The Wiccan Rede

The concept of the Wiccan Rede is frequently and widely misunderstood and misquoted. The full version is “An it harm none, do what thou wilt”. (If it harms no one, do what you want / do your True Will.) I have written about this before but haven’t devoted an entire blogpost to it.

The Wiccan attitude to ethics is mainly based on the Wiccan Rede. However, it is significant that this injunction occurs as part of the first degree initiation, and was probably originally meant to show the new initiate that it is impossible to do anything without causing some harm, so it is necessary to consider carefully the consequences of one’s actions.

The Wiccan Rede (which is simply the saying “An it harm none, do what ye will”, or If it harms no-one, do your will) is widely misinterpreted. People respond to it by saying, it’s impossible to harm no-one, so it doesn’t make sense; every action you take can cause harm. This is exactly the point of the saying. It’s impossible to completely avoid harm: so you can’t just do what you want. It basically means, think about the consequences before you act, and seek to minimise the amount of harm that you do.

If I had a dollar for every time I saw someone taking nonsense on the internet, and even in published books, about the Wiccan Rede, I could retire on the proceeds. The Wiccan Rede is “An it harm none, do what thou wilt.” It’s not “harm none” (which, as every non-Wiccan witch never tires of pointing out, is impossible), nor is it “and it harm none”, and it doesn’t get added to the end of magical workings in any initiatory Wiccan ritual that I’ve ever attended. Nor is it a long poem written in the 1970s, which may be very interesting, but it’s not part of my tradition. Before anyone who really likes the 1970s poem jumps on my head: fine if you like it, but don’t refer to it as the Wiccan Rede. It is a poem about the Rede, it is not the Rede itself.

“An it harm none, do what thou wilt” (modern translation: “if it harms no-one, do your will”) is based on a quote from Rabelais, a great Renaissance humanist and humorist. My interpretation is that it means that you can’t just do what you want, because there are potential harmful effects of every action, so you should think about the consequences before you act. Other people also interpret it that way.

Further reading