So I wrote an article on the concept of Harm None in January 2013 called Define Harm in which I discuss the complexity of those two little words. I was only two years into my practice and still in undergrad when I wrote that post. A lot in my life has changed, so I decided to revisit the topic.
To give a little background, the concept of harm none comes from the Wiccan Rede: “Eight words the Rede fulfill, if it harms none do as yee will.” The origin of the full poem is a little murky. Some say Aleister Crowley wrote it, others say Doreen Virtue. As many of my readers are aware, there is no overarching theology or guiding set of rules for Pagans, Wiccans, and Witches. However if there is any principle that unites many Pagans (or at least incites heated discussion), the Wiccan Golden Rule might just be it.
Like I say in my first article, the concept of harm is difficult to really define in a one-size-fits-all universal definition. Swearing, for example, really offends come people, but others give no fucks about vocabulary unless it is culturally insensitive. Even actions that violate laws, such as stealing, are a little murky under the Rede. As the book Les Miserables discusses, theft is not always seen as morally reprehensible if conditions are dire and people are starving. It’s all about your individual perspective.
For me, my personal definition of harm is malicious actions both intentional and unintentional. I try to be as compassionate as possible in any given situation, and when I can’t for whatever reason I try to really look at why I am reacting in that particular way. A big one for me is gossip. I love to gossip, but it can be malicious as fuck. It is something I am constantly working through because it is an aspect of my personality that needs improvement in order to align with what I know is right for me.
Now let’s talk about None. That’s kind of a big word if you think about it. Most Pagans, Wiccans, and Witches believe in animism to some extent, which says that all things have spirit and energy. That includes the grass we walk on and the food we eat. However if you truly want to adhere to the principle of harming absolutely nothing, then shit gets a little complicated. For example if I go too long without a serving of meat, my iron levels get too low and I become anemic (I have tried vegetarianism at various points, however even with supplements I don’t seem to get enough iron or protein). So which thing to I harm, the animal I am eating or myself? Clearly, I am going to eat the meat because I don’t want to harm myself. So you see what I mean? None is way more murky than it seems.
My personal definition of None in this context is the least possible number of things. It is absolutely impossible to harm no living beings because everything is alive. The best any Pagan or Witch can do is to minimize harm and to keep the natural world in balance.
As you may have gathered from my discussion, the concept of Harm None is deeply personal and ridiculously complicated. The best that we can do as a Pagan, Wiccan, and Witch community is to approach this maxim with the least amount of judgement possible. Everyone is going to have their own definitions, which may be vastly different than your own. The best we can do is to simply listen.
© Ariadne Woods