I.  The Wiccan Rede

A. One Version of the Rede

Bide ye wiccan laws you must,
in perfect love and perfect trust:
Live ye must and let to live,
fairly take and fairly give
Form the circle thrice about
to keep unwelcome spirits out
To bind your spell well every time,
let the spell be spake in rhyme
Soft of eye and light of touch,
Speak ye little, listen much
Deosil go by the waxing moon,
chanting out ye baleful tune
When ye Lady's moon is new,
kiss your hand to her times two
When ye moon rides at her peak,
then your heart's desire seek
Heed the north winds mighty gale,
lock the door and trim the sail
When the wind comes from the south,
love will kiss thee on the mouth.
When the wind blows from the east,
expect the new and set the feast.
When the wind blows from the west
Bardic words be at their best!
Nine woods in the cauldron go,
burn them fast and burn them slow
Elder be ye Lady's tree,
burn it not or cursed ye'll be.
When the wheel begins to turn,
soon ye Beltane fires will burn
When the wheel hath turned a Yule
light the log the Horned One rules.
Heed ye flower, bush and tree,
by the Lady blessed be
Where the rippling waters go,
cast a stone, the truth ye'll know.
When ye have and hold a need,
harken not to others greed
With a fool no season spend,
or be counted as his friend.
Merry meet and merry part,
bright the cheeks and warm the heart.
Mind ye threefold law ye should
three times bad and three times good.
When misfortune is enow,
wear the star upon thy brow
True in love ye ever be,
lest thy love be false to thee.
Bide ye wiccan laws you must,
in perfect love and perfect trust:
These eight words the wiccan rede fulfill;
An harm ye none, do what ye will.

 B. A Rede variant. Note the differences...

The Rede of the Wicca, Being known as the Counsel of the Wise Ones:

Bide the Wiccan laws ye must
in Perfect Love and Perfect Trust
Live and let another live
Freely take and freely give
Cast the circle thrice about
To keep all evil spirits out
To bind the spell every time
Let the spell be spake in rhyme.
Soft of eye and light of touch
Speak thou little, listen much.
Deosil go by waxing moon
Sing and dance the Wiccan rune
Widdershins go when the moon doth wane
And the werewolf howls by the dread wolfsbane.
When the Lady's moon is new
Kiss thy hand to her times two
When the moon rides at her peak
Then your heart's desire seek.
Heed the northwind's mighty gale
Lock the door and drop the sail
When the wind comes from the south
Love will kiss thee on the mouth.
When the wind blows from the east
Expect the new and set the feast
When the west wind blows o'er thee
Departed spirits restless be.
Nine woods in the cauldron go
Burn them fast and burn them slow
Elder be ye Lady's tree
Burn it not or cursed ye'll be.
When the wheel begins to turn
Let the Beltain fires burn
When the wheel has turned to Yule
Light the log and let Pan rule.
Heed ye flower, bush and tree
By the Lady, Blessed be
Where the rippling waters go
Cast a stone and truth ye'll know.
When ye have a need
Hearken not to others' greed
With the fool no season spend
Nor be counted as his friend.
Merry meet and merry part
Bright the cheeks and warm the heart
Mind the Threefold Law ye should
Three times bad and three times good.
When misfortune is enow
Wear the blue star on thy brow
True in love must ever be
Unless thy lover's false to thee.
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill
An it harm none, do what ye will
With these eight words the wiccan rede fulfill:  "an it harm none, do what ye will."
 
II. OVERVIEW

A.  The purpose of this paper is to look at the Wiccan Rede, at the types of conduct it excludes, and at the type of conduct it requires. We will begin with a detailed examination of the wording of the Rede itself, which presents as "pseudo-archaic" but actually makes excellent use of the specific meanings of several archaic words which have no real equivalents in contemporary English. We will then take a look at the two sections of the Rede, and see why they are presented in their proper order as written. Finally, we will examine various uses of magick and see how--and if--they adequately measure up to the standard of the Rede.

B.  THE VOCABULARY OF THE WICCAN REDE
As mentioned above, the Rede appears to be presented in a pseudo-archaic or "phony ancient" form of English. Is this simply harmless foolishness, or is there some excellent reason for the vocabulary selected? Let's take a look at the Rede, word by word.
1. AN: This word is commonly mistranslated as "IF", which is a significant error. The word "AN" is more accurately translated "JUST SO LONG AS".
2. IT: This pronoun refers to whatever it is that you are thinking of doing.
3. HARM:This refers to anything which either you or any other person involved or affected by "it" would regard as loss, damage, pain, discomfort, injustice, invasiveness, or prevention, relative to the situation existing before "it" was done. Anything which goes against another person's free will, even if it intends them good, would constitute serious harm.
4. NONE:This ought to be self-explanatory. "None" is an all- exclusive word. If you harm anyone or anything, including yourself, including a small rock in Trenton, New Jersey, you have harmed "some", not "none".
5. DO: To perform whatever working is contemplated by "IT", above.
6. WHAT:The meaning here is "Whatever", and refers forward.
7. YE: The archaic PLURAL form of "you". The current word "you" denotes both the singular and the plural; the archaic word "YE" is always plural. We shall see, later on, that this is no accident.  
8. WILL: To will something is to exercise your intellectual decision-making power to determine the course of action which you feel to be the best. "Will" has little or nothing to do with "wish" or "want" or "desire". It is not an emotional inclination or feeling. It is the employment of reason to make a decision based upon your best judgment.

C.  THE TWO SECTIONS OF THE WICCAN REDE

1.  Section one: "an it harm none".

a. Why does the Wiccan Rede not say, "Do what ye will, an it harm none"? There is a reason why the "An it harm none" comes first in the Rede, and that reason is that "An it harm none" is intended to come first in your own thinking, as a Wiccan initiate and practitioner. If you or any Wiccan begins with "Do what ye will", I assure you that you, like the Fundamentalists before you, will find a way to excuse and even to justify anything you take it into your head to do! Knowing this about human nature, the Lady inspired the Rede to be written as it is, with the "An it harm none" to come first.
b. The Wiccan Rede's "An it harm none" has parallels in many disciplines. Perhaps the most significant parallel is found in the Hippocratic Oath taken by every physician before s/he is certified to practice. The first part of the Hippocratic Oath binds the physician "First, to do no harm." It is sobering to realize that magical ethics, as set forth in the Wiccan Rede, are or should be so similar to medical ethics, an issue with such a powerful effect on so many lives.
c. When we read of a physician who has violated his medical ethics, we read this with outrage toward him and with empathy toward those patients who suffered inadequate care because the physician violated his ethics. It is more sobering to realize that future generations will regard violations of magickal ethics with the same degree of outrage, and rightly so.

2.  SECTION TWO: "DO WHAT YE WILL."

a. Even without the first part of the Rede, "Do what ye will" is most certainly not a blanket permission to do whatever you desire to do. As one Wiccan High Priestess has observed, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Seems like I've heard that before, but it's certainly true when you're talking about using real magick to accomplish real goals in the real world.
b. When we realize the kinds and orders of results, both expected and unexpected, both knowable and unknowable, which eventuate from almost every human action, it would seem the better part of both valor and wisdom to never do anything at all, especially not anything which is done with spiritual power guided by no more than human wisdom! Unfortunately, to do nothing is also a choice, and the results of inaction are often far worse than the results of even ill-considered action. This is why the second half of the Rede demands that we make a decision and act upon it, as well as conforming that decision to the requirement that it harm none.
 
D. THE STANDARD OF THE REDE.

1. Please note that the Wiccan Rede contains no loop- holes whatsoever. The Rede does not say, "An it harm none to the best of your knowledge." The Rede also does not say "An it harm none to the best of your ability to discern whether it will harm someone."

2. The Wiccan Rede does not say these things, or anything similar to them. It simply says "An it harm NONE, do what ye will." This means that YOU, once you have committed to live by the Wiccan Rede, are committed to be solely and totally responsible for any harm resulting from ANY ACTION YOU TAKE, MAGICKAL OR NOT.

3. One story often heard in the Wiccan community contains some strong cautionary notes concerning the use of magick. It is particularly tragic, and concerns a young man who worked a simple and apparently harmless "money spell". The spell worked, and the young man got his money--he inherited it, when his parents were both killed in an accident shortly after he worked the spell.

4. Was this young man was a Wiccan initiate? If he was, then in addition to his sorrow and loss, he has had to live with the fact that, by the standard of the Rede, he is ultimately responsible for the death of his parents.

5. When you commit to live according to the Wiccan Rede, you commit to conform your entire life, not just the magickal, mystical and religious aspects of it, to the standard set by the Rede. Never again will you be able to act impulsively or without considering the results of what you do. Never again will you be able to act or even speak in thoughtless irritation or anger. Instead, you will come to consider the implications of every word you speak, and of every routine action you do. For it is not just by magick that we can harm ourselves or others; everything we do, and everything we say, has the potential to help or harm others, and to help or harm ourselves.

6. It is also important to note that the Rede sets up a standard which prevents us from harming ourselves as well as others. Other religions, including Christianity, regard it as virtuous to suffer harm for the sake of another, even to die so that another person might live. The Wiccan Rede does not permit this. You are to harm none, and this means that you are not to harm yourself, even for the sake of doing good for someone else. To some, this may seem like a selfish standard. But think about it. Would you wish to benefit by someone else's injury or death? Of course not! If you did derive some benefit, such as an inheritance, from the death of another person, would you feel good about this? Well, some people might, but probably you would not. Therefore, in a very real sense, you yourself are harmed by a benefit you derive from the injury or death of another. True, the harm is emotional, but it is entirely real.

7. Wicca recognizes that human beings are social creatures. What does harm to one, does harm to all in varying degrees. Therefore, it is imperative that each person strive to harm no one, himself or herself included.

8. Finally, it is significant to note that word "ye" in the statement, "Do what YE will." This is the ancient plural form of "you", and it means that your individual will is assumed to be in accord with some other will, instead of acting entirely on its own.

9. What is this other will which, together with yours, comprises the "ye" in the Rede? Well, if you are working in a coven, it could well be the combined will of the members of the coven. But this would not apply to those who are working on their own, and it is not the highest or best meaning, even for those working in coven.

10. How does one act, so as to be certain to harm none? Not by refusing to act, since inaction is itself a decision, and often causes far more harm than even rash action. Not by delaying action until the time for it is past, because that is the same as inaction. And not by relying solely upon your own human wisdom, either.

11. The best way to act, so as to be certain to harm none, is to call upon the Goddess and/or the God, and to hand to Them the power you have raised, together with the situation you have raised the power to deal with, and say, "You are holy, good, and wise, and know how to use this power to help and not harm. Do Your will in this situation. That is my will, that Your will be done." And thus the Rede is fulfilled: For the "ye" who will are yourself and Themselves, who are good, and love humanity, and who always act for the highest good of all.

E. One of the Pagan Oaths recognized nationally here in the U.S.In the Wiccan Rede above, and scattered in the oath, we find words such as Perfect Love and Perfect Trust. What are these strange words and what do they mean?

1. Before one can analyze the meaning behind the phrase "Perfect Love and Perfect Trust", one must first define the words. For this purpose, I will use the Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language 1982 edition.

a. Perfect: adj. [L. per-, through + facere, do] 1. complete in all respects; flawless 2. excellent, as in skill or quality 3. completely accurate 4. sheer; utter [a perfect fool] 5. Gram. expressing a state or action completed at the time of speaking - vt. 1. to complete 2. to make perfect or nearly perfect - n. 1. the perfect tense 2. a verb form in this tense - perfectly adv - perfectness n.
b. Love: n. [
c. Trust: n.[ON, traust] 1. a) firm belief in the  honesty, reliability, etc. of another; faith b) the one trusted 2. confident expectation, hope, etc. 3. responsibility resulting from confidence placed in one. 4. Care, custody 5. something entrusted to one....

2. Using these definitions, we come up with "Flawless strong affection and flawless faith.
a. Is this possible? Those that follow the religion of Wicca often give excuses for this just being words. When this is the case, they are not obeying their faith....thus..they are not following perfect love and perfect trust. But to the rest...the answer is a resounding YES. This does not ask that you "like" a person. It asks that you see the divine light and love within individual whether you like them or not. Can this be done...YES. As to the perfect trust...we can always trust a fox to be a fox, right? Therefore, when we are entering circle, we can honestly answer perfect trust even if it is on shaky ground. We may have faith that this person will act like any other human.

III. ETHICS AND NEO-PAGANISM

A. Wicca has no single leader. It has no single body of dogma. It has no 'ultimate authority' that tells people what to believe. If you can hold to a code of ethics that in some ways is more demanding than most (because it -requires- you to make decisions for yourself much of the time!) and can live life with joy and gladness, then read on.

B. Many people today are getting interested in Magick. Books proliferate the market (whereas a few years ago, they were very difficult to come by).

C. One of the main things to remember when attempting to learn how to practice Magick is to keep an "ethical" viewpoint in mind. Remember that Magick is manipulation. Through Magick, one can manipulate his or her environment, and the people that are in that environment. It's important to remember that manipulation of another's Will (i.e. attempting to control them, etc.) is considered "unethical" by Wiccan standards (as well as by many other Pagan traditions).

D. Another thing that would be considered "unethical" is hexing. A hex is a baneful or malicious Magickal working with the intent of hurting another person in some way (by either making them do something that will cause a hurt, or by causing something else to hurt them). This can be an emotional hurt, as well as a physical one.

E. To some, -any- manipulation or changing of the natural order is unethical.Can you really say that your area needs more rain, and thus perhaps take it from another......? Think long and hard about -any- magickal working -before-you do it, for it -always- has consequences.

F. I am really surprised by the number of people who are professing to be Wiccans, and who have adopted the "anything goes" attitude, feeling they can hex and heal at Will. Anyone who understands the Three Fold Law, or Law of Karma, realizes that everything will eventually come back on the originator (and most times, intensified...i.e. Threefold, or even stronger). A person who is aware of this Law, and yet still practices hex or hurtful Magick against another is like a person who is cutting off their arm, to spite themself. It makes no sense!! Yet, I have had communication with a lot of people who think that by "accepting the consequences" of their actions after doing this type of Magick, is "accepting responsiblity." However, I would like to point out that REAL responsibility is demonstrated by NOT practicing that type of Magick at all!!

G. Don't be fooled into thinking that you're free to do whatever you want..... nothing is FREE. You eventually pay for it, one way or another. True freedom comes from knowing that you really don't have complete "freedom." There are rules and regulations that need to be followed (just reference our legal system for an allegory.....we are one of the "freest" countries in the world, and yet we have tons of laws that keep us from doing many things.. so, we don't have complete freedom). Our freedom comes from following the rules, and abiding by them. If this is done, eventually, spiritual evolution will follow, releasing you from the incarnation cycle, and LIBERATING you from the physical plane, to begin development on the next.

H. However, if you fall into the "I can do what I want" trap, you will continue to be your own worst enemy, causing yourself much pain and suffering for many lifetimes to come.....and, you will only have yourself to blame for it!

IV. NEOPAGAN LIFE

A. For the Self

1. Learn. Knowledge is the basis of all that is. Take in all knowledge, from any source. Armed in this way, wisdom will be your guide.

2. Meditate. Go into the Inner Self. Knowledge extends beyond what is read and learned and far into your Self. For only from our selves is there true wisdom.

3.Love. Love all those around. Friends, enemies, Mother Earth and all that she holds. But first love yourself.

B. For Others

1. Teach. Teaching will raise the level of understanding of the world. Even though you may have a small number of students, each one student and every bit of knowledge passed on will be of benefit.

2. Teach carefully. Know what is being taught and to whom. Teach students what they can learn, as far as they can go. Only the student can know where the knowledge will take him.

3. Heal. Use the technique that will be of the most benefit without overdoing. If what is needed is talk, then talk. If what is needed is direct use of energy, then use the energy without hesitation.

C. Walk the Path

1. Harm None. More than not squishing ants. Be mindful of power both learned and intuited as well as knowledge imparted. Think about the consequences before taking action.
 
2.Be the Example. Walk the path with love and trust, impart only the knowledge that will benefit and use your talents for the good, the path will become evident.
 
~author unknown, from Maat’s Book of Shadows

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