To Rede, or Not To Rede…
This is a question that I’ve seen floating about here and there, and one that we have even asked our local Circle to discuss – do you feel called to follow the Wiccan Rede or not, and why?
I personally am not Wiccan, and though I certainly do not go around ‘harming’ people intentionally, I do not feel called to follow the Rede, and here’s why:
Firstly, I think that the definition of ‘harm none’ is too vague and broad. I have spoken to some witches who do not perform protection magic because they feel that working against someone else’s magic or will is ‘harmful’. I think that’s taking a very broad view of the rede. I think that anytime we, as practitioners, work magic, we’re seeking to influence the things, and to some smaller extent the people around us – changing them to suit ourselves…. so by that rationale, no magic is acceptable because all magic seeks to influence our environment.
I feel perfectly justified in protecting myself and my family and property from harmful intent. I don’t seek to cause pain or suffering; rather I generally ask that what is brought into my space be returned via karmic retribution/law of three – so in that sense, whatever your intent is coming into my space is what you will get back. Justice may not come through me, personally, but it will come. I see it as a little more pro-active version of the Golden Rule. I don’t buy into the ‘happy happy, joy joy’ mentality that some want to project Paganism as. I see and celebrate the balance of dark and light; it makes sense to me that with the ‘perfect love and perfect trust’ come some thorns if need be.
I would like to point out that feeling/believing as I do does not mean that I am without mercy or kindness. I am as capable of forgiveness or overlooking the unintentional as the next person; I just think that at some point, there is a limit and I have no problem saying, ‘here’s my limit’.
Secondly, I think that being allowed to ‘do what you will’ with the only caveat being that it not ‘harm’ anyone is a poor guide for behaviour. The saying about ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ comes to mind. Sure, you can do something, but should you? Even something that is generally seen as helpful (like healing spells or reiki) can be misguided, misinterpreted, unwanted… in other words, harmful. Some feel that spellwork is akin to prayer – I feel that way about some things – for myself, mainly. But I rarely do magic or spellwork for anyone else unless specifically asked, and usually not even then. I may pray or light a candle when asked (I have a specific candle on my altar for this purpose), but performing a ritual spell for someone? Not as a rule, simply because what I want for that person may be vastly different form their own wants or needs.
Thirdly, intent is a factor here also. What matters more, the deed or the intent behind it? That’s a very tricky question, and the answer varies from act to act. If my intent was pure, but through my actions I caused great harm, am I liable for the damage? If my intent was negative, but through my actions caused something good to happen, am I let off the hook because nothing bad actually happened? Interpretation is also part of this – if I do something that I perceive to be good, but someone else sees it as bad, whose interpretation is accurate? Not that these questions are not valid without the Rede (because they certainly are). I personally feel that intent and action are equally important – you can’t have one without the other. If I were consistently getting bad results from good intents, then I would take that as a sign that maybe I need to work on myself before I attempt working on others – but that’s just me.
In any case, I certainly don’t think that the Rede is a bad thing, any more than the Ten Commandments are (in and of themselves) a bad thing. The many ways in which their followers can and do interpret them is another issue. There are just as many ‘bad’ Wiccans and Pagans who profess to follow the Rede as there are ‘bad’ Christians who profess to follow the Ten Commandments. But I do think that if you profess to follow something, you should think about the implications of that guide and act accordingly. I do think that there is a tendency in the Pagan community to be more introspective about the guidelines, traditions and paths that they profess to follow, simply because most Pagan paths are not really ‘boxed and sold’ the way that other religions are. In order to become Pagan, one must seek this path and actively walk it – you can’t really be ‘passively Pagan’ (you can be Pagan-inclined, but to ‘be’ Pagan, in my opinion, is to indicate action). In the process of learning about Paganism an choosing a path, there are many questions to ask yourself regarding your ideas and concepts of spirituality, deity, and practice. That vetting process tends to weed out a lot of ‘dabblers’ who may initially be drawn to Paganism, but who ultimately find it to be ‘too much work’.
So, many ask, if you don’t follow the Rede, and you’re Pagan, where do you get an ethical or moral code from?
That’s both an easy and difficult question. The easy answer is: from myself. I don’t need someone else telling me that stealing is wrong; taking something that doesn’t belong to me is wrong. I wouldn’t want someone to take something of mine, therefore, I have reached an ethical conclusion – one that I probably learned as a very small child, fighting with a friend or sibling over a toy that was in my possession. I think that many of the ethical views we have as adults come from experience – either we have experienced or witnessed some event that helped us formulate an opinion as to the validity of the act, and come to an ethical value that we now hold.
I have spoken with numerous people who hold the Bible as their ethical and moral guide, but who fail to take into account the many ethical and moral violations contained therein, because to do so would eliminate the need for The Lord God’s hold over them. I am at ethical odds with the sacrifice/slaughter of children (mine, or yours); yet The Lord God, on numerous occasions (Isaac (Genesis 22:2), Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11; 21-28), all the firstborn children of Egypt (Exodus 13:15), Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:30-40), Lot’s daughters (Genesis 19:1-8), Jesus – to name a few), required such a sacrifice from his own people while at the same time condemning the ‘pagans’ of the land for throwing their children into the fire to Ba’al (2 Kings 17:16-17) or Molech (Leviticus 18:21). Hypocrite much?
My ethical and moral code of conduct come from within. I can weigh my intent or actions against what I know or feel is right, and what I know is legal and come to a conclusion that satisfies my sense of right conduct. That doesn’t mean that such decisions are always easy – sometimes I do have to weigh what I feel is right against what I know is right (or the legal ‘right’ thing to do) – sometimes those things do not add up. Sometimes my morality is add odds with legality – and sometimes the legal right takes precedence over the moral right. So again, my sense of right and wrong comes from within, borne of experience. I don’t need an outside source to tell me what is right or wrong; sometimes the two are at odds.
So that’s my thoughts on this. Although I probably don’t need to say this, I will – all contained herein is my own personal opinion and not in any way intended to be a mouthpiece for the Pagan Community at large. Your mileage may vary considerably.
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This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project. To read more with the ‘R’ topic, originally for the week of Sept. 7, 2012,
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