I am a Wiccan, and I don’t really follow the Rede. I’ll pause now for your shocks of horror to pass, and for you to clean up the drink you just spilled.
Let me explain a bit. The Wiccan Rede isn’t actually for Wiccans, it’s for Witches. Specifically for Witches who practice outside of the coven structure. No, really. No matter what you read in a book, the Rede has a strange history and uncertain origins, but I can tell you that the founder of Wicca — Gardner — did NOT write it as a long-winded poem. What was generally agreed to was only the eight words: An’ it harm none, do what ye will.
Moreover, he never saw it as a Law. For him, and many early witches, it was a guideline, an ethical precept along the same lines as the Christian Golden Rule. Any ethical person lives in such a way as to not cause harm.
But witches had a bum rap. Because of all of the negative stereotypes, witches had to get more than a little strident about the fact that THEY weren’t evil, and it was very easy to be able to point to the rule that we all follow: harm none. See? We’re just good people who wouldn’t hurt a fly much less cast an evil spell or curse your crops.
As increasing numbers of witches were learning their craft outside of the coven structure, the Wiccan Rede became a tool to govern ethical behavior outside of the group dynamic of the coven, where ethics were regulated as a matter of course. (In any group structure the dynamics are usually subtle and serve to align with one another. This is even truer within a magickal group where perfect love and perfect trust must be given freely, and can’t be with a ‘bad apple’ in the group.)
Having said all of this, I am quick to point out that in no way are my ethics ‘bad’ or even ‘loose’. By any standards.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Rede this last month, in preparation for this essay. What I’ve come to is that I normally don’t think about it at all. I live it. Perhaps that is a function of having been a witch for
In my mundane job, for example, I’m a manager and an executive of our company. A lot of difficult decisions come across my desk every single day. The office place seems to be a natural place for the white lie, the small dissembling, or the kind statement that was totally unmeant. So I have to think about the consequences of my actions, my decisions all of the time. (In a sense, its what I’m paid to do.)
So, I ‘live the Rede’ in that I am constantly judging and evaluating the consequences — intended and unforeseen — of my actions and decision. I just don’t think of it in terms of the Rede (Harm None). What comes up much more intimately is my own personal system of ethics.
As part of my training I created this nearly ten years ago, and it’s a part of what I give my students every single year. Here it is:
1. Never speak falsehood.
2. Bear in mind that the act of withholding the truth is always potentially a lie, and a significant moral decision is required each and every time you do so.
3. The decision to withhold truth should never be based on personal needs.
4. The decision to withhold truth must always be based upon the needs of the person from whom the truth is being withheld.
5. The assessment of another’s needs is a complex act of responsibility; it can only be executed wisely when one operates with genuine love for the other.
6. This assessment must be undertaken with the fact that we tend to underestimate the capacity of another’s strength.
7. Trust is earned, not given.
8. Treat others with the dignity and respect with which you deserve to be treated.
9. Love yourself before all others.
10. Speak thoughtfully, but openly, and do not worry about what others think — it’s your life to live, not theirs.
11. An it harm none, do what you will.
12. Give back more than you take.
13. Walk upon the earth lightly, honor her as your first ancestor.
14. Value yourself and your services fairly when compensation is involved.
15. When given work to do, do it the best you know how.
It’s a system, but in the decade since I developed it I haven’t wanted/needed it to change, although it has dramatically changed my life. You’ll notice the Rede is in there (#11) but its one of an overall piece, not the focus.
As a guideline I’m all in favor of it, presuming that the person following it has thought it through and is conscious of the larger implications. We’re not saints, we’re not perfect. Every single day brings temptations to just pay a little less attention, to let it slide, just this once. . . But any ethical being won’t let that happen consciously.
At the core, the Rede requires a high level of truth and personal responsibility.
Lisa Mc Sherry is the author of “Magickal Connections” and “The Virtual Pagan” (we even interviewed her!). She’s been the primary leader of JaguarMoon Coven, an eclectic Wiccan cyber coven (jaguarmoon.org) for eight years. She hosts a review site for items of interest to the alternative spirituality community at facingnorth.net. A prolific writer, her essays and articles can be found in a variety of publications, including PanGaia and newWitch. In her spare time she enjoys playing with her dog and longtime partner.
To read more of Lisa’s thoughts on the Wiccan Rede click here.