By Pax / Geoffrey Stewart
“An ye harm none, do what thou will.”
The Rede, as the above is known, is often cited as the only rule, ethical statement, or religious law of Witchcraft. While I disagree with the only part (See previous post on Love unto all beings…) I would say that examining the Rede, and really thinking about it, is central to understanding the philosophy of Witchcraft.
First let’s focus on the word Harm…
Physical or Psychological injury or damage.
Nouns are words that name a person, place, thing, quality, or action. Eliminating the person and place we have Harm describing a thing, quality, or action. This would seem to say that Harm is something that is done by one party or group to another. To do something, to do anything in fact, you need intent. So while you may not always succeed at it, if you strive to do no harm to yourself or others you are practicing the Rede.
Now let’s look at the word “An” in “An ye harm none, do what you will”. An, is the archaic form of “If” so a more modern wording would be…
“If you harm none, do what you will.”
“If” is darned important. “IF” means that we have the choice to do harm, to ourselves and to others, but that we must face the consequences of our actions.
If… So what if you harm someone, with intent? Since Witches don’t believe in the Devil, we can’t say “the Devil made me do it?” or “It was because I was a sinner!” or “It’s not my fault because I was acting under medication for my sinus infection”. In fact Witches and a lot, if sadly not all, of our fellow Pagans believe very strongly in personal responsibility as a part of their life paths.
Harming “none,” also includes oneself. This is a key ingredient in this Witches decision making process… Is it more harmful to myself to allow this situation to continue, than any harm X, Y, or Z might encounter as a result of my decision? The thing is to be a Witch you must be willing to strive to do no harm. There may come times in life where you have a choice and no matter what you chose someone will be harmed by your actions, but in most cases you have a choice open to you to NOT harm anyone or yourself.
Many Witches also believe that what we do will come back upon us, classically(at least according to some Craft Traditions), three-fold. Thus IF you choose to somehow do harm to, yourself or others, you MUST be willing to take the repercussions of your actions.
“Harm none” is an ideal, much like “Perfect Love, and Perfect Trust”; we can strive in our every word and action to live up to these ideals, and should work to bring them about to the best of our abilities. We should also not wallow in a sense of failure or an idea that we are somehow lacking in worth when we do not live up, 100 percent, to our ideals. We should dust ourselves off, pick ourselves up, and try, try again!
I hadn’t felt ready to deal with the concept of will in the Rede. True Will, not just what one wants to do. Partly because it has been so long since I had read up on True Will. In her comment to this post Cossette (who has a great blog of her own) says it better than I could…
“An important aspect of the Rede is the part of about “will.” It isn’t just about the individual’s desires or wishes, but true will as Aleister Crowley described it deals with a sense of a person’s greater purpose and path of action that operates in perfect harmony with nature.”
~Thanks for the eloquence Cossette!!
~ Rede Related Links ~
The Evolution of Wiccan Ethics ~ an interesting series of web articles
The Wiccan Rede Project ~ another online set of articles about the Rede