Unbound Ethics: Surprising Revelations About The Wiccan Rede
By Lady Passion, High Priestess, Coven Oldenwilde
It’s a little known fact that the Wiccan Rede as we’ve come to know it is a modern invention, for in antiquity, Pagans’ concept of ethics was largely based on folks living up to the four Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Courage, Temperance and Justice.
The simplicity of the original ‘Rede’ reflected its oldeness: “Eight words the Rede fulfill, ‘An [If] it harm none, do as ye will.” But as an ethical device, this part of ‘the Rede’ is quite problematic. For example, many beginning Seekers wrongly believe that Witches abide by this principle above all else, and that these words form the cornerstone of occult ethics. While “harm none” is an olde concept first published as the philosophy of fictional character Good King Pausol in the 1870s, the “do as ye will” part smacks of specious, modern Crowleyism (i.e., “Do as ye wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love over Law, Law under Will,” The Book of the Law, 1901). Ultimately, while “harm none” is a goodly aspiration, it is innately impractical — for who but a God/dess can do this?
Eventually, this portion of ‘the Rede’ was superceded by the exhortive: “Bide the Wiccan Law ye must, In Perfect Love and Perfect Trust”. Later, numerous High Priestesses from Amber K to Gwen Thompson expanded ‘the Rede’ to increasingly lengthy and badly-rhymed versions so popularized today on Azure Green.com posters.
Raymond Buckland first referenced a Law of Three-fold Return in a 1968 article for Beyond magazine, but no one knows the origin of the modern, oft-used portion of this: “Ever mind the rule of three, what you send comes back to thee.” Note herein the absence of any threat of a three-fold return against spell casters that everyone now fears.
While Witches are right to instinctively embrace the earliest part of ‘the Rede’ by merit of its lovely antiquity, this has also led them to wrongly assume that if they make a magical mistake Karma or the Gods’ wrath will swiftly smite them thrice for their audacity. And this is simply untrue.
Indeed, the very concept of a three-fold return rather implies either or both a Christian ‘Golden Rule’ and Dharmic/Karmic influence much at odds with ancient Pagan cosmology. (Witches believe both that evil ilk tend to reap what they sow while alive, and in the rather glacial grind of cosmic lessons learned over numerous reincarnations.)
I was taught by a famous High Priestess that the ‘Law of Three-fold Return’ was not an exhortive against Witches’ meddling magic, but meant to serve as a warning to our persecutors to not harm us or receive our triple retribution in self defense.
Such warping of the Rede’s original intent has so pervaded the Craft Community, that many Witches are now prone to avoid working spells for fear that they will inadvertently engender cruel backlash. Despite the fact that this portion of ‘the Rede’ makes little magical sense (since the God/desses are on Witches’ side, why not liberate us rather than figuratively tie our hands behind our backs?), few deeply consider its illogic — inadvertently allowing ‘the Rede’ to become an instrument of oppression to us, rather than one of support. This is a counterproductive shame.
As such a modern invention, ‘the Rede’ should be viewed with more than a bit of skepticism and, therefore, not revered as comprising Witches’ basic magical text (as our Books of Shadows truly are).
The words in the Rede are goodly thought-provokers, goodly phrases to ponder from an ethical perspective. But they are not holy writ, and should never be assumed so. The Rede should never be used to oust anyone from a Coven, as it is not a traditional set of “rules” per se. (Our traditional Books of Shadows have 163 ardanes and numberous Notes and Guidelines to consult when it comes to determining whether or not a deal-breaking ethical breach has occurred.)
*Diuvei and I wrote an entire chapter about Witch ethics in our The Goodly Spellbook: Olde Spells For Modern Problems. Our Coven Oldenwilde abides by the ardanes handed down to us in our Books of Shadows, as well as the four Cardinal Virtues, the latter of which nicely correspond to the four Elements and traditional Witch Powers:
Prudence = Air = The Power To Know (the wisdom to know what to do, when);
Justice = Fire = The Power to Will (the determination to right wrongs, often when someone exerts their Will over anothers’);
Courage = Water = The Power to Dare (the ability to be bold when others feel timid); and
Temperance = Earth = The Power to Be Silent (the ability to be discrete and restrained when need be).
In many ways, Witches have more traditional ethical standards than monotheists do: After all, we don’t have a mere ten commandments to worry about. Indeed, we have hundreds of goodly maxims and reminders with which to check our egos and magical motives.
We should be grateful to our ancestors for leaving us a wealth of timeless treasures to abide by — but avoid elevating more modern models, such as the long version of the Rede, above their true station.
About the Author:
Lady Passion (Dixie Deerman) is a renowned psychic, magical expert, and co-author of the critically acclaimed The Goodly Spellbook: Olde Spells For Modern Problems, Sterling Publishing, NY, NY (Italian translation, Il Libro degli Incantesimi: Antiche Formule Magiche per Risolvere Problemi Attuali, Milan). The Goodly Spellbook has been cited in numerous other books, such as The Temple of High Witchcraft by Christopher Penczak, and Mystical Dragon Magick by DJ Conway.
Lady Passion writes for numerous magazines (NewWitch, Oracle 20/20, etc.), and often works magic for TV studios (Universal, Sci-Fi Channel), production companies (A. Smith & Co., L.A., Trafford Media, England), and series (Extra!, Finding America). Often been featured on BBC London radio, NPR, CNN, Fox, and the Washington Post, etc.
Lady Passion is a Registered Nurse. She has over 30 years of experience finding missing persons, de-ghosting haunted houses, securing dozens of Pagan inmates their religious rights, and teaching the Craft of the Wise to everyone from soccer moms to Mensa members. Folks worldwide consult Lady Passion to fix their magical, medical, and legal problems, and to find out what their future holds. Thousands nationwide have annually attended her public Halloween ritual held since 1995.
For more information about her work, visit: www.oldenwilde.org