Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill:
An’ it harm none,
Do what ye will.
What exactly does the Wiccan Rede advise with those words? Let’s look first at the definition of harm. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as; physical or mental damage. I would not hasten to add spiritual damage to that definition as well. Okay. Got it. What about the word – none? The same dictionary goes on to define that as; not any, not one, nobody, not any such thing or person, no part, nothing. Huh. Now really, if you think about it, that’s a pretty broad spectrum. But what is the ‘it’ in the Rede’s phrasing? What is meant by the word it? Well, I understand the ‘it’ to be circumstances; our actions, words, behaviors and thoughts. So when we put all these definitions together we have – if your actions cause no one or nothing physical, mental damage, emotional damage or spiritual damage then do what you will (or desire).
Yeah. That sounds about right. But if we literally take what the Rede states then it doesn’t leave us the ability to do much; does it? I mean, if I am bond to not cause any mental, physical or spiritual damage to anyone or anything then how can I survive? I need to eat in order to survive, don’t I? Maybe you’re thinking that the Rede doesn’t stop me from eating but, as I said, if I were to take what the Rede states as literal instructions and follow it exactly, well, then it certainly does imply that I can’t eat.
“How?” you ask. Well, in order to eat … let’s not even consider eating meat … let’s mull over eating vegetables or fruit. If I were to eat an apple I would have to harvest it from the tree. Wouldn’t picking it cause physical damage to that tree? Perhaps not. What about chewing the apple and ingesting it? Wouldn’t that cause physical damage to the apple? What about harvesting vegetables from our gardens? How about herbs? Grains? Doesn’t the Rede state that as long as we don’t cause physical damage to anything then do as I desire? I desire to eat. I desire to live. Should I just expect manna to drop from the sky so that I might ingest it so I might live? No. Wait. I couldn’t ingest that either because that would be causing damage to the manna.
Is the Rede meant to be taken literally? Does the Rede truly state that we should not harm anything … ever? Honestly, it is my belief that it speaks to individual intent, motivation and perception. My understanding and feeling about the word “harm” and yours may differ greatly. What I view as causing harm, you may not and what you view as causing harm, I may not. Our perceptions differ because our life experiences have shaped us into unique sacred beings that are connected in a most intimate way – to and through The Divine (God and Goddess). What harm actually encompasses is a convoluted concept which requires serious thought and meditation. A witch must weigh all possible consequences to see if harm would result from his or her words, actions and behavior. This idea is difficult for many to grasp especially those just starting on their path and there will most certainly always be disagreements within the Wiccan community. Yet I believe it is the most important tenet and one of the cornerstones of Wicca as it requires every witch to be responsible for his or her own actions and the results of such.