A discussion over on Camylleon’s blog reminded me of the fact that I’m pretty sure the Wiccan Rede is probably one of the most misunderstood pieces of Vogon poetry ever cited. I hate it when I walk into occult shops and see plaques with “And it harm none, do what ye will!” plastered all over. I see it on t-shirts and posters, pens and embroidered pillows. It just won’t go away. And needless to say, that wording isn’t even correct!
All in all, the Wiccan Rede has a lot of good stuff in it (even if it is horribly worded). But I think that it’s almost completely ruined by the fact that people like to ignore its entirety. When people focus solely on “An it harm none, do what ye will”, the importance of everything else it talks about is lost. People seem to forget that while that last line is a nice little bit of wording, it really doesn’t sum up the rest of the Rede, and that there are, in fact, many more lines to it (25 more, to be exact).
How come people like to entirely ignore the lines “Deosil go by the waxing moon, singing out ye Witches’ Rune, Widdershins go by the waning moon, chanting out ye Baneful Rune”? Isn’t this saying that there is a time and place for both light and dark? It also says, “fairly take and fairly give”. We see this with the Charge of the Goddess as well; people like to ignore that there is also a Curse of the Goddess, though it is much less known. The line “When misfortune is anow, wear the star upon thy brow” refers to shielding in defense of yourself. You can’t just cite one line of the Wiccan Rede without looking at other parts of the liturgy and understand that there is a greater whole. Unfortunately the world is not all puppies and rainbows. Wiccans get a bad reputation from their blindness in regards to this balance of good and bad. “An it harm none, do what ye will” would be great in an ideal world. We don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a much more complicated and scary world.
Maybe it’s because I started my Pagan life as a pirate and not a Wiccan. The Wiccan Rede is not the end all, be all of my ethical and moral decisions. You have to take these things with a grain of salt. There is always a dark side to the light. There’s a reason that darkness exists. It always goes back to being balanced. I don’t usually see things in shades of white and black. I live very much in the grey. One of the things the pirates discuss a lot is the fact that you need to know your shadow self. You need to understand your bad side and what that side of you is capable of. If you aren’t aware of this, you can’t guard against it. You have to acknowledge it to understand it and to understand why the things that part of you may want to do are wrong and why they should be restrained. If you want to put it a modern context, look at Freud’s idea’s of the Id, the Ego, and the Super Ego. Negative impulses exist, and always will. You can’t just sum up an entire ethical framework with something like “An it harm none, do what ye will”. Life is just not that simple.
We were just discussing the Grimm’s fairy tale Sleeping Beauty at a Pagan meetup. When the evil fairy shows up at the party to curse Sleeping Beauty, the last fairy who hasn’t yet given her gift cannot undo the curse that the evil one has given. She can mitigate it, make it much less severe, but once spoken, the curse can’t be entirely taken back. A friend of mine pointed out that you can also see this in the story of Esther in the Bible. The King can’t just take back his order for the massacre of the Jews; all he can do is allow the Jews to fight back. This is a good example of the threefold law. Anything you say or do, can never be entirely taken back. Usually, once something is said, it takes on a life of its own and the next time you hear it, it has grown threefold from whatever might have been originally. This is why the threefold law is so true. It’s not saying that you can’t ever cause harm, it’s saying that if you do, it’s going to grow much bigger than you expect and when it comes back on you, its going to have greater consequences than you originally considered. It’s also saying that this is true of any good you put out there. “An it harm none, do what ye will” is therefore not as simple and straightforward as people like to misconstrue.
In the traditional Wicca of the fifties, sixties and seventies, Wiccans were not afraid of the dark side of the Craft. They recognized that when you worship Goddesses like Hecate, Cybele, Demeter, the Morrigan and Hel, you weren’t necessarily going to be working with “the light” all of the time. When you read Aradia it is full of death and violence and curses. People were not afraid to go after those who were attacking them. (Whether or not you believe that Leland was given something that was actually “true” Witchcraft, the book Aradia was certainly instrumental in shaping early Wicca). In the eighties, Wicca began changing into a much more “Neo Pagan” sort of religion and started to become side tracked with political correctness. The Starhawk generation changed Wicca into a pretty religion. Wicca lost its bite. It was at this point that the last line of the Wiccan Rede became the penultimate line.
For me, it comes down to accepting personal responsibility. You have to hold accountability for your actions and you have to know when an action is appropriate or not. Decisions like these are very rarely simple. And sometimes you have to stand up to someone who is malevolent and send everything that they’re doing to you back to them. What if you don’t and they go from you to someone who is much less able to handle whatever it is that they’re doing? We need to get over “An it harm none, do what ye will” and focus on how we can protect others who are in the Craft; by looking backwards, we can move our ethical thinking forward. There’s no reason the last line of the Rede can’t be a solid foundation for our Wiccan morals, but it isn’t the only way to approach life, especially when you want to ignore all of the Rede’s other ramifications.