This Category, *Pagan Ethics, contains a series of posts that are a commentary on a book – Living with Honour – written by Emma Restall Orr.  My interest in Pagan ethics emerges out of a need to capture in words the attitudes and behaviour that might manifest out of a person’s love of Gaia and dedication to an Earthen Spirituality.  Emma’s beautiful book, which I at first eagerly skimmed, then read slowly and carefully and now enjoy re-reading has stimulated my thinking and inspired the comments in these posts. I obviously highly recommend the book and hope that my commentary serves the spirit of *Pagan Ethics and challenges the reader to examine their attitudes and world view toward a greater reverence for our place within and among the life of Gaia.  As my one-time friend Wolf says, may Gaia bless.


Ethics and Morality

Those who become dissatisfied with the other-worldly basis of religious ethics often come to realise that a bottom-line question is:  How shall I live?   How shall I live?  Not how do I feel or what do I think about living, but what direct actions shall I take in the process.  What underpins our ability to face waking each morning and getting on with our being in the world.

What does Emma Orr have to say about this?  First, a short definition, ethics: “the line we draw that articulates what is acceptable in terms of behaviour, and what is not, from a profoundly personal and individual standpoint.”  A further elaboration follows:


“Our ethics describe how we feel others should conduct their lives and how we sense we too ought to behave.  Based entirely on the patterns of our own minds, they reflect how we perceive the world, both in terms of the facts we assume are reality, and the emotionally defended attitudes that we believe and often need to be true.  Just as these beliefs shape how we respond to the world, so do they create the ethical framework of standards and expectations that we use to judge ourselves and others:  the line of what is acceptable, what is forgivable.  As such, our ethics provoke guilt and anger, shame gratitude and humility, compassion and lack of mercy, a sense of injustice and righteousness.  Where the line is crossed, we find fear and grief.  Where we hold it inflexibly it becomes a cloak that keeps us comforted, armour that keeps us safe, clear air that keeps us healthy.  Here is the framework within we think.  As Hegel said, our ethics shape our identities.”


What about morality?  “The word morality implies an imposed ethics.”

Morality is constructive by agreement.  A moral code is a guide accepted by the tribe.  It maintains standards of behaviour and agrees the consequences of misbehaviour.  So morality is based on the tribe’s agreed upon ethics.


What may be a surprise to many and in my mind of the utmost importance is the notion that ethics are our own personal and individual responsibility.  Taking responsibility not only for our actions but for the difficult job of working out our underlying worldview is indicative of a *Pagan ethical framework.  Too often, we fail because we have not fully owned our ethical position.  Our viewpoint was either handed down unquestioned or accepted out of fear or lack of care for the process. We falter when we don’t live out of our heartfelt knowing and expect of others what we don’t fully accept within ourselves.  Even though Shakespeare’s advice from Polonius was rather more self-serving, taken purely it supports my point:  “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.

As Vadim Zeland might say, make sure you are not following along somebody else’s path rather than your own.