With the season of Lent fast approaching, there’ll be talk of “penance” and “sin.” The flip side of this coin is talk of “morality.”
What does morality mean to a practicing magician?
When many people hear the word “morality,” they automatically hear “sexual repression.” This is reflected in people’s figures of speech, such as the term “loose morals” being a euphemism for sexual promiscuity. Be that as it may, the idea of “morals=sex” is grounded in flawed thinking, rooted in a socio-economic change that took place in Ireland around the time of the Potato Famine.
Yet we find plenty of pre-1970 occultists speaking out on this too. Gareth Knight tells us occultism “is much on the side of ‘old-fashioned’ morality” (A Practical Guide, p. 156), and none other than Gerald Gardner, when talking about the Templars, subtly hints that “the witches” equate homosexual behavior with sin (Witchcraft Today, p. 69). While most modern-day occultists would dispute this, the fact remains these authors’ words are in print for the entire world to see.
Two Types of Morality
How do we unpack this? I’d say we begin by ignoring everything up to this point and get to the meaning of morality.
The word “morality” originally comes from the Latin mos, moris, meaning “behavior,” “custom,” or “code of conduct.” As used in modern-day English, the word generally speaks to right and wrong behavior, effectively codes of conduct that may or may not have the force of social or religious custom.
There are many different moral systems, and Moral Theology traditionally classifies them into one of two categories: a. teleological or goal-oriented, or b. deontological or duty-oriented. The distinction can be found by asking “why is a thing considered wrong?”
If a thing is “wrong” because it’s bad for you and can bring unwanted pain or drama into your life, then the morality against that thing is teleological. If a thing is “wrong” simply because some (real or imagined) authority figure said so and you have to obey them, then the morality in question is deontological.
Sometimes these two paradigms can overlap, such as in many secular laws where a best practice (safe driving, for example) becomes codified into a society’s laws. The overlap between morality and law can be a complicated one, and rests on whether one’s conception of law depends on Natural Law or Legal Positivism. That’s a question we’re not pursuing here.
Multiple non-religious moral theories exist as well. In the 18th century Kant told us the arbiter of morality is the conscience. In the 19th century Nietzsche distinguished between “master morality” (based on a thing’s usefulness) and “slave morality” (based on “herd instinct” and declaring a thing as universally good or evil).
In the 20th century we find Lawrence Kohlberg constructing six stages for the individual’s moral progression based on whether a person’s ethical compass is founded on abstract principles, social conventions, or self-interest.
The theories multiply on and on, as ethicists, philosophers, social scientists and so forth attempt to construct a moral theory of everything.
Crafting a Magician’s Morality
So where does this bring us? For most readers, I’m sure it brings them to rolling their eyes. Morality isn’t an interesting subject even in the best of times and most people already instinctively understand the broad strokes. Moral Theology was my least favorite subject, too, so I totally get it; but understanding this stuff can be a useful tool for expanding our spiritual and magical lives.
First and foremost, the magician’s morality must be teleological. That is, your personal code of conduct – and there exists no serious magical path that doesn’t insist on a strong ethical code – your conduct should always be with a desired goal in mind, and the overall pattern of your conduct should always be in context of your desired overall life’s goal.
A beginning on this track is to examine our values and submit them all to the question of “why?” For example, when earlier generations of occultists sided with old-fashioned sexual morality, they didn’t do so for fear of offending God but because of the connection they perceived between sex and energy work.
When we say “Thou shalt not kill,” we are upholding not only our neighbor’s freedom to live unmolested but also our own.
When we say “Thou shalt not covet,” we are looking into the envies and jealousies that have fueled conflicts between individuals, families, and even nations throughout human history and seeking to avoid falling into that trap. On the same vein the ancients also held that jealousy (and in some cases compliments) can put “the evil eye” on people.
The same can be seen in the Old Testament prohibitions on eating pigs and shellfish. In a deontological light, we see only “God doesn’t like it and we must obey him.” In a teleological light, we come to questions of health and sanitation as grappled with thousands of years before modern science or medicine.
In such an inquiry, we can’t reject a teaching just because it’s “established and old-fashioned,” nor can we accept something for the same reasons. Every idea must pass or fail based on its own merit, and a lot of moral rules are really the result of perennial wisdom that ultimately gained religious or legal sanction. As we accept ideas on their own merits, we come a little closer to finding our true selves as reflected in what we accept. As we reject ideas rooted in obedience for the sake of obedience, we each realize in ourselves how subconsciously locked we were in authoritarian concepts, thus each rejection can help our subconscious become a little more free.
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