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A View on the Wiccan Rede

Author: Robin Woodsong
Connections Journal

I was listening to radio evangelist Bob Larson talk to a witch on his radio show. The witch mentioned the Wiccan Rede "as you harm none, do as you will." He snorted and ridiculed the idea that such a simple idea could be a legitimate basis for ethical behavior.

I began to think about the Wiccan Rede and how it applies to our religion and lives. Our lives are a web of interconnecting relationships for which we create rules to provide common standards of behavior. How loose or rigid these standards are depends on the type of society they are drawn from. For the last 4000 years we have lived in a dominator style society in which power flows from the top down and responsibility flows from the bottom up. Dominator societies do not stop at the domination of its people, but also turn to domination of nature. America is the epitome of such a society.

To keep this power structure functioning, social and legal rules are designed to keep the populace in strict compliance. Under Christian influence the U.S. has legislated everything from who can marry whom, to what plants are legal to consume. Christians use their political power to codify their ethics and morals into the legal system of America. All of these laws are attempts to control the private lives of the people of the United States using Christian values as a baseline for behavior.

The social rules were even more strict. Many were backed up by legal sanctions. In some states it was illegal for people of different races to marry. There were states that had laws requiring newly elected officials to proclaim allegiance to God and to the ideals of a Christian nation. If they did not, the election would be considered invalid and another election would be held to select a suitable candidate. The multitudes of social and legal rules are the key to understanding the dominator model. If people are allowed to think for themselves there is a fear that they would not conform. That is the underlying fear of the conservatives in our society. New ways of thinking would produce new ways of living. They have legitimate fears of the future. Fewer people are buying into the culture of greed and repression, which reduces the effectiveness of traditional controls. Society is radically changing from a dominator society of compliance to one that respects individuality and encourages development of individual potential.

The most practical guide for living, with the greatest freedom and without abusive personal power, is "An' you harm none, do as you will." But what exactly does that mean?

'Do as you will,' assigns freedom and responsibility for these actions to each individual. Each of us would be personally responsible for our actions, our failures and our successes. One of the first arguments with this creed, is that each person will make different definitions about 'harming none.' Within our community we have defined witches as those who knowledgeably undertake the obligation to further harmony. This is not a namby pamby exhortation to be sweetness and light. It is a true obligation to take whatever steps are required to contribute to a long term goal of growth in a positive path. This understanding is a common theme, although the details differ from person to person and from group to group. If used as a base, however, then there are great similarities in the decisions made. This allows us to operate in concert with members of our community.

Imagine a society where we no longer endure the battering of expectations from our loved ones or society. Each marriage would be defined by the need of individuals, gay or straight, multiples or couples, not by the dictates of society. Each person would have the responsibility to find their own path, not to follow blindly others' traditions or expectations.

If a society really had the philosophy "as you harm none" we would move beyond the dominator model of society back to the partnership ways of our Pagan ancestors. 'Harming none' in Pagan thought includes the ecosystem that sustains us. Nature would not be considered a storehouse of raw materials to fuel our industrial expansion, nor a dumping ground for toxic waste. We would walk in harmony with the earth and each other. Wars would be impossible. Every soldier would have to be personally convinced killing another person would be absolutely necessary to protect our families and homes.

Is a necessary response to violence in conflict with the Wiccan Rede? A response which eliminates an aggressor is necessary for long term harmony and continued existence. Therefore violence which protects existence is appropriate but no longer could wars be fought simply to protect the image of politicians or protect commercial interests in foreign markets.

Does the phrase "as you harm none" preclude capital punishment? No, because elimination of aggressors, especially within our society is an appropriate response. I would assert that murder, being one of the most heinous crimes, needs a like response. We assume reincarnation as a fact. If a person has taken a life, it is the ultimate assault. Capital punishment ends the influence of that person in our society. I liken it to a child given time out in kindergarten. You broke the rules, and you must be given time to consider your errors. When the person is re-incarnated they will be given a clean slate and will have the option to avoid past mistakes.

Is the killing of animals for food doing harm? Harm must be looked at in intent. If animals are killed frivolously or without respect, then it is harm. We live in a cycle of life where life feeds on life. We kill to eat and we in turn die and are used for food. Creatures that have given their bodies for us, are performing a sacred act. Many tribal cultures believe the animals who die to feed them are incarnations of the gods. By proper rites they thank the gods, so the gods will make the herds strong and the animals give the gift of their bodies willingly. We who do little of our own killing must strive to maintain the respect our ancestors had for creatures who die for us. Thus retaining harmony and balance between ourselves and nature, which truly harms none.

All the things we have looked at are only guide- lines. They do not and can not apply to all persons in all situations. If anyone tries to set rules on what our behavior must be to be a true Witch, we will fracture our faith and become as intolerant as the Christians.

No adult can tell another what to do with her or his life and self. That is the key to freedom. Someone may be killing themselves with drugs or cigarettes, but that ultimately is the person's choice. Each person's rights are inviolate as long as they don't injure someone else. We are free to counsel, cajole, pester or whine about a persons' behavior, but we must not legislate it.

One Wiccan saying is 'what we send out returns to us threefold.' There is no cosmic blackboard that contains our karmic pluses and minuses with a running total underneath. Each of our choices and actions mold who and what we are. No one can lie, cheat and steal without their psyche being scarred by such actions. This scarring affects our thought processes and spiritual interactions. Acting in love, which is promoting peace, harmony and joy in our lives and in others, counteracts this scarring and begins the return to balance. Karma is the sum of our actions and its effects on our psyche. No one can judge another's inner life, we can only observe their actions and decide if we want to associate with them. If a person's actions are truly harmful to those around them, then as individuals we must confront and encourage change. If they choose to continue in harmful and disruptive actions, our choices are; to disassociate our- selves from them, warn others of past behaviors, or other necessary responses.

'Do as you will and harm none' is not an easy way to structure morality. We have difficult personal choices to make and hard decisions to follow. It would be much simpler if all aspects of our lives were regulated, and the rules and regulations written down and posted. No more thinking, no hard choices, no more struggling over ethical conflicts.

The Wiccan Rede is a minimum standard to pre- serve the status quo. To create love and harmony in ourselves and the world, we must step beyond the status quo, embracing both the risks and the triumphs inherent in fostering change.

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