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Consider the Rede... Or Not

Author: BellaDonna Saberhagen
Posted: January 15th. 2012
Times Viewed: 3,668

“An it harm none, do as ye will.” It is a nice sentiment. I don’t follow it. That’s right. I’m a Pagan and a Witch (or witch if you’d prefer I not capitalize it) and I don’t follow the Wiccan Rede. I am not a Wiccan, and therefore their scriptural law (yes, I realize there are no “official” scriptures, but it’s often quoted like one) does not apply to me. In fact, the common thought that all modern Pagans follow the Rede is one I find a bit patronizing and imposing. It’s kind of like having Christians applying “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” to Pagans and being shocked when we still worship other gods. I feel judged when I say I don’t follow the Rede, I’ve had looks thrown at me that would make you think I was Voldemort himself.

Wicca is not an old religion, and is certainly not the pan-European “Old Religion” some champion it to be. I will say it again: There is no “Old Religion” of Europe and the main religions of ancient Europe did not have the Wiccan Rede as their main edict. Can you imagine Julius Caesar trying to follow the Rede? How about Boudicca? Vercingetorix? Alexander the Great? Jesus Christ would have been more likely to embrace the Rede than any ancient Pagan you could name.

I feel that the creation of the Rede was most likely a device used to obtain acceptance by society and prevent persecution when Wicca was new. If Wiccans were able to point to the Rede and say “Look, this is the code we live by, it’s basically the Golden Rule, ” then it was more likely that the new religious movement would be accepted. Perhaps the Rede was taught on deeper levels (as a vague guideline, not a law) once inducted into Wicca; after-all, scourging (a physical form of harm) was used in Gardnerian Initiation.

However, most modern forms of neo-Wicca (thus named to differentiate from Garnderian or Alexandrian traditions) taught in books do not go into the nuances of the Rede; and if they do, they tend to beat it into their readers’ heads, usually with their own strict interpretations. Some authors go too far by disallowing any form of psychic protection that might cause negative energy to be returned to the sender and not even allowing performance of healing magick without the express permission of the individual to be healed (which would be extremely difficult to obtain from a coma patient) .

What follows is an ethical dilemma I created to show how blindly following the Rede could be a very bad thing:

Your town is being plagued by a serial killer that is targeting children, raping and killing them. The police are not close to catching him; there are no leads.

Magickally, you have two options. The first goes against the teachings of the Rede: curse the serial killer, cause him to leave evidence or get caught for some smaller violation and have the investigation into that provide the evidence of his other heinous acts. The second embraces the Rede: cast a protection spell on all the children of your town.

The second option sounds good, but it’s not realistic. The first issue is with performing a spell of such magnitude, maybe a very large coven can raise enough energy but can an individual or a few people raise that much? The second is a problem of logistics, the larger the town, the more children, the more likely you are to leave someone out of the spell. It also does not take into account children that may move in after your spell is cast. The last issue is that even if you are successful in protecting all the children of your town with your spell, what about the next town? Do you think that the serial killer is going to stop wanting to rape and kill children just because he can’t seem to get to any children in your town? Can you magickally protect all the children in your county, state, country…the world? If you have the power to protect all the children of the world, then I’m waiting for the starving children in Africa to be well fed and the child sex-slave markets in Asia to be shut down permanently. Go on. Do it.

If you realize you can’t, then you have to accept that your magick has its limits; and that blind adherence to the Rede can prevent you from taking what might be the only viable option. When I posed the above scenario to one of the people who “looked at me like I was Voldemort”, she suggested that such matters “are to be left to karma.” Not only is this naďve, it shows how we misunderstand the role of karma in the West.

In Buddhist thought, karma, good or bad, is ultimately bad. If you have any karma, it shows you are still harboring connections to the world of delusion and cannot reach Nirvana. The Western view of karma is more like the Law of Return (I left out Three-Fold for a reason: energy can neither be created nor destroyed) . I countered her “leave it to karma” argument with a reference to “My Name is Earl”: “Karma doesn’t have fists.”

The song “Date Rape” by Sublime illustrates what I mean. In the song, a girl was date-raped. The rapist is sent to prison and is raped by another inmate. Did karma rape the rapist? No, another inmate did. Karma needs a vehicle to work through. We would say “what goes around comes around” or that “his bad karma came back to bite him in the end, ” but that does not change the fact that a PERSON raped the rapist. You cannot sit around waiting for “karma” or the gods to intervene; “giving it to God” was something I left behind when I left Christianity (it was something I couldn’t wrap my head around even as a Christian) .

Waiting for karma or the gods is basically a New Age/Neo-Pagan example of diffusion of responsibility. Diffusion of responsibility is a social phenomenon that was researched and documented (along with the by-stander effect) after the murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964. At the time, the media made it seem as though her entire apartment building was aware that she was being attacked, but that no one had come to her aid or even called the police (this was later proven false, but the story still lives in the public memory as such and it did spark research into group dynamics) . Classically, there are three types of diffusion of responsibility: the first is that the larger the group of witnesses, the less likely any one person will take action (responsibility) to aid the victim; second is that when working as a group, people will often slack and hide their laziness within the work of the group (high school group-work anyone?) ; the last is more common in strictly hierarchical groups like the military, with underlings claiming to be “just following orders” and the higher-ups claiming “they didn’t do it themselves.” Waiting for karma or the gods to intervene seems to be a combination of the first and third: you don’t want to be seen as “evil” by the Pagan community at large and you are following a law given by your elders that prohibits your actions.

Here’s the kicker: inaction can CAUSE harm. If you came across the above serial rapist/killer in the act of raping a child, would you hit him to get him to stop? Would you, at the very least, call the police to give his description and location? If you don’t, you’re causing the child being raped harm; and you’re causing any potential future victims harm. If you do call the cops, you’re harming the serial rapist/killer, you’ll be sending him to jail, possibly for life, or he might get the death penalty (and it is a well-known fact that child molesters don’t fair too well in prison) . Do you just go home, hoping the child he was raping did something in a past life to deserve such treatment now? Perform a healing spell (assuming you’re allowed to without permission of the subject to be healed) and pray to your gods to help the children whose lives this man has destroyed? No matter what you do, harm will be done, either by action, inaction or passive action you only “hope” will help. What should you do?

If you would call the cops, then you’ve chosen to harm. However, this harm is also preventing harm to other children, which I would think should cancel out the harm to the rapist/killer. I call this the “Spock Clause” (geeky, I know, just go with me here) . In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock sacrifices himself to save the crew of the Enterprise, saying, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one.” I would say that a good rule to know when to use “baneful magick” would be: “The right of potential victims to safety, life and well-being out-weighs the right of the perpetrator to the freedom to perform acts of malevolence.” If by his very freedom, the perpetrator would continue to victimize new people, then that freedom should be forfeit. Think of cursing the rapist/killer as spiritually calling the police.

Beyond this, there is the very fact that just because someone is Pagan, it does not mean they are Wiccan. Not all Pagans are Wiccan. Do I have to say this again? NOT ALL PAGANS ARE WICCAN. The Rede is a law for Wiccans, not for Pagans. Just as we get upset when Christians try to apply their laws to us, so do I get upset when, just because I am Pagan and I use magick, people assume I MUST follow the Rede. The Rede is a religious guideline; it is NOT a law of magick.

I’m not alone in my shocking non-adherence. Most Reconstructionist Pagans don’t have that law because the ancient Pagans they are emulating did not have that law. Asatruar have the Nine Noble Virtues: Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Industriousness, Self-Reliance, and Perseverance. The Four Cardinal Virtues of the Greeks are: temperance, prudence, fortitude and justice. Even non-reconstructionist paths can have other laws. Thelema has what might be the grand-father of the Rede: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the Law, Love under Will.”

Not following the Rede does not equate to not having a conscience. It does not mean one is a lawless anarchist. It does not mean that those who don’t follow it are somehow the “bad Pagans” your old pastor warned you about, sacrificing goats and babies to some dark god. Please get that through your heads.

If you are Wiccan, or you have adopted the Rede because it “feels right”, really think about how far you can take it and where your lines are. Don’t let worse things happen because preventing them causes harm. Know your magickal limits (and be realistic about them) and consider what is for the greater good. As long as you act mindfully and don’t react without thought, you’ll be doing fine.




Footnotes:
Information from Wikipedia:
Kitty Genovese Murder
Diffusion of Responsibility
Buddhist information on karma: http://www.thebigview.com/buddhism/karma.html
Our Troth Volume ! (Nine Noble Virtues)
Various websites consulted for Greek Virtues
The Book of the Law by Aleister Crowley



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