In part two of this three part post, I’ll examine the meaning of the maxim many Wiccans strive to live by: As it harms none, do what you will.
From attorney, activist, and Wiccan author Phyllis Curott in her interview with Guy Spiro of The Monthly Aspectarian:
We are indicted in the rest of the religious community for that. They look at that and they think we’re hedonists and amoral. [It’s] an extension of the concept of living in the sacred universe. [If] we behave in a reverential and sacred manner because [we understand and experience the world as sacred], then we are free to do what we think best as long as nothing is harmed. You have a tremendous freedom, but with it comes responsibility that you are not engaging in behavior that does harm to the sacred.
I would add a layer to this by saying that because Wiccans believe everything is interconnected, we accept that harming one part also harms the whole.
This philosophy isn’t just more new-age fluff. Isaac Newton taught us that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Clear-cutting 50 acres of forestland results in soil erosion (tree roots keep the earth from washing away), greater pollution (trees clean the air), and disruption of animal habitat which in turn imbalances the local food chain (and on and on).
As Phyllis alluded, some outside Wicca believe the Rede is too ambiguous to offer clear moral direction. Would it surprise you to learn that some Wiccans feel the same way?
When I first came to the Wiccan path I saw the Rede as the sum of the religion’s moral code – something that when applied would ensure moral and ethical victory no matter the situation. But as time went by I realized for the Rede to work in all situations, all possible actions (including lack of action) must be easily classified as either helpful or harmful. When I started to realize this wasn’t possible, I began to see how the Rede can break down in some situations. For example, it’s easy to determine that physically hurting someone violates the Rede. But what if this is necessary to defend myself or my family from someone with malicious intent?
Randall Sapphire further illustrates this dilemma in his editorial Problems with the Wiccan Rede:
For example, if a Rede-literalist came across a person unconscious and dying of heart failure at the side of the road, they’d have to walk on by rather than give CPR, because they are unable to get the person’s permission to help them — and for all they know the person might want to die (or so they often claim to excuse their inaction).
Now, rather than viewing the Rede as an all-encompassing moral directive, I view it as a starting point and recognize that it isn’t a cure-all for every possible moral and ethical woe.
The fallacy that all things can be quickly sorted into conveniently labeled bins – right or wrong, good or bad – is a hold-over from patriarchal religion that discourages critical thinking and personal responsibility. Though at first glance it may not seem so, Wiccans who defy common sense to uphold the literal meaning of the Rede have endorsed this fallacy – one incompatible with the value we place on individual accountability.