Beyond the Wiccan Rede
Article ID: 3748
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 5,799
Times Read: 4,568
Author: RuneWolf [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: December 8th. 2001
Times Viewed: 4,568
If Yahweh did indeed scribe the Ten Commandments onto the living stone of Mt. Sinai, I can't help but feel that He did so out of frustration.
"Okay, I'm gonna write this stuff down in clear and uncomplicated terms that you simply cannot misunderstand or misinterpret, not matter how hard you try!"
It seems that one of the most basic and most powerful human abilities is to find the loophole in anything, whether it is secular or sacred law, the instructions your doctor gives you to save your life, or simply the generous and benevolent guidance of a spiritual mentor. We delight in finding a way to do what we want, often in contravention of the spirit of the law, while still giving lip service to its letter. The classic example is the patient whose doctor has limited him to "one bowl" of ice cream per night. And he only has one bowl - one half-quart mixing bowl, that is!
This may seem an extreme example, but it's true - I have been that patient. There is something about being able to "bend" the truth that lets us get away with doing the wrong thing, even when we are fully aware of what we are doing. As if being able to tell the "truth" to someone else somehow alleviates the consequences of our actions.
Therein, I think, lies the weakness in the "short version" of the Wiccan Rede as a written law. By its very brevity and ambiguity, it demands a high degree of personal honesty and integrity from a species that does not, as a rule, demonstrate those virtues.
The crux of the matter, of course, is defining exactly what is meant by "harm" and exactly who and what is meant by "none." I don't think any of us have any problem with the "do as you will" part - that comes all too naturally!
By way of illustration, let me recount an episode from my early days in the Craft when, with nothing but the noblest of intentions, I thoroughly trashed the Rede.
For many years, a couple of acres of woods had stood unmolested just across the road from our house. It was wonderful having all those trees there - we could sit out on the front balcony, and have nothing to look at but trees swaying in the wind. Then one day, the bulldozers showed up. To my horror, I discovered that the tract had been sold to developers who were going to build "luxury" town homes. I was spitting mad. Razing a perfectly good stand of trees to make way for more overpriced, unneeded yuppie-hovels! Just freakin' great! I stewed on this for several weeks, then decided to take action. I wrote and cast a very powerful warding spell to bind and turn away the developers and their workers.
Over the next several weeks, I sank into a black depression, as my spell appeared not to work in the least. When I (finally!) mentioned this to my Teacher, he immediately knew what the problem was.
Not only had my spell not worked, but my depression was the result of the backlash, via the Law of Threefold Return, of an ill-considered violation of the spirit of the Rede.
Had I considered, my Teacher asked, the harm that I was doing to the developers and their workers by trying to ward them off of the job site?
I was simply incredulous. Here was my Teacher, "SuperPagan, " taking the side of the tree-killers!
But he was absolutely right. In my over-zealousness to "defend the wild, " I had not in fact considered that I might actually be doing harm to someone. I rationalized that the developers wouldn't miss the money - after all, they were just a bunch of fat-cats anyway. And the workers could always find other jobs.
Was I really certain of all that? my Teacher asked. Was I absolutely certain that the developers could afford to have this project ruined? Was it possible that this failure might in fact ruin them, their families and those who depended on them for work? Was it possible that just one worker in this area needed this particular job to keep his home and family intact? And what of the revenue that the new homes would bring to the community, revenue that was used, in part, to subsidize low-income housing, to provide services for the elderly, to shelter and feed the homeless, and to ensure that other wooded areas could in fact be nurtured and cared for properly? Had I honestly considered all these ramifications?
No, I had not. I had decided, on my own, but with the best of intentions, that there was no one to be harmed, therefore I was free to do as I willed. I had, all unknowingly, violated the spirit of the Rede, and was duly suffering the consequences of my actions.
Only after I dis-spelled the warding did my depression lift, and life return to normal.
I have used the phrase "spirit of the Rede" twice now, and have done so deliberately. I believe that there is a vast difference between obeying a law simply because it is written out somewhere, and obeying it because it is part of the warp and weft of the Universal tapestry. We all know that secular laws, written laws, can often be violated without consequence. We see it happening every day around us, from people who disregard red lights, to murderers who get off on a technicality. Spiritual, or Universal, laws are a different story, and I believe that it is impossible to violate these without enduring some form of consequences, even if we have the best of intentions and the noblest of purposes. In a previous essay, I said that I would gladly suffer the consequences of binding a criminal, because I believe that there would indeed be consequences, as a result of the Threefold Law. I do not believe that the Gods judge our actions one at a time, giving dispensation when we are doing the right thing and bringing the hammer down when we are wrong. The Threefold Law - or karma, if you like - is a Universal Law, to which even the Gods Themselves are subject.
Our Rede is an archetype. As Joseph Campbell (more or less) said, archetypes are symbols that point to transcendent realities. Our Rede is merely a collection of words that points to the reality of Universal laws and forces at work. We can fiddle with the words all we want, rearrange them and reinterpret them, look for loopholes and back doors. But that doesn't change the fact that those Universal laws and forces remain inviolate, unalterable and inescapable.
My point being that we could - and probably will, eventually - reword the Rede. That's fine. It still won't alter the fact that we are accountable, not to the "Rede Police, " but to Powers far greater than ourselves.
We seem to concern ourselves overmuch with "The Rede As Law." We debate it endlessly and try to finagle it on the sly, hoping that we "won't get caught." We forget - at least I sometimes do - that the Rede is merely a gentle reminder that we are accountable to ourselves - to our Deep Selves - and to the Universe for our actions, and that there are no free rides. Before you "do as you will, " be darned certain that you are in fact harming none, or be ready to accept the consequences with dignity and grace.
Having said all of that, let me close by saying that we could do far worse than the Rede as our ethical touchstone. Considered deeply, these few words speak eloquently of two of the most powerful and beautiful of human virtues - personal freedom and personal responsibility. We even hear the echo of our Rede in the words of the Dalai Lama: "If you can help someone, do so. If you cannot, then at least do no harm."
And who wants to argue with the Dalai Lama?
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