A Witch’s 10 Commandments is based on the premise that although practitioners of Witchcraft may have different experiences, their shared religion has some underlying principles and a basic code of ethics that binds serious believers together, and it relates these principles back to Christianity’s Ten Commandments from the Old Testament of the Bible. My questions were in reading this book, “What does this code of ethics have to do with the Ten Commandments in Christianity?”, “What are these principles?”, and “Do I, as a non-Witch (but as someone who is a Pagan), agree with them?”
Marian Singer, the author, identifies herself as someone who came to Witchcraft out of Christianity, and that’s something many modern Pagans can relate to, especially if they live in the United States or Europe. Though I have a similar background (I grew up in a Protestant Christian home) and I understand the desire to relate one’s new faith with the traditions of a previous faith, I don’t think I agree with her decision. At the beginning of the book, she puts the King James Version of the Old Testament’s Ten Commandments on one page and on the opposite page has written the “Witch’s 10 Commandments” so that readers can compare the two lists side by side. In the Preface, she asks, “What makes us [our religions] similar to each other, rather than different?” It’s a good question, and she spends some time covering Christianity, Judaism, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Baha’i, Confucianism, Jainism, and Shinto, and relating each to Neo-Pagan religions.
The bulk of the book, obviously, is reserved for explanation and clarification of the ten commandments she’s chosen for Witches. To her credit, she writes, “[P]lease know that unlike the tablets from Zion, this book is not engraved in stone.” Each of the Neo-Pagan (her word, not mine) commandments takes up a 20-30 page chapter. The commandments themselves are as follows:
1. Thou art God/dess.
2. As above, so below; as within, so without.
3. Spirit abides in all things; words and names have power.
4. Maintain an attitude of gratitude (walk the talk).
5. Honor the ancestors, teachers, elders, and leaders.
6. All life is sacred.
7. All acts of love and pleasure are sacred.
8. Whatever you send out returns threefold.
9. Love is law, love under will.
10. For the greatest good, an’ it harm none.
If you look up the Old Testament’s Ten Commandments, you’ll discover that each of Singer’s commandments loosely correspond with those in the Bible. And, for the author, the Neo-Pagan commandments build upon one another. In chapter two, she refers back to the first commandment; in chapter three, she refers back to the first two; and so on.
The advice given in the chapters is sometimes useful (though I found much of it to be a bit fluffy-bunny-esque). She advises readers to live mindfully, build healthy relationships, set realistic goals, and love others. She brings up some controversial topics, such as dealing with suicide and assisted death, and says that we shouldn’t shy away from discussing difficult ideas. She even turns the “good witch”/”bad witch” archetype on its head by suggesting that, in historical and fairy-tale context, “good” meant conforming and “bad” meant speaking out, even if conforming was a bad idea and speaking out was the right thing to do!
I had hoped that Singer would provide more historical context for the commandments she’s chosen (that, for example, the first commandment comes from Robert Heinlein’s novel Stranger in a Strange Land and the real-life Church of All Worlds), but it was not to be. Though I don’t disagree with her choices and reasoning generally speaking, it feels like cherry picking the best ideas from a bunch of completely different faiths and philosophies. She presents the Neo-Pagan commandments as though they all came from the same source (they don’t) by putting them next to the Old Testament’s commandments, which — according to legend — really did all come from one source.
If I were writing ten Pagan commandments, I don’t think I would have chosen these ten exactly. I like the first one because I identify strongly with Heinlein’s novel, but other Pagans may find it completely sacrilegious to assume oneself a deity. (That’s not what Singer argues anyway, but the commandment doesn’t hold up well without explanation.) I really don’t like the ninth commandment, but it’s not because I dislike the commandment itself — I just really dislike Aleister Crowley (who coined the phrase, “Love is law, love under will”) despite his contributions to many modern Pagan faiths. Simply put, I think Singer does readers a disservice by omitting the original context for these commandments.
Overall, I think A Witch’s 10 Commandments might actually be more useful for Christians who have Pagan friends or relatives and want to understand how Christianity and Pagan religions are really more alike than different. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it very useful.
[V.E. Duncan is a blossoming polytheist. A writer who lives in the Los Angeles area (but who truly wishes to go back to New York City, where her heart is), she owns a cantankerous cat named Cleopatra. V.E. can be contacted through her website, Duncan Heights.]