John Michael Greer and the Raspberry Jam Principle of Magic

One of my favorite things about Between the Worlds was hearing respected teachers and practitioners saying things that I think we need to have more discussion of in the Pagan community. Some of that was on the issue of eclecticism and working with varied sources, which I wrote about from another perspective at Pagan Square recently. But probably my favorite was John Michael Greer‘s exposition of the Raspberry Jam Principle of Magic:

It is impossible to spread raspberry jam on bread without getting some on your fingers. … Similarly, you can’t raise and direct an intention at somebody else without it getting on you in the process.

-Paraphrased from John Michael Greer at the plenary panel on operative magic’s risks, rewards, and limitations

This is a wonderful way of putting things. Greer has neatly constructed a memorable, visceral metaphor for a simple fact that underlies much of magical ethics and informs any wise magical practice.

This is what makes magical ethics not just a good ethical idea but a fundamentally practical matter. You don’t need to wait for a Law of Return or some form of karma to kick in; if you are working with an intent to harm others, you’re going to get hurt in the process.

Practical applications of ethics are more complicated than this, of course, but none of them can neglect this basic fact.

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About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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