Wiccan Rede The creed of contemporary Paganism and Witchcraft is expressed simply:
Eight words the Wiccan rede fulfil;
An’ it harm none, do what ye will.
The Wiccan rede acknowledges the right of all people to choose their own paths, as long as their choices do not bring injury to another. The term Wiccan Rede is derived from the Old English terms wicca (“witch”) and roedan (“to guide or direct”). An is Old English, short for and. Some Witches erroneously believe it is an archaic term for if.
The exact origin of the Wiccan rede is uncertain. According to Gerald B. Gardner, the creed is derived from the legendary Good king Pausol, who declared, “Do what you like so long as you harm no one,” and apparently was adhered to by successive generations of witches. It probably has more recent origins, dating to the 1940s and 1950s, the early years of what was to become the “Gardnerian tradition” of modern Witchcraft. Gardner, who borrowed from the writings of Aleister Crowley, may have composed the Wiccan rede by modifying Crowley’s Law of Thelema: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” Crowley believed that if people knew their true wills and followed them, they would harmonize with the universe.
The rede may originally have been intended to help make modern Witchcraft more acceptable to the public. It has since become interpreted very conservatively by most Witches and influences the casting of spells. Some witches feel the rede should be interpreted more liberally.
Witches espouse a deep and abiding respect for the sanctity and free will of all living creatures and do not believe they should use their powers to interfere in that free will. They believe it is unethical to use Magic to harm or manipulate; even a love spell is manipulative if it is an attempt to sway affections against one’s free will. rather than cast a love spell aimed at a particular person, for example, a Witch casts a spell directed at attracting the right and perfect love, for the good and free will of all. many Witches believe they should not cast any sort of spells on others without first obtaining their permission—even Healing spells.
It is believed that violators of this interpretation of the Wiccan rede will suffer a karmic boomerang effect and bring negativity or evil upon themselves.
This interpretation of the rede seems extreme to some in the Craft, for it means that spells should not be cast against wrongdoers: a Witch could make no effort to stop a rapist or a crime magically, because that would be manipulation of the criminal’s free will. Those who favour the conservative interpretation argue that they can instead cast spells to protect victims.
Other Witches advocate casting “binding” spells; that is, spells that stop or prevent evil. A binding spell on a serial murderer, for example, would not be a Curse upon the murderer but would be aimed at getting him caught. One celebrated binding spell was cast in 1980 in the San Francisco Bay Area, against the mt. Tam murderer, a serial killer who ambushed and shot joggers, most of them women. A group of Witches led by Z Budapest conducted a public “hexing” (their term for binding) ritual, calling for the murderer, who had been at large for nearly three years, to bring himself down through his own evil and mistakes. Within three months, the killer made enough mistakes to lead to his arrest; he was later convicted and given the death sentence.
Many Witches also cast binding spells to help causes, such as antinuclear movements, environmental concerns and animal welfare—to stop the killing of whales, for example. Binding spells are also cast against troublemakers, destructive gossips and annoying, meddlesome persons. In some of these situations, judgment is subjective. Casting a binding spell upon a coworker with whom one is having conflicts may be considered ethical by some Witches but not so by others. In an effort to be ethically consistent, some Witches cast spells that are directed not at persons but at situations. For example, instead of binding a troublesome person in order to solve a problem, the Witch casts a spell directed at solution of the problem by unspecified means “for the good of all.” Or, instead of casting a love spell on a specific individual, the Witch casts a spell to attract “the right and perfect love.”
Still other Witches feel the interpretations of the Wiccan rede have become too convoluted and have stripped Witches of their magical effectiveness, reducing them to a harmless level of “Bambi magic.” They say that if it is morally responsible to stop a crime physically, then it should be morally responsible to stop it magically. Some Witches do practice cursing when they feel it is warranted, but are quiet about it.
In other cultures where witchcraft plays a different role, the issue would not exist: a magician or sorcerer who refused to curse an enemy would be useless to society. But contemporary Witches seek to dispel age-old negative beliefs about Witches. Despite occasional allowances for “white witches” in popular lore, the witch has been perceived throughout history as one who uses supernatural forces and powers especially for evil. Contemporary Witches define themselves differently, as agents of good and as healers.
- Buckland, Raymond. Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1986.
- Crowley, Vivianne. Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Millennium. revised ed. London: Thorsons/Harper Collins, 1996.
- Valiente, Doreen. An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present. 1973. reprint, Custer, Wash.: Phoenix Publishing, 1986.