The Wiccan Rede
The Wiccan Rede is the only Wiccan law. If we can generalize to all Wicca. And if we can call it a "law."
Actually, guideline might be a better term.
It implies a standard of conduct rather than a rule imposed by some outside authority and carrying a threat of punishment.
Which is why its official label is . . .
The Wiccan Rede.
"Rede" means advice, or counsel. So the Wiccan Law is simply a suggestion offered by the Divine to serve your best interests.
But it's entirely up to you whether you want to do what is in your best interests or not.
Origins of the Rede
The first written example of the Rede is from 1954 in Gardner's third book, The Meaning of Witchcraft
. . .
"[Witches] are inclined to the morality of the legendary Good King Pausol [sic], "Do what you like so long as you harm no one."
It was not presented as a law or even guideline, but merely a moral inclination of witches.
Gardner was referring to a figure from Pierre Louÿs' book, The Adventures of King Pausole, which was published in 1901 . . .
"I. Do no wrong to thy neighbor.
II. Observing this, do as thou pleasest."
Then Doreen Valiente gave us what has become the basis of the Wiccan Rede ...
"Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfil,
An it harm none, do what ye will."
Valiente, who is responsible for polishing much of Gardner's work, recited this in a public speech in 1964, where it caught the imagination of many Wiccans.
Then in 1975 popped up an expanded version of the Rede.
The Rede Of The Wiccae, subtitled "Being known as the counsel of the Wise Ones," was submitted by Lady Gwen Thomson to Green Egg magazine, and attributed to Adriana Porter, Thomson's grandmother. This is a questionable claim, since Thomson was seeking to establish validation for her teachings as a hereditary witch.
Still, it spoke to the essence of the practice of Witchcraft, and has been picked up by Witches everywhere.
And like all aspects of a living spiritual tradition, the Wiccan Rede continues to evolve.
Historical Antecedents Of The Wiccan Rede
The principle of "do as ye will and harm none" can be found in the writings of many ancient sages and most scriptures.
One of the most similar comes from around 1600 years ago, by Saint Augustine of Hippo:
'Love, and do what you will."
This is the concept of being "beyond good and evil," where the rules of morality are redundant.
Once you reach a certain level of awareness - a certain level of love - you do not desire to do any evil. So you are free to do anything you'd like.
The Power of the Wiccan Rede
There is evidence that Gardner created the Wiccan Rede in order to make witches appear less dangerous. Considering that witches are still liable to persecution of one sort or another, this seems a reasonable decision.
That may be the Rede's starting point, but that doesn't explain its power and widespread acceptance in Wicca.
Regardless of its origins, the Wiccan Rede expresses a philosophy that appeals to the hearts of modern witches, and has become the core of Wicca Spirituality.
Perhaps it has something to do with being a Goddess-worshipping group. After all, this principle is steadfastly promoted by mothers everywhere . . .
"Play nice. Don't hurt others."
The Central Tenet of Wicca
The Wiccan Rede is the one thing that ties virtually all Wiccans together.
(I hesitate to be all-inclusive with such a diverse group… I'm sure there are some who do not honour this code. But for most, it is our unifying principle.)
Short, But Hardly Simple!
There is a long version of the Rede
, and a short version. The long version lays out pretty much everything you need to know as a witch.
On the surface, the short version looks like a very simple little rule. It's this that's often referred to as the Wiccan Law.
But this simple sentence contains a whole philosophy of living. Coded within it are instructions for a successful, happy, empowered life . . . not just for witches but for humans.
Okay, now that we have the proper context, let's examine what the Wiccan Rede really means . . .
The Wiccan Rede -
An ye harm none, do as ye will.
What does that mean in modern English?
"An" is an archaic word meaning "if."
So the principle is . . .
Do what you like, so long as it's not going to hurt anyone.
The Hidden Meanings
There are two important facets to this rule, as you might guess at first glance.
But both are more complex than they first appear.
And both are fundamental to Wiccan religion and spirituality.
Let's break it down to understand how these 8 little words encompass much of the philosophy of Wiccan belief, starting with . . .
Non-violence in its fullest form means to
refrain from causing any harm or pain to any creature,
by thought, word, or deed.
This makes it clear that any negative thought or action toward another is harm: calling names, wishing ill, throwing their belongings, etc.
Also, when inaction causes harm to others, you have the responsible to act to prevent harm.
Respect and love yourself, otherwise you can't respect and love others. "Harm none" must start with yourself. Do things that are good for you. Avoid things that are bad for you. [Of course, this is a science in itself!]
- Respect All Beings As Divine
When you remember that all beings are manifestations of the Divine, the same as you are, you realise that all are equally valued by the Goddess. And you can't avoid the truth that you and they are not separate beings at all. So harming anyone is harming the Divine, and yourself.
- Conscious Choice
Think of the consequences of your actions/words/thoughts and you will not only make better choices but step out of pre-programmed reactions and mechanical behaviours.
- Sanctify Your Actions
Virtually every action harms some being, if only microbes. By leading a spiritual life, offering everything you do to the service of the Divine, you will not be harming yourself or the Divine.
- Live Life Deeply
All of these lead you to look deep into life, rather than skimming along on the surface.
Do As You Will
- Personal Responsibility
In Wicca you have not only the right to choose for yourself and to act, but the responsibility to do so. You came here with a Life Mission, and no one else can do it for you. Following someone else's path means you are failing your promise to the Divine.
- Higher Authority
The only higher authority in Wicca is your own heart and the Divine it speaks for. No one else can say what is right for you. Because no one else knows what you are here to do.
- Learning To Listen
This teaches you to listen to your heart, and to keep an open connection with the Divine. Which is the essence of all spiritual exercise.
- Know Thyself
Do as ye will requires that you know your own heart and mind. Otherwise how could you determine what you "will"? And knowing yourself is the path of all spirituality.
- Principles vs. Laws
When you understand the reasons behind the rules, and agree with them, you don't need jails to enforce them. Wicca Spirituality requires you to determine your ideals, and helps you live up to them.
- Higher Consciousness
As your consciousness elevates, your love and awareness naturally expand. Increasingly you dislike doing anything that is harmful. Laws become superfluous when you willingly seek to harm none.
- Choose Life
And lest we take this all too seriously, remember that "All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals." We were born on this incredible planet in order to savour it, as well as serve the Divine. So if it makes you feel good, and it doesn't hurt anyone, then go for it! It's your sacred duty to enjoy yourself!
With Bright Blessings, I am indebted to John J. Coughlin's excellent research, published as
The Wiccan Rede: A Historical Journey, © 2001-2002
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