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About Wicca:

The Wiccan Rede: evaluating the morality of an action:
Quote, overview, Wiccan Credo & Rede, comparison
to other religions.

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Quotation:

  • 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."

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Overview:

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.

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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 reads:

"Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill:
An' it harm none,
Do what ye will.
Blessed Be to thee
."

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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 "want to."

Alternative renderings of the Wiccan Rede are: 

bullet If it harms none, do what you want to. (A direct translation into modern English)

bullet An it harm none, do as ye will.

bullet Ăn it harm none, do as ye will.

bulletAn ye harm none, do what ye will.

bulletA'in it harm none, do what thou wilt.

bulletAn' it harm none, do what thou wilt.

bulletIf it harms none, do what you will.

bulletEight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill, An' it harm none, do what ye will.

bullet 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:

"This 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." 3

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.

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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 CE state:

bullet"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.

bullet"And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." Luke 6:31, King James Version.

bullet "...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.

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See the following essay for more information on the Wiccan Rede

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Wiccan Rede," Wikipedia, as on 2012-AUG-07, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  2. Spring Wolf, "The Pagan's Path™," at: http://www.paganspath.com/
  3. Daria, "The Wiccan Rede," Psychic Journal, 1999-APR-19 at: http://www.psychicjournal.com/

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Copyright © 1996 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-AUG-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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