'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 to be an immutable law of nature.  You are interviewed by 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 paperback.  

      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

      And that is why I had always assumed love magic to be negative 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.  

      So why are they so common?  It's taken me years to 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

      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.  

      I won't attempt to decide this 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 tradition
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 do them or not.  If you are a 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.