When many individuals discuss The Wiccan Rede, they are not discussing the lengthy twenty-six line poem published in 1974 nor are they discussing the Rede of The Wiccae written by Lady Gwen but are instead referring to the quoted words of Doreen Valiente, “An it harm none do what ye will.” Many individuals may not even quote the entire eight words but simplify it by stating, “harm none”. The issue, however, in trimming it is that the meaning of the phrase has then been compromised. The Wiccan Rede is not “harm none”. “Harm none” implies a very different meaning than “An it harm none do what you will.”
It is important to understand that Wicca is a religion that holds no doctrine or sacred Commandments that Wiccans are required to follow in order to appease the gods. Instead every individual Wiccan is encouraged to build and nurture their own personal relationship with the gods and to use their own intellect to contemplate the other Wiccan tenets, such as The Threefold Law or Law of Return, The Charge of the Goddess, and The Witch’s Pyramid, so that they are better able to consider the consequences of their actions, words, and behaviors.
When The Wiccan Rede is simplified to “harm none” it implies that a Wiccan is not allowed to do any action or behavior or say anything that causes harm to anyone or anything. Is that even possible? If you consider the behaviors, actions, and words of any individual person, not just Wiccans, in one day you would find that the majority of them cause some type of harm to something. Eating, for example, causes harm to either the animal or plant that is consumed and eating is a natural behavior for a living being’s basic survival. And what if we consider relationships? What if you found yourself in an abusive relationship? Well, you are seriously screwed on that one because you’re going to break The Rede regardless of what you decide to do. If you end the relationship you may cause harm to your partner by hurting his or her feelings and if you decide to stay you are causing yourself harm. How would a Wiccan in this situation be able to keep the council of The Wiccan Rede? They cannot. It is impossible.
Sadly the oversimplified interpretation of The Wiccan Rede can be found everywhere: books, videos, blogs, forums, discussions online as well as offline, and it is grossly inaccurate. No Wiccan can follow that interpretation of The Rede and no one should be expected to. This is the exact issue that I have witnessed many new Seekers facing. They see the hypocrisy with the abridged interpretation and worry that they will constantly break The Rede.
When The Wiccan Rede is considered in its entirety “An it harm none do what you will” we have a better understanding of what is implied. Consider it as an “if … then” statement much like an algebraic equation so that it would read in this way, “And (if) it harm none, (then) do what you will”. If the actions, words, or behavior that you are considering causes harm to none (no one or nothing) then do it at your will: do it as much and as frequently as you desire because it causes no harm to anyone or anything. There are no negative consequences to consider because there is no harm caused. Easy enough to understand, right?
What The Rede does not provide is advice for the Wiccan if the actions, words, or behaviors that he or she is considering does or may cause harm. In that situation, the decision is left entirely up to the discretion of the individual Wiccan. He or she is required to make a choice based on their own morals and ethics, which would have been established based on their own personal relationship with the gods and their understanding of the Wiccan tenets along with personal gnosis.
You see, there is a huge difference between the following two statements: do those actions and behaviors that do no harm as you will, and, do only those things that harm none. Do you understand the difference?