Most religions provide their followers with guidelines to the ways in which their morality should be displayed. The Wiccan Rede is used as a guide for Wiccans, and other witchcraft practitioners, that uphold the same moral code. ‘Rede’ is derived from roedan, an Old English word meaning ‘to guide or direct.’ The short eight line version of the Rede, ‘An Ye Harm None, Do What Thou Wilt,’ (If it harms none, do what you want to), was first spoken by Doreen Valiente in a 1964 speech, but its exact origin is uncertain. The Rede encourages each person to take responsibility for their own lives and actions, as well as acknowledges the right that everybody has to embrace their own spiritual path.
Unlike other religions, which have Golden Rules that specify the actions that should not be taken, the Wiccan Rede is open for personal interpretation. ‘Harm’ can be seen differently by each practitioner, but is normally referring to manipulation, domination, anything else that takes away another’s free will, or any form of harassment. It can also take many forms, such as: emotional, spiritual, physical, financial, psychic and others. Living by the Wiccan Rede stimulates a person to think about how each action that they take affects them, those around them and even the society they live in. Many Wiccans also take into consideration animals, plants and other aspects of the environment.
The Wiccan Rede works alongside The Threefold Law, which is the belief that whatever action is committed, whether it is good or bad, returns to an individual with three times the power. This combination binds many Wiccans into doing the right thing at all times, and taking complete responsibility for their actions. It also thwarts a popular belief that witchcraft involves committing evil or immoral acts, including doing spells to hurt others, since this would go against the teachings of the religion.
The complete Wiccan Rede is a 26 line poem which ends with, ‘These Eight words the Rede fulfil: An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Wilt.’ Although the origin of the words have been mistakenly attributed to the founder of the Thelema religion, Aleister Crowley, who repeatedly professed ‘Do what thou wilt…’ the phrase has been said in different ways throughout history. Crowley’s influence is deemed as Francois Rabelais, who wrote in 1534, ‘Do as thou wilt because men that are free, of gentle birth, well bred, and at home in civilised company possess a natural instinct that inclines them to virtue and saves them from vice.’ Despite its origin the Wiccan Rede continues to be an inspiration to the followers of the religion, and help to form the image of witchcraft as a pure, uplifting practice to connect with oneself.