On the Ethics and Practice of Hexing in Modern Witchcraft
“Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill,
‘An it harm none, do what thou will.”
-From The Wiccan Rede
“And thou shalt be the first of witches known;
And thou shalt be the first of all i’ the world;
And thou shalt teach the art of poisoning…”
-Charles G. Leland, Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches
“But you must not change one thing, one pebble, one grain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on the act.
The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A Wizard’s power of changing and of summoning can shake the balance of the world.
It is dangerous, that power. It is most perilous. It must follow knowledge, and serve need, To light a candle is to cast a shadow . . .”
-The Master Hand1
One by one, the members of our group begin to feel it: A shift is coming and we are concerned. We gather together and hear the stories of governmental corruption… of the people’s will being perverted and silenced… of the rich and the mighty and how they meet in secret to determine our fates. We are told of beatings, of torture… We hear of plans to, once again, desecrate the body and breast of the Mother to drill for ever more poison. The very trees are weeping; their beansidhe-like wails have not fallen on deaf ears. We are enraged. Can no one stop them? We feel powerless, at first. We know what we must do next, and so we prepare. One by one, we fall silent into the trance…
I feel a stirring within me… The Old Gods making themselves known… I see the power flow out of me like a wave… a pulsing thing, alive and purposeful. It is sharp, precise, sober. Where before I was in a place of chaos, now I am calm. My Deep Self is calling to me, pouring through me, and I know that this is a moment of true power. It guides me to gather the items: a quill and some red ink (the blood of the earth), some camphor (sacred to Her mysteries), and for each of us a rotten egg (a vessel of life turned to decay). Inhaling the strong odor of the camphor smoke, we inscribe the sigils on each egg, breathing and chanting over them with great caution, imbibing them with power. We travel, eggs and offerings in tow, to stand at the crossroads near my home and fixing our gaze on the moon, we invoke:
Hecate! Hecate! Hecate!
Mother of the howling dogs,
Dreaded Queen of the Night,
Hecate Triformus of the Triple Will,
Descend now from the shining moon,
Arise now from the lonely seas,
Emerge now from the darkened earth,
To stand against those who, without honor,
Murder the soul of the earth and Her children.
An offering of food is placed upon the ground, and I am guided to walk to the nearby creek. The sounds of the water calling me closer, I feel the magick of the stream below. It is moving power, greater than my own. Standing on the bridge, I call:
Hecate! Hecate! Hecate!
You who cut the lines of fate,
This vessel of life, now filled with death,
Is open to your terrible presence.
In my hand I now hold,
The dreaded power of Hecate!
Into the face of opposing power,
I cast my dart with terrible purpose:
Bring ruin to the house of evil!
By our Will, the power flows into these eggs, and now –into the stream below– we throw our spell… the eggs crash into the moving waters… I feel the power flowing in ways I had not felt before… There could be people around watching and listening but I don’t care… I feel the Dark Power guiding me. The words flow out and over my lips…
Hecate! Hecate! Hecate!
Those you touch are changed forever,
Your song is the terror that leads to bliss,
We sing it now unto the river,
That it may flow into our enemy’s house,
to hold up mirrors to their faces,
That they know the horror of what they do,
And with this knowledge may they be turned,
Away from evil and so be blessed.
We each spit over the bridge and begin to wail and chant, rocking and swaying in the moonlight… our power has flown from us in the name of justice. Our desperate prayer has been made. We know that some will not condone what we have done, and that others will rejoice in it. On this night, we learn a lesson. We are touched by Hecate, and are changed forever. Now we wait to see how it unfolds, for magic this deep is seldom predictable. With bated breath, we watch the world. For now, we are too tired to do anything else. It is a fatigue that will last into the months that come… 2
Amongst the varied practitioners of the magical arts, there is perhaps no area of discussion that possesses quite the same charge of emotional conviction, as does the subject of cursing. Many modern pagans are opposed to the use of a hex under any circumstances, usually citing the Wiccan Rede or the Threefold Law as “proof” that “real” witches never touch the stuff. Others who are perhaps more at home in the shadows of morality seem to take delight in the art of the curse, proceeding then to cast them at each other as casually as children throwing stones. Still others, who do not accept many additions that the more “New Age”3 versions of Wicca have brought into the larger Craft family, feel that at rare times the act of hexing is a sacred duty. Used in these instances to defeat evil, to restore the balance, or to turn the tides of fate in favor of the oppressed, these practitioners see themselves acting as human agents for the Divine here on earth.
As a witch of this latter variety, I might feel compelled to bind someone whom I know is causing harm. The highest good always my ideal, I might even hex a rapist, a murderer, or another violent offender, that they be tripped-up by their own wrongdoings. Perhaps they are to fall and suffer a mild injury and be helpless until the police come. Perhaps they are plagued by headaches or nightmares that render them useless until they “change their ways”, and turn themselves into the authorities.
But what when those authorities are the very ones to blame for intimidation, oppression, violence, or worse? History has shown that cursing has been widely used by disempowered groups as a means to battle their oppressors. In Leland’s Aradia, we learn how the witches’ avatar comes to earth specifically in order to teach the poor and the oppressed how to poison and torment their wealthy masters.4 Witchcraft is clearly described as being a religion of the oppressed, and as such draws heavily on its’ ability to both bless and to blight.
It is this point that demonstrates our relationship to many diasporic religious traditions. It has long been recognized that magic is an effective tool for the oppressed. It is able to gather together minds and intentions to focus them towards a common purpose. When that purpose is survival then it is indeed a powerful force and not one that should be denied. The art of cursing was an important part of the survival of the black slaves in North America, giving them the needed hope that their oppressors would fall, and they would one day be free. In self-defense or in defense of others, cursing can be the last final hope of the abused and powerless. Only those whose lives have not presented them with an understanding of such hardships could possibly disparage hexing without regard to circumstance.
One realm in which the curse is sometimes used is the political. When we see the government deny the basic rights of its people, when ancient environments are threatened with extinction, when the weak and the innocent are being displaced and beaten, we know then that we must act. Witches who believe in real magic cannot just sit idly by and allow evil to remain unchallenged. However, it is a tricky thing to influence events on such a large scale. With individuals, the target is more refined, more precise. When dealing with movements, groups, or ideologies, then the path becomes less and less certain. We must be all the more diligent in our efforts to manifest the highest good for everyone, not just ourselves. It is a trick of the well-trained witch to discern between the personal will, and that of Deep Self. If we are to believe in our own powers then we have a certain responsibility to use them wisely. Of course, this is easier said than done.
There are other times when it is tempting to throw a curse. Perhaps your boss is treating you badly, or a lover is cheating on you. Someone could be slandering your name, stealing from you, or otherwise causing you harm. It is easy to allow emotions to cloud judgement, even in the best of circumstances. When anger is involved, it almost certainly does.
But hexing is not something to be used for every problem or annoyance that may come our way. Even in severe circumstances, we must ask ourselves what good we are trying to manifest through our actions, and just how we think a hex is going to achieve that. Perhaps there are other, more effective ways of dealing with the problem, magically or not. Often, as in the case of revenge, we find that a hexing usually does little or nothing to solve any real problems. The thief may fall ill, but does that get your radio back? A curse might even feel satisfying in the short-term, but often we are left with a larger mess than what we started with. This is one of the main reasons why true curses are rare things indeed.
There are, however, times when even after much thought and preparation, a curse is still warranted. Regardless of our reasons for deciding to perform the hex, it is in these times that we must be prepared to look deep within ourselves to determine the source of our motivations, lest we be tangled up in them like flies in the proverbial web of self-deception. If we are still in the throngs of anger and emotion, we run the risk of being swept up by them, distorting our perceptions and losing our perspective. For a practitioner of magick this can prove to be dangerous. In sorcery, perception is everything.
The power that we draw upon for a curse (as for anything else) must first flow through ourselves, and so we should first make certain that we are clear of any psychic debris that it may encounter along the way. For any practitioner that has been involved with the “Inner Work” of a spiritual discipline this comes as no surprise. We all have complexes, issues, and unresolved knots of energy that can prove to be the undoing of any spell that we may perform.
Even the simplest of spells can twist into something unexpected when it encounters an unknown demon, conflict, or issue. Our own fears and inadequacies may play a role in how power is channeled into the world. When working baneful magic there is no room for error. I have heard it said that there is a price to pay when performing a curse, and indeed, I have found this to be true. As a result of the political workings referenced in the beginning of this article I found myself in a state of psychic fatigue which lasted for months. Calling upon destructive forces, even when it is justified to do so, takes its toll on the human practitioner.5 In addition, to throw a curse I must be prepared to submit to its conditions. I must be free of any wrong doing, especially of the sort that I am opposing, or else I will find that I am cursed as well.6
It is my understanding that the Great Work of the Craft (and I believe of any true priest/esshood as well) is involved primarily with cultivating a deepened awareness of the Self, in order to allow one to become a vessel for Divine presence. A great deal of this, for me, has been in the observation and re-evaluation of the ego and its’ place within the community of my Self. One of the things that I have learned, in my time studying the Craft, is that the ego is a tricky thing. It can lull you into thinking that you are doing something good, or righteous, while in reality you are just spreading more shit around. Take, for example, the religious right. In whatever they are doing, be it lobbying to remove human rights protections, picketing the funerals of gays & lesbians, or turning a blind eye to the violence caused by their views, they believe that they are the agents of righteousness. It is the absolute conviction that they are doing ‘God’s work’ that causes them to be unaware that they are the cause of so much pain and suffering.
This is why righteousness is a dangerous state for the seeker of knowledge to be in. It can justify anything if the ego is aligned towards it. It can trap the seeker in a delirium of self-appreciating rationalization, preventing growth or true thought, leaving them blind to their actions and their results. When we are filled with righteous anger it is often too easy to allow it to flow into purely destructive forms such as tyranny and domination. With the conviction of righteousness coursing through our veins, we are too often inclined to use excessive force, especially if our reasons are justified. We must make certain that we are working responsibly or else we are not worthy of the powers and pleasures our Craft affords us. A spiritual system that intends to foster personal awareness and responsibility must certainly address this issue.
In the Feri tradition we have certain tools that, when worked with, provide the checks and balances that we need in order to stay sane on the magical path. The Iron and Pearl Pentacles are used to harmonize the practitioner’s energy-body and provide a psychic foundation for the shamanic work that is to follow. Alignment with the Three Souls is another valuable practice that enables us to remain in a dynamically balanced relationship with the Divine force. Taking a moment to bathe in the light of Deep Self can cleanse one of unproductive and even dangerous energies that arise when dealing with severe emotion. Whether we are in deep despair or consumed in the fires of rage, we rely on these tools to help keep us focused on what is most important, so that when the tidal wave comes we are not swept away by it. Moving now in balance, we can step aside at will and allow our curse, if we still deem it necessary, to flow unimpeded and onto its target.
With this, as with anything we do, there are no easy answers. The best that we can do is to take responsibility for our actions regardless of their results. In the realm of the magical, this includes the multitude of unforeseen effects that stem from what we do. When we invoke, we change the world. It is up to each of us to make sure that those changes are for the better.
1. LeGuin, Ursula K. A Wizard of Earthsea. Parnassus, 1968.
2. From a series of political workings that my group began in the latter months of 2000.
3. I am using this term to refer to the more recent emergence of modern witches who insist that certain ideas (such as the Threefold Law of Return postulated in Gardnerian Wicca) are in fact universal laws binding all witches. Especially when applied to the Wiccan Rede and the insistence that no “real” witch would ever cause harm however small, under any circumstance. This leads to a condition of imbalance (not so) lovingly referred to by other practitioners as “fluffy bunny-ism”. This is in direct contrast to true Wicca (including the Gardnerian tradition) which embraces both the light and the dark aspects of humanity and nature.
4. Leland, Charles G. Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches. 1899. Reprint, Blaine, Washington: Phoenix Publishing 1996.
5. Valiente, Doreen. An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present. Pg. 155. 1973. Reprint, Custer, Washington: Phoenix Publishing, 1986.
6. Cholla. “Who Cannot Hex, Cannot Heal” from Witch Eye #2. 2000.
This article originally appeared in Witch Eye: A ‘Zine of Feri Uprising #5.