If you’ve been involved in Wicca for longer than five minutes, chances are good that you’ve heard of the Wiccan Rede. But what’s the deal with the Rede? Are they like the Ten Commandments for witches? Who came up with it? Why are there so many different versions? Let’s get some answers to these questions!
Here a Rede, There a Rede…
If you ask ten different witches what the Wiccan Rede says, you’re bound to get ten slightly different answers. There are many different versions of the Wiccan Rede. There are even some traditions who write their own “Rede” (which, in case you’re wondering, comes from Middle English, and means “advice”). The “credit” of writing the Rede has been the topic of much debate in the Wiccan community in the past. Some say it was passed down from ancient traditions, others say it was written by Aleister Crowley, some say it was Gardner, others say it was Valiente. And still others credit Lady Gwen Thompson.
To be quite blunt, no one knows for sure who wrote what first. But really, what does it matter? The old saying “there is nothing new under the sun” is definitely applicable here, as the crucial message of the Rede is a general concept that dates back to the 1500s (and probably even before that). That crucial concept is this: do as you will so long as it harms none. Now, there’s also a huge philosophical debate as to what constitutes “harm.” Some people take it to the extreme and say that something as innocuous as stepping on grass technically “harms” the environment. But if we adhere to that view, then our very existence is a great harm to nature. Others say as long as you don’t murder anyone, you’re good. The most practical viewpoint lies somewhere between these two extremes. But that’s another topic for another time.
So we have all these different versions out there, how do we make sense of it all? I’m going to focus on three different versions. One thing you’ll notice is the use of “Old English” words like “ye”, “thou”, “thee”, and others. When the Rede was originally authored, it was worded in such a way as to make it seem like it was older in origin than it was. But hey, it sounds poetic. To view the three different versions, visit The Wiccan Rede page.
The Rede that most Wiccans are familiar with is actually a 26 line rhyming “couplet” entitled “The Rede of the Wiccae” and its authorship is credited to Lady Gwen Thompson. Thompson claims that the Rede was handed down to her from her grandmother, though this has never been definitively proven.
Another version of Thompson’s Rede is also widely available that incorporates lines that deal with the Lesser Sabbats as well as the Nine Woods. The authorship of this expanded version is unknown.
The third, and perhaps least well-known, is completely different from Thompson’s Rede. It is the Witches Creed, written by Doreen Valiente. Valiente published the Creed in her 1978 book, “Witchcraft for Tomorrow,” and many Wiccans consider this to be the primary Rede for Wicca.
Are Wiccans “Ruled” by the Rede?
The short answer is no, the Rede is not a set of rules by which all Wiccans must abide. The Rede (and the Creed) provide guidance and advice about how one should conduct their lives. Wicca is a religion of personal responsibility. Unlike the Abrahamic religions that have one “holy book” that tells you what to do and not to do (and outlines the punishments for the “not to do’s”), Wicca empowers the individual, allowing them to determine their own fate. And since Wicca doesn’t ascribe to the Abrahamic concept of a supreme deity that keeps track of your good and bad deeds, the only “entity” to which you must answer is your own higher consciousness.
The Threefold Law
Aside from the “harming none” principle of Wicca, the only other concept found in the Wiccan Rede that could be considered a “consequence” of doing something “bad” is the concept of the Threefold Law. The Threefold Law states that whatever you do, good or bad, returns to you times three. This is a bit of a spin on the idea of karma, in that the return is magnified three times. However, even this concept is disputed amongst many Wiccans today. The concept of the Threefold Law is thought to be an inaccurate portrayal of “cause and effect.” Whether the Threefold Law is, in fact, a “law” of the Universe is something I’ll leave to the philosophers.
Dissecting the Rede
All this talk about what is “law” and what is not can leave one feeling rather flustered. Indeed, it’s been a topic that’s made my brain hurt on more than one occasion. I’ll end this article with my brief interpretation of Thompson’s original 26-line Rede of the Wiccae. This should not be considered the “ultimate authority” of what the meaning of the Rede truly is; rather, it’s something that, hopefully, will help take the confusion out of the Rede for witches both seasoned and new.
|Bide the Wiccan laws ye must in perfect love an perfect trust.||So we’re off to a bit of a controversial start with this first line. “What the heck are the Wiccan Laws?” you ask? That’s a great question, and a topic for another day. The really condensed version is that Gardner came up with a set of 30 rules, written in archaic language, that set forth rules for a Wiccan.
In other translations of the Rede (such as the Expanded version), this line is reworded to say: “Bide within the law ye must, in perfect love and perfect trust.” I find that this resonates more accurately for me, and is infinitely easier to understand. Don’t break the law. Easy enough, right?
|Live an let live -fairly take an fairly give.||Preserve life; both yours and others’. Balance the concept of giving and receiving. Don’t take advantage of others, and don’t let others take advantage of you.|
|Cast the Circle thrice about to keep all evil spirits out.||This ties in to the number three, which is prevalent not only in Wicca, but in many other belief systems. It is common for witches to circumnavigate the circle they’re casting three times in order to form a protective barrier around the area in which they will be conducting ritual.|
|To bind the spell every time, let the spell be spake In rhyme.||Spells are said to have more power when they rhyme. Spells you write personally have the most power when you perform them, because it is something that you “gave birth to.” That doesn’t mean that you can’t use spells that others have written. If you can create and recite an incantation that rhymes, great. However, the most important aspect of a spell is intent; so if you can’t write a spell that rhymes, it will still be effective.|
|Soft of eye an light of touch -speak little, listen much.||When interacting with others, operate at a frequency of love and acceptance. Don’t judge others. “Speak little, listen much” means you should listen more than you talk. The old saying “You have two ears and one mouth – do the math,” is very applicable.|
|Deosil go by the waxing Moon -sing an dance the Wiccan rune.||Deosil is witchy talk for “clockwise.” When the moon is waxing (i.e. getting larger), this is the time to do spells that draw things to you (or others, if you’re performing on someone’s behalf). When you are doing spells of this nature, using a clockwise rotation in your rituals is best.|
|Widdershins go when the Moon doth wane, an the Werewolf howls by the dread Wolfsbane.||Widdershins is witchy talk for “counter-clockwise.” When the moon is waning (i.e. getting smaller), this is the time to do spells that repel things or getting rid of things. When you are doing spells of this nature, using a counter-clockwise rotation in your rituals is best.|
|When the Lady’s Moon is new, kiss the hand to her times two.||In the olden days, it was a common practice to send two kisses to the new moon to bring good luck and prosperity as the moon prepares to enter the waxing phase.|
|When the Moon rides at her peak, then your heart’s desire seek.||This is talking about the full moon, which is the ideal time to do spells to attract things into your life (love, prosperity, etc.)|
|Heed the Northwind’s mighty gale -lock the door and drop the sail.||The “North wind” is representative of the winter season. In winter, we lock up and settle in for the cold winter season ahead. Unless you live in, like, the tropics. In which case it’s Mai Tai’s, sunbathing, and sunshine all the time. Lucky.|
|When the wind comes from the South, love will kiss thee on the mouth.||Representative of the spring. Spring is commonly thought of to be the season when new love blossoms along with the flora and fauna.|
|When the wind blows from the East, expect the new and set the feast||Represents summer. East winds are often associated with new and unexpected activities.|
|When the West wind blows o’er thee, departed spirits restless be.||Autumn is represented with the West wind. As the Earth begins its transition into hibernation, this season is associated with death and departure. The Samhain celebration occurs during the Autumn, which honors the dead.|
|Nine woods in the Cauldron go -burn them quick an burn them slow.||In the Beltane celebration, nine woods are used. You can read the Expanded version of the Rede, which explains the nine different woods that were customarily used (and are still used today in many covens and solitary practices).|
|Elder be ye Lady’s tree -burn it not or cursed ye’ll be.||The Elder Tree is considered the tree of the Goddess. The Elder should never be burned.|
|When the Wheel begins to turn -let the Beltane fires burn.||Beltane (May 1st in the Northern Hemisphere) is one of the Major Sabbats. It is during this celebration that the nine woods are burned.|
|When the Wheel has turned a Yule, light the Log an let Pan rule.||Yule (which falls between December 20-23 in the Northern Hemisphere). It is commonly known as the time when the Gods rule.|
|Heed ye flower, bush an tree -by the Lady blessed be.||This line reminds us that, as Wiccans, we are the stewards of the Earth. Always be mindful of caring for nature and protecting our environment. One might make the claim that Wiccans were “green” way before it was trendy.|
|Where the rippling waters go, cast a stone an truth ye’ll know.||Water divination is common amongst many ancient pagan faiths. However, this can also apply to any form of divination.|
|When ye have need. hearken not to other’s greed.||Performing magick should only be done when there is a need. In other words, doing a spell for money when you need money is one thing; but doing it gratuitously can lead to undesired results. The phrase “hearken not to other’s greed” could be construed to mean that doing magick for another person in exchange for money could cloud your intentions. The main driving point of this line, however, is to be sure that you’re very clear on your true intentions when performing magick, and make sure those intentions are above reproach.|
|With the fool no season spend or be counted as his friend.||Choose your friends wisely. Stay away from people with an overall negative energy.|
|Merry meet an merry part -bright the cheeks an warm the heart.||Radiate love and happiness! Be grateful for your friends and family, and don’t be afraid to express your love for them.|
|Mind the Threefold Law ye should -three times bad an three times good.||This is the line that relates to the Threefold Law, which is explained earlier in this article.|
|When misfortune is enow, wear the blue star on thy brow.||When you’re experiencing the difficulties of life, open your third eye (located in the middle of your forehead, or “brow”) and seek guidance from the Universe/Spirit Guides/Goddess/God.|
|True in love ever be unless thy lover’s false to thee.||A little relationship advice is thrown in here. If you vow to love someone, be true to them. If they’ve been untrue (i.e. cheated, lied about who they really are, etc.), then that breaks the vow between you.|
|Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill – an it harm none, do what ye will.||It all comes down to those eight simple words… Harm none, and do what you will.|