccan/Witchcraft sources. However, the notion of requiring permission before working magic on someone's behalf is not unique to Wicca. In 1930 Dion Fortune published a book called Psychic Self-Defense where she stated:

...any attempt to dominate others, or in any way to manipulate their minds without their consent, is an unwarrantable intrusion upon their freewill and a crime against the integrity of the soul. How can we judge the intimate spiritual needs of another, especially if that other has not elected to confide in us? What right have we to invade his spiritual privacy and thrust our tampering fingers into the wheels of his innermost being? It is so common a practice to send the names of people to healing circles with a request that they should be concentrated upon, without taking the preliminary precaution of asking their permission, that I have heard it announced from the platform of a large Spiritualist public meeting that only those cases could be taken up which gave their written consent.

Dion Fortune was Christian who belonged to an area of occultism which concentrated on psychism and on work on the Astral Plane. However, her books were influential to many areas of the occult including Wicca. Early authors such as Gerald Gardner and Stewart Farrar drew upon much of Fortune's work. Farrar in particular referenced Fortune extensively in his books, although I do not recall the specific issue of asking permission coming up.

As with other aspects of Wiccan ethics, many ideas circulate orally or via small newsletters and so may have circulated informally for some time before being put into a book. Tracking ideas and influences can therefore be extremely challenging.

Still, in researching early books on Wicca I hope to locate the traces of their source as well as determine their context. Only with such a baseline can we begin to see how Wiccan ethics has changed and who influenced those changes. Such an understanding, I feel, is essential in comprehending Wicca as a living religion.

Books cited in this paper:

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© 2001-2010, John J. Coughlin. This text may be disseminated freely for educational purposes provided it includes proper credit containing a link back to

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