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Is the Wiccan Rede Ethical?

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on June 14, 2013 | Comments (40)

Modern Paganism embraces a wide variety of spiritual traditions. One of the challenges of these traditions is that in some instances they are not thoroughly considered. An individual tradition may leave out large swathes of concepts and limit themselves to small sections of reality. There is often the worship of deities, the practice of magick, divination, and healing, the celebration of festivals and holidays, but little else. As a result, for many people their spiritual tradition is merely a part-time practice rather than a way of living. (I wouldn’t limit this to Pagans, either.)

In fact, for many Pagans, when asked how their spirituality flavors their lives, they have little to say, often responding not based on their spiritual paths but according to their sociopolitical beliefs. Some other Pagans—even those who do not identify themselves as Wiccans—fall back upon the Wiccan Rede:

Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill,
An it harm none do what ye will.

The source of the rede (rede is a Middle English term meaning “counsel” or “suggestion”) is highly questionable. Some date it back to Bible (Romans 13:10 can be interpreted as similar to the rede in concept),  Saint Augustine of Hippo (“Love, and do what you will”), John Stuart Mill’s “Harm Principle,” French author Pierre Louÿs’ 1901 book, The Adventures of King Pausolus (“Do not harm your neighbor; this being well understood, do that which pleases you.”), or Aleister Crowley’s famous “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”

Perhaps it was derived directly from one of these, perhaps indirectly, or perhaps it was just the founders of modern Wicca expressing their libertarian views. Whatever the source, as related to Wicca it first appears in a speech by Doreen Valiente in 1964. Various versions of it, including ones that are much longer, have appeared over the past half century, but the essence remains those eight words: An (Middle English for “If”) it harm none, do what ye will.

This seems like a magickal mantra for modern-day Objectivists and libertarians: As long as you leave me alone and don’t affect me in any way, do whatever you want.

The Practical Impact of the Rede

Unfortunately, unless you live by yourself and completely “off the grid” using no public services of any kind, actually following the Rede is not only impossible, it’s unethical.

  • If you buy clothes of any kind, chances are they were made in third-world countries by people in terrible conditions. You’re hurting them.
  • If you buy food in a grocery store, chances are the fruits and vegetables were planted, raised, and harvested by underpaid and overworked temporary workers. You’re hurting them.
  • If you see a person such as a child or someone who is elderly being attacked or abused, you can’t use force to stop the attacker or abuser. That would be hurting them.

To completely follow the rede requires you to either raise your own foods or know where it came from during every step of its production, not buy any clothes that might have been made by workers who are laboring under horrible conditions, and certainly not use force to defend the health, safety, and well-being of the weak or powerless.

If you have a pet that is suffering intense pain from age or disease, the rede requires you to let them suffer until they die on their own. You could not euthanize them to prevent further suffering. And since the rede is usually associated with treating yourself well, if you’re suffering intense pain from some disease or other ailment, and there is no possible cure or way to alleviate your pain, making the conscious decision to end your own misery is not allowed.

Silver RavenWolf clearly understands the problem of actually following the letter of the rede. In Solitary Witch she writes that “if you lived by the ‘an’ it harm none’ rule to the letter, you couldn’t even work against disease!” Her workaround is to acknowledge that by not acting to stop someone from doing evil, you are allowing greater harm to manifest. Your goal should be to minimize harm to everyone.

Okay. That’s a way of working around the rede. But that’s what it is: working around the rede. The rede doesn’t say act to limit harm to all; it is an instruction to you not to do harm. Period. You can choose not to follow the rede and work to limit harm to all. That might be a good solution. However it should be made clear that you have abandoned following the rede and are replacing it with something that allows for what I would consider to be a more ethical response to the real world.

Fully following the rede in our current culture is simply not possible. You would have to act like those who follow the Jain religion in India, living a life where they even avoid stepping on an insect. Some Pagans simply add a clause to the eight-word rede to cover modern reality: “An it cause harm, do as you must.” This basically negates the rede and changes the context to following RavenWolf’s interpretation of limiting harm to all.

The Missing Part of the Rede

There is also something important missing from the rede that makes it irrelevant: the result of not following it. If you harm someone, what happens as a result? As written, there is no negative impact on you. You may as well say, “try to live a harmless life, but if you harm someone, well, YOLO. That’s the way it goes.”

So what is it that’s missing? Although not originally directly associated with the rede, Gerald Gardner first wrote about it in his Wiccan novel (1949) entitled HIgh Magic’s Aid. It’s later described as a “law” by Monique Wilson and was popularized as a law by Raymond Buckland. This is the “Law of Three” or “Three-fold Law.”

Simply put, this “law” states, “whatever energy a person puts out into the world, be it positive or negative, will be returned to that person three times” (Wikipedia).

Really?

So if you break someone’s arm, does that mean you’re going to get your arm broken three times? If you trip someone does that mean someone is going to trip you three times? If you kill someone does that mean you’re going to be murdered three times? How could that work? It would have to imply a belief in reincarnation and multiple lives. So isn’t it great, then, that you have your own murder to look forward to? I don’t think so.

Some people refer to this as the “Law of Return” and state that the concept is valid, but it may not necessarily have a three-fold return. So does that mean if you murder someone you’re only going to be murdered 2 1/3 times? How does that work?

And if we follow the Law of Return, do we need the Wiccan Rede at all? Others have different versions of this “law.” One older version is usually presented, “As you sow, so shall ye reap.” That comes from Galatians in the Bible. So are the ethics of Wiccans, Pagans, and magickal people who follow the rede ultimately based on the Bible or is there another alternative?

The Reluctant Messiah

In Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, author Richard Bach confronts the situation. A movie Dracula-like vampire asks to feed on the story’s protagonist. The protagonist refuses. His mentor points out that he’s hurting the vampire by not letting him feed. He leads the protagonist to understand that we are all free to do whatever we want. Period. But wouldn’t this ultimate freedom lead to pure narcissism and anarchy and not caring about anyone other than ourselves? Possibly. But there is an even older Pagan solution.

The Tantric Solution

Most people think of Tantra as being “that sex stuff.” In actuality, Tantra is one of the world’s oldest Pagan spiritual traditions. Tantra is the source of such concepts as the chakras, kundalini, acupuncture, the Tattvic Tides, a God and Goddess, etc. Some authorities (see, for example, Ann Moura‘s book on the history of Witchcraft) even believe that it was people from early India who came West into Europe where they became known as (or influenced) the Druids.

The ancient Tantrics also discovered the concept of karma. Most people reading this will have some idea of karma, and I describe it more fully here. Basically put, karma has nothing to do with intent. It only has to do with actions. If you do something, there will be a result. Your intent is irrelevant.*

Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of karma is not to punish or reward; it is to educate. Once you learn the results of what you do, enlightened self-interest will encourage you to do good so that the response from the universe back to you will be good. This process will help you on your personal spiritual evolution. This traditional concept of karma makes clear that:

You are free to do whatever you want in life,
but you are responsible for whatever you do.

A karmic response to any action may come through the actions of friends and family, governmental organizations, or from the universe itself with new opportunities or a removal of positive things in your life. It may take several lifetimes for you to learn what you need to do to make your life the wonderful thing you want it to be.

However, you are free to do whatever you want. The ancient Tantric term for this is svecchacharya (pronounced svek-cha-car-ee-ya), Sanskrit for “The path of doing one’s Will.” You are free to do whatever you want, but you are responsible for whatever you do.

If I see a child being abused, someone weak or frail being abused, a woman being raped, someone being bullied, etc., I’m going to stand up to the bully, the abuser or the rapist. I’ll try to stop them without hurting them. However, if I must, I will use force. That will have a negative impact on my karma. But I’m aware of that and it’s my choice. In my opinion, freedom without the awareness of the results of that freedom is ethically worthless.

So what do you think? Is it time to abandon the Wiccan Rede and Three-Fold Law as unobtainable and unrealistic goals? Would moving to the concepts of svecchacharya make more sense? Share what you think in the comments section below.

 

* Some New Age writers disagree and claim that there are “Lords of Karma” who determine the degree of reward or punishment for an action based on some sort of mystical or clairsentient interpretation of your intent. There is no traditional source that holds this position, nor is there any traditional understanding of karma indicating that intent affects the karmic process.

 

Reader Comments

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#1 
Written By Luis A. Valadez
on June 14th, 2013 @ 10:06 am

This is exactly my own conclusion that I have been coming to in the past several years when it comes to the issues of the Rede vs. Karma (and what Karma actually is). Now, I don’t agree with Ann Moura’s findings in her book. However, there is evidence that East and West were once not so separate as we like to think of nowadays. There were definitely influences that traded. We can see Buddhist-like similarities in the Cults of Orpheus and Pythagoras, for example. It was Hellenic art that first influenced the earliest statues of the Buddha. This idea of escaping the Wheel of Grief by being pure and living ascetic lives is just part of the hints and clues that each share.

I believe that the doctrine of karma did exist in the Western Mystery Cults and people were aware of this notion that actions reaped consequences (see for example Aeschylus’ play “The Oresteia”). A fine book, in my opinion, that searches for this correlation is “Imagining Karma: Ethical Transformation in Amerindian, Buddhist, and Greek Rebirth” by Gananath Obeyesekere. This work explores the concept of karma across a wide variety of cultures, and how similarly they play out.

I think it’s time to do away with the Rede. It doesn’t work, no matter how many essays Wiccans use to want to tear it apart. To hold onto it any longer is, in my eyes, a matter of devolving into doctrine which can be a red flag and danger zone. Our ethics and morals should be built based on our real-world adult experiences. Most Wiccan Traditions will not take anyone under the age of 18, and by that time it is hoped that you know the difference between right and wrong. You don’t need a religion to teach you that.

What I think Mystery Traditions should do, engaging with karma’s teaching, is to emphasize the *spiritual aspects* of your actions and make you more aware of your own responsibility. If nothing else it helps you improve by giving you a mirror and going inward, something which the Mystery Traditions ought to be doing anyway. It will help lead you on the path towards Gnosis and Right Action. I think this is brilliant. Thank you.

Eirene kai Hugieia!
(Peace and Health!)
~Oracle~
Rev. Luis A. Valadez

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#2 
Written By Philip Hathaway
on June 14th, 2013 @ 10:09 am

Well put. The Rede in my oppinion sounds good, but in its literal sence is impossible. Plants and animals are living things and we eat them several times daily. Nature births and kills. How can we not do the same as we are part of nature. Maybe it would better be said, “do what you want without interfering with anothers will.”No means no, ect.
I have and others have also looked at it as a guideline in magic. Do what ever magic pleases you as long as you don’t directly interfere/control another individual. More of an ethical inclination.
Good for the beginner for self-control. But the beginner will soon question the Rede as one grows and learns further on the path as you, me and several others have. Many seem not to really understand it or care, cause they’ll speak the Rede yet do a love spell or the like.

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#3 
Written By Will Thorn
on June 14th, 2013 @ 11:05 am

You may be right that it is not possible to live entirely and exactly by the Rede, but there is nothing unethical about trying not to cause harm to yourself or others. And as you point out, sometimes it is necessary to do a lesser harm to prevent a greater harm; no one condemns a doctor for cutting open a patient to repair a damaged heart and thereby saving a life. Compared to the Judeo-Christian and Islamic faiths that command their followers to kill, I believe the Rede would be a very ethical code to live by.

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#4 
Written By Bill Duvendack
on June 14th, 2013 @ 11:09 am

I’m glad to see this blog. What you stated above is what I teach in my classes. It’s literally impossible to not harm another, and to help students understand the Rede, I place it into context of when it was written so that they get an idea of the circumstances that were present in the world when this idea was born.

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#5 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on June 14th, 2013 @ 11:20 am

Thank you for your comment, Will. I would respectfully suggest that you have exactly made my point. People really can’t live according to the words of the rede and so modify and change them. As you write, “sometimes it is necessary to do a lesser harm.” But who decides on what is a “lesser” harm? There is also the sticky question of how much is okay to change the rede, and who decides upon how much change is acceptable?

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#6 
Written By Dorian Wallace
on June 14th, 2013 @ 1:35 pm

I abandoned the Rede a long time ago and took up magick. For me, they weren’t cohesive. I’d just wind up feeling guilty about whatever spell I was working….usually ended up backfiring on me.

Very well written article.

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#7 
Written By Diana
on June 14th, 2013 @ 3:22 pm

The Rede sounds so much like the Hippocratic Oath in Medicine: “And first do no harm.” It seems modern doctors are a long way down the road from remembering that oath–in some cases for the good and in many other cases a disaster. But that is an endless discussion with not a simple answer in sight. There is another reference that seems to fit your discussion that comes to mind that is taken from the book by Angela Carter: The Sadeian Woman. Carter analyses the work (of all people) of The Marquis De Sade and extracts meaning from his heavy, dark and often misunderstood manuscripts. Carter pulls apart and simplifies the deeper meaning of De Sade’s story of Justine and Juliette–a tale of two sisters–one living as a criminal and a devious whore with no scruples and the other a pacifist and purist who can do no wrong and do not harm to any living creature. As the story progress the whoring sister transforms and devotes her life to helping others. The sister who seemed to embody purity is put in many situations where she can save others from pain and suffering and the lash. But because she refuses to reach out and “harm” or in this case turn in those that are tormenting and torturing their victims, many people are killed and maimed as a result of this sisters pacifism and her refusal to act.

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#8 
Written By Dave
on June 14th, 2013 @ 3:40 pm

I guess I look at the Rede as something to strive towards. Possible or not, it’s a goal to be kept in mind for every action or decision that one makes.

That said, I’m not Wiccan. I’m a ‘karma guy’. The Rede seems almost like a simple instruction on karma.

Then again, that may be lack of sleep talking (which is an excuse; I’m still responsible for everything I write). :)

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#9 
Written By Adastra
on June 14th, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

I suspect we may be reading more into the Rede than it contains. If we take “none” to be “no living thing”, then we must not eat our spinach or walk on the lawn. If we take it to mean “no living animal”, then we are forced to become vegetarian (See above.) For this to make sense, I believe we have to read it as “harm no humnan being”, to avoid making the Rede nonsense. Yet harm can exist on many levels. Would this cover hurting someone’s feelings or does it refer to simple physical harm? For myself, I prefer the reading that makes sense to any of those that make nonsense. “Do not deliberate act in such a way to cause physical harm or emotional distress to your fellow humans.”

This at least makes following the Rede possible, thought still a bit unlikely. But we do what we can as we can and hope that it will work out okay. Remember that some people can feel emotional distress when others seem not to realize their friend’s utter magnificence–but that is pushing the concept way too far. Ultimately, we are not personally responsible for how others react to our words and deeds. We are merely responsible for not doing deliberate harm to another person. Or so it seems to me in any case.

With love under will,

Bob, Adastra,
The Wizzard of Jacksonville

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#10 
Written By Alexandra Chauran
on June 14th, 2013 @ 3:44 pm

I am teaching about the rede right now in a Wiccan discussion group as well as writing a book about psychic responsibility. I feel the rede is more of a proactive pronouncement about encouraging yourself to do the actions you truly Will more than it has anything to say about harming none. I am glad that you pulled in so many sources to this article (I love Illusions), but perhaps the Ardanes/Ordains/161 Laws would be another source of the troublesome aspect of “harm none” of which you speak without the loophole a liberal reading of the rede allows.

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#11 
Written By Judy Kay Craft
on June 14th, 2013 @ 5:24 pm

As a Unitarian Universalist panentheist with a lifelong fascination with comparative religion, I have always felt the Rede to be trite and mawkish. The Middle English was severely off-putting for me, and definitely impeded my recognizing myself as pagan. Aeschylus’ plays illustrated the Western Mystery aspect of Karma so well when I studied them in college that I wondered why I hadn’t made the connection between Greek mystery and Hindu Karma when I first studied Kant, Emerson, and Thoreau.

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#12 
Written By Jim Casler
on June 14th, 2013 @ 5:58 pm

“…Fourthly, study well that Great Arcanum, the proper equilibrium of mercy and severity, for either unbalanced is not good; unbalanced severity is cruelty and oppression; unbalanced mercy is but weakness and would permit evil to exist unchecked, thus making itself as it were the accomplice of that evil.”
-from the Golden Dawn Neophyte Initiation
This is where the Rede falls down, as you’ve pointed out. I’m not entirely sure though, that svecchacharya completely covers things, either, and that, largely, is directly because of that second clause. It’s like surgery. Sometimes some harm must be done to hold greater harm in check, or to promote good. In religions with no destroyer deity, some destructive force must be invented to do that job (the Devil, popularly, in the West). But a lot of religions recognize that destruction is a necessary part of the cycle of creation and renewal. So it is with our practices. We are supposed to be able to make proper judgments concerning the use of destructive power to maintain proper balance. That’s one of the jobs given to those who practice magic(k). In the Tarot, as used in the Golden Dawn, the Justice card is NOT on the path between Mercy and Severity, but, rather, on the side of Severity, leading to Tiphareth. Justice, in this way, is shown to be Severity leading to Beauty, or balance. The scales are depicted as on the side of the figure closest to the center of the Tree, and, on the other side, is the Sword of Geburah. This is a very instructive glyph, and it lives where it does on the Tree for very good reasons. Whenever Justice is administered, for some party, frankly, it’s going to suck. When properly administered, that party will be the transgressor, who is subjected to the Sword, in order to restore those (s)he has wronged.
I’v read in Modern Magick about the importance of doing divinations before undertaking magical workings, and this is part of the reason why. Harm is not the issue. Wrongful harm is the issue. That is what we must avoid to prevent ourselves from being counted among the unjust.

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#13 
Written By John T Mainer
on June 14th, 2013 @ 6:49 pm

Hail,
The Wiccan Rede is a modern creation, born of utopian thinking, the product of interaction between the Romantics and the rule based Universalist ethics of Protestant Christianity. There are classes of pagans (Reconstructionalist of Heathen, Gaelic, Grecian, Roman, and other traditions), who look to older understandings. The Hamaval from the Poetic Edda is one such guide. The Hamaval is a Heathen (Norse-Germanic pre-Christian) book of wisdom that outlines how to live honourably in an imperfect world. It accepts that the world is a dangerous place in which not all people are friendly. It accepts that you have different duties to friends, to enemies, and to strangers. It is criticized for being not as ‘moral’ as the Rede or the Ten Commandments; by which the critics mean it doesn’t pretend you should be nice to everybody, and that you need to protect yourself and advance your own interests. It is a way to live successfully, honourably, harmoniously. Not perfect world, real word. Our ancestors did not pretend to be perfect, why torture yourself by pretending you need to be?

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#14 
Written By Patrick
on June 14th, 2013 @ 9:38 pm

Thanks for the inspiration! I’m starting a series on morality on my blog in response.

And although I think there are other valid readings of the rede that make it work, I agree with you completely that not enough pagans — not enough people, actually — spend time thinking about their moral codes in a critical, systematic way.

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#15 
Written By Aaron Leitch
on June 15th, 2013 @ 1:29 am

I think some consideration should also be given to the difference between “harm” and “hurt.” You can hurt something without causing it any real harm – including yourself.

Working out and exercising often hurts (no pain no gain), but it certainly doesn’t harm you as long as you don’t overdo it.

If your toddler is reaching for an electrical outlet and you slap his hand away – it hurts him, but does it harm him?

Doctors do all sorts of things that “hurt” you (ever had a broken bone set?), but they aren’t harming you if they are doing their job right.

If you use force to stop an attacker from harming another person, you are hurting the attacker (maybe even killing him) – but are you really harming him in the greater sense? Real harm would be to let him continue in his anger, rage and suffering without consequence.

I think when we consider this, we should also bring in the Buddhist concepts of “compassion” and “right action.” Compassion isn’t really about doing nice things for others, it is about doing the *right* things for others. (For example, are you doing the right thing by giving a homeless man a sandwhich? Or is the right thing to fix the problem that makes him homeless in the first place?) When you re-frame your worldview in this way, it goes a long way toward discerning “harm” from “hurt.”

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#16 
Written By Ommar Ramirez
on June 15th, 2013 @ 8:37 pm

Well, you just said:

“You are free to do whatever you want in life,
but you are responsible for whatever you do.”

And I saw a long turn back to the same point. That’s the same thing as the rede: You are responsible for whatever you do, so try it harms none.

And we must remember the Rede is just an ethical guide, it’s not a commandment. There’s no way to follow it by the letter, because it’s not a direct order. In many Wiccan traditions and groups it is taught just as it is written, but it is then explained the real meanning, and this meanning is being responsible for your own acts.

By the way, taking the Three-fold law, so literally seems like a mere intent to make a joke of it. There are a lot of equivalent things that might occur due to you own actions. Practicing Magic (I don’t like the use of Magick word) has taught me that results manifest in many ways. But yes, the results could be multiplied if there’s an intention and emotion to it, just as happens in Magic. Maybe you broke someone’s arm because you had to step on it if you didn’t want to fall or something, but what happens when you broke someone’s arm driven by hate and thinking of trully creepling that person? Just like working Magic, the results will be obtained, but also the consecuences for the action, the thinking and the emotion. How will be manifested those consequences? Who knows…

Also, I wouldn’t take someone who advices teen girls to double-sneak attack their parents as a reliable oppinion (and by doing that, influencing kids and harming families).

So no, It’s no time to abandon the rede and Three fold law as unrealistic or unobtainable. I’m a a fan of your work, and I’ve been following you for some time, but this reasoning, altough as being excellently written, it’s just a superficial view from the outside.

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#17 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on June 15th, 2013 @ 11:07 pm

Thank you for your comment, Ommar. As I wrote, “rede is a Middle English term meaning ‘counsel’ or ‘suggestion,’” so I didn’t write it was a commandment. I do have to respectfully disagree with you. The rede doesn’t talk about responsibility, just actions. You write that the rede, after being described to people, “is then explained.” In other words, it’s interpreted. So why not just move away from the rede and directly to a brief statement of the way it should be interpreted?
Further, you write that the three-fold law should not be taken literally. But that’s the way it’s written. Anything else is just an interpretation. With no specific accepted interpretation, then it can be interpreted any way you like. For example, you write that the “results could be multiplied if there’s an intention and emotion to it.” Others might disagree with you. Without a specific meaning, it becomes meaningless.
You write that it’s not time “to abandon the red and three-fold law,” and yet I would contend that by giving your interpretation of it, rather than following it as written, that’s exactly what you’ve done. That’s not meant as a criticism. I would say it’s necessary to make sense of it and that indeed, you’ve come up with something better.

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#18 
Written By Curttis Steinmetz
on June 16th, 2013 @ 12:08 pm

What would we say of a physician who refused to follow the maxim, “first, do no harm”? Regardless of the rationalistic excuses she or he might give, only a fool would be a client of such a doctor.

Rather than sophistically particularizing over the “impossibility” of non-harming, I would suggest making a serious study of those philosophers who have make an effort to both explicate the theoretical difficulties involved in non-harming and also to deal with the practical issue of how to live in accordance with this philosophy in everyday life.

There is no shortage of philosophers whom one can consult. Socrates taught that it is no more possible for a good person to do harm than it is for coldness to flow from a hot object. Socrates, one should recall, had a distinguished military record as a hoplite warrior in three separate Athenian military campaigns, so obviously he did not advocate some namby-pamby pacifism.

Even before Socrates there was Pythagoras who went so far as to advocate strict vegetarianism, although nothing so extreme as pacifism (much less Jainism). Although no writings of Pythagoras have come down to us, his philosophy is presented very nicely in Book 15 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

A philosopher who combined the Pythagorean and Socratic/Platonic traditions was Pophyry, whose De Abstentia is to be highly recommended to anyone who wants a “Western” slant on the whole business of karma, reincarnation, and non-harming.

And if one wishes to look to the East, and especially from a Tantric perspective, then one should avail oneself of the teachings of that great living Buddha and Tantric adept, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He always strongly recommends that students make a serious study of the little classic “37 Practices of the Bodhisattva”, which is possibly the single most important explanation of karma in practice that one could ever hope for. The edition with Geshe Sonam Rinchen’s commentary is probably the most popular modern edition, and for good reason.

The bottom line is that those who believe that following one’s own will takes precedence over non-harming are obviously a danger to everyone, including themselves. Avoid them like the plague, but at least be thankful when they openly declare themselves.

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#19 
Written By Aghor Pir
on June 16th, 2013 @ 5:24 pm

> “Fully following the rede in our current culture is simply not possible. You would have to act like those who follow the Jain religion in India, living a life where they even avoid stepping on an insect. ” <

I just wanted to point out that even among Jains that there are different expectations for a monk as opposed to the lay-person. A monk takes vows to eliminate causing any and all harm to sentient beings, while a lay person is expected to minimize harm. There is a general understanding that a lay person living in this world as a house-holder and earner would not be able to eliminate being the cause of harm, so he is held to a lesser standard of minimizing it as much as is humanly possible. There are plenty of Jains even in the US who try to live up to the ideal presented by the Wiccan Rede, although they probably have never heard of Wicca (or "Wica").

Adesh!
-Aghor Pir

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#20 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on June 16th, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

Thank you, Agor Pir, for your correction. I appreciate it!

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#21 
Written By TC McKinney
on June 17th, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

Indeed an interesting work here Donald Michael Kraig. Thank you for sharing this with us. A great discussion I would like to pass on to a friend for discussion.

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#22 
Written By sharon
on June 17th, 2013 @ 1:36 pm

OH MY!! I just have one thing to say… If a person such as myself lives by those words and I see someone being harmed, that would be for me to help the harmed person… without my own regard… Love and caring and acts of kindness and being compassionate are much better to another if they are being harmed and are not able to fend off their attacker… Do NO HARM BUT TAKE NO ****!!! As far as clothing goes, I purchase none really unless I must purchase underpants or socks… and I do not believe in saying thrid world countries as it judges another and their place of living as we all are equal… As far as terrible working conditions, I honestly can say theirs are truly much better than that of the USA… Some people like to exploit others and their countries to attepmt to get donations and pocket them for themselves…. Perhaps one needs to realize that the farms here in the usa, the farmers are paid by the usa to work themselves as I have seen this done on a very regular basis…. And I do prefer to grow my own food rather than purchase it, shameful that the usa has to tax food… but sometimes depending on where a person lives, is how they are able to purchase/grow food…. Yes, people are put in horrid working conditions in EVERY COUNTRY and EVERYONE IN THE WORLD IS OVER WORKED AND UNDERPAID…. AS long as one does not do physical harm to another, example me stabbing another or doing black majick, which that is what it is truly says in the reede, then we are truly living by the reede… Other than that, the people that are OVER WORKED AND UNDERPAID OR WORK IN POOR CONDITIONS, its not us that has forced them to do that it is the people they work for… And personally if you think I am personally harming someone by wearing clothes (i prefer not) or purchasing food (i prefer to grow my own if i had a place i could do it) or not helping another that is being harmed by another person is living against the reede then I highly suggest you read that again and understand what it truly means… KARMA IS A BITCH SO THEY SAY… DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WILL HAVE THEM DO TO YOU… KINDNESS TO OTHERS IS WHAT ITS ABOUT NOT CURSING THEM WHEN WE DO SPELLS OR MESSING WITH FREE WILL….

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#23 
Written By Cynthia Grothe
on June 17th, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

I am responding to this before I read other posts because I do not want to derail my train of thought. I am a solitary practitioner and have been for 25 + years. I was introduced and initiated into the craft by my mother, who has been studying for much longer. Here is what I have found to be useful. I teach my children the best values that I can, and show them the world through my eyes. I tell them to learn as much as possible,in fact to continue learning for as long as they live. If they believe they can learn no more, then they will be dead, maybe not physically, but at least spiritually. But, I do caution them, as I caution everyone whom asks about our path, that they take what they can out of it that will work for them in their lives.
We are in fact only human. We, each of us. have made mistakes, told “white lies”, lost our temper, etc. The beauty of i the belief in the god/goddess path is that we will be loved anyway, as long as we do the next right thing and learn from our actions.
As to the Rede, it is but a guideline to try to live up to. And no human being on earth, will ever get it perfect or just right. If the spirit behind the Rede is present in our every day lives, then at least we can try. However, I will be the first to tell you that the rest of that should read as this “an it harm none, do what ye will, and include yourself” meaning simply that we should not accept harm done to us and walk away. I am a multiple survivor of rape, and incestuous acts. I have been beaten by men and put down til I felt no better than a piece of dirt. I do not ever seek revenge. my path tells me to seek justice not just for myself, but for others as well, male, female, or animal. I am an animal rights activist and an environmentalist. Does this mean that I am going against the Rede then, as I am attempting to subvert destruction of lands, environments, ecosystems, populations etc? Do i feel that it is right to allow the atrocities i faced and have seen others face as the “Will of the Goddess” and just move on? I don’t believe so. Justice and revenge are two entirely different things. being truthful when asked by investigators, making sure the particular person can not hurt me or anyone else, is in itself a form of Harm none. Making sure that there is an earth for my children and grandchildren to learn from and to grow upon is my duty as a mother, as an environmentalist, and as a Wiccan.
Simply put, as I am getting a bit wordy myself, What works for one, may not work for someone else, so I will not dictate, only suggest. It is up to the individual to try and interpret the answer.
Cynthia Grothe,
Head of the Greenville Coven

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#24 
Written By Deborah Lipp
on June 17th, 2013 @ 2:50 pm

Hope you’ll forgive me dropping a link; I had started to comment here and it got LONG: http://www.deborahlipp.com/2013/06/is-the-wiccan-rede-ethical-a-response/

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#25 
Written By Donald Jones
on June 17th, 2013 @ 3:16 pm

Mr Kraig,

I disagree. This does not mean that I believe that the Rede is correct and whole as it stands. It obviously falls far short of that standard. If even a Jain monk falls short, then it obviously does not meet that standard. But with what would you replace it? The Ordains? I read them, once. Many no longer apply and the rest are either obvious or silly. Well, how about a rewrite of them. Who is going to write and update it? How many words would it take to solve every situation one is likely to come across? At the last Bar Mitzvah I attended, the rabbi spoke of the hundreds of things an adult must do and the other hundreds of things an adult must not do in order to keep the Law. With no disrespect meant for Judaism, I suspect that there are many situations one will meet in the 21st century that are not covered by any of those laws unless someone is revising them each year or making interpretations for lay persons.

The problem is not that The Rede is wrong, but that as a starting point, some line drawing is needed. One of your respondents chose to draw the line between humans and non-humans. I suspect there are billions of people who would disagree. The other issue is the complexity of existence. We are biological beings enmeshed in a biological web of trillions of entities. There is not a biological entity on the planet that is not in violation of the Rede. Even those well known peaceniks, the plants, are in a life and death conflict with every other plant and animal on the planet, especially those of their own species, for water, nutrients and light.

So there is no hope? Well, not so long as we deal in absolutes. “Harm none” is an absolute. “Do what (ever) ye will”, is another absolute. So where does that leave us? I would like to make an analogy or a metaphor if you will. The Rede is a compass. It doesn’t tell you where you are. It doesn’t tell you how to get to wherever you want to go. You still need a map or a set of instructions or some other information about where you are and the destination. All it tells you is which direction is north. Now if you had a GPS, you still need a street address, but the GPS will tell you all the rest and it never makes any mistakes. (That was irony you know.) The problem with the GPS, which is no problem now that we have satellites, and global databases that run into terabytes, is that we need all of those things to make it work. Where ethics is concerned, what we have is really just our “onboard” data and training. Worse, we have an unruly amygdale giving us conflicting “feelings” rather than logic, an error ridden hippocampus that may or may not retrieve the appropriate data on past lessons and there are other data systems (people) who have differing opinions and influence on the correct course they think we should take and they like to share, even if we don’t want them too. (So much for the Golden Rule)

From my point of view, the beauty of The Rede is not that it is perfect. How could 30 bytes of data be that? (Hey look, I just took a picture of Niagara Falls that has a resolution of 3 x 10 bytes – 28 shades of blue and two of white) What makes it work is that it requires that we use all of our resources to come up with a resolution to life’s problems FOR OURSELVES.

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#26 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on June 17th, 2013 @ 3:17 pm

For those of you who don’t know, Deborah Lipp is a brilliant writer and practitioner. I would suggest that people consider following her blog posts.

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#27 
Written By D Kingery
on June 17th, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

I thought the rede was only directly related to spells and had to do with not casting spells that would harm someone. I agree with some people’s observation of it as not interfering with other’s free will, and not casting for personal gain. I see a LOT of good responses regarding the topic :)

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#28 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on June 17th, 2013 @ 3:46 pm

Donald Jones, I don’t think we really disagree at all. As you wrote, “But with what would you replace it?” That requires discussion which, in my opinion, should come from the mind, the heart, and the spirit. And my goal was to get people to discuss it…I think it’s working!

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#29 
Written By Geoff Capp
on June 17th, 2013 @ 10:39 pm

Regarding karma you wrote: “Your intent is irrelevant.” In the footnote, you add, “…nor is there any traditional understanding of karma indicating that intent affects the karmic process.”

This is false. At a minimum, the Buddhist view of karma (kamma in the Pali Sutras), both tantric and sutric, fully relies on intent. “Intention (Pali cetana, Skt. cetanā) I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect.” Virtue and non-virtue of mind depend entirely, and almost only, on intent.

Furthermore, I defy anyone to find a way of reliably defining actions to be universally good (positive, virtuous) or evil (negative, non-virtuous) without factoring intent into the equation. Even something as “obviously evil” as murder can be virtuous (or can have the degree of its non-virtue mitigated) on the basis of intent, as e.g., if one were to kill a rampaging school shooter to save the lives of further victims (as opposed to killing the same person out of hate for the crimes already committed).

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#30 
Written By Geoff Capp
on June 17th, 2013 @ 10:44 pm

Sorry, forgot to cite my source for the quote in my previous comment: Nibbedhika Sutta (Anguttara Nikaya 6.63).

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#31 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on June 17th, 2013 @ 10:53 pm

Thank you, Geoff. I was thinking of the much earlier earlier Tantric tradition from western India, not the later Buddhist Tantras. You are, of course, correct.

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#32 
Written By Donald Jones
on June 18th, 2013 @ 1:17 am

Mr, Kraig,
You are right, we don’t disagree. I wrote the following on Deborah Lipp’s blog about faulty logic and the Rede and I have come to the conclusion that we could do better.
To Deborah:
…The Rede is actually an “if-then” statement. When the “if” condition is met, one can “then” proceed to the second statement. The problem is that the “if” portion contains an absolute value. “None” is a pretty clear symbol for equal to zero. That being so, the Rede falls apart as meaningless unless one can justify “none” as being limited to certain classes of “something”, like only people or only primates or mammals, or anything with a face.
We can also argue about what constitutes “harm” as others have done on Michael’s blog, but that is really just an exercise in justifying another way around the word “none”.
So by this time we are not talking about something that follows absolutes or logic, it is just a guideline for thinking about ethical problems. I say “just” but I think it gives people who really care about how we treat each other and the world a very good place to start. …
The problem is combining brevity with clarity and faultless logic. (e.g., The second word of the Rede is “it”. What exactly is “it”, your contemplated action or your will).

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#33 
Written By Curtis Steinmetz
on June 18th, 2013 @ 7:31 am

Regardless of what era we are talking about, the literal meaning of “karma” is “action”, and in Indian philosophy, mental actions are treated as at least, if not more, important than “physical” actions. Therefore “intention”, as a mental action, is of the greatest importance.

Bottom line: What we do with our minds is where everything else comes from.

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#34 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on June 18th, 2013 @ 9:50 am

You are correct, Curtis. What we do with our minds is where everything else comes from. But we can choose to do something or not do something. Karma, as action, deals with what we do. If you imagine robbing a bank or even killing someone (say in a video game), it doesn’t affect karma. Actually do either and it will.

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#35 
Written By Paula
on June 18th, 2013 @ 12:50 pm

I think that most people who encounter it try to turn the Rede into a Judeo-Christian style commandment. Having done that, if they are “thinkers,” they eventually delve into word meanings and logical progressions and are disappointed. Or they add things like the Threefold Law and its variants, presumably because they wish they were literally true, and they want something to keep young whippersnapper initiates and students in check. But I really think that even in context, the Rede is not advice on how to conduct the totality of your dealings. It’s advice on what it’s OK to do, and the word “none” is likely to indicate “no humans that you know of.” (Consider Gardner’s writing style, his life and times, and those of his friends… this was not a person who saw microbes as entities to be harmed; he probably wasn’t even concerned about a lot of mammals.) I see the Rede as an assertion of license, in a context that assumes that of course we are responsible for our actions, and wish to do good. (Gardner and others draw a connection between modern witchcraft and the healers, herbwives, cunning men and others who provided needed services for paltry return.)

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