Reprinted with permission of Pan Gaia Magazine.

One complaint raised against Wiccans is that they have no ethical guidelines by which to measure their conduct. Wiccans, it is charged, have "only" the Rede (and, in certain traditions, the Laws), and because the Rede (like the Golden Rule) provides no positive injunctures, it can be seen as comparatively lax.

But Wicca in fact has within its sole universal text the Charge of the Goddess. The Star Goddess says, "Let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you." The Charge can be seen as an eight-rayed star, like the one worn by the Goddess Ishtar or the eight points of the Wheel of the Year, consisting of the virtues considered to be the most desirable in Her followers. The Rede has taught us that we are to avoid doing harm. Here we receive further instruction in what we are encouraged to do.

First on the Goddess's list of virtues is beauty. This is consistent with Wiccan philosophy in general, with its emphasis on celebration of love and pleasure, and the other appealing qualities of Nature. Beauty is the province of the Love Goddesses such as Aphrodite, Oshun, Venus and Hathor. What pleases the sense, pleases the Goddess. She invites us to dress as well as we can afford, to adorn ourselves and our homes in a way that appeals to us. However, we must also remember not to pursue our ideal of beauty to a degree that causes us, or other people, harm; so the impulse to tan until we have skin cancer, malnourish ourselves into an unhealthy body type, "beautify" in ways that require the torture or death of animals, to be cruel to others who do not meet our own standard of beauty, does not fall within the scope of the Goddess's virtues.

The Goddess embraces the beautiful aesthetic and calls us to reawaken to its healing powers. She exalts in beautiful music that stirs the emotions, in rich colors and textures that call out to be touched, in shapes that flow pleasingly from one to the next. She is present in the elaborate Japanese garden. She tends the dandelion that emerges victorious between the cracks of the pavement..

We also need to remember to honor the beauty of destruction. While creation is beautiful, without destruction to temper it, it runs wild and makes everything into a cosmic junkpile. To make a garden beautiful, we plow up and make a shambles of the soil so that our seeds have a place to grow. So in life, in order to cultivate inner beauty, we must be willing to be torn open to make a place for the seed, to neglect even things theoretically of value-that class we keep meaning to take, that unpursued fantasy of becoming a rock star-in our pursuit of the greater good we have chosen.

The balance of beauty is strength. Like beauty, strength has a physical virtue, because the Wiccan faith embraces the physical as an aspect of the Divine. We make our bodies as healthy and whole as we can, since this improves our strength. We study the use of herbs, eat organic food, sometimes become vegetarians. Yet we frequently neglect the more obvious practices, like eating less and getting regular exercise. Strength is in the buck as he charges through the wood, in the lioness as she pulls down the antelope, in the mother bear as she charges the hunter threatening her cubs. Physical strength is the power to survive, and to pass on the best chance for one's offspring to survive. It is the cardinal virtue of the Horned God, and of the Lady of the Beasts.

Strength also implies the ability to stand firm in the face of opposition. By pushing through resistance, by moving through adversity by force of will, we gain strength.

Wiccans easily embrace the word "power" when we imagine that it means magickal force. Yet there are other meanings for "power," and these we seem to find more intimidating. Many of us wish for a world in which all people are created and treated as equal, and in which our decisions can be made by consensus. But in our society, inequity of power is the norm, and "equality," even in our circles, often an illusion. ("Once they know you can cook," my friend Karen says, "it's always your job to bring the food.") it is a natural human desire to want recognition for good work.. In celebrating and using our unique gifts, we come into our personal power.

Power sometimes manifests in the ability to lead othersA good leader, someone who is able to move decisively on behalf of a group, and to inspire the group to fulfill its goals, is a wonderful asset.