The Evolution of Wiccan Ethics

About the Project

by John J. Coughlin

This site is the first part of an ongoing project to reclaim Wicca from its trend, over the last decade or so, towards what is essentially "wicca-lite"; a watered down version of the "full version". This analogy I feel works well to describe the current state of Wicca. Many software products offer a "lite" version that is either free or very cheap. The lite version has some of the basic bells and whistles for those who either don't want to make a commitment to the product or are just trying it out, but lacks the advanced features that serious prolonged use would require. Those who are serious about the product either go straight for the full version or upgrade from the lite version once they feel it works for them. Instead of money, the "full version" of Wicca requires a spiritual commitment. Wicca is more than a system of magic - even more than a religion; Wicca is a way of life.

With this mini-rant out of the way, I am now free to present the rest of this site in as non-biased a form as possible. My goal is not to tell you how I feel Wicca ought to be, but simply what it was and what has changed. Sometimes these changes are for the better and sometimes they are not. This is the price to be paid for a living religion that is not weighed down by doctrine or dogma.

I am concentrating on ethics because with all the aspects of Wicca that have been cut away or downplayed, ethics has been one aspect that has been moved to the forefront, sometimes to the point of fundamentalism. Yet for all the attention, it seems that few really understand or appreciate the nature of Wiccan ethics today.

Although some may question the need to put so much emphasis on the history of Wiccan ethics, I feel that this is the time to take such research seriously. We have already seen the passing of many first and even second generation witches since Gardner's time and with their passing many of these "little things" are lost forever. These "little things" are our heritage and as more time passes, the harder it will be to find and document them. Many of the books I researched that were published in the 1960s and 1970s are already out of print, and quite expensive to obtain (as a I can attest!).

If we don't strive to save this information now, what will future generations have to reflect upon? With so many new books being published today that concentrate on the superficial, we need to ensure the details are preserved, if only for posterity.

In researching the Rede, and other aspects of Wiccan ethics, I was reminded of just how much has changed and how far we have gone since the 1950s. From small private circles hidden behind closed blinds in a living room to huge public rituals in parks in the center of cities, it is humbling to be reminded of our simple roots and frightening to learn that some of the newest generation of Wiccans do not know of such names as Gerald Gardner, Sybil Leek or Alex Sanders, or that the scourge was once an essential tool of the Craft. I am by far not calling for fundamentalism or blind duplication of the older ways, but rather that in our constant striving to grow we must never sacrifice our past. However, in order to understand Wiccan ethics, one must know the context in which it was originally intended. Only then can we fairly determine how they may be adapted to fit the times.

As I will no doubt state ad nauseum, this project is a continual work in progress and I welcome - if not encourage - you to share your own insights and research to help fill in the gaps. I make no claims to being an authority on the subject, although I have put much time and energy into my research.

UPDATE - Fall 2009: I am happy to announce that a corrected and expanded version of this material has been released in book form as Ethics and the Craft. That work supersedes this website in accuracy although I hope one day to revise this site to reflect that additional research.

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© 2001-2010, John J. Coughlin. This text may be disseminated freely for educational purposes provided it includes proper credit containing a link back to

A revised, corrected, and expanded version is now available in book form. Click here for more information and to order.