The most important aspect of any magical or spiritual practice is to adopt a strong ethic and try to live by it. This is the first and most important extension of the magical Will, and it sets the scene for all that follows. This is a foundation practice of most serious occult traditions.
The ethic we adopt should be applicable to every aspect of our mundane existence, but ideally it will transcend these, and help us identify the great cosmic principles of the universe with which we wish to align ourselves. It should apply in every phase of our existence, awake, dreaming, dead.
A well-chosen ethic will become one of our most important tools on our path of discovery, because it will provide our motive and driving force, the shining beacon ever in front of us that shows us the way forward. It is a powerful source of energy; it is our compass should we wander off the path; it is our life-jacket should we be sinking and gasping for breath. It cannot be over-emphasised how valuable this tool can be.
A strong ethic will also be a powerful tool for learning, for when we first apply it to our everyday lives we find it dominates our consciousness, and we begin to realise how many choices we make, and how these choices impact us and our fellow creatures. We are drawn to ponder the interconnectedness of the world, and the subtle ways in which one thing may influence another.
Morality may seem like a rather stuffy, conservative subject, conjuring up Old Testament "thou shalt nots", or the Women's Temperance League. These are unbalanced examples of morality though, being concerned only with the negative and the prohibitive. They are also uncomfortably close to the concepts of guilt and sin, concepts which in most cases aren't terribly good at bringing out the best in people. An ethic for magical work should have an equally strong emphasis on "thou shalt" — as a statement of intention it should specify what you intend to do as much as what you intend not to do. Our morality shouldn't keep us in fear of tripping over ourselves; it should fill us with joy, wonder and power.
There are a few ethics used within occult orders that an aspiring witch, magician or priest might adopt. Crowley's "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law; Love is the Law, Love under Will" is used by many, however it is obscure in its wording, and has the rather severe drawback of making no reference to the world outside of the magician's own psyche, which leaves the student ungrounded and puts them in danger of inflating their ego. I of course am rather fond of the Wiccan "An it harm none, do what you will", a deceptively simple statement that contains all the meat of Crowley's law, while also promoting the appreciation of, and understanding of, the world that surrounds us, our fellow creatures and the mysterious processes of creation and destruction.
The student may equally wish to formulate their own ethic, in which case I would recommend that:
- It be based on a deep interest in, and reverence for, the world and all forms of life within it.
- It promote truth and beauty.
- It speak to our feelings of what is valuable in the world, regardless of our personal existence. (If you ceased to exist, how would you want the world to continue in your absence?)
- It express enthusiasm and hope.
- It always have the potential to ask more of us.