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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Fairy Witchcraft Ethics in the Context of a Gaming Alignment

"Out-worn heart, in a time out-worn,
Come clear of the nets of wrong and right"
 - W. B. Yeats

 There's a running joke among my friends - or at least it started out as a joke - that I consider myself 'Chaotic Neutral'. It grew out of my adopting the gaming alignment term for my particular approach to ethics within my practice of Fairy Witchcraft (specifically, because Druidic ethics would definitely be more Lawful Good). If you're guessing at this point that I have previous experience playing rpgs you would be correct. I had started to refer to myself as Chaotic Neutral because I found some aspects of the gaming alignment actually fairly descriptive of both situational ethics and fey ethics and also because I thought it was funny. Over time people began to ask me, quite seriously, what it meant and it shifted from something that was purely a jest to something more solid. Which is oddly a very Chaotic Neutral thing for it to do. But lets back up a bit for people who don't know what Chaotic Neutral is.

 This is the standard gaming definition. At its core Chaotic Neutral is neither good nor evil by the traditional definitions of the terms, but neutral; they do not generally seek to actively help others out of altruism nor do they seek to actively hurt for the sake of malevolence. Neutrality in this case isn't a lack of choosing sides, but a lack of commitment to either ultimate purpose, which is where the chaotic aspect comes in, because someone who is Chaotic Neutral can choose to act in either direction, to do good or to harm, if the situation seems to warrant either. There is an emphasis on balance and the need for both good and evil in the world. Chaotic Neutral emphasizes following your own whims, indulgence, and the value of the self. Independence, self-reliance, unpredictability, randomness, and freedom are key aspects of this alignment.

As to Fairy ethics and Fairy Witchcraft ethics (excerpted from my book Fairycraft): "Ethics in Fairy Witchcraft, as with so many things Fairy, are tricky, and may best be described as situational ethics, where there are few hard and fast rules but rather the situation dictates the correct moral response. Generally speaking a person should strive to be kind, take responsibility for their own actions, be generous, compassionate, brave, and honest because these are qualities fairies respect. However in some cases it is also good to be clever even if that involves deception, if you can pull off being tricky in an honest way, because fairies also admire people who can outsmart their adversaries. 
In any dealings with the Otherworld it is essential to be completely honorable; fairies expect that a debt will be repaid and oaths will be kept. They abhor liars, however they admire cleverness and deception is an art form in Fairy where it is entirely possible using semantics to lie by telling nothing but the absolute truth. Fairies love beauty and this includes beauty of spirit; therefore they love people who are generous, kind, helpful, and compassionate. However they themselves are also beings of unmixed passions, as Yeats would say, who love or hate completely and react to anything in ways we consider extreme. Those they approve of are often rewarded with extreme generosity while those who anger them are punished in ways that seem excessive or even cruel to us. Although they do admire determination in us, it is unwise to try to imitate this behavior ourselves as the negative end of the spectrum tends to typify the things fairies themselves dislike in us. In other words trying to act like you might believe a fairy would in anger is more likely to anger them than win their approval. 
It can be difficult for us to understand the fairy people and the fairy Gods when their behavior seems unethical to us, because there are many aspects of their nature we will never be able to fully understand. What we can know though is what they expect of us and what behavior they want to see from us, and that is what we should strive to do. Living an honorable life and being generous and honest is important for anyone following this path."

Now for me it was fairly obvious that the two concepts, fairy ethics and Chaotic Neutral alignment, overlapped. Both emphasize a degree of unpredictability and of transcending the usual understanding of 'good' and 'bad'. Chaotic Neutral and Fairy reject the idea of following human societies expectations of behavior or doing something just because its expected. A fairy bride, for example, might cry at a wedding or laugh at a funeral, and a chaotic neutral character might appear to runaway only to return and help unexpectedly. the point being that they are not bound by the rigid requirements of society at large. Both also admire trickery when its done within a specific context, usually to achieve a specific end and within very set boundaries (for example without lying). And both fairy ethics and Chaotic Neutral emphasize the value of personal fulfillment and indulgence while avoiding actions that are committed to either one extreme or another. Both also often confound people who want an easy to understand and predictable response to any situation. Sometimes a fairy will help you, sometimes they may hurt you and often people find the nuances that decide the reaction, helping or hurting, hard to predict simply because they go into the situation expecting human responses. Sometimes a character with a Chaotic Neutral alignment* will help you or hurt you, and this also often feels unpredictable, not because it is but because we tend to ignore the actual indicators of behavior and instead look for what we'd like to see from that person. In the same way the ethics of Fairy Witchcraft, because they are situation based, are not a clear-cut easy to define thing, but rather a matter of seeking to achieve the best outcome possible in the situation, and that will always be a matter of personal perspective.

My personal approach to Chaotic Neutral as a real world concept is pretty straightforward. I see it as an easy and humorous way to describe my approach to life, and particularly ethics. Being chaotic Neutral, ultimately means doing what you feel you need to do, or want to do, while simultaneously understanding that you bear the full responsibility for the consequences of all your actions, positive or negative. Freedom is important in our actions, and it is on us to choose how we react in a situation; we understand that we are not bound by a system of divine reward or punishment so much as we are obligated to deal with a system of consequences for what we do, and so then it is on us to choose our actions and accept those consequences, whatever they may be. If we were to have a Chaotic Neutral Rede it would be something like: 'Do what you enjoy, if you are willing to pay the cost'. Okay in fairness it would really be more like 'Be serious when needed, otherwise shenanigans'. That's the chaos aspect of it, the balance between serious and pleasure, between fun and grim, and sometimes the two overlap and occur simultaneously; that is also very, very Fey in its own way. There are rules, and ethics, and guidelines to follow - as mentioned above - in how to be a good person, its just that e worry about our own definition of what a good person is and not what society or other people think makes a person good or bad. A key aspect of it is understanding that perspective is hugely significant in judging whether something is 'good' or 'bad' and that one person's good is almost always another person's bad. The wolf eating the rabbit is terrible for the rabbit but great for the wolf, for example, and yet ultimately this action - terrible and great - is also necessary to preserve a much wider and important balance. And that is Chaotic Neutral.

*popculture examples of Chaotic Neutral characters: Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, Q from Star Trek Next Generation, the eponymous character on House, Riddick, Ferris Bueller.
  For those that don't get the popculture examples - to be more straightforward: cats. Cats are Chaotic Neutral. Might cuddle with you and make you feel better. Might claw your hand and draw blood. Dealer's choice. 

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