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The Wiccan Rede // is a statement that provides the key moral system in the Neopagan religion of Wicca and certain other related Witchcraft-based faiths. A common form of the Rede is An it harm none, do what ye will.
The word "Rede" derives from Middle English, meaning "advice" or "counsel" and being closely related to the German Rat or Norwegian råd. "An" is an archaic Middle English conjunction, meaning "if." "Ye" is an archaic or dialectal form of "you" (nominative plural).
Other variants of the Rede include:
A similar phrase, Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law, appears in Aleister Crowley's works by 1904, in The Book of the Law (though as used by Crowley it is half of a statement and response, the response being "Love is the law, love under will"). According to B.A. Robinson of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, Crowley adopted this line from François Rabelais, who in 1534 wrote, "DO AS THOU WILT because men that are free, of gentle birth, well bred and at home in civilized company possess a natural instinct that inclines them to virtue and saves them from vice. This instinct they name their honor".
King Pausole, a character in Pierre Louÿs' Les aventures du roi Pausole (The Adventures of King Pausole, published in 1901), issued a similar pair of edicts: I. — Ne nuis pas à ton voisin. II. — Ceci bien compris, fais ce qu'il te plaît. ("Do not harm your neighbor; this being well understood, do that which pleases you.") Although Gardner noted the similarity of the rede to King Pausole's words, Silver Ravenwolf believes it is more directly referencing Crowley. Another notable antecedent was put forth by the philosopher John Stuart Mill with his harm principle in the 19th century. "Mill argues that the sole purpose of law should be to stop people from harming others and that should people want to participate in victimless crimes, crimes with no complaining witness, such as gambling, drug usage, engaging in prostitution, then they should not be encroached in doing so."
Documented ideas similar to the Rede reach as far back as the fourth century theologian Saint Augustine of Hippo. In Homily 7 on the First Epistle of John, Augustine wrote Dilige, et quod vis fac[not in citation given] meaning Love, and do what you will, Augustine was commenting on 1 John 4:4-12, which talks about love at length. Certain versions of the Bible translate Romans 13:10 as "Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." It has also been argued that similar concepts exist among Native Americans.
In 1974 a complete twenty-six line poem entitled "The Wiccan Rede" was published in the neo-Pagan magazine Earth Religion News. Each line contained a rhymed couplet laid out as a single line, the last line being the familiar "short rede" couplet beginning "Eight words...".
This poem was shortly followed by another, slightly different, version, entitled the "Rede Of The Wiccae", which was published in Green Egg magazine by Lady Gwen Thompson. She ascribed it to her grandmother Adriana Porter, and claimed that the earlier published text was distorted from "its original form". The poem has since been very widely circulated and has appeared in other versions and layouts, with additional or variant passages. It is commonly known as the "Long Rede".
The Long Rede is:
Bide within the Law you must, in perfect Love and perfect Trust.
Live you must and let to live, fairly take and fairly give.
For tread the Circle thrice about to keep unwelcome spirits out.
To bind the spell well every time, let the spell be said in rhyme.
Light of eye and soft of touch, speak you little, listen much.
Honor the Old Ones in deed and name,
let love and light be our guides again.
Deosil go by the waxing moon, chanting out the joyful tune.
Widdershins go when the moon doth wane,
and the werewolf howls by the dread wolfsbane.
When the Lady's moon is new, kiss the hand to Her times two.
When the moon rides at Her peak then your heart's desire seek.
Heed the North winds mighty gale, lock the door and trim the sail.
When the Wind blows from the East, expect the new and set the feast.
When the wind comes from the South, love will kiss you on the mouth.
When the wind whispers from the West, all hearts will find peace and rest.
Nine woods in the Cauldron go, burn them fast and burn them slow.
Birch in the fire goes to represent what the Lady knows.
Oak in the forest towers with might, in the fire it brings the God's
insight. Rowan is a tree of power causing life and magick to flower.
Willows at the waterside stand ready to help us to the Summerland.
Hawthorn is burned to purify and to draw faerie to your eye.
Hazel-the tree of wisdom and learning adds its strength to the bright fire burning.
White are the flowers of Apple tree that brings us fruits of fertility.
Grapes grow upon the vine giving us both joy and wine.
Fir does mark the evergreen to represent immortality seen.
Elder is the Lady's tree burn it not or cursed you'll be.
Four times the Major Sabbats mark in the light and in the dark.
As the old year starts to wane the new begins, it's now Samhain.
When the time for Imbolc shows watch for flowers through the snows.
When the wheel begins to turn soon the Beltane fires will burn.
As the wheel turns to Lamas night power is brought to magick rite.
Four times the Minor Sabbats fall use the Sun to mark them all.
When the wheel has turned to Yule light the log the Horned One rules.
In the spring, when night equals day time for Ostara to come our way.
When the Sun has reached it's height time for Oak and Holly to fight.
Harvesting comes to one and all when the Autumn Equinox does fall.
Heed the flower, bush, and tree by the Lady blessed you'll be.
Where the rippling waters go cast a stone, the truth you'll know.
When you have and hold a need, harken not to others greed.
With a fool no season spend or be counted as his friend.
Merry Meet and Merry Part bright the cheeks and warm the heart.
Mind the Three-fold Laws you should three times bad and three times good.
When misfortune is enow wear the star upon your brow.
Be true in love this you must do unless your love is false to you.
These Eight words the Rede fulfill:
"An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will"
According to Don Frew, Valiente composed the couplet, following Gardner's statement that witches "are inclined to the morality of the legendary Good King Pausol, 'Do what you like so long as you harm none'"; he claims the common assumption that the Rede was copied from Crowley is misinformed, and has resulted in the words often being misquoted as "an it harm none, do what thou wilt" instead of "do what you will".
Thompson's attribution of the Long Rede to her grandmother has been disputed, since Adriana Porter died in 1946, well before Gerald Gardner published The Old Laws, and no evidence for Porter's authorship exists other than Thompson's word. The poem refers to Wiccan concepts that, though ostensibly very old, have not been proven to pre-date the 1940s. Its attribution to Porter may have formed part of Thompson's claim to be an hereditary witch. Its precise origin has yet to be determined.
Adrian Bott, in an article written in White Dragon magazine, 2003, argues that the Long Rede's creation can be placed somewhere between 1964 and 1975. Bott bases his argument on the alleged misuse of archaic English in the poem, in particular of " an' " as an abbreviation of "and", and of "ye" instead of "the". Bott states that the author of the poem was evidently unaware that this contraction of "and" is not an archaic, but a modern convention. According to Bott, in the "eight words" couplet originally cited by Valiente, "an" is used correctly, in the Middle English sense of " 'in the event that', or simply 'if' " (as in the Shakespearean "an hadst thou not come to my bed") and thus has no apostrophe. In the poem, this has been transformed into an abbreviated "and" and given an apostrophe, with every "and" in the poem's additional lines then being written " an' " as if to match. Accordingly, Bott concludes that the poem was an attempt to expand Valiente's couplet into a full Wiccan credo, written by someone who misunderstood the archaic language they attempted to imitate. Robert Mathiesen repeats Bott's objection to "ye", but argues that most other archaisms are used correctly. However, he states that they all derive from late 19th century revivalist usages. Based on this fact Mathiesen concludes that early twentieth century authorship of at least part of the poem is probable. He argues that its references to English folklore are consistent with Porter's family history. His provisional conclusion is that a folkloric form of the poem may have been written by Porter, but that it was supplemented and altered by Thompson to add specifically Wiccan material. Mathiessen also takes the view that the last line was probably a Thompson addition derived from Valiente. According to this account, the 1974 variant of the text, which was published by one of Thompson's former initiates, may represent one of the earlier drafts. Its publication prompted Thompson to publish what she – falsely, according to Mathiessen – claimed was Porter's "original" poem.
The Rede is similar to a consequentialist formulation of the Golden Rule, a belief that is found in nearly every religion. Not all traditional Wiccans follow the Rede; some Gardnerians (a sect under Wicca) espouse the Charge of the Goddess as a guide for morality. Its line "Keep pure your highest ideal, strive ever towards it; let naught stop you or turn you aside, for mine is the secret door which opens upon the door of youth" is used as a maxim for ethical dilemmas.
There is some debate in the neo-Pagan and Wiccan communities as to the meaning of the Rede. The debate centres 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 and emphasis on the consequences of one's actions 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.
The concept of ethical reciprocity is not explicitly stated, but most Wiccans interpret the Rede to imply the Golden Rule in the belief that the spirit of the Rede is to actively do good for one's fellow humans as well as for oneself. Different sects of Wiccans read "none" differently. "None" can apply to only the self, or it may include animals and/or plants, and so forth. In essence, the Rede can be fully understood as meaning that one should always follow their true will instead of trying to obtain simple wants and to ensure that following one's will does not harm anyone or anything. In this light, the Rede can be seen as encouraging a Wiccan to take personal responsibility for his or her actions.
There have been a number of published interpretations of how one should determine what constitutes 'harming none'. Silver Ravenwolf, for instance, believes that although acting to restrain a wrong-doer is in a sense harming them, failure to act against them could allow greater harm; this must be carefully weighed up, and preferably a course of action can be found that minimises harm to all parties.
A few people observe a modern revised Rede with the words "an it cause harm, do as you must" appended.
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