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What's "Malefic" Magic?

Do Wiccans curse or harm people with magic? How do I tell which kinds of magic are ethically okay and which aren’t? If I do a spell to steal my cousin’s girlfriend, am I evil?

First off, yes, these are real questions from my inbox.

The energy, power, force of will, positive thinking, or whatever you want to call the force that makes magic work is neither good nor bad. It’s like electricity—it can be used in ways that are good, bad, or somewhere in between. Anyone can do magic. You don’t have to be practicing any religion—including Wicca—to succeed. "Malefic" (a fancy word for "bad") magic is when someone uses that power or force for selfish or evil purposes and/or intends to cause harm with it.

The Wiccan Rede

Despite what Hollywood and the Holy Rollers would have you believe, malefic magic is not a part of Wicca. Many Wiccans follow a code called the Wiccan Rede—which, if you Google it, is worded in dozens of ways—that basically says, “Do what you will, but don’t harm anyone.” Negative magic, by definition, is against the Rede. But it’s taboo amongst Wiccans who don’t follow the Rede, too, in part because of the impact that malefic magic has on the person doing it.

Doing Your Will

The most powerful part of the Rede is not the “do no harm part,” although that’s important. It’s the admonition to “Do what you will.” There are many theories on how this phrase came into common Wiccan use, but it’s more than likely derived from the writings of occultist Aleister Crowley.* The law for Thelema, the school of thought/magical system he created, is “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law, love under will.”

The will is not the same as the “want.” The “want” is what we desire—a double mocha, to win the lottery, to be the filling in a giant One Direction sandwich cookie. (There’s no accounting for taste.) But the will is far more important than that. It’s the soul’s purpose. It’s what you are meant to be doing with your life. It’s your calling. It’s that thing that when you are doing it, you are in harmony with nature and the world around you. You’re swimming with the current, not upstream. Ideally, if you’re a Wiccan doing magic, that magic should align somehow with your true will, or at least not contradict it. Doing magic to harm someone is not working your will.

What You Do Becomes Part of You

Using magic requires you to connect—sometimes briefly, sometimes more than briefly—energetically with the focus of your spell, be it a person, an idea, or an object. If you do a spell to heal someone, for example, you need to connect to the energy of that person for it to work. The connection you make when doing malefic magic is negative. The negative energy or intent can rebound back on you or stick to you. You are not separate from the act of harm you are doing, and what you put out into the world tends to follow you around. Some Wiccans say that anything you put out will return to you three times. I don’t know if that’s three separate times, or one time, three times as strong, but it doesn’t matter. The point is, you are what you do.

The Will of Others

One of the ways I’ve often heard malefic magic defined in the Wiccan community is that it’s magic that takes away the free will of another person. For this reason, many Wiccans ask a person before they do magic on that person’s behalf, even if it’s for a helpful or benevolent purpose, such as healing or to help the subject get a new job. If working our own will is important, we should try to respect others’ wills, too. So the guy who wants to steal his cousin’s girlfriend isn’t evil, per se, but he’s talking about circumventing the free will of two other people, so his spell wouldn’t wash in the Wiccan community.

Shades of Grey

So does that mean that no Wiccan has ever done manipulative, coercive, or negative magic? Of course not. We’re not perfect, and we’re definitely not saints. And there are also edge cases that can be hard to classify. For example, magic to bring a violent criminal to justice could be seen as robbing the accused of his or her free will, but is it counter to the Rede if done in the name of the greater good? This is very slippery ground.

If you are considering this kind of magic—I wouldn’t, by the way, but I’m not you—know that what you are thinking of doing is so serious that you should never proceed without all the facts. Unfortunately, you’re probably never going to have all the facts, even if you witnessed the alleged crime. You must also make sure you’re not working from a place of self-righteousness or out of desire for revenge. These cloud judgment and make things that aren’t ethical or are borderline seem more acceptable. Magical work is serious. It becomes a part of you. Is what you’re doing a reflection of your true will?

The safer—if more indirect—course in cases like this is to find a way to try to bring about a good outcome without inadvertently harming someone who may be innocent. Instead of working to have the person be convicted, ask that the best possible outcome for everyone occurs, or that justice is done. Just make sure the “justice” you’re asking for isn’t revenge, or reframing your working won’t make it any more ethical.

*It’s ironic that we use Crowley’s law as an ethical yardstick or a way to determine if what we are doing is aligned with our life purpose, since Crowley—although brilliant—was himself far from ethical.



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Thea Sabin is a writer/editor whose professional work currently focuses on web content management, curriculum development, and instructional design. She has taught a variety of subjects—including editing, high school English and theater, gardening, crafts, Wicca, and astrology—off and on for more than two decades. A practicing Wiccan since her teens, she first started teaching Wicca—very, very badly and long before she was ready—in college. She wrote her book Teaching Wicca and Paganism in the hope that it would help other teachers get a better start than she did. Her first book, Wicca for Beginners, was designed to help seekers new to Wicca build a foundation for Wiccan practice. Find Thea on Facebook or at


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