What’s All This About “And Harm None”?

What’s All This About “And Harm None”?


by Freya Ray

“Do what you will, and harm none.” What does that mean, exactly? Why on earth would any community hamstring itself with a fundamental motto so basically impossible to live up to? When you think about it, it’s crazy, right?

The Jains, those intensely wacked-out Hindu-type people who believe all life is sacred — and I mean all life — they try. They go barefoot so they don’t inadvertently crush any little critters. They eat no animals. They wear a cloth across their mouth so they don’t inhale a bug. Now that’s devotion to a creed.

Does it work for them? If you play it out logically, any food they eat is taking food from the mouths of other creatures. In India, this equation is even more apparent than here, the land of the surplus. I’m sure Jains roll over during the night and squish caterpillars, brush gnats out of their ears with a little too much force and kill them dead, dead, dead or eat some rice with little cooked rice-eating bugs in it. Not to mention the damage that is inflicted to all the tiny dandruff-eating mites that inhabit our bodies with every belly scratch. You can run it up the food chain, too. The rice that the devout Jain eats is grown on land that is therefore not used to grow hay, and he could be causing the death of a cow through his own feeding.

Please indulge me, and allow me to run through a similarly ludicrous examination of a good little witchy person trying earnestly to do no harm. Say she wants to draw love into her life. She does a nice little ritual to draw a mate to her, being terribly careful not to make any specific requests about any particular individual, so as to not infringe on anyone’s free will. She disposes of any leftover ritual props in sharps containers or recycle bins and dumps nothing into a storm drain. She just wants to be happy, after all, and thinks she needs a mate in her life to be happier, although of course she’s fully aware that true happiness comes from being full in yourself and wouldn’t ever dream of needing to be rescued from her loneliness, although it might be nice to have sex again before she dies.

You with me? Now what happens? Anything. She’s altered the energetic balance of the universe, moving energy and intent toward a specific purpose. She’s shaken things up, sending out a “Now!” signal into the void. She might get someone, but not a very good someone but only what was available at the moment. She might get the letter of what she asked for but not the intent, because the deities are crafty bastards. She might run around after the ritual radiating sexual readiness in such an overtly enticing way she provokes a normally faithful partner to start hitting on her, causing his girlfriend to dump him. Any of these scenarios are possible, and any of them can result in heartbreak and angst for all of the players involved. Or worse, she might get what she wants, be deliriously happy, pissing off her bitter single girlfriends and losing all her pals.

Go on, play this game yourself. Ask yourself, when did I do ritual asking for something? How did it go wrong, in ways I might have anticipated but didn’t? If you’ve been playing with fire, you’ve been burned, unless you’re perfect, and then why are you reading me?

Then there’s ritual for other specific purposes. You might do a ritual of protection for yourself after a bad relationship, a woo-woo restraining order. A year later you realize you haven’t had sex since the circle went up, and guess why? Think of the untold harm this has brought all your potential sex partners during that period of time! The heartbreak!

You do a healing circle. After the circle, one participant has a nervous breakdown, another ends a long-term relationship, another quits his job and becomes an artist. Harm, or not? The nervous breakdown might lead to breakthrough healing, but then it might be the frying caused by too much energy running through a system unprepared for it. The end of the relationship might be good and long overdue, or it might be the result of someone high from endorphins released by letting go of old baggage who decides she’s too good for the partner who stood by her through carrying all the baggage, and if she stuck around another six weeks they’d have been happy together forever. The artist — following his dream or caught up in a Bohemian fantasy? Living his path or abandoning his responsibility to pay child support every month?

How on earth is one to tell?

Spirit can probably keep track of all the ramifications of individual events, but humans can’t. As to judging whether individual results are boon or bane, I’m not entirely convinced Spirit keeps score that way. When we do, it only makes for extensive confusion, and worse.

“And harm none” is a great idea for keeping Fluffbunny Artemis Moonriver from casting a spell to bring Peter Trent, the boy next door and man of her dreams, to her bed, despite his complete and utter lack of interest in giggling little Artemis. It’s a good motto to try and dissuade High Priestess Arachne Wolfspawn from casting a curse unto the seventh generation on the landlord who wouldn’t refund her security deposit because of the teensy little cigarette burns in the carpet. It’s a fine thing to attempt to keep Lord Wizard Aleister SexGod of the Ninth Circle from “initiating” all his “novices” with mushrooms and “tantric sex magick.” I’m not sure it works, but it’s a nice idea, and well worth repeating.

What effect does it have on those with both a conscience and a brain, though? You work to learn responsible magical practices. You sweat the language for your rituals, trying to envision all the possible consequences. You set up support groups and phone trees for helping people who crash after ritual. You do giveaway work more often than you ask for anything for yourself; you try not to offend people in the supermarket.

Good for you.

After a while, you realize you’ve PC’d yourself into a little box, and you can’t really remember why this whole Wiccan thing was so appealing in the first place. Wasn’t there some original moment of power and glory when you touched all of creation, throbbed with majestic spiritual strength, knew your divinity? Wasn’t there some seminal idea about living without compromising yourself to your dominant culture; following your own heart, creating your own reality?

Screw it, then. I mean, assuming you’ve got a conscience and a brain. If you don’t, then you don’t need my words as an excuse to bungle things up wildly all around you all the time.

I let that idea, harm none, lead me away from the place where I radiated power all the time. I got tired of people (only some of them, some of the time, but still … harm none) jumping back out of a hug as if they’d been shocked. I got tired of people calling me after a two-hour first date to tell me their stuff was suddenly all up in their face and they were in no way ready for a relationship. I got tired of people shrinking from eye contact as if I were overwhelming their circuits by beaming lasers from my eyes.

I mean, it’s not like I’m Guru Mai, right? I’m not offering shaktiput, elevating the consciousness of devotees with a glance, touch or hug. I’m not part of some grand tradition where running current at a zippy frequency is celebrated.

No, I was making people uncomfortable. I was doing too much meditation, too much energy work, too many readings, too much talking to God, too much teaching and ritual. Too much. I was too much.

So I stopped. I watched a lot of TV, I stopped meditating, I turned my attention to writing rather than all the other stuff that required my being terribly amped up. Readings I can still do, even when I’m not crackling with juice. Energy work, no. But it was fine, really.

Until I realized consciously what I had done. In seeking to harm none through least common denominator thinking, I had removed a significant portion of my light from the world. I wasn’t making people uncomfortable anymore, but neither was I challenging them to grow and giving them a little nudge with catalytic energy. I wasn’t radiating at the highest frequency possible for me, the one that brings me the most joy.

It’s a lot more fun being all amped up. If I thought about it, I could list the harm I brought the world by damping my energy down, but the other kind of harm was much more in my face. It’s a Wonderful Life, and all that.

That’s my point, then. Screw `em. Do what you reasonably can to act ethically and responsibly, but don’t sweat it, trying to find the perfectly harm-free path. It can’t be done. Harm happens. Every action you take, every word you speak, is going to have consequences, more of them unforeseen than foreseen. That’s life!

Take a deep breath and do what you are moved to do. If you expand the first part of the creed to “Do what you will, as guided by spirit, your intuition, your wisdom and your conscience,” you’re probably going to be fine.

There will be consequences. You’ll deal with them when they happen. But don’t let the fear of them stop you from charging yourself up, radiating light, learning energy work or asking for what you want. I’ve got the army slogan running through my head now: “Be all that you can be!” Whatever. So it’s hokey. Do it anyway.

Screw it. Do what you will, as best you can.