‘Will’ & the Wiccan Rede
An Extract from “Goth Craft: The Magickal Side of Dark Culture”
By Raven Digitalis (used with the author’s permission)
In his book Magick in Theory and Practice (Castle Books, 1991), Aleister Crowley defines magick as “The Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” This may sound like a very simple and straightforward definition, which it is, but the magician must really dissect what these words mean in order to come to a fuller grasp of the process. I have found Mr. Crowley’s definition to be not too far off from many other occultists’ personal viewpoints, regardless of their level of respect for the guy. To first analyze this statement, we must understand what Crowley meant by “will.” To draw a correlation with modern witchcraft, the final stanza of the fifty-two lined Wiccan Rede is this:
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill:
An’ it harm none, do what ye will.
This is a modification of Crowley’s spiritual principle “Do what thou Wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” This is one of the primary phrases of Thelemic philosophy, which is said to have been delivered by spiritual means to Crowley and his wife while in Cairo, Egypt on their honeymoon.
After his wife Rose began experiencing a number of occurrences in which she channeled arcane spiritual messages, Crowley administered a sequence of tests that showed that Rose possessed information impossible to know without massive amounts of prior research, apparently delivered to her from legitimate external sources. Crowley later identified these sources as the Secret Chiefs (Masters) of the Great White Brotherhood (Lodge), who are seen as a number of ascended masters who uphold evolutionary consciousness on the earth plane.
The height of the Cairo working was Crowley’s instruction to sit in a temple at noon for an hour on three successive days to receive a channeling from an external source himself. It was then that Crowley received a transmission that became known as Liber AL vel Legis (Liber CCXX): The Book of the Law. The book was later researched and declared genuine by a number of occultists. The being that delivered the information identified himself as Aiwass, who became recognized as Crowley’s Holy Guardian Angel.
The cryptic Egypt-centered philosophies delivered in The Book of the Law became the primary teachings of the path of Thelema, the magick of which works to push the practitioner to individually find the way to connect with the higher, cosmic self or God-self, thus uncovering one’s True Will (cosmic destiny) in order to achieve the Great Work: that which we are destined to achieve during our incarnation. Another message delivered in the channelings of Aiwass was “Thou hast no right but to do thy Will,” stating that all things done in life in accordance with one’s True Will are correct and spiritual, while anything done out of line and against one’s will is incorrect and thus sinful.
Like Crowley’s channeled philosophies, the final line of the Wiccan Rede does not mean “go ahead and do whatever the hell you want.” If the Thelemic definition of will is taken into account, it portrays the fact that all acts of magick are part of one’s life-plan and that magickal practitioners help uphold the world in which we exist. This includes 100% personal responsibility for any action one takes. It does not mean pursuing all temptations and pleasures of the flesh; nor does it mean to invite ego or chaos above morality. At the same time, it doesn’t mean to disregard them. It means uncover your destiny and follow it accordingly through conscious thought. One’s destiny is one’s life path; that which is meant to be accomplished. This includes both one’s greater destiny or life’s work as well as every moment of being; that which constructs the bigger picture. Thelemic magicians call the accurate following of one’s True Will the “Great Work.”
Gerald Gardner and Aleister Crowley were in contact whilst developing their own magickal systems: Crowley, the Thelemic magick of the OTO under his leadership, and Gardner, modern Wicca. They exchanged an unknown amount of material that helped one another form their magickal systems. They also interacted with other magicians and witches of the time, who exchanged multiple ideas and traditions between themselves. We do know that Gardner was initiated in Crowley’s OTO. While Gardner and Crowley’s relationship remains more or less ambiguous to this day, it’s speculated that the final lines of the Rede, which are seen in a similar form in Gardner’s Old Laws (Gardner did not write the Rede we are now familiar with), are modifications of Crowley’s input. It has even been speculated that Crowley actually wrote most of Gardner’s original Book of Shadows upon receiving payment to do so! Still others believe that Gerald Gardner modified Doreen Valiente’s writing The Witches’ Creed to form portions of his Old Laws, or that he created lines now integrated in the Rede as a combination of the Creed and the Thelemic Law. Other theorists who do believe Gardner had a strong influence in the creation of the Rede believe that he simply borrowed lines from Crowley’s material in the process of creating modern Wicca. For example, a couple of lines from Crowley’s Gnostic Mass are used word-for-word in the invocation of Drawing Down the Moon. The Drawing Down is accredited to Doreen Valiente, the first Priestess of Gardnerian Wicca.
In the Ostara 1975 issue of The Green Egg periodical, Lady Gwen (Gwynne) Thompson published The Rede of the Wiccæ (which is the Wiccan Rede), attributing the material to her deceased paternal grandmother Adriana Porter, who was said to have gotten it from earlier sources. Is this the origin of the Rede, and if so, how did Ms. Porter compile her material? We do know that Lady Gwen’s version was circulated among members of the New England Covens of Traditionalist Witches (NECTW). Regardless of the text’s origins, which are as of now unknown, the idea of will in both systems remains very much aligned. They are very similar and carry the same message: do the life’s work that you are meant to do.
Raven Digitalis (Missoula, MT) is the author of Shadow Magick Compendium: Exploring Darker Aspects of Magickal Spirituality and Goth Craft: The Magickal Side of Dark Culture, both on Llewellyn. He is a Neopagan Priest and cofounder of the “disciplined eclectic” shadow magick tradition and training coven Opus Aima Obscuræ, and is a radio and club DJ of Gothic and industrial music. Also trained in Georgian Witchcraft and Buddhist philosophy, Raven has been a Witch since 1999, a Priest since 2003, and an Empath all of his life. Raven holds a degree in anthropology from the University of Montana and is also an animal rights activist, black-and-white photographic artist, Tarot reader, and is the co-owner of Twigs & Brews Herbs, specializing in bath salts, herbal blends, essential oils, and incenses. He has appeared on the cover of newWitch magazine, is a regular contributor to The Ninth Gate magazine, and has been featured on MTV News and the ‘X’ Zone Radio program. Visit Raven at www.ravendigitalis.com and www.myspace.com/oakraven.