The Bad Witch’s Kill Count – Squabbling With “Harm None”

Looks like this photo was taken when I was barely the size of a holiday ham.

We all know the idea of the Wiccan Rede: “An it harm none, so mote it be.”

I was watching this documentary (of course, it conflated Wicca and Witchcraft and all of Pagandom in that way which makes The Bad Witch’s eyes bleed) and an Anglican priest was saying that “Harm None” was problematic in that, with the far reaching implications of magick, one can never know whom one might be harming.

Then again, said priest also indicated that he didn’t believe in magick. Immediately followed by the statement that all energy can be manipulated so we should be careful with magick. So – take it with a grain of salt, right?

I sat up and argued with the TV/DVD player like I do when there is a sudden illogical leap in problem solving on Criminal Minds or House. “It’s a very misunderstood statement. Much like The Christ said, ‘Not my will but Thine be done,’ this statement, ‘An it harm none’ is an acquiescence to divine cosmic order – a recognition that there is wisdom beyond our understanding.” Then I called the TV a “dufus.”

While I understand the concept of “harm none,” I can’t quite understand how we are supposed to live it out.

I see the value in practices like those found in Jain Buddhism – not eating a root vegetable as that “kills” the plant. I understand the Wiccan stance against abortion since it ends a life and creation should be venerated. I admire my fellows who catch spiders and place them outside rather than squashing them with a flip-flop. I understand anti-gun passivism. I value organic gardening, veganism, and ecological sustainability. Heck, I practice most of these things. But here’s my problem: I am not an island. I have to live among others. I find that I cannot live my ideal given that I must also be a citizen among citizens.

A) Abortion. The Bad Witch is openly pro-choice. While I think the necessity for abortive practices is a sad state, I still think they are a necessary option. Remember the late-90s when anti-choice arsehats were taking photos of women as they went into women’s clinics and then posting those women’s photos on the web as “murderers”? Well, back in the day, TBW gathered a few black umbrellas and a few pals, drove to Birmingham’s PP clinic, and escorted women from car to door. Their decisions were hard enough without feckheads.

While I would love to welcome every baby into the world, I know that this is illogical under our current political structure. A system that denigrates single mothers, that fails to support healthcare and preschool across the board, and that vilifies the poor is not one in which we can support Utopian ideals like “abort-none.”

B) Guns and war. The Bad Witch was born during the Vietnam Era. I was very impressionable when I saw those men come home. Some of them were even alive. Some, like a favorite cousin of mine, remain somewhere in between life and death. I hate war. I don’t even like war movies. I finished A Farewell to Arms and threw it across the room, shattering the spine. (I have only done that to a few other books: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Color Purple, and Jacob the Liar.)

However, I come from a gun-toting family and I adore my family. My brother’s house looks a little like the Branch Davidian compound must have. Same goes for my in-laws. I live in a gun-toting community. I have students come to class straight from a morning of hunting. Still in their camo with GSR which spreads to their daily reading quizzes, they have gun racks on their trucks – that still have loaded guns on them. (At a university, this is not terrifying at all. Time for a policy update, I say.) But I have no guns.


The Bad Daddy is taking me out to buy a rifle and a handgun in a few weeks (The Bad Background Check and all). It seems The Bad Momma has a bad feeling. (Please don’t preach to me about guns amplifying violence. I’m singing in that same choir. But these are my parents. Old as I am, I still obey them.)

This has me thinking. Guns + Self Defense = Harm, right? So imagine: My momma’s bad feeling comes to fruition. The Bad Witch stands between tragedy and her teenagers – or her chickens – or her gonna-be-here-any-day-grand-baby. Does she choose to “harm one” in order to save t’others? Hells to the yea. Thank the gods m’daddy made me learn to use that pistol I’ve been cussing about for three days.

“Oh, well,” you say, “self-defense is a different story.”

Is it? Really?

Then how do you feel about a jinx? I have an acquaintance who owns a store; he places a jinx on any goods removed from his store without payment. This is psychic self-preservation resulting in loss-control, right? But it’s still a jinx. Same as self-defense with a gun is still harm.

C) Caterpillars – Technically Corn Worms. This one’s driving me nuts. Over the past few years, my garden and I have been fighting an uphill battle with corn earworms. Now, I don’t grow corn, but I grow most of my own produce. This is more than a hobby, it’s how I feed my family from late-May to December (February if you count the occasional winter squash). These little boogers will eat a plan to a nub in 24 hours like the nematodes on Spongebob if I don’t catch them in time. Typically, they show up in late-June or July – about the time you’d expect corn to ripen. But this year, they hatched early and are chewing up my garden early. Typically, I have time to wrap up the Spring semester, get into the groove of Summer School, and make my organic gardening “potions” to thwart everything from black-spot to snails and from corn-worms to aphids (I heart Jerry Baker.) But this year, everything’s early. My plants are huge and producing. This is good. Pest larva are hatching and eating. This is bad. Especially since my bug-patrol chicken corps is not ready for the outdoors just yet. (Bugs: nom, nom, nom.)

So, everyday, two and three times a day, I go out to my collards and broccoli (they haven’t quite hit my peppers and maters yet – but

The day I discovered that the worms had hatched, I had already lost almost a full plant.

they will if I let them) and hand squish each corn worm I find. I turn over each leaf and *pop* the newly hatched and still itty-bitty worms. On Saturday, my kill-count was 120. Sunday, it was 54. So far this morning, it’s been 27. I feel like I should put notches on my garden gloves like the helmets in a Kubrick film. I’d love to put them in a bird feeder and let the birdies have at them. Truth of the matter is, I don’t want to run the risk of escape! I’d even prefer to pick them off, bring them in, and give my hens a snackaroo. But I cannot pick them off. If you know about corn worms, you know that they attach themselves to the stalk. In trying to remove them, I inevitably tear them in two.

So what’s a witch to do?

Harm one to save one.

My goal is to have a healthy garden and there’s only so much “companion planting” that will do the trick. In the end, I have to pull (and therefore kill) a few weeds, squish a few bugs and/or eggs, deter a few predators (thereby denying them a meal), encourage yet another set of predators (ever see an Euglandina Rosea at work?), and bait a few traps (fire ants, y’all – seriously).

And since when is forcing nature to yield at our convenience not harmful?

Farming and agriculture, while a wonderful technology that I appreciate and try to use to the least detriment and most benefit, is *not* natural, ladies and gentleman. Farming and gardening, practices and lifestyles most dear to my Bad Witch heart, even when it’s not Monsanto-rific, is not good for the planet.

We like to tell ourselves that it’s “natural.” But we lie.

So when and where and for whom does “harm none” apply?

Unless we intend to go back to the wilderness, live entirely off the land – as it is, not as we cultivate it, and become entirely acetic, we are full of crap if we say it applies to us.

All we can do is our best in the moment.

*Love & Light.* (For my best frenemy, SKW.)

Blessings, Quarks, & 93

The Bad Witch

20 comments on “The Bad Witch’s Kill Count – Squabbling With “Harm None”

  1. Aubs Tea says:

    I’m so grateful to learn that I am not the only one who argues with my TV for being stupid.

  2. Love and Light? Blood and Justice. Feeding your family is righteous, noble and you are justified in defense of said family. This, my friend/sister, is a post worth pondering. When to stand up? When to lay down? Is there a “time to kill?” Keep popping those pillars. I’m riveted. xo

  3. I couldn’t agree more, well said!

  4. Drea says:

    Couple of things: 1) the Rede is ‘An it harm none, do as ye will’ (it’s an important distinction if you study Crowley’s writings on true will – part of Wicca’s history). 2) the word ‘rede’ means advice, not law. 3) the Rede doesn’t mean ‘do no harm’. It says that if you’re sure you won’t hurt anyone, do what you will. It doesn’t speak to how you should handle situations where harm is unavoidable. That is left to your own conscience.

    Also, FWIW, every trad Wiccan I have ever known is pro-choice.

    • Phew. Thanks for clearing that up. It changes everything.

      • Well . . . not exactly everything: how can any of us be sure we won’t hurt anyone? I cannot imagine a situation in which I could be assured of that fact, considering everything from a future I cannot fathom to the way the wind blew the moment I cast. I’m a strong witch, but I’m not so cocky as to believe that my actions always are pristine tight and incapable of hurt. Seems to me that this distinction muddies the water even more . . . . almost like a “catch all” or “cover all” that allows for a clear conscience . . .I guess I would rather look all of it in the eye.

      • Drea says:

        The Rede really should never have been shortened to ‘Harm None’, IMO. It twists the meaning too much and doesn’t encourage meditation on True Will.

        Over the years I’ve seen so many folks twist themselves up in knots trying to follow an unreasonable interpretation of the Rede. To the point of wondering how they can eat at all without breaking it (because plants feel pain too).

        I’m a Valiente fan-girl, so I’ve studied a lot of the early poems & lore 😉

    • Bryan says:

      In regards to your #2…. I don’t like to split hares and I know there is controversy of the meaning of the word, “rede”, but it says it in the first sentence: “Bide within the Law you must, in perfect Love and perfect Trust.”

      • I am myself, not a Wiccan. Not because I haven’t studied it at great length (in my youth) but because I have. I know enough about it to know I don’t agree with it. Primarily *because* of this kind of pedantry intertwined with the facade of “traditionalism.” While I concede that originally, I misquoted – hell guys, I write off the cuff before coffee in the morning – the point remains the same. Changing, “amending,” rephrasing (even to include Crowlyesque sentiments) doesn’t alter the fact that, as Peggy says – oh, so astutely – below, there’s no way around “Harm.” Which is why I wrote this in the first place.

    • Oh, good. I don’t have to type the Standard Response now, you took care of it.

  5. Peggy says:

    As a non-wiccan witch, a horticulturalist, a herbalist, and a herb farmer, I don’t give the Rede any credence. In fact, I don’t think it makes any sense what-so-ever. You can’t influence without doing harm somewhere. Every action has a reaction, and the practitioner must see this, and accept it. A butterfly flaps it’s wings… You get the idea.
    As for your pest problem, practice proper IPM (integrated pest management) and you won’t have these problems. Also! Remember, weak plants attract “bad” insects and diseases.

    • Couldn’t agree more. The Rede can suck my pointy hat.

      Thanks for the advice about IPM. I normally do – but as I pointed out, everything is off-schedule this year and catching my busy schedule unawares.

  6. Peggy says:

    Oh, and sometimes doing nothing is the greater ill.

  7. Ali says:

    I’ve never been a fan of the rede. My personal rule is to just be kind whenever possible.

  8. SkyDragon says:

    The Bad Witch has embraced a topic that has been a popular subject of debate on Pagan e-lists and other forums for many years. I view it similarly to how our governmental laws are written and intended to be interpreted. There is the concept of “the letter of the law” vs “the intent of the law.” Lawyers (word merchants that they are) make their livings with this sort of thing. What it often boils down to is a judge’s opinion of what a “reasonable” interpretation of the law would be. One of my HPSs justified eating meat by saying that plants are living beings with feelings and consciousness too, everything that lives must eat something that is (or was) alive; therefore, it’s impossible to harm none. I agree with the interpretation which says “The Rede states that a Wiccan is free to do whatever they want to, as long as it does not harm themselves or anyone else. Harm is normally considered to include manipulation, domination, attempts to control, physically injure, emotionally harm, or hurt another person or group in any way” from this website: I would add that it’s not intended to mean we shouldn’t eat another living creature, or that sort of thing… Just my 2 cents >;o}

  9. Thanks for all the feedback, guys. When I said that “I can’t quite figure how to live it out,” I meant that it seems an impossibility not that I was trying to find a way not to cause harm. I mean, c’mon. I’m The *BAD* Witch, right? 😉

  10. […] the post that I just reblogged debating the etymology of The Rede—which followed one discussing the ethics of The Rede as it applies to cabbage worms—I am starting to wonder how my fellow Witches feel about guns and how y’all are handling all […]

  11. […] area, there is one tribe-member that always has something to teach me.[3] And I admit that sometimes I trade off the “Harm None” of Wiccan practice for Heathen pragmatism. I’m thoughtful, but I’m not idealist. I would like to homestead […]

  12. PodVon says:

    Well I am Thelemic and not Wiccan but as I and the Wiccan friends I have discussed it with interpret this it is about intent and malice vs harmony.
    The Thelemic view being that if your Will (purpose/intent) is in harmony with the universe then you can do no ultimate harm. My Wiccan friends say something very similar but referencing nature or ‘the natural order’. Thus by interpretation to feed and nurture your family is in keeping with this even if it means killing plants or animals or people to do so. To wipe out a people or animal or plant is not nurturing nor harmonious and lacks balance. I have to admit that between those two extremes I can see how Wiccans can struggle to find balance.
    As a Thelemic ‘harm’ for me becomes a spiritual thing and far less literal than accidentally stepping on an ant or digesting a bacterium. Am I harming myself? becomes the question. Any act that violates my True Will becomes ‘harm’. So to act without harmonious purpose or with malific intent is to commit ‘harm’ both to ones self and to ones surroundings.
    As such, I do not believe you ‘harm’ a sheep when you slaughter it for its meat but if you do not do so with the appropriate respect for its purpose then you commit ‘harm’ upon it, yourself and gnosis.

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