“Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill – an it hurt none do what ye will”
There are no absolute rules in Wicca, however the Wiccan Rede is used for guidance by many Wiccans. The Wiccan Rede was developed by Cochranian Wiccans in 1964 and was an innovation that spread into other paths of Wicca including the Gardenerian and Alexandrian strands. Prior to this these traditions had focused on whether Witchcraft was casting magic that harmed another, a tradition sometimes inaccurately termed black magic. This was a reaction against the Thelemite tradition of the Ordo Templo Orientalis which followed a libertine mantra ‘do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’. With the Cochranian definition of the rede following Valiente joining the tradition, the focus switched to the freedom of the individual and did not look at the effect of magic.
In philosophy this is a switch to negative freedom from positive freedom, a fundamentally different tradition similar to a switch from conservatism to liberalism. For this reason the acceptance of the rede was a revolutionary step for Wiccans. It represented a switch from the colonial and autocratic ways of that had marked Witchcraft up until that point. When Valiente worked with Cochrane, who lived on a council estate in Slough. She developed the rede which reflected a more liberal approach in the tradition of John Stuart Mill (the noted 19th century philosopher).
The Wiccan Rede states ‘An it harm none do thy will’. There are other versions including the version of the leading Wiccan Doreen Valiente “Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill, An it harm none do what ye will.” The word ‘rede’ simply means counsel or guidance. Wiccans wanted a simple way to sum up their tradition and the Wiccan Rede provided this. There is no evidence of an ancient origin for the Rede.
There are a number of issues which follow from the Rede that help to explain why Wiccans think the way that they do. One of the most important of these is the role of women within Wicca. Although the tradition emphasises polarity it routinely gives men and women an equal status. Without the ability to play a leading role in Wicca some will be barred from fulfilling their will. As a result many Wiccan groups are run by women. A similar issue arises with homosexuality which is not an issue within the tradition. It would be rare to find a Wiccan who would argue for a ban on gay marriage, for example. Additionally homosexuals fulfill roles within Wiccan groups with no reference to their sexuality.
This tendency to not control others is seen in other aspects of the tradition. An example of this is dietary requirements, fasting or working on particular days. These are not an issue for Wiccans. Fasting is a personal choice and adopted by few Wiccans. Some are vegetarians but others are not. There is no set approach and it is entirely the choice of the individual. This also affects the issue of holy days. It would be acceptable for example, or even normal, for a Wiccan to go to a ritual after, or before, work. The Wiccan way is to encourage personal freedom and to be flexible. This strongly tends to the view that Wiccans are not to be considered the ‘chosen ones’. This means that Wiccans do not generally try to persuade others to join their tradition.
There is no benefit to the individual in an afterlife from joining Wicca. Wicca is only a good choice for those who feel drawn to it naturally. The result of this tendency is that Wicca’s view of the afterlife is inclusive. The concept of Avalon is built on the idea that everyone will have an equal place in the afterlife. Whether that is physical or simply a construct there is no difference between the good and the bad, in part because Wicca allows people to live in their own way.
The Wiccan Rede is often thought to be similar to the ‘Golden Rule’, however it is more reasonably thought of as its opposite. The Golden Rule states ‘do unto others as you would have done to you’. The difference between this and the Wiccan Rede is that the Golden Rule assumes that the practicioner know better than another what is good for them, whereas the Wiccan Rede assumes that other people know what is best for themselves.
No version of Wicca can be absolutely right because each individual makes their own choices. As a result the tradition tends to be non hierarchical. Newcomers are encouraged to take a central role in rituals. The running of rituals is according to the skill of the individual. Some Wiccan groups run initiations although many Wiccans are not initiated. Even where individuals are initiated they do not get any special rights over groups. Many Wiccans do self dedication where they commit themselves to the path. This may be done in a group setting but however it is done not being initiated does not prevent an individual from running circles. Their own skill is the key. Wicca encourages questioning and freedom of thought. The tradition is sometimes referred to as a quest, based on the idea of questioning. There is no concept of unquestioning acceptance in Wicca, in fact the reverse is the case. Everything is questioned and that is the heart of the tradition. Ultimately there is no absolute truth other than the logical requirement for consent. Beyond this everything is dependent on the will of the individual.