‘An’ is an antiquated term meaning ‘if’ not ‘and’.
The word ‘rede’ basically means ‘advice’ or ‘counsel’.
Upon first glance, this seems rather simplistic and I’ve heard complaints from those among other religious traditions claiming that it’s “too free”.
This is not true.
The core belief in Witchcraft is that each person is responsible for their own actions and for the consequences of them. The Rede displays this. On one level it means that we are free to live and work and do as we choose as long as we do not seek to harm others through our actions. It is a noble goal and one to strive for. I don’t think that anyone can really argue that being above seeking harm is foolish or wrong and the law or commandment exists in other forms in other religions. Among Christianity it is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And also, Love your neighbor as you love yourself. All are solid guidelines to go by. The Rede gives guidance to our actions, both mundanely and magically.
But it does not caution us against doing harm. It says nothing about not doing harm. It only says that if an action harms none, then we are at liberty to perform it. Like all religious and moral guidelines, this one has been reinterpreted countless times by people seeking to understand just what it is saying.
I firmly believe that beginners should follow the Rede as often as possible. When you are learning about this path and how to walk it, the Rede is a valuable tool for not getting yourself into trouble through foolish, wanton actions or power-mongering spellwork. As you continue to study and grow though, you may come to realize that there is a need for balance and understanding and that the Rede seems to make it impossible to live. How can we exist without bringing harm to something? Unless or until humans develop a way to exist totally on happy thoughts and eat air, our need for food and shelter ‘harms’ other things. How can one exist and follow the Rede if this is the case?
Intention and balance are what lies behind right or wrong action. It is intention that determines if something is good or evil. If your intention is good, then the action is good. If your intention is bad, then the action is bad. To work magic is to put our will, our intention, into a specific purpose to cause change. This is why Witches believe it is very important to be mindful of all actions. We weigh our intent against what we are doing to see if it will tip the karmic scales one way or the other.
Balance is also necessary because Witches understand that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are subjective points on an ongoing scale, they are not opposite points that counter one another. Anything taken to an extreme of either too much or too little is ‘bad’ whereas anything held in the middle, in balance, is ‘good’.
Courage is something we consider to be a virtue. But too much courage is foolhardiness, too little is cowardice. Only when Courage is found in balance between these two is it deemed a virtue.
Compassion is a virtue. Too much compassion, and we have no boundary for justice or consequence. Too little compassion and we’re hard-hearted and cruel. Compassion must exist in the center of these two things to be virtuous.
These are just a couple of examples, if you think about it, I’m sure you will come up with others.
On another level, there is a deeper understanding to the word “Will” in the Rede. It does not mean simply ‘what you want’. If it did, then the Rede would have said, ‘An ye harm none, do what ye want’. Our Will is our higher purpose, our reason for being. In magic, your Will is the power that drives spellwork and is indicative of a single, unified purpose where this energy is directed.
I don’t know about you, but my Will isn’t yet present in everything I do. I haven’t yet mastered the art of single-mindedly focusing on whatever it is I’m working on or thinking about. If I want to take a shower, I take a shower, it isn’t my sole purpose for being. I don’t (usually) approach the shower with a clear mind and only think on the actions I’m taking to turn on the water or select a soap. So when considering the words of the Rede, it is saying that in our single-minded focus (Will) for whatever action we choose, we should be mindful of our intention and see that it is not with the purpose of inflicting harm or violating another’s free will.
So does magic for protection or justice for a wrong-doer cross this line?
“A Witch keeps her own counsel.”
– Doreen Valiente
That’s a choice or decision that each person has to make. I believe in protection, but I also believe in justice. Some Witches will not perform binding or hexing because they believe it violates the Rede. That is one side to it. The other is that if you believe such is completely justified and will serve the greater good, then do it. By all means, protect yourself physically and magically. Do not fear to ask for or seek justice because it will harm someone’s free will when you believe you are performing an action for the greater good. However, weigh your actions and intentions carefully. Are you seeking to bind someone because it is really, truly necessary and the best course of action? If not, you risk suffering the return for your selfishness and self-serving actions. Do you believe that hexing someone is justified for a wrong they committed? Are you certain beyond any doubt of their guilt? If so, it is your choice to enact what justice you feel is needed. But be warned, if you do this for selfish motivations, the hex will return to you. The power we have as Witches grows or wanes depending on our wisdom. If you act with wisdom, your power will grow. If you act without it, it will dissipate. The gods will keep everything in balance.
Balance is key.
It is also acceptable to ‘return to sender’ any negative energies or intentions. As responsible Wiccans, we are not supposed to cause harm maliciously to anyone. However, it is permitted, and in my opinion it is expected, to send back negativity aimed at us. We were not the originators of the attack, and therefore, are not the ones responsible for it. Energy that is returned to the sender is what would occur naturally. It is my belief that sending this energy back is an important act. Negative people should not be coddled to or enabled. Sending back their own stuff to them is important for their growth. They must know that such actions are not appropriate and will not be tolerated or accepted.
Or, if you prefer and think it wiser and safer, you may simply ask the gods to deliver justice or retribution to you or the other party. In some cases, I definitely agree this is the best course of action. Handing over justice or vengeance to the gods and asking them to serve it puts it out of your hands. If you do hand it over to them, they will deliver the recourse and you will have to step back. In this case, the gods will weigh the balance and serve retribution or justice as they deem necessary. This may or may not satisfy your personal feelings, but that is the sacrifice you make in assuring that fair justice is done and that you have not violated the other person’s rights or free will. Also, the gods will look at whom it is making the request and weigh them into account as well. If you are not innocent of what you are asking for, the scales may lean towards you. Be willing to accept these consequences.
It is because of the Rede that Witches understand it is wrong to work person-specific love magic or to curse someone with our powers. It is considered harmful to violate another person’s right to free will. It is vital that we do not frivolously seek to cause harm. That’s a wasteful action and not one that Witches, as spiritual beings, should casually participate in. Throwing your ‘powers’ around or flinging curses at other people will draw the repercussions of such actions upon you. Consider the Law of Return.
The other major belief that exists in Wicca is the Law of Threefold Return. Sometimes this is shortened simply to the Law of Return or Rule of Three (3x).
The Rule of Three operates in part on a kind of karma-based ideology. A lot of people think karma is a mystical ‘checks and balances’ system, and it is in a way, but karma is simply the consequence of action. It has no moral stance. Karma is if you throw a ball in the air, it will fall back down. It is a natural, universal constant. Whatever you do will bring about consequences, good or bad because action follows action follows action, etc. I disagree with using the term Karma outside of describing actual Hindu or Buddhist philosophy because they’re the only ones who get it right. Western ideas about Karma are woefully inaccurate.
The way 3x fits into this is through understanding that everything is connected, interwoven, and at its core, everything is one.
Whatever you do affects the web that connects you to everything else, and as your action’s energy travels along this ‘web’, it will gain in force. Eventually, this energy will travel back to you. If you commit a harmful action, then you have sent that sort of energy out into the web to manifest itself and multiply. If you perform a benevolent action, likewise, benevolent energy will multiply. The Law isn’t necessarily only slanted to caution you against doing harm, it’s also there to encourage you to do good. WHATEVER you do will return to you. Ideally, people would want good things to happen so they would do good. If not, well, the consequences aren’t pleasant otherwise.
As far as I know, Wicca is the only religion that sees this law as manifesting by returning what is sent out 3x over. One of my teachers didn’t really specify that the Law of Return works on a 3x level. She simply said, “What you do comes back.” Whether you accept that what is sent returns, or that what is sent returns 3x stronger really doesn’t matter. The concept is the same: understanding that everything is connected and that your actions will bring about positive or negative consequences. The lesson behind the Law is that you take responsibility for your actions, that you are mindful of the intent behind things you do and thoughts you have, and that you strive not to act out of or cause intentional harm.