After posting on some pagan forums for some time, I noticed a tendency for some Wiccans to try and follow the rede to the letter, giving little thought to what the rede actually means or what following it so closely would entail. I decided to pursue this further as I sometimes like to do with Wiccan concepts.
As I found from previous research, the rede originated (unsurprisingly given Wicca’s close ties with Thelema and Golden Dawn) from Aleister Crowley’s phrase “Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law, love under will”. It has been shaped into the rhyming couplet that most Wiccans now follow: “Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill, and it harm none, do as thou will”.
My approach to the rede has always been that it is not a hard and fast rule but a guideline. Think of it as one of those bumpers you have down the side of bowling alleys. The ball may veer off course a little but the bumper helps it back on track. This is how I believe the rede works: as a bumper to keep us from veering too far off the path.
I have never believed that following the rede means that you cannot ever do anything harmful. I fully believe that it is there to give you cause for thought over what you are about to do and decide for yourself whether you are willing to accept the consequences that it brings. It is there as a guide for you to weigh up the pros and cons of each course of action. If you really feel strongly about inflicting harm on someone or something for whatever reason, are you willing to accept the responsibility for your actions?
I’m often fond of quoting Doreen Valiente in the context of this subject: “A witch who can’t curse, can’t cure”. To me, this implies that the willingness to harm when necessary must be there in order to balance out the good than you can do. I believe that to deny darker urges in ourselves and to suppress them is to suppress the balance we need and to suppress what comes naturally to us. Just as leaning too far towards the darker aspects are bad for us in the long run, so equally I believe leaning too far into only the “happy, shiny” side can be as bad. Hence, we have a guide to keep us balanced and content.
I have also noticed that, when quoting the rede in the context of a problem, people have a tendency to apply the rede to others and forget to apply it to themselves. Of course, application of the rede to the self, if taken as a law, can be taken to the extreme, i.e. not drinking, not smoking, not doing any dangerous sports etc. Likewise, not taking yourself into consideration in a given situation would equally well go against the rede. The spark of the divine is also in ourselves and we should be protecting ourselves.
The thing that really tips me towards using the rede as a guide and not a law is the fact that for it to be a law, everyone would have to apply the same set of ideals and beliefs to themselves. This would be in much the same way that the Ten Commandments are a specific set of DO NOT’s. Of course, we know that the rede is not a specific instruction and leaves room for individuality and for common sense.
I am certainly working further on this and delving further into this for my own curiousity, but in conclusion, I believe the rede to be a guideline and not a hard and fast rule. It’s there to help us decide whether the benefits of an action we take outweigh the negatives. It is not only there to help us in our magical lives but also our every day lives. I believe it can be taken to the extreme but if used as I think it was intended, can lead to harmonious and balanced living.
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Spunky Bruster (aka goddess of Pimpsmack)
Second degree initiate of Gardnerian Wicca