Posts Tagged ‘Wiccan Rede’

After high school and before college, I volunteered for an organization called Community Service Volunteers in London, England. For six months I lived with four developmentally delayed young men and assisted them with things like grocery shopping and preparing meals, and accompanied them on social outings. It was a period of immense personal growth on many fronts, and I will always remember those men and my time in England fondly. Years later, immersed in the busyness of everyday life, I had forgotten how important and empowering it is to serve others. This concept was recently brought back to the forefront by someone I wouldn’t normally cross paths with – a Roman Catholic nun.

Last week I volunteered at Sojourner Place in Seattle, a transitional home for women who’ve left bad situations and are beginning to rebuild their lives. It was a humbling experience assisting other volunteers with the prep, serving, and clean up of a meal for the eleven women that live there. Even more cause for personal reflection was the conversation we had with the house leader, a nun by the name of K.C. Young.

K.C. didn’t look like I expected her to – no habit, no rosary. If you met her on the street or at a social gathering, you’d encounter a nicely dressed, well-spoken woman who emanates personal strength and quiet calm. K.C. has been a nun since early adulthood and has spent the last 45 years serving those less fortunate in every corner of the world.

When we arrived she gave us a tour before inviting questions about herself and/or Sojourner Place. When asked how the Roman Catholic Church views service, she replied by explaining the Church’s “theology of service.” She said that God favors the poor and destitute, and that the more fortunate among us are obligated to care for those who have trouble caring for themselves. She went on to say that this philosophy extends beyond people to include the care and preservation of all Creation. Seeing this woman’s strength, compassion and dedication, in addition to the similarities between the “theology of service” she described and the Wiccan Rede, inspired deep respect and admiration.

As many who’ll read this already know, those who walk the Overgrown Path strive to live by the Wiccan Rede, which invites us to do as we choose provided none are harmed by our choices (including ourselves). In Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, Scott Cunningham explains that “This is more than survival. It also ensures that you’ll be in good condition to take on the tasks of preserving and bettering our world.”

I’m grateful for the reminder that the “tasks of preserving and bettering our world” are shared among many who walk various religious and spiritual paths. This has given me both a new perspective on people like K.C. and her religion, as well as a lot of hope for the future.

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Compassion is the language that the blind can see and the deaf can hear.

Mata Amritanandamayi, a.k.a “Amma

Those with deep wisdom often say much with few words. Here I believe Amma is talking about the power carried by thoughts, something intangible that both directly affects our physical reality as well as extends beyond it. 

One common teaching in metaphysics is the importance of developing discipline in how thought energy is directed. As one progresses spiritually, (or put another way, as one’s vibratory rate increases), the ability to help or harm with our thoughts also increases. Though one may not initially consider this, (I didn’t), the Wiccan Rede and the Christian Golden Rule don’t simply apply to avoiding actions that harm – they advise avoiding thoughts that harm as well. Who hasn’t felt anger, hate, or jealousy at one time or another? Having spiritual maturity doesn’t mean being immune to these feelings, it means not allowing them to consume us or affect how we relate to others.

From Yogi Sri Swami Sivananda: 

Those who harbour thoughts of hatred, jealousy, revenge and malice are verily very dangerous persons. They cause unrest and ill-will amongst men. Their thoughts and feelings are like wireless messages broadcast in ether, and are received by those whose minds respond to such vibrations.

Thought moves with tremendous velocity. Those who entertain sublime and pious thoughts help others, who are in their vicinity and at a distance also.

His original post can be found here.

An interesting article about how one scientist proved thoughts affect physical reality can be found here.


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Most Wiccans recognize two related moral codes – the Wiccan Rede and the Threefold Law.

The Rede states “As it harms none, do what you will.” In simple terms this means “do what you like as long as no one gets hurt, including yourself.”

The Threefold Law states that whatever energy one puts forth (in words, thoughts, and/or actions) will be returned after being multiplied by three.

The concept behind the Rede is not unique to Wicca. In fact, every other major religion teaches a similar ethic of reciprocity.

There are two reasons the Rede feels like truth to me. First, it guides one toward living a sacred life. If we view ourselves and all we encounter as sacred, we’re more likely to use the reverence that results as a basis for the decisions we make (decisions that would likely involve “harming none.”). Second, it’s based on the universal law of cause and effect (simply put, we reap what we sow). We can see evidence of this law all around us.

The Threefold Law does not resound as truth however. First, I see it as an unnecessary over-elaboration of the Rede. Second, in the words of attorney, activist, and well-known Wiccan Phyllis Curott,

“[The Threefold Law is] not ethics, [it]’s expediency. [It’s a] remnant of Biblical patriarchal thinking. It’s a rule based on punishment and fear. What it says is, if I do something wrong, I will be punished, and therefore I will behave. Expediency, self-interest, and this is the weak cousin of an ethical norm. It’s bad morality and it’s not the basis upon which we should conduct ourselves and our lives and our spiritual practices.”

(Expediency means basing current action strictly on a future desired outcome.)

I understand and accept that how I experience life is a direct reflection of the choices I make – I don’t need the Threefold Law hovering over my head to remind me. Also, when I do good I endeavor to do so based on genuine desire -not because I expect to receive a triple bonus of good in return.

It’s important for adherents of all religions to use discernment and to constantly ask questions. Digesting everything one reads or is told without first passing it through these filters is inconsistent with the value we as Wiccans place on personal responsibility.

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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.

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If there’s one thing most religions can agree on, it’s the Ethic of Reciprocity (commonly known as “The Golden Rule”). In Wicca, it’s called the Wiccan Rede:  As it harms none, do what you will.

This is the first of three posts discussing the forms, meaning, and history of the Wiccan Rede.

Inspired by mention of the Golden Rule Society in Edain McCoy‘s book Making Magick: What it is and how it works, I decided to collect each major religion’s equivalent to the Rede and display it here. My research led me to ReligiousTolerance.org, where I found someone had already done this exact thing. I’ll provide a condensed version below, and will refer those interested in the expanded passages and source documentation to the link above. I’ll endeavor to provide links to each religion listed below (listed alphabetically) for those curious.

Bahá’í Faith: “Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not.”

Brahmanism: “Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.”

Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”

Christianity: “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.”

Confucianism: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.”

Hinduism: “Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.”

Islam: “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”

Jainism: “In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self.”

Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary.”

Native American: “Do not wrong or hate your neighbor. For it is not he who you wrong, but yourself.” (Pima proverb)

Roman Paganism: “The law imprinted on the hearts of all men is to love the members of society as themselves.”

Shinto: “The heart of the person before you is a mirror. See there your own form.”

Sikhism: “Don’t create enmity with anyone as God is within everyone.”

Sufism: “The basis of Sufism is consideration of the hearts and feelings of others. If you haven’t the will to gladden someone’s heart, then at least beware lest you hurt someone’s heart, for on our path, no sin exists but this.”

Taoism: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” Also, “recompense injury with kindness.”

Unitarianism: “We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”

Wicca: “As it harms none, do what you will.”

Yoruba (Nigeria): “One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts.”

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