Two Laws, two theories and many, many truths

The Wiccan Rede did not come from Aleister Crowley as I assumed for all these years and I was wrong, this mistake was brought to my attention in a discussion group, I did the research to verify it. The rede has taken many forms from a long litany written by Lady Gwen Thompson to the original words of "Do what you like so long as you harm none." from Gerald B. Gardner.

A brief history of the Rede is below:

The Wiccan Rede: "An ye harm none, do what thou wilt" is known by Witches, Wiccans, Pagans and Cowan's alike. Some despise it, some laugh at it, some adhere to it as ardane law, many see it merely as a guide and nothing more. Regardless of how you feel about it, it's historical reference needs to be explained.

Gerald B. Gardner

In 1959 Gerald Gardner published The Meaning of Witchcraft. In Chapter VIII: Magic Thinking (continued) Gardner is writing of the differences between Orthodoxy and heterodoxy, on the subject of pleasure and sin he writes:

"My pleasures are innocent, everybody else's are sin." Witches cannot sympathise with this mentality. They are inclined to the morality of the legendary Good King Pausol(e), [a literary character from The Adventures of King Pausole (1901) by Pierre Louys.] - "Do what you like so long as you harm no one." But they [witches] believe a certain law to be important, "you must not use magic for anything which will cause harm to anyone, and if, to prevent a greater wrong being done, you must discommode [to disturb or inconvenience] someone, you must do it only in a way which will abate the harm."

In 1964 Doreen Valiente penned "Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill, An it harm none do what ye will."

Later in 1974, a poem appeared in the magazine: Earth Religion News called The Wiccan Rede (below)

Bide within the Law you must, in perfect Love and perfect Trust.
Live you must and let to live, fairly take and fairly give.
For tread the Circle thrice about to keep unwelcome spirits out.
To bind the spell well every time, let the spell be said in rhyme.
Light of eye and soft of touch, speak you little, listen much.
Honor the Old Ones in deed and name,
let love and light be our guides again.
Deosil go by the waxing moon, chanting out the joyful tune.
Widdershins go when the moon doth wane,
and the werewolf howls by the dread wolfsbane.
When the Lady's moon is new, kiss the hand to Her times two.
When the moon rides at Her peak then your heart's desire seek.
Heed the North winds mighty gale, lock the door and trim the sail.
When the Wind blows from the East, expect the new and set the feast.
When the wind comes from the South, love will kiss you on the mouth.
When the wind whispers from the West, all hearts will find peace and rest.
Nine woods in the Cauldron go, burn them fast and burn them slow.
Birch in the fire goes to represent what the Lady knows.
Oak in the forest towers with might, in the fire it brings the God's
insight. Rowan is a tree of power causing life and magick to flower.
Willows at the waterside stand ready to help us to the Summerland.
Hawthorn is burned to purify and to draw faerie to your eye.
Hazel-the tree of wisdom and learning adds its strength to the bright fire burning.
White are the flowers of Apple tree that brings us fruits of fertility.
Grapes grow upon the vine giving us both joy and wine.
Fir does mark the evergreen to represent immortality seen.
Elder is the Lady's tree burn it not or cursed you'll be.
Four times the Major Sabbats mark in the light and in the dark.
As the old year starts to wane the new begins, it's now Samhain.
When the time for Imbolc shows watch for flowers through the snows.
When the wheel begins to turn soon the Beltane fires will burn.
As the wheel turns to Lamas night power is brought to magick rite.
Four times the Minor Sabbats fall use the Sun to mark them all.
When the wheel has turned to Yule light the log the Horned One rules.
In the spring, when night equals day time for Ostara to come our way.
When the Sun has reached it's height time for Oak and Holly to fight.
Harvesting comes to one and all when the Autumn Equinox does fall.
Heed the flower, bush, and tree by the Lady blessed you'll be.
Where the rippling waters go cast a stone, the truth you'll know.
When you have and hold a need, harken not to others greed.
With a fool no season spend or be counted as his friend.
Merry Meet and Merry Part bright the cheeks and warm the heart.
Mind the Three-fold Laws you should three times bad and three times good.
When misfortune is enow wear the star upon your brow.
Be true in love this you must do unless your love is false to you.

These Eight words the Rede fulfill:
"An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will"

I keep the text below for historical reference. I do not like to admit mistakes, but when I am presented with sufficient evidence to the contray, I must admit it, make corrections and move on.


Aleister Crowley

It is most commonly written as: "An it harm none, do as ye will." As it reads in this common conceptual form the rede turns into a moral rule and guideline. I was mistakenly taught that the Wiccan rede came from Crowleys law of Thelema which reads:

"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law, love under will. There is no law beyond do what thou wilt."

Again, the law of Thelema is often shortened to: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." Here will is not our intention but our destiny. To understand this law and what it means I have pulled this quote from Aleister Crowleys The Book of the Law:

"This means that each of us (like) stars is to move on our true orbit, as marked out by the nature of our position, the law of our growth, the impulse of our experiences. All events are equally lawful-and every one necessary, in the long run - for all of us, in theory; but in practice, only one act is lawful for each one of us at any given moment. Therefore Duty consists in determining to experience the right event from one moment of consciousness to another. Each action or motion is an act of 'Nuit'; each such act must be 'under will', chosen so as to fulfill and not to thwart the true nature of the being concerned. The technical methods of acheiving this are to be studied in Magick..."

Aleister Crowley, The Book of the Law (Liber Al Vel Legis). April 8-10 1904

So, now of course the question is, did the Wiccan rede evolve on it's own or is it the bastard child of the Law of Thelema? Well, the answer really depends on who you ask. If the rede is based on Crowley's law and evolved into a different concept, then not unlike biological evolution, conceptual evolution carries genetic traits of the parents and adapts or conforms to its enviroment. Using this hypothosis during this conceptual evolution the rede dropped the '...whole of the law.' part and adapted or conformed into the concept '...an it harm none'. The '...Do what thou wilt...' part stayed but evolved into '...do as ye will.' Along the evolution of this statement the meaning also changed slightly as I mentioned above, will became one's 'intention' and not one's 'destiny'.

When I read Crowley's book: The Book of the Law, Liber Al Vel Legis, and I came across the law of Thelema ("Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law, love under will. There is no law beyond do what thou wilt." ) I felt it meant something deeper then what the words read. Indeed the whole thought does, it means that we all should live our true will, our true love and our true passion. Joseph Campbell often said, "Follow your bliss." Which I think is another way of saying 'do as ye will'.

I am on purpose avoiding an analyisis of the "An it harm none..." part of the rede, simply because I think it is too general and vague. The statement is a moral rule in which to use as a guideline, if taken literely you are eventually going to break this rule. If used as a moral compass then it can keep you from taking actions that later you might regret. I, like many other Wiccans have broken this rule on purpose, at least once in our spell-crafting career, and I for one learned an important lesson when that spell back-fired. It is part of the growing process of becoming a crafter of magickal energy, no matter how hard one may try to word a spell. It is going to change something and send ripples into the astral and mental planes.

The top three spells a new Witch is mostly likely to cast are: A Curse spell, a love spell or a money spell. The first two have the highest potential for harming another and the third is likely to harm the caster.

My personal interpretation of our rede is: "Harm as little as possible and follow your true will." I place more emphasis on the 'do as ye will' part then the 'An it harm none'. As I believe that the rede was born from the concept of 'will' as being ones true desire or bliss. The 'harm none' was added as a reminder that when we work magic(k) we can and do effect the world around us.

The greatest thing to be, is the full potential one is capable of..."An it harm none, do as ye will" or, if you prefer...'Follow your bliss, and don't be an ass!'

Lailoken



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