With These Eight Words
The Wiccan Rede Fulfill:
"An It Harm None, Do What Ye Will."
OVERVIEW. 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.
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.
AN: This word is commonly mistranslated as "IF", which is a significant error. The word "AN" is more accurately translated "JUST SO LONG AS".
IT: This pronoun refers to whatever it is that you are thinking of doing.
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.
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".
DO: To perform whatever working is contemplated by "IT", above.
WHAT: The meaning here is "Whatever", and refers forward.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
THE STANDARD OF THE REDE. 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."
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.
Paul Seymour's forthcoming book begins with some strong cautionary notes concerning the use of magick. One of the examples he gives 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. Paul does not say in his book if 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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 Them-selves, who are good, and love humanity, and who always act for the highest good of all.
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