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July 13th. 2016 ...
What Every Pagan Should Know About Curses
Magic With A Flick of my Finger
Banishments, Conjurings, and Hexes for a Modern World
An Open Mind and Heart
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June 13th. 2016 ...
Pollyanna Propaganda: The Distressing Trend of Victim-Blaming in Spirituality
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Living a Magickal Life with Fibromyalgia
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May 15th. 2016 ...
Faery Guided Journey
How to Bond with the Elements through Magick
Magical Household Cleaning
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April 2nd. 2016 ...
An Alternative Conception of Divine Reciprocity
Becoming Wiccan: What I Never Expected
Rebirth By Fire: A Love Letter to Mama Maui and Lady Pele
The Fear of Witchcraft
Blowing Bubbles with the Goddess
The Evolution of Thought Forms
Magic in Sentences
March 28th. 2016 ...
Revisiting The Spiral
Lateral Transcendence: Toward Greater Compassion
Spring Has Sprung!
January 22nd. 2016 ...
Coming Out of the Broom Closet
Energy and Karma
Community and Perception
December 20th. 2015 ...
Introduction to Tarot For the Novice
Magia y Wicca
October 24th. 2015 ...
Facing Your Demons: The Shadow Self
Native American Spirituality Myopia
The Dream Eater--A Practical Use of Summoning Talismans
A Dream Message
Feeling the Pulse of Autumn
October 16th. 2015 ...
Sacred Lands, Sacred Hearts
September 30th. 2015 ...
September 16th. 2015 ...
Nature Worship: or Seeing the Trees for the Ents
Vegan or Vegetarian? The Ethical Debate
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Lost - A Pagan Parent's Tale
July 9th. 2015 ...
Love Spells: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
The Magic of Weather
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A Pagan Altar
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Why I Bother With Ritual: Poetry and Eikonic Atheism
May 6th. 2015 ...
Sex, Lies, and Witches: Love in a Time of Wiccans and Atheists
Gods, Myth, and Ritual in Naturalistic Paganism
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March 29th. 2015 ...
A Thread in the Tapestry of Witchcraft
March 28th. 2015 ...
On Wiccan Magick, Theurgy, Thaumaturgy and Setting Expectations
March 1st. 2015 ...
Choosing to Write a Shadow Book
Historiolae: The Spell Within the Story
My Concept Of Grey
February 1st. 2015 ...
Seeker Advice From a Coven Leader
The Three Centers of Paganism
Magick is No Illusion
The Ancient Use of God/Goddess Surnames
The Gods of My Heart
January 1st. 2015 ...
The Six Most Valuable Lessons I've Learned on My Path as a Witch
Manipulation of the Concept of Witchcraft
Publicly Other: Witchcraft in the Suburbs
Pagans All Around Us
Broomstick to the Emerald City
October 20th. 2014 ...
Thoughts on Conjuring Spirits
A Microcosmic View of Ma'at
October 5th. 2014 ...
The History of the Sacred Circle
Abandoning Expectations and Remembering Your Roots
September 28th. 2014 ...
Seeking Pagan Lands for Pagan Burials
Creating a Healing Temple
September 20th. 2014 ...
GOD AND ME (A Pagan's Personal Reply to the New Atheists)
September 7th. 2014 ...
Deer Man- A Confounding Mystery
August 31st. 2014 ...
Coven vs. Solitary
A Strange Waking Dream
August 24th. 2014 ...
Thoughts on Cultural and Spiritual Appropriation
The Pagan Cleric
A Gathering of Sorcerers (A Strange Tale)
NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
Mark Twain on 'The Witches' Rede'
Article ID: 6293
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 4,830
Times Read: 10,764
Author: Mike Nichols
Posted: May 4th. 2003
Times Viewed: 10,764
It hardly seems possible that it has been almost 100 years since Mark Twain sat down and dictated his thoughts about The Witches' Rede, leaving to posterity what is surely the most clear-headed explanation ever attempted of this critical and central tenet of modern Witchcraft.
Okay, that really didn't happen.
But it might as well have. Because it was sometime around 1904 or 1905 that Mark Twain composed a short story called "The War Prayer". It's not easy to be sure just when it was written because Twain's publisher rejected it, saying that it was too controversial. It was based, in part, on Twain's opposition to the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902. Twain agreed with his publisher's assessment, commenting that it would probably have to wait until after his death before it could be published. As with the comet, Twain proved to be prophetic. "The War Prayer" didn't see the light of day until its first printing in 1923.
Yet this deceptively simple short story is far more profound than a mere anti-war rant. Indeed, it is an exploration of one of the most basic guidelines for ethical human behavior. Modern Witches refer to this same idea as "The Witches' Rede", and tend to couch it in archaic English: "An it harm none, do what thou wilt," thus rendering it nearly unintelligible to all but the initiated. Reading the antiquated "An" as the more contemporary word "If", the Rede translates into the modern idiom as something like "If you harm no one, then you can do what you want."
Every Wicca 101 instructor ever born has spent a considerable amount of time schooling newbies on all the ramifications of this simple phrase. The first thing they will usually point out is that "harming no one" may be harder than it sounds, since "no one" includes oneself! And the second thing they will mention is that even the most "positive" of magical spells may carry a hidden payload that is detrimental to *someone*. Thus, one has to be careful to scrutinize each new spell for possible hidden agendas. And if a harmful effect is found, then, by the law of the Witches' Rede, that spell should not be worked.
It is to this second point that Mark Twain addressed himself in his brilliant essay, "The War Prayer". Naturally, he doesn't speak of Witches casting spells. Instead (and rather delightfully, considering the subject), his setting is a prayer service in a Christian church, on the eve of a great war. As the minister delivers an impassioned plea for God's aid in granting a military victory, the service is disrupted by an aged stranger who enters, claiming to be a messenger from God. He says that he has been commissioned to put into words both the spoken, and the unspoken, portions of the congregation's prayer!
Then, in words that would do credit to any Coven elder, he explains, "If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon your neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain on your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse on some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it." This is the very essence of "An it harm none". From there, he goes on to explain what the congregation is *really* praying for when they implore God for a military victory. Controversial? Unfortunately. Timely? Never more so.
But don't take my word for it. Head to your local library and check it out for yourself. Or, if you're near your computer, just fire up your browser and point it to "www.warprayer.org". It only takes a few minutes to read, but you will be the richer for it. True, Mark Twain may not have been a Witch, but he certainly would have understood, and agreed with, the Withces' Rede. And I know of more than one Book of Shadows that includes a special page of honor for "The War Prayer".
Monday, May 5th., 2003
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