The Wiccan Rede is arguably one of the most important tenets at the basis of modern Witchcraft practice. This is not to say that all Witches follow it, of course, although many of those I know do—even those who don’t call themselves Wiccans, per se. And there are many different versions, so saying you follow the Wiccan Rede is a little like a Christian saying they live by the word of the bible: one then has to ask, “Which bible?”
Just to be clear, I tend to use the shorter, simpler (and less ornate) version of the Rede:
Bide the Wiccan law ye must
In perfect love and perfect trust
These eight words the Rede fulfill
An it harm none, do as ye will
Lest in thy self defense it be
Ever mind the law of three
Follow this with mind and heart
And merrie ye meet and merrie ye part
To me, there are three simple but crucial pieces of spiritual “law” in this short poem: harm none, the law of three, and perfect love & perfect trust. Taken together, they pretty much sum up my take on Witchcraft. (Leaving aside, for a moment, the issue of connection with deity and nature, which is also at the core of my practice.) As you can probably tell, I am a lot less concerned with niceties like “kissing your hand times three” than I am with general attitude and behavior towards others and self.
“An it harm none, do as ye will.” On the surface, this is a rule that gives you permission to do pretty much anything you want, as long as whatever action you take does nothing to harm anyone else. Whoo hoo! Except, of course, that nothing is that simple. To begin with, it implies—and rightly so—that Witchcraft is a spiritual path based on personal responsibility. You are responsible for your actions towards others (this will be important for the next bit as well)—no blaming the devil, or even human nature. It is up to you to judge whether or not your actions will harm another, and act accordingly. This means constantly considering the consequences of everything you do. Suddenly seems a lot tougher, doesn’t it?
And then there is the often-ignored fact that “harm none” includes yourself. This means, in theory, that none of us should ever do anything that would have a negative effect on our health and well-being. (Thank goodness they decided that chocolate is health food!)
Can any of us truly live our lives every day without doing anything, no matter how small, that harms either ourselves or another? I doubt it. Even Gandhi couldn’t pull that one off, and he really tried. But what we can do is strive our best to attain that goal, and when we fall short, we can take responsibility for our actions and—if possible—undo whatever harm we might have done.
Say, for example, that you inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings by sayng something mean. First, you acknowledge that what you said was wrong, then you try to make that person feel better again. But then—and this is the important bit—you try not to do it again. It isn’t enough to say you’re sorry. Following the Wiccan Rede means doing your best to learn and grow, so you don’t make the same mistakes again.
“Ever mind the law of three.” Some Witches argue about whether or not there is really a threefold rule of returns, but most of them would agree that what you put out into the universe comes back to you, one way or the other. Call it the Law of Three, or Karma, but either way, it means that—at least in part—you are responsible for what you draw into your own life. This doesn’t mean that crappy things won’t happen to you, even if you are a nice person every minute of every day. But it does mean that a positive attitude is much more likely to result in a happy, prosperous, and fruitful life. And that a negative attitude will almost certainly circle back and bite you on the hind end.
It also means that if you purposely harm others (as you are forbidden to do), that harm will likely show back up on your doorstep one day. You will note that the Rede makes allowances for self-defense, however. You aren’t expected to sit back and let someone beat the crap out of you…but you’d better be sure you weren’t the one who started the fight!
Possibly the most important “law” in the Wiccan Rede, as far as I am concerned, is probably the most difficult one to follow. “Perfect love and perfect trust” is a concept that Wiccans talk about a lot—but what does it really mean?
For me (and I can only speak for myself in any of this), perfect love and perfect trust means that we accept each other as we are—imperfections, flaws and all—and love each other anyway. When we do so, we are channeling the love of the goddess and the god, and doing their work here on earth.
But it can be pretty hard to love some folks some of the time, and all folks all of the time, in an unconditional and nonjudgmental manner. Let’s face it—people can be difficult! (Not us, of course, but everyone else.) And this rule doesn’t mean you should just love other Witches, or people who follow your same belief system. Nope, sorry. It means everybody. Just like the “harm none” rule, there is no way we are going to be able to pull this one off, at least not all of the time.
But the point of walking a spiritual path—and the point of the Wiccan Rede—is to give us something to guide us as we live our lives. The gods don’t expect us to be perfect. I believe, however, that they expect us to work to be our best, and following the Rede to the best of our abilities is one way to try and do just that.
About the Author:
Deborah Blake is the author of Circle, Coven and Grove: A Year of Magickal Practice (Llewellyn 2007), Everyday Witch A to Z: An Amusing, Inspiring & Informative Guide to the Wonderful World of Witchcraft (Llewellyn 2008), The Goddess is in the Details: Wisdom for the Everyday Witch (Llewellyn2009), and the forthcoming Everyday Witch A to Z Spellbook (2010). She has published numerous articles in Pagan publications.
Her award-winning short story, “Dead and (Mostly) Gone” is included in the Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction: 13 Prize Winning Tales (Llewellyn, 2008). Deborah is currently working on her third novel and hopes to find both an agent and a publisher for her fiction soon. Deborah’s first novel, Witch Ever Way You Can, has been the winner or finalist in many RWA (Romance Writers of America) contests and received the EMILY “Best of the Best” Award. Her fiction is primarily Paranormal Romance, although she also writes Fantasy, Mystery and Young Adult.
When not writing, Deborah runs The Artisans’ Guild, a cooperative shop she founded with a friend in 1999, and also works as a jewelry maker. She lives in a 100 year old farmhouse in rural upstate New York with five cats who supervise all her activities, both magickal and mundane.
This month Deborah will be presenting “The Real Witch: Witchcraft Basics for the Paranormal Author” on line. Click here to learn more.