Almost all Pagans know the Rede: “An it harm none, do what thou wilt” But how many actually follow it? Is it a general guideline, or is it Law? Personally, I call it a creed, and Pagans do not need creeds. I say throw it out, forget it, just say NO to the Rede. Now I know some of you are now running away screaming. Good. That leaves the reasonable people to read on.
The Rede’s history is somewhat fuzzy. We know that it was Aleister Crowley who came up with the Law of Thelema: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” We know that Gerald Gardner was a buddy of Crowley’s. The story is that while Gardner was inventing Wicca, he wanted to tone down Crowleys maxim, and at the same time generate some positive PR for Wicca (there are only GOOD Witches you know), and so came up with the “An it harm none” clause. Later, Doreen Valiente is said to have given it some teeth with her invention of the “Threefold Law”.
Did I say invention? Weren’t these ideas always part of Goddess/Earth worshiping religions? Didn’t Gardner and Valiente just codify what was already there?
Perhaps. But probably not. Consider the Celts. Here is a culture whose idea of great decorating includes the display of their enemies heads on pikes. Not exactly an “an it harm none” ethic at work here. The Saxons are said to have been just as brutal, and those two cultures are the main historical sources for modern Wicca. Still, the Rede is a good thought. Enlightened people generally do not wish harm on others. But I think Crowley’s original thought still makes more sense. The rest of the Law of Thelema states: “Love is the Law. Love under will.” He goes on say that “Every man and every
woman is a Star.” So that the person operating under “do what thou wilt” is operating from a place of love. He who loves all can harm no one. But the Rede is too all encompassing, and practically speaking it is impossible to live, or do magick without violating it. Lets look at some scenarios:
1: HPS Ashera is asked by Sam to help him in get a job with a company he is interviewing with. He knows that he is just as qualified as any of the other applicants, and feels he’ll need a magickal boost to gain the advantage he needs.
A: Ashera refuses, since magick would give him a clear advantage over the others, thereby harming them.
Problem: This harms Sam, since now Sam still doesn’t have a job, having been beat out by someone whom the hiring manager liked better.
B: Ashera casts a spell of enhancement on Sam, which assures him the job.
Problem: The other people Sam beat out are harmed because Sam took an unfair advantage.
C: Ashera takes the middle ground, casting a spell on Sam wherein the God’s are instructed to “give him this or something better.”
Problem: This is the same as doing nothing. It harms Sam in that it teaches him to be subservient to the will of other deities instead of being
2: Coven member Rachel comes to her circle and states that she has clear evidence that her husbands ex is using black magick on her, causing her business to fail and causing her illness.
A: The coven casts a protective shield over her, which grounds out the effects of the black magick.
Problem: This doesn’t stop the black magick, which ultimately poisons the person casting it, thereby harming the ex-wife.
B: The coven tells her “It’s your problem, you deal with it. Don’t involve us.”
Problem: It makes the coven partners with the ex. By doing nothing they are in fact joining the ex in the black magick, doing harm
C: The coven casts a “mirror” shield over her, which deflects the black magick back on the sender, causing her business and her health to fail.
Problem: This is like revenge magick, and has the same effect as doing nothing.
3: Fred is seeking a parking space downtown, and is running out of time. He has an important meeting with a client.
A: Fred invokes Asphalta, Goddess of parking places, and within a block finds a place (and witnessed two other people pass it by).
Problem: Harms others who are looking for a place also, by giving Fred an advantage.
B: Fred keeps looking, and is late for his appointment.
Problem: Fred has harmed himself by not taking the magickal advantage. He also looks like a “flake” who can’t be counted on by his
Results: the Rede is always being violated; someone is always being harmed. The fact is, even by not using magick, we are always violating the Rede because our modern lifestyles impact ourselves and the environment in subtle but negative ways. I would venture that a person who is resolved to living in the country, growing her own vegetables (and being a strict vegan), using only a bicycle for transportation and living in a cabin with no utilities might be able to live without violating the Rede too much, but they are still harming something, just be living. The Rede is too large of a blanket to throw over a magician’s behavior. No one can live, let alone do magick, under that much restriction. But I am not advocating that we should go on a free for all of revenge against our enemies, take what ever we can, run over the weak either. I say let love be our guideline and these
ethical questions will soon disappear.
What about the “Three-Fold Law?” Well I don’t believe in it. “That software doesn’t run on my platform.” It doesn’t effect me one way or the other. But that is a whole other article, which we shall address in part two.
For those who say you can’t be a Pagan if you don’t believe in the Rede, I say “Poppy cock!”. Who elected you judge and jury over all of Pagandom? Who gave you the authority to define the word “Pagan”? Which made-up tradition ordained you with authority over all traditions? For every Wiccan (and Pagan) tradition, every religion for that matter, is just someone’s invention. And one is just as good (or bad) as another. And that is the subject
of Lesson three.
Note: The above essay is the original “Lesson 2-A” from the Druiccraft 101 course presented by the Order of the Mithril Star.