Tag Archives: #paganvalues

Maxim Monday: Gratify Without Harming

…eight words the Wiccan rede fulfill

A *gorgeous* banner from The Crackling Crows (check out her blog for more examples of her work, and keep tabs on when she reopens her etsy store!!)

I’d like to call Delphic Maxim #136 “the maxim for Wiccans”!

delphic maxim 136

So, I’m a big fan of words (English or otherwise)–what they mean, where they come from, alternate and less popular secondary meanings, how they are used and how they can be used–subverted, if you will, etc.  The one, obvious term that these two sayings have in common is the word “harm”, and that is the word I want to focus on first.  Etymologically, “harm” means to hurt, it means grief, sorrow, insult, pain, and (interestingly to me) evil.

Evil tends to be an interesting subject in Pagan communities.  Views of what constitutes “evil” as a definition and as an action or behavior vary, but tend to emphasize the “I know it when I see it” subjectiveness of the idea of evil.  Of the many discussions (online and IRL) that I have encountered on the topic, my favorite definition comes from an essay on the Wiccan Rede from Proteus Covenevil is a rip in the fabric of empathy.

We can only act with indifference towards the needs and feelings of others if they don’t seem to matter to us. When we are in a state of empathy, wholehearted and open awareness of our essential connection, then we know — experientially, not just theoretically — that our actions must inevitably come back on us. We cannot then cause harm without experiencing it ourselves.

(from the same essay)

I think it helps to look at harm in this way as well…as a rip in the fabric of empathy.  When we consider our actions on the level of empathy, what we do becomes personal.  It is hard to purposely cause harm when you know what that harm feels like.  As a mom, its my job to teach my children empathy–because (contrary to what some think) it isn’t actually a natural state (*cough* Ann Coulter *cough* Rush Limbaugh *cough*).  Empathy is something that develops over time and is a learned state of emotion, understanding and behavior.  Some kids ‘take’ to empathy more easily than others–Chickadee has an overload of empathy, and Sharkbait struggles with it (a common phenomenon in kids with ADHD).  As a parent of a kid with ADHD, I will admit that it can be downright hard to maintain an empathetic relationship with a kid with ADHD…in and of itself, maintaining that fabric of empathy is essential, not only to not harm our relationship, but to not harm Sharkbait’s capacity to develop socially (social skills are often a struggle for kids with ADHD as well).

The biggest problem with looking at harm (or evil for that matter) in this way is that it becomes subjective.  What I am sensitized to, in terms of my capacity for empathy overall and my ability to empathize on a particular subject specifically, differs from what and how another might feel.  For most Pagans, I doubt this is a problem (for most UU’s as well…I don’t think I’d be making an understatement if I said that defining moral absolutes is pretty low on the list for most of us)…but we all still differ here.  If the focus of my behavior should be to avoid or alleviate harm (and I think the latter is implied as a substitute) and my capacity to empathize is variable with the capacity of others, then what I perceive as undesirable behaviors will also differ.

To do as I will, or (in the Greek version) to gratify or seek gratification, depends on a subjective idea of beneficial (harmless, or at least relivable harm) actions.  Many a conversation that I  have engaged in or observed in the Pagan community has reached the eventual conclusion that causing no harm is an impossibility.  As guiding ideals, these are both wonderful places to start exploring one’s behavior as an individual and one’s place in a community.  But…as a practice, it is impossible to live to such a degree, where every action is harmless (as it seems some have interpreted the Wiccan Rede).  So thank goodness that ain’t what it says!

Both of these maxims come back full circle to the idea of “harm”–really of not harming.  For the Wiccan Rede its about the phrasing–“An it harm none”, literally, IF it causes no harm, do what you want.  And this phrasing brings it parallel to the Delphic Maxim–IF it causes no harm, indulge in that which brings pleasure and satisfaction!   Neither acts as a prohibition of harm, but instead both ask us to consider the results of our actions (of our whims and pleasures) and encourages us to choose the methods and madness that cause the least harm.


If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.

~Meister Eckhart

Thank you, thanks-giving, thanking, thanks… What the heck is a “thank” anyhow?*

I’d like to imagine a tangible (and sniffable) “thank” would look something like this.  Chickadee thinks that a “thank” might look like a big, fat, fluffy white cloud floating in the blue sky…or a fuzzy pink and purple ball.  Sharkbait thinks that a “thank” comes on a stick and tastes like chocolate milk.

A “thank” from nature, I think, looks something like this:

Thanksgiving is generally touted as a day to give thanks for the things we are thankful for, whatever they may be.  And that’s fantastic…giving thanks and recognizing our blessings, are (at least in my humble opinion) pretty darn important.  Heck, as days of thanksgiving (to a particular deity) are the basis for an incredibly huge chunk of Pagan holidays and the act of giving thanks (to a particular deity/pantheon) is a major part of Pagan religions, we should all be down with the idea of the ability and active participation of giving thanks to be a quintessentially Pagan value.

But I think that sometimes we can be ungracious (regardless of our religion or faith) in receiving thanks.  We forget to really hear the thanks that are directed our way–both the “thank you” that is explicitly stated, and the ones that are more subtle.  To put it bluntly, we wouldn’t know a “thank” if it was pink and fuzzy and tasted of chocolate milk on a stick and was handed to us on a silver platter.

The world around us creates a thousand thank yous, if only we know how and where and when to find them.  It is in the curve of a baby’s smooth cheek and the bright giggle of a squirmy preschooler wrapped in a fluffy towel after a beach afternoon.  It might be in a meal, or a book, from a grateful look, or a hug, or an audible “thank you”. Thanks are everywhere.

Just because we didn’t hear it in a form that we understood through our narrow filter of the world didn’t mean it wasn’t there.  Really look, and listen, and feel for a change.  Find the thanks that are all around us.

And perhaps in our finding of thanks, we can learn to create our own to share with others (even when we have nothing tangible or direct to thank them for), everywhere we go.  When was the last time someone thanked you just for being you?  For just being there?  Maybe you didn’t notice, because its not something that people usually say with words.

Imagine a world where everything that everyone created was a “thank”.  Imagine a world filled with heart-shaped lavender hand warmers, sea foam and white fluffy clouds, hope-filled pink and purple fluff, and (most importantly) chocolate milk on a stick.  Imagine a world where Thanksgiving wasn’t just a day, or a phrase, but was embedded in our every experience.

Now get off your keester and make it happen…handmade heart-shaped lavender hand warmers aren’t that hard to make.

If the only prayer you ever hear is a thank you, you have been blessed.  And if you didn’t hear it, maybe its because you were listening for mere words.


*(What a “thank” really is–or at least where it comes from, etymologically speaking.)

Monday Maxims: Be a seeker of wisdom

Delphic Maxim #48: Be a seeker of wisdom (Φιλοσοφος γινου)

Just because it amuses me somewhat at this point, I had to check out what Google Translate had to say about the Greek for this maxim, which it translates as “philosopher construed”.  Interestingly, the word philosopher is Greek in origin (see here for the definition of philosophy), reportedly coined by Pythagoras, and meaning “lover of wisdom” from the two root words philos (loving) and sophia (wisdom)/sophos (wise).  The word “construed”, meanwhile, has a couple of definitions mostly revolving around the idea of understanding something through inference or deduction.  If you put these ideas together, the meaning of “be-ing a seeker of wisdom” becomes one of also loving wisdom.

But…what exactly is wisdom?  The Hubby puts wisdom (since I just asked him) as “the proper application of knowledge and the insight to know when to use it”.  It could just be wifely bias, but I think that is freaking brilliant.  Don’t tell him I said that, dear readers…it would go to his head.  According to Dictionary.com though, he’s not too far off the mark.  Wisdom is not just knowledge itself, but the right application of knowledge…an idea that I’m pretty fond of.

A couple years ago, we had a thread on Pagan Forum that inspired me to write my own “10 Commandments”, one of which aligns quite nicely with today’s Delphic Maxim: All knowledge is worth having, but use the symbols of the Divine with prudence for they have Power. If any of my readers are familiar with the works of Jacqueline Carey, they will likely recognize the first part of this as a saying of Shemhazai, one of Eula’s companions (and if you aren’t familiar with Jacqueline Carey, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Kushiel’s Dart!).   By my reckoning of the Divine, everything can be a symbol of Divinity and can have Power as such…which means that knowledge, while worth having is not always worth using (and I’m sure all of us can think of examples of this from history, either world-wide or personal).

So what does this maxim mean to me?  Be a lover and a seeker of wisdom.  Not just of knowledge itself, but of how and when to use it in a way that does justice of one’s self for others.

Maxim Monday: Give Back What You Have Received

Oops…I’m late getting this finished and posted.  I wonder if there is a maxim about that? Anyhow,  I’ve also skipped ahead a bit as well for this one, because I felt profound about it at the time.  I’m pretty sure my moment of profundity has left my brain, so we’ll see what I can manage at 6 am without coffee!

Delphic Maxim #55:  

Give Back What You Have Received (Λαβων αποδος)

Not being able to get much help from trying to directly translate the ancient Greek, I turned to my old standby Google, which translate  Delphic Maxim #55 as “gripping acceptance”.  Don’t get me wrong, I (of course) love the message of “gripping acceptance”, but I’m not feeling that as the right approach this time.  Taking this maxim at its translational face value (though slightly deeper than “return the stuff you’ve borrowed from your neighbor”), I like to think of this particular maxim as the “Golden Rule for Greeks, with attitude“,  and it can be applied on both an individual and on a community level.

Every society seems to have some version of the so-called Golden Rule.  Something that suggests the manner in which we treat others should be connected to how we expect to be treated in return. On the first reading, “give back what you have received” would suggest that if someone does you ill, that you should do the same to them.  And, in a situation-by-situation basis, that might actually be appropriate (though, I would argue, not in an eye-for-an-eye sort of way).  But, if you look at the Delphic Maxims all together, there is a pretty clear pattern of expected conduct: Control Yourself, Help your friends, Despise strife, Practice what is just, Speak well of everyone, Shun what belongs to others, etc.  If someone else is already following those maxims, “giving back what you have received” is a bit of a no-brainer.  And if they are not, well, there are maxims for that too: Be on your guard, Despise a slanderer, Despise AND Shun evil (which are actually two separate maxims), etc.  On an individual level, taken in conjunction with the maxims as a whole, “giving back what you have received” is just a slightly more toothy version of “doing unto others”.

But you can also read this as applied to one’s role in a community…and I think, given our current political climate, that might be the more meaningful of the two.  Give back what you have recieved. That education that you have, there’s an 86% chance it was paid for by tax payers…give it back by making sure others can have it as well.  That health care you enjoy because you are lucky enough to have a job that provides health care…give it back by making sure others can have it as well.  The air you breathe, water you drink, and land you live off of…well, you can’t exactly give it back, but you can certainly give back to it and ensure that others can enjoy it in the future.   And, before anyone thinks I’ve overreaching with my modern liberal sensibilities, a complete reading of the Delphic Maxims also includes far more obvious suggestions such as: Share the load of the unfortunate, Gratify without harming, Be happy with what you have, Down-look no one, Acquire wealth justly, and Give what you have.

Give back what you have received, be a better person for it, and make a better community (and world).  Damn, the Greeks were smart!

*this has been a post of the “Delphic Maxims Blogging Party”, be sure to check out other Delphic Maxims posts on the web!

put your money where your mouth is

Everyone has a cause–some hot button issue that gets their dander up, something that they are willing to go the extra mile for, some idea or ideal that they consider part of their very identity.  At least one, and sometimes many. Something that we feel strongly about, that speaks from our soul and is representative of our fundamental values about life and living.

Your cause might be about the status of human rights in this country and others, about the plight of children living in poverty, about access to reproductive health care for women, or to preserve and protect biodiversity by limiting human degradation of the environment.  Your cause might be for the promotion of  equitable employment and equal compensation, about supporting the efforts of families to raise their children in healthy environments, protecting high risk populations from abuse, exploitation and neglect, or to preserve religious freedom for all people by protecting government from church-sponsored lobbyists.  Your cause might be none of these things, or all of them.

But more important than what our opinion is on any given cause is what our actions are:

  • What do we do about our cause(s) on a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis?
  • How do we act out our beliefs (and/or represent them) with integrity in our everyday actions?
  • How do we promote our beliefs in a way that honors the dignity of both ourselves, AND those with diametrically opposed values from our own?
Because its not enough to have a cause. You have to act on it as well.
Luckily there are tons of ways we can do that!
Go out and vote.  Write your congressman.  Exercise your First Amendment rights and protest.  Listen to those that have been marginalized.  Speak out against injustice and ignorance.  Practice socially responsible consumerism.  Insist on sustainable practices from the companies you do business with.  Pick up trash or plant a garden.  Tutor a kid, donate some money, or ride your bike instead of driving.  The list is long…but above all, practice what you preach.
Don’t get me wrong…sometimes its hard.  Sometimes its darn inconvenient. Sometimes we fall down, we get tired and we give up at seemingly insurmountable odds. Sometimes we are forced to compromise our ideals to put food on the table and a roof over our heads.  Sometimes we just make mistakes.  We are after all, merely human.  But we are also Pagan.  We are worshippers of imperfect gods.  We are not asked to achieve perfection because our gods are as much like us as we are like them. Instead we are tasked with picking ourselves up and to doing better or trying harder next time–we are tasked with “striving for excellence”.

It is not enough for us to just have our beliefs and let that be the end of the story.

Our job is to live our beliefs out loud and in our actions.  Our job is to put our money (or our time, effort and energy) where our mouth is.

***This has been a post for the annual Pagan Values Blogject–this year I’m blogging on my personal values and how they are informed by and in turn inform my spiritual and religious beliefs.  In past years, I’ve blogged on the values that are central to our family (hospitalityserviceintegrity, and conservation) as well as those that I think are uniquely represented in the wider Pagan umbrella  (respectpluralitysacredness, and experiental gnosis).  Other posts this year for this year included “my body, my temple”“pass it on”, and “live where you are (and love where you live)”.***


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