Charmed, I’m Sure: The Ethics of Love Spells

Charmed, I'm Sure To gain the love of someone: On a night of the full moon, walk to a spot
beneath your beloved’s bedroom window, and whisper his/her name three times to
the nightwind.

    –Ozark love spell

It seems to be an immutable law of nature. You are interviewed by a
local radio or TV station, or in some local newspaper. The topic of the
interview is Witchcraft or Paganism, and you spend the better part of an hour
brilliantly articulating your beliefs, your devotion to Goddess and nature,
the difference between Witchcraft and Satanism, and generally enlightening the
public at large. The next day, you are flooded with calls. Is it people
complimenting you on such a splendid interview? No. People wanting to find
out more about the religion of Wicca? Huh-uh. People who are even vaguely
interested in what you had to say??? Nope. Who is it? It’s people asking
you to do a love spell for them!

This used to drive me nuts. I’d take a deep breath and patiently explain
(for the thousandth time) why I won’t even do love spells for myself, let
alone anyone else. This generally resulted in my caller becoming either angry
or defensive, but seldom more enlightened. ‘But don’t you DO magic?’, they
ask. ‘Only occasionally,’ I answer. ‘And aren’t most magic spells love
spells?’, they persist. That was the line I really hated, because I knew they
were right! At least, if you look at the table of contents of most books on
magic, you’ll find more love spells than any other kind. This seems as true
for the medieval grimoire as for the modern drugstore paperback.

Why? Why so many books containing so many love spells? Why such an
emphasis on a kind of magic that I, personally, have always considered very
negative? And to make matters even more confusing, the books that do take the
trouble of dividing spells between ‘positve’ and ‘negative’ magic invariably
list love spells under the first heading. After all, they would argue, love
is a good thing. There can never be too much of it. Therefore, any spell
that brings about love must be a GOOD spell. Never mind that the spell puts a
straightjacket on another’s free will, and then drops it in cement for good

And that is why I had always assumed love magic to be negative magic.
Years ago, one of the first things I learned as a novice Witch was something
called the Witch’s Rede, a kind of ‘golden rule’ in traditional Witchcraft.
It states, ‘An it harm none, do what thou will.’ One uses this rede as a kind
of ethical litmus test for a spell. If the spell brings harm to someone —
anyone (including yourself!) — then don’t do it! Unfortunately, this rule
contains a loophole big enough to fly a broom through. It’s commonly
expressed, ‘Oh, this won’t HARM them; it’s really for their own good.’ When
you hear someone say that, take cover, because something especially nasty is
about to happen.

That’s why I had to develop my own version of the Witch’s Rede. Mine
says that if a spell harms anyone, OR LIMITS THEIR FREEDOM OF THOUGHT OR
ACTION IN ANY WAY, then consider it negative, and don’t do it. Pretty strict,
you say? Perhaps. But there’s another law in Witchcraft called the Law of
Threefold Return. This says that whatever power you send out, eventually
comes back to you three times more powerful. So I take no chances. And love
spells, of the typical make-Bobby-love-me type, definitely have an impact on
another’s free will.

So why are they so common? It’s taken me years to make peace with this,
but I think I finally understand. The plain truth is that most of us NEED
love. Without it, our lives are empty and miserable. After our basic
survival needs have been met, we must have affection and companionship for a
full life. And if it will not come of its own accord, some of us may be
tempted to FORCE it to come. And nothing can be as painful as loving someone
who doesn’t love you back. Consequently, the most common, garden-variety
spell in the world is the love spell.

Is there ever a way to do a love spell and yet stay within the parameters
of the Witch’s Rede? Possibly. Some teachers have argued that if a spell
doesn’t attempt to attract a SPECIFIC person into your life, but rather
attempts to attract the RIGHT person, whomever that may be, then it is not
negative magic. Even so, one should make sure that the spell finds people who
are ‘right’ for each other — so that neither is harmed, and both are made

Is there ever an excuse for the make-Bobby-love-me type of spell?
Without endorsing this viewpoint, I must admit that the most cogent argument
in its favor is the following: Whenever you fall in love with someone, you do
everything in your power to impress them. You dress nicer, are more
attentive, witty, and charming. And at the same time, you unconsciously set
in motion some very powerful psychic forces. If you’ve ever walked into a
room where someone has a crush on you, you know what I mean. You can FEEL it.
Proponents of this school say that a love spell only takes the forces that are
ALREADY there — MUST be there if you’re in love — and channels them more

But the energy would be there just the same, whether or not you use a spell
to focus it.

I won’t attempt to decide this one for you. People must arrive at their
own set of ethics through their own considerations. However, I would call to
your attention all the cautionary tales in folk magic about love spells gone
awry. Also, if a love spell has been employed to join two people who are not
naturally compatible, then one must keep pumping energy into the spell. And
when one finally tires of this (and one will, because it is hard work!) then
the spell will unravel amidst an emotional and psychic hurricane that will
make the stormiest divorces seem calm by comparison. Not a pretty picture.

It should be noted that many spells that pass themselves off as love
spells are, in reality, sex spells. Not that there’s anything surprising in
that, since our most basic needs usually include sex. But I think we should
be clear from the outset what kind of spell it is. And the same ethical
standards used for love spells can often be applied to sex spells. Last year,
the very quotable Isaac Bonewits, author of ‘Real Magic’, taught a sex magic
class here at the Magick Lantern, and he tossed out the following rule of
thumb: Decide what the mundane equivalent of your spell would be, and ask
yourself if you could be arrested for it. For example, some spells are like
sending a letter to your beloved in the mail, whereas other spells are
tantamount to abduction. The former is perfectly legal and normal, whereas
the latter is felonious.

One mitigating factor in your decisions may be the particular tradition
of magic you follow. For example, I’ve often noticed that practitioners of
Voudoun (Voodoo) and Santeria seem much more focused on the wants and needs of
day-to-day living than on the abstruse ethical considerations we’ve been
examining here. That’s not a value judgement — just an observation. For
example, most followers of Wicca STILL don’t know how to react when a
Santerian priest spills the blood of a chicken during a ritual — other than
to feel pretty queasy. The ethics of one culture is not always the same as

And speaking of cultural traditions, another consideration is how a
culture views love and sex. It has often been pointed out that in our
predominant culture, love and sex are seen in very possessive terms, where the
beloved is regarded as one’s personal property. If the spell uses this
approach, treating a person as an object, jealously attempting to cut off all
other relationships, then the ethics are seriously in doubt. However, if the
spell takes a more open approach to love and sex, not attempting to limit a
person’s other relationships in any way, then perhaps it is more defensible.
Perhaps. Still, it might be wise to ask, Is this the kind of spell I’d want
someone to cast on me?

Love spells. Whether to do them or not. If you are a practitioner of
magic, I dare say you will one day be faced with the choice. If you haven’t
yet, it is only a matter of time. And if the answer is yes, then which spells
are ethical and which aren’t? Then you, and only you, will have to decide
whether ‘All’s fair in love and war’, or whether there are other, higher,
metaphysical considerations.

Document Copyright 1988, 1998 by Mike Nichols

This document can be re-published only as long as no
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Other uses of this document must be approved in writing by Mike Nichols.
Revised: Thursday, April 2, 1998 c.e.

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