I would describe myself as more devoted to my path than I am a devout of it. Pagan paths and Earth-based spirituality are not governed by a list of rules or set of doctrines; there are no “official” or compulsory texts which provide rules about what is and is not acceptable. There is no single book or collection of scriptures that gives instructions as to how I should live my life or celebrate my beliefs But this does not mean that there are no morals or ethics in my spirituality- far from it in fact!
The Wiccan Rede
Many of a Wiccan path follow the Wiccan Rede, although the Rede is not something that all Wiccans choose to adopt. “Rede” is an old Anglo-Saxxon word meaning “wise council” and many Wiccans and pagans follow the essence of the Wiccan Rede for advice and guidance. It is a set of guidelines that can interpreted uniquely by each individual. The philosophies can be understood and applied to an everyday context. The Wiccan Rede gives a foundation for spiritual practices as well as inspiration and space to grow.
The Wiccan Rede
Bide the Wiccan Law ye must,
In perfect love, in perfect trust;
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill:
“An ye harm none, do what ye will.”
Ever mind the Rule of Three:
What ye sends out comes back to thee,
Follow this with mind and heart,
And merry ye meet and merry ye part.
– original author unknown
“Bide the Wiccan Law ye must…” The Wiccan Law may refer to a set of rules which were known as the Ardaynes (Ordains) followed by several traditions. It is not certain if the Ardaynes originate from the Burning Times. These rules include guidelines for personal behaviour and conduct for covens. The Wiccan Rede itself was thought to have been introduced by Gerald Gardener who was a significant figure in the revival of witchcraft and formed the framework of Wicca.
“In perfect love and perfect trust…” This encourages us adopt positive attitudes to ourselves, others and the world around us. There is a popular theory that suggests true love is “loving an imperfect person perfectly”. We can recognise that we all make mistakes, and that mistakes are lessons in life that we can learn and grow from. Nature itself is constantly correcting balance and adapting for the better in order to survive. We trust that ourselves and others will learn from these mistakes, and so we can forgive one another and forgive ourselves as our experience in life grows.
“Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill: An it harm none, do as ye will…” Doreen Valiente was the first to share this eight word Rede couplet in a public speech recorded in 1964. Some consider this as the essence of the Rede- as long as your intentions or actions do not cause harm to another, then you may do as you will. But this is where there is a bit of a grey area- what constitutes as harm can mean different things to different people as we each have our own opinion of what is harmful. The saying “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” comes to mind, as sometimes when we think we are helping someone we could be interfering or hindering them; sometimes the only way people can learn is to experience something for themselves and through the trial and error process of making mistakes. Generally one can take this to mean that we may act as we feel necessary or appropriate as long as our intentions are not to deliberately or knowingly cause harm to another. We rise above our anger, hatred and jealousy and learn to channel and transform negative energies into positive energy.
“Harm none” includes not harming other people or animal, or plant or tree- no living thing, including not harming ourselves. We consider the impact our actions, habits and behaviours may have on other beings and the environment, and we try to adjust how we live so that it has minimal negative effects to all that surrounds us.
“Do as ye will” can be interpreted to following our true purpose, the will of our Higher Self. Some believe our Higher Selves to be our Inner Self, or soul substance, the essence at the core our being. It is believed our Higher Self understands what is most wise and loving for us with pure intentions; many use meditation, reflection, divination, discussion or dreamwork to understand the path to their true will. One is encouraged to fulfil their truest and purest potential within the Wiccan Rede.
“Ever mind the Rule of Three, what ye sends out comes back to thee…” This refers to what is also known as the Threefold Law or Law of Return, and can be likened to Karma. Karma is the popular belief that whatever energy we send out, be it positive or negative, will come back to us. According to the Wiccan Rede the energy that is returned to us will be tripled in strength; the Universe echoes our energy back to us, amplifying the energy. The effects of the Threefold Law may not seem to happen immediately, and could take some time to manifest, but ultimately the Law of Three will come to fulfilment. Another popular theory that shares a similar theme is the Chaos Theory- the idea that a butterfly fluttering its wings in one part of the world can cause tsunamis elsewhere. Small acts of kindness others can inspire great acts of selflessness in others. This is also known as the Ripple Effect where a single drop of water can cause ripples that spread far and wide in a vast body of water.
“Follow this with mind and heart” encourages us to think and feel our experiences, to take our thoughts and feelings into consideration before taking action. These are also guidelines to following the Rede- one must use an intellectual and emotional approach in their life as we travel along our path. An open mind encourages us to see past our own perspective, to refrain from judging, to respect the feelings of others, to have an expectation but not to allow our expectations to limit us. If we cut ourselves off from our emotions, or do not acknowledge our feelings then we are not living and experiencing life completely; an open heart allows open channels of respect and trust we can become isolated to new experiences, ideas and energy. This could also imply that the Wiccan path, like many other paths honours an equal approach of intellectual work such as personal study that relates to our own paths such as history, legends, sciences, psychology, as well as the importance of personal experience to develop feelings in order to gain a deeper and fuller understanding of what we learn in life.
“Merry ye meet and merry ye part…” is often used during Wiccan and pagan gatherings as people happily meet with each other and happily bid farewell; some like to add “…until we merry meet again” to the Rede. Here beginnings and endings are both treated in a positive manner, as both are considered important by means of honouring. Many cultures celebrate the new life of birth with death viewed as a re-birth, the end of one life and the beginning of another. Grieving and mourning for the person we miss is a natural emotional cycle that comes with death, but we must also honour the life of that person by remembering what they taught us during their time as well as celebrating their passing on into the next life that awaits them after death; death is not seen as a finite ending, but as part of the cycle of being, and the Rede implies that being “merry” (meaning joyous and happy) is an important state to our being no matter stage of the cycle we experience. No parting is forever, and so as the Wheel turns so shall we meet again.