MODERN NEO-PAGANISM & THE OCCULT
A Guide to Alternative Religions
And Their Opponents (Vers. 2.0)
About The Wiccan Rede
The Wiccan Rede
THE WICCAN REDE
Bide ye wiccan laws you must,
Form the circle thrice about
Soft of eye and light of touch,
When ye Lady's moon is new,
Heed the north winds mighty gale,
When the wind blows from the east,
Nine woods in the cauldron go,
When the wheel begins to turn,
Heed ye flower, bush and tree,
When ye have and hold a need,
Merry meet and merry part,
When misfortune is enow,
Bide ye wiccan laws you must,
These eight words the wiccan rede fulfill;
|The Rede of the Wicca
Being known as the Counsel of the Wise Ones:
Bide the Wiccan laws ye must
Cast the circle thrice about
Soft of eye and light of touch
Deosil go by waxing moon
When the Lady's moon is new
Heed the northwind's mighty gale
When the wind blows from the east
Nine woods in the cauldron go
When the wheel begins to turn
Heed ye flower, bush and tree
When ye have a need
Merry meet and merry part
When misfortune is enow
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill
WITH THESE EIGHT WORDS
THE WICCAN REDE FULFILL:
"AN IT HARM NONE, DO WHAT YE WILL."
by Servants Of The Elder Gods - Rocky Mountain, Coven and James C. Taylor
OVERVIEW. The purpose of this paper is to look at the Wiccan Rede, at the
types of conduct it excludes, and at the type of conduct it requires. We
will begin with a detailed examination of the wording of the Rede itself,
which presents as "pseudo-archaic" but actually makes excellent use of the
specific meanings of several archaic words which have no real equivalents
in contemporary English. We will then take a look at the two sections of
the Rede, and see why they are presented in their proper order as written.
Finally, we will examine various uses of magick and see how--and if--they
adequately measure up to the standard of the Rede.
THE VOCABULARY OF THE WICCAN REDE.
As mentioned above, the Rede appears to be presented in a pseudo-archaic or "phony ancient" form of English. Is this simply harmless foolishness, or is there some excellent reason for the vocabulary selected? Let's take a look at the Rede, word by word.
AN: This word is commonly mistranslated as "IF", which is a significant error.
The word "AN" is more accurately translated "JUST SO LONG AS".
IT: This pronoun refers to whatever it is that you are thinking of doing.
HARM: This refers to anything which either you or any other person involved or affected by "it" would regard as loss, damage, pain, discomfort, injustice, invasiveness, or prevention, relative to the situation existing before "it" was done. Anything which goes against another person's free will, even if it intends them good, would constitute serious harm.
NONE: This ought to be self-explanatory. "None" is an all-exclusive word. If you harm anyone or anything, including yourself, including a small rock in Trenton, New Jersey, you have harmed "some", not "none".
DO: To perform whatever working is contemplated by "IT", above.
WHAT: The meaning here is "Whatever", and refers forward.
YE: The archaic PLURAL form of "you". The current word "you" denotes both the singular and the plural; the archaic word "YE" is always plural. We shall see, later on, that this is no accident.
WILL: To will something is to exercise your intellectual decision-making power to determine the course of action which you feel to be the best. "Will" has little or nothing to do with "wish" or "want" or "desire". It is not an emotional inclination or feeling. It is the employment of reason to make a decision based upon your best judgment.
THE TWO SECTIONS OF THE WICCAN REDE;
A. SECTION ONE: "AN IT HARM NONE".
Why does the Wiccan Rede not say, "Do what ye will, an it harm none"? There is a reason why the "An it harm none" comes first in the Rede, and that reason is that "An it harm none" is intended to come first in your own thinking, as a Wiccan initiate and practitioner. If you or any Wiccan begins with "Do what ye will", I assure you that you, like the Fundamentalists before you, will find a way to excuse and even to justify anything you take it into your head to do! Knowing this about human nature, the Lady inspired the Rede to be written as it is, with the "An it harm none" to come first.
The Wiccan Rede's "An it harm none" has parallels in many disciplines. Perhaps the most significant parallel is found in the Hippocratic Oath taken by every physician before s/he is certified to practice. The first part of the Hippocratic Oath binds the physician "First, to do no harm." It is sobering to realize that magical ethics, as set forth in the Wiccan Rede, are or should be so similar to medical ethics, an issue with such a powerful effect on so many lives.
When we read of a physician who has violated his medical ethics, we read this with outrage toward him and with empathy toward those patients who suffered inadequate care because the physician violated his ethics. It is more sobering to realize that future generations will regard violations of magickal ethics with the same degree of outrage, and rightly so.
B. SECTION TWO: "DO WHAT YE WILL."
Even without the first part of the Rede, "Do what ye will" is most certainly not a blanket permission to do whatever you desire to do. As one Wiccan High Priestess has observed, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Seems like I've heard that before, but it's certainly true when you're talking about using real magick to accomplish real goals in the real world.
When we realize the kinds and orders of results, both expected and unexpected, both knowable and unknowable, which eventuate from almost every human action, it would seem the better part of both valor and wisdom to never do anything at all, especially not anything which is done with spiritual power guided by no more than human wisdom! Unfortunately, to do nothing is also a choice, and the results of inaction are often far worse than the results of even ill-considered action. This is why the second half of the Rede demands that we make a decision and act upon it, as well as conforming that decision to the requirement that it harm none.
THE STANDARD OF THE REDE.
Please note that the Wiccan Rede contains no loop-holes whatsoever. The Rede does not say, "An it harm none to the best of your knowledge." The Rede also does not say "An it harm none to the best of your ability to discern whether it will harm someone."
The Wiccan Rede does not say these things, or anything similar to them. It simply says "An it harm NONE, do what ye will." This means that YOU, once you have committed to live by the Wiccan Rede, are committed to be solely and totally responsible for any harm resulting from ANY ACTION YOU TAKE, MAGICKAL OR NOT.
Paul Seymour's forthcoming book begins with some strong cautionary notes concerning the use of magick. One of the examples he gives is particularly tragic, and concerns a young man who worked a simple and apparently harmless "money spell". The spell worked, and the young man got his money--he inherited it, when his parents were both killed in an accident shortly after he worked the spell.
Paul does not say in his book if this young man was a Wiccan initiate. If he was, then in addition to his sorrow and loss, he has had to live with the fact that, by the standard of the Rede, he is ultimately responsible for the death of his parents.
When you commit to live according to the Wiccan Rede, you commit to conform your entire life, not just the magickal, mystical and religious aspects of it, to the standard set by the Rede. Never again will you be able to act impulsively or without considering the results of what you do. Never again will you be able to act or even speak in thoughtless irritation or anger. Instead, you will come to consider the implications of every word you speak, and of every routine action you do. For it is not just by magick that we can harm ourselves or others; everything we do, and everything we say, has the potential to help or harm others, and to help or harm ourselves.
It is also important to note that the Rede sets up a standard which prevents us from harming ourselves as well as others. Other religions, including Christianity, regard it as virtuous to suffer harm for the sake of another, even to die so that another person might live. The Wiccan Rede does not permit this. You are to harm none, and this means that you are not to harm yourself, even for the sake of doing good for someone else. To some, this may seem like a selfish standard. But think about it. Would you wish to benefit by someone else's injury or death? Of course not! If you did derive some benefit, such as an inheritance, from the death of another person, would you feel good about this? Well, some people might, but probably you would not. Therefore, in a very real sense, you yourself are harmed by a benefit you derive from the injury or death of another. True, the harm is emotional, but it is entirely real.
Wicca recognizes that human beings are social creatures. What does harm to one, does harm to all in varying degrees. Therefore, it is imperative that each person strive to harm no one, himself or herself included.
Finally, it is significant to note that word "ye" in the statement, "Do what YE will." This is the ancient plural form of "you", and it means that your individual will is assumed to be in accord with some other will, instead of acting entirely on its own.
What is this other will which, together with yours, comprises the "ye" in the Rede? Well, if you are working in a coven, it could well be the combined will of the members of the coven. But this would not apply to those who are working on their own, and it is not the highest or best meaning, even for those working in coven.
How does one act, so as to be certain to harm none? Not by refusing to act, since inaction is itself a decision, and often causes far more harm than even rash action. Not by delaying action until the time for it is past, because that is the same as inaction. And not by relying solely upon your own human wisdom, either.
The best way to act, so as to be certain to harm none, is to call upon the Goddess and/or the God, and to hand to Them the power you have raised, together with the situation you have raised the power to deal with, and say, "You are holy, good, and wise, and know how to use this power to help and not harm. Do Your will in this situation. That is my will, that Your will be done." And thus the Rede is fulfilled: For the "ye" who will are yourself and Themselves, who are good, and love humanity, and who always act for the highest good of all.
One of the Pagan Oaths recognized nationally here in the U.S. In the Wiccan Rede above, and scattered in the oath, we find words such as Perfect Love and Perfect Trust. What are these strange words and what do they mean?
Before one can analyze the meaning behind the phrase "Perfect Love and Perfect
Trust", one must first define the words. For this purpose, I will use the
Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language 1982 edition.
Using these definitions, we come up with "Flawless strong affection and flawless
Is this possible? Those that follow the religion of Wicca often give excuses
for this just being words. When this is the case, they are not obeying their
faith....thus..they are not following perfect love and perfect trust. But
to the rest...the answer is a resounding YES. This does not ask that you
"like" a person. It asks that you see the divine light and love within individual
whether you like them or not. Can this be done...YES. As to the perfect
trust...we can always trust a fox to be a fox, right?
Therefore, when we are entering circle, we can honestly answer perfect trust
even if it is on shaky ground. We may have faith that this person will act
like any other human.
Perfect: adj. [L. per-, through + facere, do] 1. complete in all respects; flawless 2. excellent, as in skill or quality 3. completely accurate 4. sheer; utter [a perfect fool] 5. Gram. expressing a state or action completed at the time of speaking - vt. 1. to complete 2. to make perfect or nearly perfect - n. 1. the perfect tense 2. a verb form in this tense - perfectly adv - perfectness n.
Love: n. [
by David W. Piper (Dianis)
Using these definitions, we come up with "Flawless strong affection and flawless faith.
Is this possible? Those that follow the religion of Wicca often give excuses for this just being words. When this is the case, they are not obeying their faith....thus..they are not following perfect love and perfect trust. But to the rest...the answer is a resounding YES. This does not ask that you "like" a person. It asks that you see the divine light and love within individual whether you like them or not. Can this be done...YES. As to the perfect trust...we can always trust a fox to be a fox, right?
Therefore, when we are entering circle, we can honestly answer perfect trust even if it is on shaky ground. We may have faith that this person will act like any other human.
I. What Sayeth The Rede?
The "archaically worded" construction "An it harm none, do what ye will," rendered into modern English is literally, "if it doesn't harm anyone, do what you want." Many modern Wiccans "reverse" the construction, however, taking the first part and putting it after the second to read: "Do what ye will an it harm none," or in modern English "Do what you want if it doesn't harm anyone." Many people give the word "an" or "if" a value of "so long as" - which is acceptable substitution, because it doesn't alter the meaning of the Rede itself. However they then proceed to read "so long as" as "only if," and that is *completely different*, because the Rede has ceased to be a "wise counsel" [anyone checked he meaning of "rede" in the dictionary lately?]and become an injunction: prohibitive commandment, rather than permissive advice. In other words, the original archaic construction actually says "if it is not going to hurt anyone, it is ok to do" - this is *not* the same as "if it hurts anyone it is *not* ok to do." What is the significance of the change? A larger one than you might see, at first glance.
The "actual construction Rede," or AC Rede, says it is ok to do something that won't harm anyone, but it *does not say anything* aboutthose things which do cause harm, except to set an ethical standard of harmlessness as the criteria to judge by. The "modern reconstruction Rede" or MR Rede, explicitly says that any and all actions that cause harm are forbidden. The two constructions do *not* mean the same thing at all. And it should be obvious that this has implications on our thinking, and discussions of the possibility of "obeying" the Rede.Most of you will have heard or read, as I have, people saying the Rede is something to strive to live by, even though mundane reality makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to do so to the letter. *This is only true of the MR Rede, not the AC Rede!* As examples, they cite situations such as self-defense; *this violates the MR Rede*. Period. But it does *not* violate the AC Rede. Period.
Earlier, I stated that the AC Rede does not rule on actions that do cause harm - and this is true. It only rules on those actions which do not, by saying that they are acceptable. This is relevant to "victim-less crimes" for example - civil "crimes" may in fact be "ethical," by the judgment of the AC Rede. What the AC Rede *does* do, in terms of actions that cause harm, is statean ethical value by which an individual must judge the results of her/his actions before acting. In other words, by stating that a harmless action is ethical, the AC Rede sets harmlessness as the criteria for evaluation. Acting to prevent greater harm - but in the process causing lesser harm - may then be ethical, if there is no harmless, or more harmless, method of preventing that greater harm - because *not* acting to prevent harm is to *cause* it, by an act of *omission* rather than *commission*.
In short the difference between the AC Rede, and the MR Rede, is that the AC Rede is a perfectly obeyable ethical standard, but the MR Rede is not, as so many people have pointed out. Do we take as our ethical standard a "counsel" which *can* be obeyed, or one which *necessitates* rationalizing in some instances*? Which is truer to the Wicca, and to the *real* Rede?
"rede: n. [Middle English rede < Old English raed < base of raedan,
to interpret] [archaic] 1. counsel; advice 2. a plan; scheme 3. a story;
tale 4. an interpretation"
(from Webster's New World Dictionary)
II. "Do good, an it be safe..." (from the Ordains)
The MR Rede is the most common interpretation in Wicca today; so much so, that not only do many Wiccans not realize there's a difference in the two constructions, but they *deny* it when it is pointed out to them, holding firmly to the MR Rede as what the original has always meant.
At first the change of language was only an attempt to bring the language up from archaic, to modern English; but in doing so, especially with the public relations campaign, to convince people that Wiccans are "not black magick / not devil worship / not evil nasty curse-casters", the "harmlessness" aspect of the Rede was stressed, over the personal responsibility aspect. And in essence Wiccans became the victims of their own PR campaign. An additional result is the injunction that one may never work magick for others, even to heal, without their knowledge and consent. Of course, we are allowed by this injunction to ask "Can I pray for you?" as a means of obtaining the consent. From "a love spell aimed at one particular person is unethical because it violates their will only to serve our lust" we've moved to an extreme: to the prohibitive injunction against ever doing any magick for another without permission, since it violates their free will. Does anyone *really* believe the Gods will judge them ill, for attempting to heal someone? What of the case of an unconscious accident victim and family unavailable to ask - are we forbidden to work? No, of course we're not, but we *do* have to accept the karmic consequences of such acts. Do you really think that a neurotic who uses an illness as a crutch wouldn't be better healed of that neurosis as well as the illness? Of course that may call up some karma if the person isn't strong enough to give up that crutch yet. Once again the real criteria is *personal responsibility* and consideration of the consequences of one's actions *before* one acts rather than the "thou shalt not" prohibitive commandment.
There is however another reason for the "prohibitive form" of these redes; one which has some validity. The teacher bears a karmic responsibility for the student. There was a group whose teaching was, "No magick may be done for another, even to heal, without their consent; any exceptions may be decided only by the High Priestess and the High Priest." The point of this is that a student is not yet experienced enough, not yet wise enough (since wisdom is the harvest we reap of our experience and knowledge), to have that kind of decision, and the resulting karmic burden, left to rest fully upon her/his shoulders - hence, some teachers and some Trads do not allow neophytes to have responsibility for that kind of decision-making.
It is far better, however, to teach a student the essential importance of personal responsibility, the need to look ahead for possible consequences before they act, than to lay "thou shalt not's" upon them despite Wicca's insistance that we have none.
I received a comment about the last sentence in part I, paragraph 3, that said "Ack! Welcome to the One Wiccan Commandment! Any 'thou shalt nots' lurking around?" Food for thought, my fellow Wiccans! Food for thought!
[copyright 1994, David W.Piper]