Rede Of The Wiccæ
We Wiccans are a misunderstood bunch, but our virtue lies in the principles we follow. The greatest rule by which Wiccans abide is the Wiccan Rede, encompassed in those eight words. The Rule of Three, contained within the Rede, governs what a Wiccæ should do, and the majority of the rest of the Rede tells of when and how one should do things. The poem is attributed to Adriana Porter, an alleged witch who was killed in Massachusetts. How does Porter portray the code of the Wiccæ with this singsong poem about holidays and gods? This article will take an academic approach to this religious piece.
The primary means of portraying meaning is by using two types of oratory. Epedeictic oratory is a type of ceremonial oratory, used in such occasions as funeral orations or church services. From this definition, the Wiccan Rede is epideictic rhetoric because of both its origins and its uses in ritual. Such lines as those about casting the circle three times and kissing one's hand upon the moon being new are examples of ritual, one of the primary concerns of epideictic rhetoric. The body of the poem is written in such a way as to be chanted, as if during ceremonial dancing around a great bonfire, like that discussed by Patricia Telesco in The Wiccan Book of Ceremonies and Rituals:
"[b]egin dancing clockwise around the fire. There are no special movements to this waltz; simply dance the dance of life." (55)
Even the direction of the wind is taken into account in ritual considerations. This poem differs from deliberative oratory in that deliberative oratory is concerned with change and persuasion. Deliberative oratory can, on occasion, be used as epedeictic oratory, as in the case of the Christian Bible's "Ten Commandments," but in the general sense of the term, mystagogues like the High Priest and Priestess make use of more epideictic and less deliberative oratory.
Oratory appeals to certain aspects of the reader that persuade him or her to accept an argument. Ethos is an appeal based upon the credibility of the presenter of any language, be it clear or ambiguous. Within ethos there are three subcategories, which, when followed, cause the development of an ethos between the speaker and the audience: phronesis, or the knowledge of the subject upon which the speaker is speaking; eunoia, the empathetic link of goodwill toward the audience; and arete, or simple virtue. Adriana Porter certainly exhibits phronesis because of her history of being an alleged witch (who better to ask about witchery than a witch?), but also because of her knowledge of the moon phases and such things as "wolfsbane" (an herb more commonly known as Aconitum and attributed the power to keep lycanthropes at bay). She achieves eunoia by instructing the reader or listener about how to keep evil spirits away, how to make spells the most effective and how to generally enrich one's spiritual life. Arete, on the other hand, is more difficult to define. Perhaps Porter has established arete, but the question is yet to be raised: what virtue does she exhibit by writing this didactic piece of poetry? The clearest argument is that she has virtue in teaching others what the gods are pleased with, as reiterated in the Laws from Lady Sheba's The Book of Shadows:
"The Wicca should give due worship to the Gods and obey Their will, which They ardane, for it was made for the good of the Wicca, as the worship of the Wicca is good for the Gods. For the Gods love the brethren of the Wicca"(3).
In these ways she establishes rapport, and more intimately, ethos.
A second appeal, logos, is the words themselves. A tight tandem of logos and ethos makes the speaker look more prepared and thus creates a more intensive rapport with the audience. Words are concrete, difficult to metamorphose, and as such present a foundation for any argument made. In this case, however, no arguments exist appropriate to the philosophy of the Wiccæ. Indeed, acceptance (as opposed to forced change) is a mainstay of such a mindset: "Paganism is essentially tolerant, and so are wise witches. They will fight bigotry or intolerance or religious persecution." (Farrar, 176) The text is only composed of basic instruction. Thus, the words are almost motherly, as if guiding a child down a path to safety.
Lastly, pathos is the emotional response of the reader or listener. More appropriately, it is an appeal to such emotional responses. Most often this can be accomplished with a short story or a metaphor, but it may also simply be an intense aura of passion that drives the audience to an emotional end. Porter knows her subject matter, and as such knows her audience: aspiring Wiccæ and those older to the art. If they share the same philosophy as she, then her ends have already been met, but if not, then this Rede is her means. To those who seek a righteous life, the traditions expressed and explained are the candle by which one lights his path. Those who already live in the shadow of evil are shown that their own misdeeds will return three times back to them. To reconsider their lives would be a grand thing to do, when presented with their own karma, and the the weight of such karma upon their soul. It is in this way that the pathos is achieved in Porter's poem.
Other means of conveying meaning abound; these are called "literary devices." Metaphor is a comparison of two or more things without the use of the words "like" or "as," as in, "My love is a candle that never burns out." The religion of Wicca itself is a grand-scale metaphor, embodying the Earth as a figure of nourishing, loving and protecting stature. "Mother Earth," as she is called, is given homage by a process of personification and anthropomorphism, where something non-human is attributed human characteristics. She has a womb, a face and a heart, and "she produces us, nourishes us, makes it possible for us to live, rewards us when we understandingly love her, takes revenge when we abuse her and reabsorbs our material component when we die." (Farrar, 137) In this way, the Wiccæ are expected to show deep respect and honor for that upon which they live and from which they receive life.
The poem itself is largely in the form of iambic octametre, a scheme in which eight pairs of syllables (the first syllable in the pair being unstressed and the second stressed) comprise a line. In addition, the lines are rife with cæsura, which is a pause in the middle of a line of a poem used to draw attention to both what is directly before and directly after it. Such lines as
Heed the Northwind's mighty gale—Lock the door and drop the sail" are instructions that are important to remember. The North Wind is embodied as one of anger, ferocity and power; as such, the smart thing to do when a strong North wind begins to blow would be, indeed, to not travel by boat, and to reinforce one's door. More prevalent than any other device, however, is a form of hyperbaton called "inversion." Hyperbaton is a device by which conventional word order is discarded in favor of a different order, and inversion places the subject of the sentence after the verb clause, as in "Bide the Wiccan laws ye must." Lastly, the poem itself is a remarkable example of parallelism, a device in which the lines of a poem closely mirror those surrounding it in syntax.
The rhetoric in Porter's "The Wiccan Rede" is a very alien rhetoric to Americans. Its language may also be somewhat strange. Nonetheless, the piece itself is a work of non-aggressive persuasive art. Where peace and merriment, ritual and festival, magic and nature meet, there is Wiccæ Cræft. There are Wiccæ, gently persuading by means of example. There is Porter's work, immortalized as the Wiccan Rede. Such a piece as this may never be found again, or may be found in the heart of the reader, or may even be right before the reader. Who is to say?