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.
Compassion is the ability to feel for others and is the natural balance of the virtue of power. Compassion moves forward and embraces others, regardless of difference; it looks out not only for "its own kind," but for all beings, simply because they are.
In the Boddhisatva Vow of Compassion, for example, a soul that has attained enlightenment chooses to remain within the cycle (viewed in that tradition as the ultimate sacrifice) in order to light the way for others to follow. Yet we should not become so consumed with the needs of others that we forget to nurture ourselves. If we become so fixated on others that we take no time to replenish ourselves, we burn out-and again the world is impoverished, because we have nothing left to give.
Honor appears in balance with humility; therefore, we must take honor to mean, in part, respect for ourselves. To honor someone means to pay respect to them and pay respect to the Goddess through our rituals. Living by a code of honor is also a source of power, as it trains the will and enforces a connection to the ethics by which we believe we should live. We must remember, through our lesson of compassion, that other cultures and religions have different codes of honor, and react to members of those systems accordingly. Appropriate behavior varies widely from one locale to the next.
Humility allows us to look at our shortcomings. We must do this with compassion toward ourselves as well we are cautioned against believing or hoping that we can be perfect, or wishing that we could be.
Mirth balances all the virtues and their opposites: it can help create beauty where there is ugliness, give courage to those who feel powerless, and deflate power and honor when they become too heavy with their own importance.
Cultural structures, whether secular or religious, tend to fear chaos. When we divide our world into dualities, we often assign "evil" to chaos and "good" to order. However, Pagan religions traditionally acknowledge that the forces of chaos are also the source of creation often honoring this paradox by assigning the Trickster a special day or season during which He is celebrated with a temporary reversal of the culture's normal rules.
Of course, no gift is without its potential for misuse, and so, mirth misapplied can become cruel rather than cleansing. Practice of the other virtues, particularly humility and compassion, can help keep this side of mirth in balance.
Reverence must be part of any sincere religious system. Reverence encompasses respect, which makes it the balance of mirth.
Humans have an innate need to hold something as larger, greater, dearer than our limited self. For Pagans this "something" often begins as Nature, which we come to understand in turn as a reflection of the Divine. For others it may be a particular ideal, such as liberty or peace or their homeland or people or a concept like "the advancement of science." Reverence not only gives us a feeling of connection to a greater whole, which is one of the main sources of fulfillment in life but it also inspires us.
The dark side of reverence is zealotry. We come to believe that the end justifies the means. The practice of humility and compassion, as well as mirth, can help to safeguard against this extreme.