The Wiccan Rede
The Wiccan Rede *
"Rede" is derived from an Old English word "roedan" which means to guide or direct.
Origin of the Wiccan Rede:
The original source for at least part of the Wiccan Rede appears to be by a 16th century novelist, François Rabelais.
"DO AS THOU WILT because men that are free, of gentle birth, well bred and at home in civilized company possess a natural instinct that inclines them to virtue and saves them from vice. This instinct they name their honor."1
This concept appears to have been adopted by Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) in his Law of Thelema which is contained in his 1904 book Liber AL vel Legis (The Book of the Law). Many believe that Crowley received the text of the Law from an angelic entity named Aiwass:
"Who calls us Thelemites will do no wrong, if he look but close into the word. For there are therein Three Grades, the Hermit, and the Lover, and the man of Earth. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law." 2
Later in the Book of the Law is a verse which states: "Invoke me under my stars! Love is the law, love under will. Nor let the fools mistake love; for there are love and love. There is the dove, and there is the serpent. Choose ye well! He, my prophet, hath chosen, knowing the law of the fortress, and the great mystery of the House of God." 3
Excerpts from these two verses are sometimes quoted together as two commandments: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law." "Love is the law, love under will."
Ellie Crystal writes: "Most Thelemites hold that every person possesses a True Will, a single overall motivation for their existence. The Law of Thelema mandates that each person follow their True Will to attain fulfillment in life and freedom from restriction of their nature. Because no two True Wills can be in real conflict ...this Law also prohibits one from interfering with the True Will of any other person." 4
Crowley initiated Gerald Gardiner into the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) in 1946. Gardner may have taken the phrase from Rabelais and Crowley: "do what thou wilt," grafted it onto a clear, unambiguous expression to do no harm, and produced the Wiccan Rede as we know it today.
An alternate explanation is that the Rede was extracted directly from the Wiccan Credo which some Wiccans believe was written circa 1910 CE by Adriana Porter.
Comparing the Wiccan Rede with behavioral rules of other religions:
The Wiccan Rede is one of many Ethics of Reciprocity which are found in essentially all of the world's religious texts. In Christianity, the Ethic of Reciprocity is sometimes called the Golden Rule. It urges believers to treat other people decently. For example, in Christianity, three of the 50 or so Gospels which circulated in the 1st century CE state:
Those Ethics of Reciprocity which are found in non-Wiccan religions concentrate on one's duties to other people. The Wiccan Rede goes further by also prohibiting a Wiccan from engaging in an action that hurts themselves.
The Pentateuch -- the first five books in the Hebrew Scriptures -- lists 613 behaviors that the ancient Hebrews were expected to either adopt because they are not sinful, or avoid because they are wicked. These laws are referred to as the Mosaic Law. About two dozen of these behaviors are grouped into the Ten Commandments. In contrast to the 613 specific injunctions, the Wiccan Rede consists of only one general rule which is intended to govern all behaviors.
Most religions teach very specific rules of behavior. The Roman Catholic church, for example, sorts them into two categories: mortal and venial sins. In contrast, the Wiccan is not given a list of prohibited and compulsory actions. They forced to consider all of the likely ramifications of each action before deciding whether it meets the standard of the Wiccan Rede. It can only be performed if it is free from harm. Judy Harrow writes: "The Craft, assuming ethical adulthood, offers us no rote rules. We will always be working on incomplete knowledge. We will sometimes just plain make mistakes. Life itself, and life-affirming religion, still demands that we learn, decide, act, and accept the results." 5
Robin Woodsong writes: " '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." 6
*This version of 'Rede of the Wiccae' was published in an edition of "Green Egg" (Vol. III #69, Ostara 1975). It was written by Lady Gwen Thompson's grandmother, Adriana Porter, and passed to her in the early part of her life. The Rede was copywritten back in the `70's as was the rest of her Book. She was the founder of the N.E.C.T.W. (New England Coven of Traditionalist Witches). She passed away in 1986 and has left a living Tradition with members scattered throughout the US.Theitic is the keeper of the histories and of much of Gwen's materials.
1. François Rabelais, "Gargantua," (1534).