by Artemisia Shira Tarantino
The Wiccan Rede, an ethical tenet or basic spiritual principle of Wiccans, came about logically as a means to put into brief context Wiccans’ thoughts and feelings about our moral values and natural way of life. Although the origins of the Wiccan Rede are debatable, the most well known version is the one stated by author and Wiccan High Priestess Doreen Valiente, grandmother to a number of Wiccan traditions, back in the 1960s:
“An It Harm None, Do What Ye Will”
Today, the Rede serves as a backbone to our teachings and practices, helping us to maintain integrity as we perform our rites and magickal workings.
Wiccans have a history, however short, of meshing our values with self-love. In Wicca, it is very important for the practitioner to understand and love herself or himself in order to connect fully with the Goddess and the God. Wiccans generally believe that we each represent the Goddess and the God – therefore, we must treat ourselves and each other with respect and reverence.
Freedom is a very important part of Wicca. You may not necessarily hear “freedom” being discussed often in our covens and circles, but in practicing Wicca one must have “free will” in order to accomplish our set goals and manifest our intentions. Censoring our practices in any way inhibits the magick and energy that is so important to our work.
While taking that into consideration, we also have to remember that we need to balance our free will while respecting others, as all are the earthly versions of the Goddesses and Gods (this includes people, animals, and nature).
If I want to practice magick, I must make sure that my intent is to manifest something within my own environment, as opposed to forcing my intent upon another. For instance, if I want to create a positive atmosphere for protection, I will concentrate on bringing those protective gifts from the Universe to me, as opposed to creating an impediment for someone else. Following the Wiccan Rede, I would create a spell or ritual for protection that would surround me, rather than impose a barrier on the person or thing that I feel might harm me.
Magic and Wiccan Ethics
To understand ethics in Wicca, one must first understand magic.
To perform magic, one must have the ability to attune oneself to Nature. This may be as easy as listening carefully to oneself and to the rhythm of the Earth and its cycles, the wind, the atmosphere, animals, and people. This ability may come naturally to some, or may be learned (every person is different). Once one is attune, it is easier to grasp a deeper understanding the wholeness of the Universe (or the Goddess and the God) and all its components. To see through the eyes of others is the beginning of peace.
In Scott Cunningham’s’ Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, he incorporates a list of eleven magical principles. This list is by far less known than the Wiccan Rede itself, but is an excellent primer to understanding ethics within one’s magical practice:
1. Magic is natural.
2. Harm none – not even yourself – through its use (Cunningham’s version of the Wiccan Rede).
3. Magic requires effort. You will receive what you put into it.
4. Magic is not usually instantaneous. Spells require time to be effective.
5. Magic should not be performed for pay.
6. Magic should never be used in jest or to inflate your ego.
7. Magic can be worked for your own gain, but only if it harms none.
8. Magic is a divine act.
9. Magic can be used for defense but should never be used for attack.
10. Magic is knowledge – not only of its way and laws, but also of its effectiveness. Do not believe that magic works – know it!
11. Magic is love. All magic should be performed out of love. The moment anger or hatred tinges your magic you have crossed the border into a dangerous world, one that will ultimately consume you.
I would also like to add that one should never perform magick on or for someone else without their permission. Even if it is for good – or if you feel it is in their best interest.
Ethics is a very important part of Wicca. While ethics has always been the basis for understanding the principles behind magical workings, Wiccans are just now beginning to discuss ethics on a full scale. There are now a select number of books, essays, and courses that focus specifically on Wiccan ethics. Being ethical takes effort; it cannot be left up to a single statement on paper or summed up in just a few words. It takes practice, compassion, personal judgment and instinct. One must learn to weigh all parts of the story (or spell or ritual) prior to settling on intent.
Alongside the Wiccan Rede, there are other ethical Wiccan tenets which were created to also be incorporated into magical workings and living a magical life, such as The Three-fold Law, similar to Hindu’s Karma, in that everything you do comes back to you three-fold. There is also a fairly new (circa 1974) set of 13 Principles of Wiccan Beliefs set forth by the American Council of Witches, which many covens and Wiccan temples have adapted and use to this day. But no ethical tenet is without its flaws.
An Inherent Flaw
As with people, any moral or value also has its weakness – no matter how good its intention. The short version of the Wiccan Rede states, “An It Harm None, Do As Ye Will.” There are a number of versions of the Rede, as it has been interpreted and re-interpreted. If we were to interpret the statement literally, it means that, as long as you don’t harm anyone, you can do what you will. But the downside of a literal translation leaves moral statements such as this open for loopholes. The Wiccan Rede is only a part of the whole picture. In theory, it sounds good. And on paper it may even represent perfection. But in practice, it is incomplete. One must honor the never ending cycle of giving and receiving. If the Wiccan Rede is the “please,” then where is the “thank you?”
Imagine needing fresh water where you live. Your area has none, but 50 miles north there is a fresh water reservoir. So you build a pipeline channeling the water to you, and now you and your fellow townspeople have fresh water where there was none before. However, that water had to come from somewhere. Little did you know that another set of townspeople 50 miles north had been counting on that water, which you have redirected. You may have more of it, but now they have less of it.
When we tap into the Universe seeking its gifts, even if we abide by the Wiccan Rede, we must remember that while we perform any action, there is a reaction. We must be mindful of this and be prepared to give back energy to the source from which it was borrowed. This is the principal behind what Wiccans call “grounding.”
One cannot perform magick without the use of Nature and the graces of the Goddesses and Gods. Therefore, when performing any kind of magick, one must be thankful for the elements and energies that she or he is borrowing from the surrounding Universe. All elements and energies are recyclable, and what comes from the earth and sky, should eventually return to earth and sky. Once you have raised energy, you must ground that energy and bring it back to its source.
The Wiccan Rede should be used as a jumping-off point, or a starting guideline, to the bigger picture of Wiccan principles and practices. But by the Rede alone one cannot live. Just as the Judeo-Christian ethical tenet The Golden Rule (Do Unto Others as You Wish Them to Do Unto You) does not present a full ethical picture of how to live one’s life, so does the Wiccan Rede lack a full-circle “big picture.”
Personal Responsibility and “The Truth”
A huge difference between Wiccans and the Judeo-Christian culture is where the angle of personal responsibility lay. In the Judeo-Christian culture, a believer is taught to submit to the Almighty One (God) and accept what has been given to them. This, in turn, is eventually taken for what some call “absolute truth” (a fixed, one-sighted and unbendable view of Truth). Interpretation of this ethic leads to define responsibility as falling in the hands of the Almighty One, and not the individual.
On the flip side, due to the importance of free will in magic in Wicca, and a number of other Pagan- or Nature-based religions, an individual is given power by placing more responsibility upon people themselves. It is the belief that the gifts that have been bestowed upon us by Divinity (whether it is the Universe, the God and Goddess, The Great Spirit, etc.) are to be used wisely and in accordance within our ethical framework. Furthermore, due to the recognition and use of free will, which naturally lends itself to individuality, we come upon what is called “relative truth,” a personal perception of the facts based on individual views and opinions. Relative truth enables us to bend reality, which is the very definition of magic. Observing a larger picture of relative truth, we see that there are many versions of what “truth” really is – perhaps as many as there are people in the world. But who is right and who is wrong? Wiccans may say – neither.
This is where the Wiccan Rede comes in. The first part, “An It Harm None…” describes the respect that one must give to others due to our inherent Divinity. And the second part of the Rede,“…Do What Ye Will” – the “free will” part of the statement – shows us that we are all individuals with different perceptions of life. How could one possibly work magic while following someone else’s will, or incorporate a value into our rituals that does not match our own? Throughout the whole process of working magic, people have a deep responsibility to both others (to harm none), and ourselves (to do what is necessary to fulfill our magical intent).
People from all walks of life, whether they believe in absolute truth or relative truth, are flawed. The day that humans are no longer flawed, is the day that we no longer need to create and follow any ethical tenets at all, let alone subscribe to any religion or set of values. Until that day, it is my unending, idealistic hope that we all coexist peacefully and not harm one another, while doing what we will to live our lives as best we see fit.
Peace and Blessed be,
Artemisia Shira Tarantino
Bibliography and References
Cunningham, Scott, Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. (p. 10)
Valiente, Doreen, Witchcraft for Tomorrow. (pp. 36-46)
Online essay: The Wiccan Rede, A Historical Journey by John J. Coughlin, http://www.waningmoon.com/ethics/rede.shtml (Coughlin also has a book out called Ethics and the Craft)
Online essay: The Wiccan Rede, by Wren Walker, http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usfl&c=basics&id=2876
Online essay: That Old Black Magic: Getting Specific about Magical Ethics, Judy Harrow, M.S.,
About the Author:
Shira, whose magical name is Artemisia Cybele, is a Witch in the Minoan Tradition (an ancient Crete tradition of the sacred Snake Goddess and Minotaur God), which is a derivative of the Gardnerian path. With a cultural background in Judaism, she has been Pagan all her life and has been a practicing Wiccan since the mid-1990’s – having immersed herself in Minoan studies since 2002. Shira studied under High Priestess Lady Chandara Anath as a member of Circle of the Crescent Moon (Initiation and Dedication), which was one of the original covens affiliated with Temple of the Evening Star [a 501 (c) 3 Wiccan organization] in New York.
Shira is the founder of Handfastings.org, a website that links people in the Pagan and Wiccan communities with ordained officiants. She first conceived Handfastings.org on Beltane of 2004. It is a free service to the community and helps to connect couples and families who are interested in being handfasted (wedded) with Pagan clergy. The website currently lists more than 70 legally ordained officiants from four countries.
Shira is a former instructor at the Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary. She developed core and elective curriculum, and taught Natural Magick 101. Sponsored by the established Aquarian Tabernacle Church, the Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary is one of the first accredited seminaries in the U.S. dedicated to Pagan theology and Wiccan studies – and the first of its kind to offer live online classes with audio/visual teacher-student interaction. Shira was thrilled to have been a part of this unique venture.
An artist and writer, Shira has been a non-profit fundraising and development professional since 1994. She is a former director of development of a number of New York-based non-profits and is now a volunteer consultant for charitable organizations. She is a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology where she studied advertising and communications along with fashion design.
Currently affiliated with the Church of Spiritual Humanism for the purposes of ordination, Shira has created Perfect Love Handfastings and is legally registered to perform handfasting ceremonies in New York City. In addition, she has studied Reiki and received her Level 1 attunement from Reiki Master Valerie Gaglione Schott, M.S., R.M.T., IARP of Westchester, NY.
As a Priestess of the Goddess, Shira considers herself to be a student of life and will forever welcome newfound knowledge and fresh experiences during her existence on this good Earth as Mother Gaia sees fit. She is in love with Wiccan ritual and helping to better all creatures of the planet through magic, meditation, love, tolerance, and understanding. She lives in Westchester, NY with her husband, their two cats, and gave birth to their first child early 2009.