I have spent a great deal of my pagan journey as a Wiccan. As part of this, I tried to follow one of the most well-known verses of Wicca Law, the Wiccan Rede. This is a moral code that most Wiccans become quickly familiar with when they start their spiritual journeys down the Wiccan path. What surprised me though is that there isn’t more of a breakdown of this code for aspiring Wiccans to follow; instead my teachers said ‘here it is, follow it’.
Now if you are like me, you want to specifically study what it is you are asked to follow, and not just follow something blindly. So I took the time to break down this code into each verse to understand its meaning further. And while I don’t call myself Wiccan any longer, I still believe in what I think is the intended meaning of this verse.
There are different opinions as to the origins of the Wiccan Rede. Some point to Gerald Gardner’s High Priestess, Doreen Valiente, who first publically spoke a verse similar to the one below in the 1950s. Others believe that the original verse was pulled together from Aleister Crowley’s “The Book of the Law”, published in 1904. Since its origins are still fairly new compared to other religious tenants, some question how something so ‘new’ could be considered a moral code. My belief is that like other holy texts, these were words written by man, but inspired by divinity. So no matter where the origin of the words, the meaning behind them is so great that we need to at least look at the verse and see if it stirs anything in our heart. If there is a stirring, perhaps there is a lesson or meaning there. For me, I recognize that each and every line of the Rede has meaning, and that those deeper meanings form a set of guidelines for a spiritual life.
If you do an internet search, you will be surprised at how many variations of the Wiccan Rede there are. Some are much longer and more eloquent, while others just point to one phrase. Below is what I learned originally when I first started studying Wicca:
Bide the Wiccan Law ye must
In perfect love and perfect trust
Eight words the Rede fulfill
An it harm none do what though will
Lest in self-defense it be
Ever mind the rule of three
Follow this with mind and heart
And merry ye meet, merry ye part
I still prefer this variation because to me it gives you more guidance than just the one line, but yet it is not long enough that its meaning could become muddled.
So here is the breakdown that I feel is right for me, and I offer it here for contemplation:
Bide the Wiccan Law ye must…
All religions have guidelines that must be followed, and Wicca is no exception. In order to follow the Wiccan path, you need to follow the Wiccan law. This is a given. However, how does one go about following Wiccan guidelines? In my opinion, religion isn’t about where you can go to church and allow your spirit to be ‘nourished’ while you sit and grouse in the pew because the mass is taking so long. There is discipline that is needed here. And the more you put into following Wiccan Law, the more you are going to get out of it. This is the same with any set of religious laws, ethics or morals someone would have. The more you put into following them, the more nourishment and strength that is delivered to your spirit.
In perfect love and perfect trust…
What does perfect love and perfect trust mean? Many years ago, prior to the formation of the Christian religion, the early disciples practiced a discipline known as “agape”. Agape, which means ‘compassionate love’ in Greek, was the practice of loving all. This included loving your neighbor, loving your enemy, and loving your friends, and showing all of them compassion. As my original Wiccan teachers taught me, the terms “perfect love and perfect trust” are a newer interpretation of agape. You will hear those words in Wiccan circles extensively when calling on powers greater than ourselves. We use those words to show we are in a state of acceptance and do not have any ulterior motives. This also shows that we are open to the wisdom and aid we receive from those powers.
Another thought about this tenant is that we need to consider being in a state of acceptance trust in our daily lives. We have become part of a society that looks at things like ulterior motives, conspiracies and corporate greed as things that are normal. Because of this, we get into the habit of recognizing that another’s action is immediately meant to belittle, demean or hurt us in some form or fashion. It’s time to transcend that intent; give the other person the benefit of the doubt! That guy that just cut you off on the freeway may be racing to the hospital to be there for a loved one. That person in the staff meeting might be so scared to talk in front of the big boss that they aren’t fully recognizing what it is that just came out of their mouth. Someone could just be having a bad day (they happen to everyone!).
One last thought about this, and perhaps the most important thought. Yes, we need to show perfect love and perfect trust to others, but we also have to show that same behavior to OURSELVES.
Eight words the Rede fulfill…
This tenant is saying something important. It is telling you that the next one is one of the most important tenants of the Rede. In fact, the next tenant is the one that you hear quoted the most. If you can only live by one tenant, the next one should be it.
An it harm none do what though will…
I originally learned this as, “do whatever you wish, as long as you don’t harm anyone, anything or yourself, and you will be fine”. However it took several years for me to really grasp what that meant. How do you go through life without hurting anything? To survive we need to kill plants and animals for food, clothing and shelter. That is certainly harming other things!
So because we already have to harm things to survive, does this mean we are already breaking this part of the Rede? Not necessarily. This part of the Rede is really starting to ask you how you think about the reactions your actions will create. For some, this means that they choose to try to live off the land as much as possible; forgoing a car, living modestly and being a vegetarian, or other measures they feel are part of their discipline.
The problem is that it is not always plausible to do those things. In order to survive, we need to do some sort of destruction in order to create. Vegetarians have to kill plants in order to eat. Even in the society we live we have to do things that will cause harm just to survive. At one time I unfortunately had a 68 mile one-way commute to work. I drove this 68 mile commute in the only vehicle I had – in a Chevy Blazer (awesome truck, but horrible on gas mileage and carbon emissions!). I tried to find other options to make my commute shorter, but there was no public transportation that would go where I needed to go, no other coworkers near me that I could carpool with, and moving closer was unfortunately not an option. Therefore the drive was a necessity. So during the time I commuted, I paid extra for “carbon credits” to a Native American organization that helped to plant trees.
So the intent here is that everything needs to be in balance. Recognize the balance, and try to live by it.
Lest in self-defense it be…
Let’s talk about harm to someone for a moment. There are multiple ways harm can occur. There could be an accident where the harm was not intentional. There could be purposeful harm, where someone is purposefully ready to cause harm to someone else. There is also perceived harm, where someone believes they have been harmed, but truly they have not.
The harm that should be defended against is a purposeful harm. No one should ever allow themselves to be purposefully hurt by another. You have to love yourself enough to recognize the situation and trust in your own skills and in divinity.
This tenant states that when you find yourself in a situation where purposeful harm exists, you CAN defend yourself or do whatever you need to do to get out of it.
As a martial artist I have learned one more thing about this tenant. This is not a free pass to respond with excessive force. If in an altercation with someone that person pushes you and you respond by smashing their face into the ground, that’s not self-defense. That is responding with excessive force, and most likely you will end up facing both physical consequences from law enforcement as well as the karmic consequences from your action. There are many ways to get out of that situation without excessive force. Leaving the area, applying a pressure point or locking out a finger, wrist or elbow joint would get the assailant’s attention to not mess with you.
So basically what I am saying is that in a purposeful situation, get out of it if at all possible, or respond only with the force you are shown. This also applies to metaphysical forces. If someone is trying to purposefully cause metaphysical harm, (not as common as most people think!) things like a Witch’s bottle, warding and stronger shielding are usually enough to deal with the situation. (In fact, in my experiences with Witch’s bottles I find they actually take care of quite a bit of negativity. They may not be very nice to make, but they are extremely strong tools.) You should not immediately throw something back at the possible assailant. It just causes more frustration and drama than it helps.
If harm was not intentional, or you perceived harm happening to you that just wasn’t there, this tenant doesn’t cover you. Yes, do what you need to if something is thrown your way, but if someone looks at you cross-eyed, and you take offence, this doesn’t mean that you have the right to be offensive back in the name of self-defense.
Ever mind the rule of three…
This is the tenant made famous by the movie “The Craft” back in the 90s. Whatever you do the energy of that action will return to you threefold. So if you do something positive, the karmic energy of that good work will come back to you threefold. If you do something destructive, that destructive energy will come back to you threefold. This, in my mind, makes up for how we can work with the tenant, “An it harm none, do what thou will”. Since we cannot create without destroying, we need to be cautious of what we do because we shall inherit the karma of that action. So someone who is intentionally hurting a plant or animal shall receive a bigger karmic debt than someone who hurts a plant or animal accidentally.
Taking this even further, someone could make up for the karmic debt they are collecting. The carbon credits I purchased to help make up for my 136 mile daily journey is an example. Other examples could be the vegetarian purchasing as much food as locally as possible in order to keep their money in their local community, or the carnivore purchasing meat that was certified as humanely raised.
Follow this with mind and heart…
There is a tenant in Catholicism that I am very confused by, and started to mention it previously in this post. Catholics must go to mass every Sunday (or Saturday night now that things have loosened up a bit…) and they must take communion. Have you ever been in a Catholic church during those Sunday masses? Does anyone look happy to be there? According to Catholic doctrine, whether or not you participate in the mass, or are looking forward to going or not, you MUST attend and you MUST take communion because there is a transformation going on within your soul when you do these things. It doesn’t matter if you mutter ‘oh crap’ when the priest decides to speak the litany of the saints (a monologue that extends mass by 15-20 minutes – been there, muttering done), your soul is getting its nourishment. This never seemed right to me. You should be enjoying your time with divinity; not forced to endure it for your betterment. This is exactly what I think this tenant speaks to. You need to follow these tenants to the best of your ability, giving it your mind and your heart. You need to actively seek to do the right things by the Wiccan Rede. This is where discipline comes in. Sometimes the path will not be easy, and sometimes you have to make hard choices, but you always have to stick to your moral code. Like I said before, the more you put into any spiritual tradition, the more you will receive out of it.
And merry ye meet, merry ye part…
Everyone that we meet is for a reason. Whether it is the person you see on the street walking by you, a coworker you work well with, or even your boss has something to teach you. With all of the other tenants in mind, we need to approach each and every interaction we have without judgment or predisposition of whether or not it is going to be a “good” or “bad” interaction. We need to be mindful of our actions and how they are perceived, and make amends when they don’t go as well as we would like. We also need to be ready to learn, because learn we will!
We also have to be joyful of what it is we are learning and doing. You can do everything right, but if you do it with a crappy attitude, you aren’t going to get very far. Being joyful also helps make those harder decisions easier to execute.
Summing it all up, one could look at this doctrine and see that it is very similar to other religious doctrine out there. But whether or not you follow Wicca, I hope that just looking at this breakdown will help you consider looking at the spiritual doctrine you follow a little deeper. Perhaps you will find something that will help make your practice a little more rewarding.
And as always, I welcome thoughts and comments.