The Devil Didn't Make Me Do It!
18th May, 1999
Or Personal Responsibility and Paganism
Although I hate to bring the Devil into any article about Paganism, I am going to do it anyway. I will take the heat from people who will think I am muddying the waters about who and what Pagans worship (if they worship at all!).
One thing that always got my goat (no pun intended) is when you see (mostly) American entertainers at the Grammys or Oscars etc get up and thank God for them winning the award. Now, don't get me wrong, I think its great that people have a strong faith and are selfless enough to recognize the contributions that others (including deity) have made to their success. But, there is a flip side to these joyess and positive moments. When someone does something negative or bad happens, we get the flip side of thanking God, we get blaming the Devil, the classic "The Devil made me do it" defence.
Within the modern Pagan movement, one of the strongest ethical tenants is that of person responsibility. While the God(s) and Godess(es) of Paganism are seen as powerful and having an interest in our lives, they are rarely given the omnipotence of the Judeo-Christian God. While the God/ess may influence our lives, our decisions and our actions, and ultimately the responsibility for how we behave is ours. We are responsible for the good and the bad.
Within Paganism, this belief in personal responsibility has significant impact on how we practice our beliefs. For example, many Pagan traditions use magick as part of their faith. For those who believe in the powers of magick, with the casting of spells being the most obvious, the concept of responsibility is a significant one. When casting a spell, one must consider the possible impact of that spell on not only oneself, but others who may be affected by it.
For those who follow the Wiccan tradition, there are two import guiding ethical principles that guide any action, including magickal workings. They are The Wiccan Rede and the Law of Threefold Return. Basically, the Rede as it is called, stated that as long as your actions harm none (including yourself) then they are ok. The Law of Three states that any action/energy that you send out comes back to you three fold. Pretty much a case of what goes around, comes around!
As you can see, these two important ethical tenants don't mention any sort of divine retribution, but rather emphasise that the decision and repercussion of any action are the responsibility of the person undertaking them. If you decide to put some sort of negative spell on someone, you had better be prepared for the consequences, and don't try looking for sympathy when something goes wrong. And, that cosmic kick up the butt will happen in this life, not the next!
While not all Pagans follow the Rede or believe in the Law of Threefold Return, there are still strong principles relating to the sense of personal responsibility. The Asatru follow a basic set of guiding principles, the Nine Noble Truths, which include: courage, truth, honour, fidelity, discipline and self-reliance. These are all attributes and actions that encourage a sense of personal responsibility.
While there is a great debate in the United States and all around the world about the lack of morals in todays society, I think the real problem is a lack of personal responsibility. We hear various groups, such as the gun lobby talking about all their rights, but we here vary little about their responsibilities.
We are living in societies where there are many rights but seemingly a decreasing number of responsibility, no one wants to take the blame when a tragedy happens, there is always someone else to blame. That lack of willingness to confront the issues will only make matters worse. We have to start taking responsibility for ourselves, including how we treat others. So when something goes wrong, we as Pagans must always remember that, "The Devil Didn't Make Me Do It! I Did".
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