'Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true
happiness.' -- Bertrand Russell
CHARMED, I'M SURE
The Ethics of Love Spells
by Mike Nichols
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To gain the love of someone: On a night of the full moon, walk to a spot
beneath your beloved's bedroom window, and whisper his/her name three times
to the nightwind.
--Ozark love spell
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It seems tobe an immutable law ofnature. You are interviewedby a
local radio or TV station, or in some local newspaper. The topic of the
interview is Witchcraft or Paganism, and you spend the better part of an
hour brilliantly articulating your beliefs, your devotion to Goddess and
nature, the difference between Witchcraft and Satanism, and generally
enlightening the public at large. The next day, you are flooded with
calls. Is it people complimenting you on such a splendid interview? No.
People wanting to find out more about the religion of Wicca? Huh-uh.
People who are even vaguely interested in what you had to say??? Nope.
Who is it? It's people asking you to do a love spell for them! This used
to drive me nuts. I'd take a deep breath and patiently explain (for the
thousandth time) why I won't even do love spells for myself, let alone
anyone else. This generally resulted in my caller becoming either angry or
defensive, but seldom more enlightened. 'But don't you DO magic?', they
ask. 'Only occasionally,' I answer. 'And aren't most magic spells love
spells?', they persist. That was the line I really hated, because I knew
they were right! At least, if you look at the table of contents of most
books on magic, you'll find more love spells than any other kind. This
seems as true for the medieval grimoire as for the modern drugstore
Why? Why so many books containing so many love spells? Why such an
emphasis on a kind of magic that I, personally, have always considered very
negative? And to make matters even more confusing, the books that do take
the trouble of dividing spells between 'positive' and 'negative' magic
invariably list love spells under the first heading. After all, they would
argue, love is a good thing. There can never be too much of it.
Therefore, any spell that brings about love must be a GOOD spell. Never
mind that the spell puts a straightjacket on another's free will, and then
drops it in cement for good measure.
And thatis whyI hadalways assumedlove magicto benegative magic.
Years ago, one of the first things I learned as a novice Witch was
something called the Witch's Rede, a kind of 'golden rule' in traditional
Witchcraft. It states, 'An it harm none, do what thou will.' One uses
this rede as a kind of ethical litmus test for a spell. If the spell
brings harm to someone -- anyone (including yourself!) -- then don't do it!
Unfortunately, this rule contains a loophole big enough to fly a broom
through. It's commonly expressed, 'Oh, this won't HARM them; it's really
for their own good.' When you hear someone say that, take cover, because
something especially nasty is about to happen.
That's why I had to develop my own version of the Witch's Rede. Mine
says that if a spell harms anyone, OR LIMITS THEIR FREEDOM OF THOUGHT OR
ACTION IN ANY WAY, then consider it negative, and don't do it. Pretty
strict, you say? Perhaps. But there's another law in Witchcraft called
the Law of Threefold Return. This says that whatever power you send out,
eventually comes back to you three times more powerful. So I take no
chances. And love spells, of the typical make-Bobby-love-me type,
definitely have an impact on another's free will.
Sowhy are they so common? It's taken me yearsto make peace with
this, but I think I finally understand. The plain truth is that most of us
NEED love. Without it, our lives are empty and miserable. After our basic
survival needs have been met, we must have affection and companionship for
a full life. And if it will not come of its own accord, some of us may be
tempted to FORCE it to come. And nothing can be as painful as loving
someone who doesn't love you back. Consequently, the most common,
garden-variety spell in the world is the love spell.
Is there ever a way to do a love spell and yet stay within the
parameters of the Witch's Rede? Possibly. Some teachers have argued that
if a spell doesn't attempt to attract a SPECIFIC person into your life, but
rather attempts to attract the RIGHT person, whomever that may be, then it
is not negative magic. Even so, one should make sure that the spell finds
people who are 'right' for each other -- so that neither is harmed, and
both are made happy.
Is there ever an excuse for the make-Bobby-love-me type of spell?
Without endorsing this viewpoint, I must admit that the most cogent
argument in its favor is the following: Whenever you fall in love with
someone, you do everything in your power to impress them. You dress nicer,
are more attentive, witty, and charming. And at the same time, you
unconsciously set in motion some very powerful psychic forces. If you've
ever walked into a room where someone has a crush on you, you know what I
mean. You can FEEL it. Proponents of this school say that a love spell
only takes the forces that are ALREADY there -- MUST be there if you're in
love -- and channels them more efficiently. But the energy would be there
just the same, whether or not you use a spell to focus it.
Iwon't attempt to decidethis one for you. People must arrive at
their own set of ethics through their own considerations. However, I would
call to your attention all the cautionary tales in folk magic about love
spells gone awry. Also, if a love spell has been employed to join two
people who are not naturally compatible, then one must keep pumping energy
into the spell. And when one finally tires of this (and one will, because
it is hard work!) then the spell will unravel amidst an emotional and
psychic hurricane that will make the stormiest divorces seem calm by
comparison. Not a pretty picture.
It should be noted that many spells that pass themselves off as love
spells are, in reality, sex spells. Not that there's anything surprising
in that, since our most basic needs usually include sex. But I think we
should be clear from the outset what kind of spell it is. And the same
ethical standards used for love spells can often be applied to sex spells.
Last year, the very quotable Isaac Bonewits, author of 'Real Magic', taught
a sex magic class here at the Magick Lantern, and he tossed out the
following rule of thumb: Decide what the mundane equivalent of your spell
would be, and ask yourself if you could be arrested for it. For example,
some spells are like sending a letter to your beloved in the mail, whereas
other spells are tantamount to abduction. The former is perfectly legal
and normal, whereas the latter is felonious.
One mitigating factor in your decisions may be the particular
of magic you follow. For example, I've often noticed that practitioners of
Voudoun (Voodoo) and Santeria seem much more focused on the wants and needs
of day-to-day living than on the abstruse ethical considerations we've been
examining here. That's not a value judgement -- just an observation. For
example, most followers of Wicca STILL don't know how to react when a
Santerian priest spills the blood of a chicken during a ritual -- other
than to feel pretty queasy. The ethics of one culture is not always the
same as another.
And speaking of cultural traditions, another consideration is how a
culture views love and sex. It has often been pointed out that in our
predominant culture, love and sex are seen in very possessive terms, where
the beloved is regarded as one's personal property. If the spell uses this
approach, treating a person as an object, jealously attempting to cut off
all other relationships, then the ethics are seriously in doubt. However,
if the spell takes a more open approach to love and sex, not attempting to
limit a person's other relationships in any way, then perhaps it is more
defensible. Perhaps. Still, it might be wise to ask, Is this the kind of
spell I'd want someone to cast on me?
Love spells. Whether to dothem or not. If you area practitioner
of magic, I dare say you will one day be faced with the choice. If you
haven't yet, it is only a matter of time. And if the answer is yes, then
which spells are ethical and which aren't? Then you, and only you, will
have to decide whether 'All's fair in love and war', or whether there are
other, higher, metaphysical considerations.
Next: Drawing Down the Moon