The religions that we choose determine the way in which we relate to the Divine, to those beings outside ourselves that are more powerful than we are. This is true no matter how we see them personified, even if we choose to have no religion, to acknowledge nothing more powerful than ourselves.
If you believe in a vindictive God who punishes wrongdoers, then you will see everything that happens to you as either reward or punishment.
If you believe that the Gods set us lessons to be learned, then you will see everything that happens as a lesson, and so on.
And, of course, you will project that view onto others. When a volcano explodes, or a plane goes down, you may see that as a punishment for those who die. Or you may see it as a reward, a way off this earthly prison. Or you may see it as a simple act of nature, with no divine intervention necessary. But the way you see it will be colored by your religion. If one of the dead was a family member, or a close friend, such a tragedy may cause you to re-examine your belief structure. But the basic belief will play a part.
That is why the belief is so important. It determines how you live your life, what you do, how you think. It colors every experience that you have.
And there is increasing evidence, even from scientific fronts, that your belief can change the way things actually work for you. What you expect, to a large extent, is exactly what you get.
Magic, seeing auras, energy work, scrying, empathy, and all the rest are simply tools that we can use to honor the Gods and help them with the work they would like us to do. They are not ends in themselves, because nothing is. They cannot be used in a vacuum, because nothing can. Everything you do, by magical or mundane means, reflects who you are and what kind of connection you have to the Divine both within yourself and without.
Wicca is a nature religion. We worship the Earth and all her children. All ground is sacred ground. Every interaction with another is a sacred act.
Because of this, we are careful of the Earth. I think any Witch who is careless of this precious planet is missing the point. We recycle. We rebuild. We repair. We reuse.We don't take anything without putting something back.
In practical terms, this means that we don't just pull up the wayside plants. We harvest what we have planted ourselves and nurtured to harvest. Or we purchase what we need from others who have planted. When we do harvest wild things for medicine or magic, we always leave something of equal value behind. We pick a few flowering yarrow heads (never more than one in three, for the plants must be able to meet their own needs and thrive for following years,) and we leave some bread at the root of each plant we have picked from, for extra fertilizer, and as a thank you for the gift it has given us.
We know that the seasons come round again and again. We don't live in a perpetual now, with no future and no past. We live on the wheel, ever turning, ever repeating. We remember, and learn from, the past. We plan for the future. Therefore, we don't treat the world as if it were a hotel room we are just about to check out of, and ignore the fire that is starting in the waste basket.
This is our Home, and our Mother, and our Goddess. We care. Even if the repercussions of something we do will not appear until long after the deaths of these physical bodies, we know we are going to be coming back. And anyway, we love this place. So we treat it with respect and love.
And we treat everything on it with respect and love too. That means everything, from the smallest single cell creature floating in the ocean to that guy down the block.
We respect things by taking care of them, and letting them be free, and never harming them.
We respect people the same way.
We never use anyone or anything.
We always pay our own way.
We don't control, or seek power over, anyone or anything. The only person any of us can control, and the only person we should be trying to control, is ourselves.
If a tree is in our yard, or a child is in our homes, it becomes our responsibility to see to it that they are cared for. Trees and children and pets cannot go out and find the things they need, and take care of themselves.
We can set out food for the wild birds, and they will decide to come and eat it or not. If they decide to show up, then we have taken on a responsibility, because they become dependant on us. If we lose interest and stop feeding them, many who have chosen to stay in this place because of the ready supply of food here are likely to wait around expecting more until it's too late, and they will die.
But we also allow them their freedom. We let them choose to come to our homes and feeders or not. We don't trap them and bring them inside because they are pretty and we want them to sing for us. I think that would be wrong, and cruel.
When a child is young, those responsible for her must make many choices for her, because she doesn't have the experience to make wise choices for herself. That is why children are helpless for so many years. That is why the emotional bond between children and their care-takers is so strong, so that wise choices will be made and the children will survive.
But children grow up, and then we must give them their freedom, and pray that they have learned from the choices we made for them and the ones we allowed them to make for themselves.
Adults must be allowed to make their own choices, no matter how unwise they are. We don't have the right to choose another's path.
Occasionally, though, the choice made will harm more than the chooser. In that case, I think we do have a responsibility to warn, and possibly to intervene.
If I see someone about to stab another, I don't plan to sit around saying, "Well, that's their choice." I'll stop it any way I can.
If I see someone about to take another I know is unstable or dangerous as a lover, I also won't just stand around. I'll warn the person. I'll not just repeat vague gossip, I'll site dates and times and places, and let them know who to call for corroboration. But if they want that lover anyway, then that is their choice, and I will not do anything about it.
Because sometimes you have to live through something to understand it. And even if it kills you, you have lived through it, and learned from it, and may not have to do that the next time around.
We never take anything from another person. Not food, not money, but most of all, not energy. We can accept what is freely offered; we can even ask for things. But we must never, ever, simply take.
If we can't tell the difference, then we play it safe, and don't even accept anything.
But I have written a whole book about ethics.
The other important thing about this particular religion is that we are all clergy.
In any religion you care to mention, the clergy are, at least on paper, the service part of the organization.
This means that we are here to lead others in worship, and to counsel and heal and help. Isaac Bonewits once said that you could tell who the leaders in the Pagan community were; they were the ones sweeping the floor after the event.
As we become more evolved, and more aware, and more in tune with the Gods, we become more convinced that we are here to help. We have fun and learn things at the same time; but mostly we help.
Only those who don't "get it" yet expect to get something for nothing.
Witchy behaviour has nothing to do with freeloading or getting a free ride. Witchy behaviour is realizing that everything you do comes back to you three times, and making sure that you pay your own way, and more than your own way.
It means realizing that you may be further along some part of the path you have chosen, but you are never intrinsically more important than anyone else.
I have often said that my definition of a cult is any organization that claims to be a religion, but spends more than 50% of it's total resources (time, money and people) trying to convert others. I figure that if you are spending more trying to get other people to join than you are worshipping or doing whatever your religion does, it doesn't really count as a religion. (If what your religion does is try to get others to join, then I rest my case.)
I find that I am beginning to think that people who don't spend time in actual worship and thanksgiving are probably not practicing a religion, either. Think about it. How much time do you spend thinking of the Gods, and thanking them for the things they have done for you, and asking them to let you know what you can do for them? And how much time do you spend petting your cat? And what is really important to you here?
And while we are on the subject, yes. I did say asking them to let you know what you can do for them. I think it's supposed to be a two-way street. If we are the children of the Gods, then they love us and try to take care of us (if we let them.) But unless we are thinking of ourselves as the infants of the Gods, we can help out, too. I think that is a good part of the reason we are here.
And that is where magic and all the rest of it finally comes in. Then and not until then.
That is why I will not teach anything beyond basic grounding and centering to anyone until I am sure that they want this knowledge to help and heal, because that is what it's for.
I won't teach this stuff to anyone until I think that they understand the rest of the religion.
I won't teach it as long as they are talking about controlling others, or using others, or taking anything and not putting something of equal value back.
I won't teach it until they understand not only that they should recycle, but why. Until they realize that they are a part of the Earth, and not some kind of superior creature that can do what they like with it. Until it hits them that being a Witch means loving, and taking care, and yet allowing freedom. Until they know that they are completely responsible for their own actions.
Until they "Get it."
Because the magic is such heady stuff. And it's so easy to forget why we can do it, and just do it.
You catch the same kind of karma for doing things magically as you do for using mundane means. It can be quicker, and hit you harder, but it's the same stuff because karma is the universes' way of burning your fingers if you touch the hot stove. It's not a punishment, per se. But if the stove is hot, the natural consequence is to get burned.
So if you behave in a selfish or thoughtless manner, the natural consequence is to get hurt.
The whole universe is set up to be co-operative, and generous.
If the first cells hadn't learned to cooperate, there would be nothing in the world but single cell creatures.
If plants hadn't covered their seeds with fruit that is good to eat, the seeds would not be scattered as widely.
If people had never cooperated, neither one of the survivors would have any safety or peace.
You get the idea.
But because magic seems so simple, and so hard to trace, the temptation to use it for self aggrandizement is very great. In fact, it isn't hard to trace at all; but it often seems so to the beginner in the first flush of what appears to be high-power stuff.
In a society in which it seems that we are often told that we are powerless, being able to do magic can make one feel like a super hero.
That is why I think it so very vitally important to learn that we are all far from powerless before we learn magic. When you already know that there are no limits except what you impose yourself, then magic is just a tool, not a trip.