The Wiccan Rede: evaluating the morality of an action:
Quote, overview, Wiccan Credo & Rede, comparison
to other religions.
- Janet and Stewart Farrar: "The Rede is the philosophy of taking responsibility for your own actions during every moment of your life. It is of course a positive Law as opposed to the negative Laws of the Old and New Testaments. This immediately makes it a life affirming statement, but also means having to think about all your actions and what effects they will have on yourself, other people, society as a whole and your environment, not just now but also in the future."
The Wiccan Rede is considered by diverse Wiccans to be a rule, law, advice, or method of evaluating the morality of a decision, before taking action. It suggests that
Wiccans review all of their possible choices and analyze the likely consequences of each option. Then they freely choose from among those actions that avoid harming anybody. Most Wiccans interpret the Rede as including harm to
themselves as well as to another person or persons.
According to Wikipedia:
"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 Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments makes the Rede's character somewhat different from major religious texts such as the Bible or the Qur'an. The Rede is only a guideline which the individual must interpret to fit each particular situation and unlike most 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." 1
The Rede is reinforced by the Threefold Law (a.k.a. the Rule of Three or the Law of Return). This is the
belief that any harm or good that a Wiccan does to someone else comes back to hurt
or benefit them -- magnified three times over. To Wiccans, this is a very powerful motivator to do no harm. Both the Rede and the Threefold Law are included in the Wiccan
Credo, a poem about Wicca whose origin is unclear.
The Wiccan Credo:
The Wiccan Credo is a Wiccan poem. Some Wiccans believe that it was
written circa 1910 CE by Adriana Porter. Others suggest
that it was created during the very early years of Gardnerian Witchcraft, during
the 1940s and 1950s. 2 It includes the
text of the main Wiccan behavior guide, the
Wiccan Rede, and a reference to the Threefold Law.
The third last stanza refers to the Threefold Law. It states, in part:
"Mind the Threefold Law you should,
Three times bad and three times good."
The end of the Credo contains one version of the Wiccan Rede. It
"Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill:
An' it harm none,
Do what ye will.
Blessed Be to thee."
The Wiccan Rede and Threefold Law:
"Rede" is derived from an Old English word "roedan" which means to
guide or direct. 2 One common version of the Rede is:
"An it harm none, do what thou wilt."
"An" and "wilt" are Old English words for "if" and
Alternative renderings of the Wiccan Rede are:
||If it harms none, do what you want to. (A direct translation into modern English)|
||An it harm none, do as ye will.|
||Ăn it harm none, do as ye will.|
|An ye harm none, do what ye will.|
|A'in it harm none, do what thou wilt.|
|An' it harm none, do what thou wilt.|
|If it harms none, do what you will.|
|Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill, An' it harm none, do what ye
||Do what you will as long as it harms none. |
The Rede is interpreted by most Wiccans as stating that they are free to do what ever they want to, as long
as it does not harm themselves or anyone else. Harm is normally considered
to include manipulation, domination, harassment, coercion, attempts to control, limiting another's freedom, or hurt another person or group in any way. Harm may be emotional, financial, mental, physical, psychic, spiritual, etc.
The Threefold Law (a.k.a. the Law of Return) adds a
reward for those who follow the Wiccan Rede, and a punishment for those
who violate it. One form of the law states that:
"All good that a person does to another returns three fold in this
life; harm is also returned three fold."
The Rede and Law
will motivate a Witch/Wiccan to not do harm to themselves or to others,
taking harmful drugs, etc. One Wiccan wrote:
belief constantly reminds us that there are many consequences to our
actions and we must consider all possible outcomes before acting. The
Wiccan Rede thereby binds Wiccans to do the right thing."
Some followers of other religions have attributed many negative
activities to Wiccans -- from the laying of evil curses
to manipulating people by conducting love spells; from conducting human sacrifices to performing black
magic. If a Wiccan bases their actions on the Wiccan Rede, they would never be involved such activities. In most cases,
these false beliefs in evil magic by Wiccans can be traced back to religious
persecution of religious minorities for centuries during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance in Western Europe. At the time, it
was used to justify witch hunting and burning. Some people and religious groups still spread this hatred and misinformation.
Comparing the Wiccan Rede with behavioral rules of other religions:
The Wiccan Rede is vaguely related to many Ethics of Reciprocity
which are found in essentially all of the world's religious texts. In Christianity,
the Ethic of Reciprocity is sometimes called the Golden Rule. It
urges believers to treat other people decently. For example, in Christianity,
three of the 40 or so Gospels which circulated among various Christian groups during the 1st century
|"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men
should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the
prophets." Matthew 7:12, King James Version.|
|"And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to
them likewise." Luke 6:31, King James Version.|
||"...and don't do what
you hate...", Gospel of Thomas 6.|
Those Ethics of Reciprocity which are found in non-Wiccan religions
concentrate on one's duties to other people. As interpreted by most Wiccans, the Wiccan Rede goes further by having a Wiccan also considering whether an action might also hurt themselves.
The Pentateuch -- the first five books in the
Hebrew Scriptures -- lists 613 behaviors that the ancient Hebrews were expected to either
adopt because they are not sinful, or avoid because they are wicked. These
laws are referred to as the Mosaic Law. About two
dozen of these behaviors are grouped into the Ten
Commandments. In contrast to the 613 specific injunctions, the Wiccan Rede consists
of only one general rule, or piece of advice, or evaluation method which is intended to govern all behaviors.
Most religions teach very specific rules of behavior. The
Roman Catholic church, for example, sorts hundreds of what it considers to be immoral acts into two categories: mortal and venial
sins. In contrast, the Wiccan is not given a list of prohibited and compulsory
actions. They are left to consider all of the likely
ramifications of each action before deciding whether it meets the standard of
the Wiccan Rede. It can only be performed if it is free from harm.
See the following essay for more information on the Wiccan Rede
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Wiccan Rede," Wikipedia, as on 2012-AUG-07, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
- Spring Wolf, "The Pagan's Path™," at: http://www.paganspath.com/
- Daria, "The Wiccan Rede," Psychic Journal, 1999-APR-19 at: http://www.psychicjournal.com/
Copyright © 1996 to 2012 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-AUG-25
Author: B.A. Robinson