Over and over and over again the Wiccan Rede is touted as some universal law that all witches must obey or face some kind of horrific consequence. Often rede thumpers are quite aggressive about their insistence that all witches must follow this rule and it can become a very uncomfortable debate as they try to morally police the greater community of witches at large.
For those of you who have somehow managed to come through your dabblings in the craft without brushing up against it, the rede is often cited as “harm none”. While on the surface this might seem like a well meaning rule, the ramifications of this rede pushing are actually quite problematic. Due to this, this rule isn’t universally accepted by witches and I don’t think it should be. Today we’re going to take a look at why the rede is something that most witches can wholesale ignore.
The Rede Is For Wiccans
The biggest flaw in the push for the rede to be accepted by all witches is that it’s specific to one religion! It is called the Wiccan Rede for a reason, it’s a rule for Wiccans! If you’re not Wiccan, why would you follow their tenants? There are tons of other religions that get combined with the craft, everything from Kemeticism, to Greek reconstructionists, to personal religions, Christianity, and even atheism! These beliefs all tend to have their own moral view of the world and those moral views may or may not mesh with the rede but even if they DO coincide with the rede, why would you cherrypick that one idea from another religion when your own has a perfectly good moral framework for you already?
If you’re Wiccan, obviously the rede is meant for you and you can ignore this point. That said, most initiated Wiccans that I’ve known have a very different view of the rede (because remember, Wicca is an initiatory religion and very different from the neo-Wicca that is rampant in the modern craft). This brings us on to the next reason why “harm none” is kind of BS.
The Rede Is Not Actually “Harm None”
The full rede is actually quite a bit longer than “harm none”. In its entirety, the rede is “Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill, An it harm none do what ye will”.
This is a far cry from the usual “harm none” that gets thrown around! “Harm none” is a hard and fast rule that you are never ever to hurt anything for any reason. “An it harm none do what ye will” implies something very different. This line is essentially stating that as long as you are not hurting anyone you are free to act in accordance with your wishes. This is designed to release the person following it from arbitrary moral rules that they may have unwittingly brought with them from a previous religion. For example, someone who was previously Christian might subconsciously still believe that sex outside of marriage is bad but within the rede, it’s clear that as long as everything is consensual and nobody is being hurt, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with pursuing physical pleasure.
The rede also never states that you’re not allowed to harm anyone ever, it simply says that as long as your actions aren’t hurting anyone you can act freely. This implies that when harm is probable, more thought needs to be given to the situation to ensure that the correct actions are being taken. This is very, very different from the run of the mill “harm none” that gets bandied about. This rule creates a completely different moral framework for the practitioner to work within. One that, instead of limiting the practitioner and creating a morally binding space for them to exist in, empowers them to take control of their moral compass for themselves. They’re empowered to act in ways that other religions may have prohibited as a way of claiming their own power in creating their reality and they’re empowered to make their own moral judgments when life inevitably calls for actions that are potentially harmful. Instead of giving them a laundry list of restrictions and rules, it gives them free will and agency over their lives and actions. This is the essence of what witchcraft is about! We’re here to learn to take control of our lives and create the reality that we really want to live in.
Impossible To Uphold
If you’re still not convinced that “harm none” is a ridiculous rule then let me point out just how completely impossible it is to actually uphold. If you think about it, you can never be perfectly certain that the consequences of your actions aren’t harming someone. You could cast a successful job spell and while that spell might seem very positive for you, it inevitably will cause another candidate to be passed over for that job. Being passed over that job could be the catalyst for all kinds of negative things from homelessness, estrangement from loved ones, or being unable to afford necessities like food or medical treatment. These are objectively horrible things that would be a direct result of your spell that you would neither know about nor be able to avoid.
Every single action you take has ramifications that could negatively impact other people without your knowledge. And I mean every single action! If you were to try and never harm anything ever again you would have to stop participating in life in any way. All actions in the world have both positive and negative results and how you perceive these results is entirely based on perspective.
What do I mean by that? Returning to our previous example, you view getting that job as a positive thing while the other candidates who don’t get the job view it as negative. You may view getting a great parking spot as a positive thing but for the people who now have to park further away, it’s a negative thing. You might view being broken up with as a negative thing but the person who is breaking up with you is probably going to feel that this is a positive thing, giving them the space and freedom to continue their growth. Perspective changes everything, nothing is black and white and what is good in one persons eyes will undoubtedly be bad in someone else’s.
And what about morally grey spaces? Say somebody tries to mug you and the encounter become violent. Is it morally reprehensible for you to hurt this person in self-defense? I mean, you are still harming them so under “harm none” this is not ok. I think most people would agree that defending your life from an attacker is not a bad thing though. And if you wouldn’t defend yourself, what if it was someone else being hurt? If you saw someone being attacked and did nothing, your inaction would be contributing to the harm they’re experiencing. If you intervene and harm the attacker, however, your action is causing harm. In situations such as these “harm none” falls apart entirely because no matter what you do it’s completely impossible to abide by the rule.
So what do we do instead?
During this kind of discussion, I’ve had people assume all kinds of things about my own moral views so let’s clear that up. No, I am not in favor of hurting people. I’m not saying that the spirit of “harm none” is bad. Of course not wanting to hurt people is a good thing! But that doesn’t make “harm none” a useful rule to follow. In fact, in many cases, this rule is actively harmful to the person trying to follow it!
I mean, if you can’t actually abide by the rule 100% as we discussed then how are you going to feel about that? Well if you’re breaking your own moral guideline then you’re doing something you think is morally wrong. You’re going to feel like a bad person! This is going to cause you to have a ton of shame and guilt about every aspect of your life that you feel doesn’t meet the standard of being completely free of harm so you’ll spend far too much of your time attempting to do the impossible and hurt nobody and then when you inevitably fail, you’ll spend far too much time beating yourself up because you couldn’t reach your own impossible standard. It’s unhealthy and it isn’t helping you create a life of joy, personal power, and authenticity.
Instead of trying to maintain some totally unreachable standard of moral purity, delve into the complexity of human life. Stop looking for cookie cutter moral solutions and actually take charge of your own actions, beliefs, and consequences. Think about yourself in relation to the world around you, find purpose in your actions, decide what matters to you most and make it a center point, do the work to go within yourself and find that guiding inner voice that can help you navigate the trickier moral challenges that you encounter. THIS is real power and true control over your own circumstances. That is how you create a life that is truly in alignment with your joy, your will, and your purpose. Look inside yourself for guidance instead of trying to find a “one size fits all” rule. No external force can give you the power, the life, and the happiness that you want. You have that capability already, you just have to decide that you want to actually use it.