Wiccan Rede

Wiccan Rede

The Wiccan Rede (pronounced "reed") is a saying that was formulated to sum up the ethics of the Neo-Pagan religion Wicca. The most common form of the Rede is "An it harm none, do what ye will." "Rede" is a word from Middle English meaning "advice" or "counsel", cognate to the German "Rat" or Swedish "råd". "An" is an archaic contraction of the word "and," meaning "if," as in the Shakespearean "an it please thee."

Other variants include:

:*"Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill, An it harm none do what ye will." Note: This is the first published form of the couplet, quoted from Doreen Valiente in 1964. Later published versions include "ye" instead of either "the" or "it": "Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill — an ye harm none, do what ye will" (Earth Religion News, 1974); "Eight words ye Wiccan Rede fulfill - An’ it harm none, Do what ye will" (Green Egg, 1975):*"An it harm none, do what thou wilt":*"An it harm none, do as thou wilt":*"That it harm none, do as thou wilt":*"Do what you will, so long as it harms none"


The Rede in its best known form as the "eight words" couplet was first publicly recorded in a speech by Doreen Valiente in 1964. [Coughlin, John. C. "The Wiccan Rede: A Historical Journey" "Part 3, Eight Words..." Available Online at: http://www.waningmoon.com/ethics/rede3.shtml. 2001-2002.] A similar phrase, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law", appears in Aleister Crowley's works by 1904, in The Book of the Law (though as used by Crowley it is half of a statement and response, the response being "Love is the Law, love under Will"). According to A.C. Aldag, "Crowley very likely stole this line from François Rabelais", who in 1534 wrote, "DO AS THOU WILT because men that are free, of gentle birth, well bred and at home in civilized company possess a natural instinct that inclines them to virtue and saves them from vice. This instinct they name their honor". [Robinson, B.A. "The Wiccan Rule of Behavior: The Wiccan Rede. "Origin of the Wiccan Rede:" Updated: September 27, 2007. Available Online at: http://www.religioustolerance.org/wicrede.htm. Visited: 12/28/2007.] Another possible source is St. Augustine. [Aldag, A.C. "Part III: Gardner's Sources... and Inventions." 2006. Available Online at: http://www.elderways.net/content/view/324/296/. Accessed 12/27/2007.]

King Pausole, a character in Pierre Louÿs', "Les aventures du roi Pausole" (The Adventures of King Pausole, published in 1901), had a similar motto of "Do what you like as long as you harm no one." Although Gardner noted the similarity of the rede to King Pausole's words, Silver Ravenwolf believes it is more directly referencing Crowley. [RavenWolf, Silver. "Solitary Witch: The Ultimate Book of Shadows for the New Generation." Llewellyn Worldwide, 2003.] Another notable antecedent was put forth by the philosopher John Stuart Mill with his "harm principle" in the 19th century. [ Mill, John Stuart. "On Liberty." 1859. Online copy available at: http://www.utilitarianism.com/ol/one.html.] "Mill argues that the sole purpose of law should be to stop people from harming others and that should people want to participate in victimless crimes, crimes with no complaining witness, such as gambling, drug usage, engaging in prostitution, then they should not be encroached in doing so."Fact|date=April 2008 Documented ideas similar to the Rede reach as far back as the fourth century theologian Saint Augustine of Hippo. In the "seventh treatise of the Epistles of St. John," Augustine wrote "Dilige, et quod vis fac" meaning Love, and do what you will," [Russell, Rev. James S.J., Ed. "The Irish Monthly: A Magazine of General Literature." "Pigeonhole Paragraphs." Vol 25, pp. 186. 1897. Available Online [http://books.google.com/books?id=SogAAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA168&dq=Ama+Deum+et+fac+quod+vis#PPA168,M1.] ] although it is also seen quoted as "Ama Deum et fac quod vis" (Love God, and do what you want). [Topic Discussion Available Online [http://forum.quoteland.com/1/OpenTopic?a=tpc&s=586192041&f=099191541&m=3401982415] ] It has also been argued that similar concepts exist among Native Americans. [Ventimiglia, Mark. "Harm None". "The Wiccan Rede: Couplets of the Laws, Teachings, and Enchantments." Citadel Press: Kensington, 2003. 186-87.]

The Long Rede

In 1974 a complete twenty-six line poem entitled "The Wiccan Rede" was published in the neo-Pagan magazine "Earth Religion News". Each line contained a rhymed couplet laid out as a single line, the last line being the familiar "short rede" couplet beginning "Eight words...".

This poem was shortly followed by another, slightly different, version, entitled the "Rede Of The Wiccae," which was published in Green Egg magazine by Lady Gwen Thompson. She ascribed it to her grandmother Adriana Porter, and claimed that the earlier published text was distorted from "its original form." The poem has since been very widely circulated and has appeared in other versions and layouts, with additional or variant passages. It is commonly known as the "Long Rede".

Dating the Rede

Scholars and Wiccans alike cannot seem to agree on the original date of either the short or the long rede. Thompson's attribution of the latter to her grandmother has been disputed, since Adriana Porter died in 1946, well before Gardner published "The Old Laws", and no evidence for Porter's authorship exists other than Thompson's word. The poem refers to Wiccan concepts that, though ostensibly very old, have not been proven to pre-date the 1940s. Its attribution to Porter may have formed part of Thompson's claim to be an hereditary witch. Its precise origin has yet to be determined. [cite web|url=http://www.waningmoon.com/ethics/rede3.shtml.|title=The Wiccan Rede: A Historical Journey - Part 3: Eight Words]

Adrian Bott, in an article written in "White Dragon" magazine, 2003, argues that its creation can be placed somewhere between 1964 and 1975. Bott bases his argument on the alleged misuse of archaic English in the poem, in particular of " an' " as an abbreviation of "and", and of "ye" instead of "the". Bott states that the author of the poem was evidently unaware that this contraction of "and" is not an archaic, but a modern convention. According to Bott, in the "eight words" couplet originally cited by Valiente, "an" is used correctly, in the Middle English sense of " 'in the event that', or simply 'if' " (as in the Shakespearean "an hadst thou not come to my bed") and thus has no apostrophe. In the poem, this has been transformed into an abbreviated "and" and given an apostrophe, with every "and" in the poem's additional lines then being written " an' " as if to match. Accordingly, Bott concludes that the poem was an attempt to expand Valiente's couplet into a full Wiccan credo, written by someone who misunderstood the archaic language they attempted to imitate. [Adrian Bott, 2003. "The Wiccan Rede" in "White Dragon" magazine, Lughnasadh 2003] However Bott ignores the fact that printing " an' " in the archaic sense with an apostrophe was a publishing convention from the late 19th century and that "an" as a straight abbreviation of "and" is also to be found in Shakespeare. [Such as '"And why, Sir," quoth I, "an' it liketh you?", from D.L. Purves (ed) "The Canterbury Tales and Faery Queen, with other poems of Chaucer", Edinburgh, 1870. In Love's Labours Lost, 5:2. the phrase "an if you grow so nice" appears to involve a straight abbreviation of "and".]

In contrast to Bott, Robert Mathiesen repeats the objection to "ye", but argues that most of the archaisms are used correctly. However, he states that they all derive from late 19th century revivalist usages. [Robert Mathiesen and Theitic, "The Rede of the Wiccae: Adriana Porter, Gwen Thompson and the Birth of a Tradition of Witchcraft", Olympian press, Rhode Island, 2005, pp.68-70.] Based on this fact Mathiesen concludes that early twentieth century authorship of at least part of the poem is probable. He argues that its references to English folklore are consistent with Porter's family history. His provisional conclusion is that a folkloric form of the poem may have been written by Porter, but that it was supplemented and altered by Thompson to add specifically Wiccan material. Mathiessen also takes the view that the last line was probably a Thompson addition derived from Valiente. According to this account, the 1974 variant of the text, which was published by one of Thompson's former initiates, may represent one of the earlier drafts. Its publication prompted Thompson to publish what she — falsely — claimed was Porter's "original" poem.

Interpretations of the Rede

The Rede is similar to the Golden Rule, a belief that is found in nearly every religion. Not all traditional Wiccans follow the Rede; Gardnerians (a sect under Wicca) espouse the Charge of the Goddess as a guide for morality. Its line "Keep pure your highest ideal, strive ever towards it; let naught stop you or turn you aside, for mine is the secret door which opens upon the door of youth" is used as a maxim for ethical dilemmas. [Valiente, Doreen. c.1953. Available Online at http://www.ceisiwrserith.com/wicca/charge.htm. Accessed 12/28/2007.]

There is some debate in the neo-Pagan and Wiccan communities as to the meaning of the Rede. The debate centers on the concept of the Rede being advice, not a commandment. The rejection of specific exhortations and prohibitions of conduct such as those given in the Ten Commandments in Christianity an Judaism makes the Rede's character somewhat different from say, the Holy Bible or the Qur'an. The Rede is only a guideline which the individual must interpret to fit each particular situation and unlike these Abrahamic religions, which actions "do harm" (and which do not) are not discussed in the Rede. What exactly does and does not do harm is therefore open to personal interpretation.

The concept of ethical reciprocity is not explicitly stated, but most Wiccans interpret the Rede to imply the Golden Rule in the belief that the spirit of the Rede is to actively do good for one's fellow humans as well as for oneself. Different sects of Wiccans read "none" differently. "None" can apply to only the self, or it may include animals and/or plants, and so forth. In essence, the Rede can be fully understood as meaning that one should always follow their true will instead of trying to obtain simple wants and to ensure that following one's will it does not harm anyone or anything. In this light, the Rede can be seen as encouraging a Wiccan to take personal responsibility for his or her actions. Causing harm by inaction is therefore inconsistent with Wiccan belief. [Piper, David. "Wiccan Ethics and the Wiccan Rede." Available Online at: http://www.paganlibrary.com/ethics/wiccan_ethics_rede.php.] [Ventimiglia, Mark. "Harm None". "The Wiccan Rede: Couplets of the Laws, Teachings, and Enchantments." Citadel Press: Kensington, 2003. 186-87.]

Interpretations of "harm none"

There have been a number of published interpretations of how one should determine what constitutes 'harming none'. Silver Ravenwolf, for instance, believes that although acting to restrain a wrong-doer is in a sense harming them, failure to act against them could allow greater harm; this must be carefully weighed up, and preferably a course of action can be found that minimises harm to all parties. [RavenWolf, Silver. "Solitary Witch: The Ultimate Book of Shadows for the New Generation." Llewellyn Worldwide, 2003.] [Piper, David. "Wiccan Ethics and the Wiccan Rede." "History of the Wiccan Rede Within Wicca." Available Online at: http://www.paganlibrary.com/ethics/wiccan_ethics_rede.php.]

A few people observe a modern revised Rede with the words "an it cause harm, do as you must" appended. [ [http://wicca.timerift.net/rede.shtml Wicca: For the Rest of Us - The Wiccan Rede] ; [http://www.lycianwicca.org/lycianwicca/Catch-All/fullrede.htm The Full Wiccan Rede?] ; [http://rjlebeau.livejournal.com/tag/wicca Mixing Catholicism and Wicca] ]

ee also

*Rule of Three (Wiccan)
*Wiccan morality


External links

* [http://www.paganlibrary.com/ethics/wiccan_ethics_rede.php David Piper: Wiccan Ethics and the Wiccan Rede]
* [http://www.waningmoon.com/ethics/rede.shtml The Wiccan Rede: A Historical Journey]
* [http://www.draknet.com/proteus/rede.htm Exegesis on the Rede]
* [http://www.witchvox.com/basics/rede.html The Wiccan Rede]
* [http://web.archive.org/web/20040213230016/http%3A//www.draknetfree.com/sheathomas/ The Wiccan Rede Project]
* [http://www.religioustolerance.org/wicrede.htm The Wiccan Rede]
* [http://www.wicca-spirituality.com/wiccan-rede-expanded.html The Complete Wiccan Rede (an expanded variant of the text)]

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