Shand's Web Pages -- The Wiccan Rede
Eight Words The Wiccan Rede Fulfill: An It Harm None Do What You Will


The Wiccan Rede is the Wicca's core statement about how to live one's life. Meditation upon the Rede and what it means is something the wise will spend alot of time on. Eighteen years after Initiation, I still meditate on what it means and how to accomplish it.

One of the favorite tactics of Wicca's detractors is to construct scarecrow arguments concerning the Wiccan Rede and then tear them down. While sometimes this is a matter of malice on the part of the attacker, often it is a matter of ignorance instead. Some people who come to Wicca have not yet shaken the habit of expecting religion to hand them all answers on a silver platter. Such people expect an ethical code to be a list of do's and don'ts, and it is beyond them to comprehend a system in which they are given the axioms and expected to do the math themselves. Some of these people have an epiphany when presented with tools and expectations, while others run away from it.

A lesser mistake is looking at the Rede and thinking it's only about ethics. It's not. It's about living one's life in an adept fashion, allowing the natural processes of the world to assist oneself instead making them into obstacles.

"Rede" means "Counsel." That's advice. That's not a set of rules. Rules are something you will have to come up with for yourself.


The Wiccan Rede (Counsel of the Wise Ones) was first published in Green Egg Magazine, Ostara 1975. It is attributed to Lady Gwen Thompson, who attributes it to her Grandmother, Adriana Porter. Since Porter died in 1946 we may infer that the Rede is older than that. It is frequently credited to Doreen Valiente, and as soon as I dig up my copy of The Rebirth of Witchcraft, I'll update the page to indicate whether she makes the claim herself. The "Eight Words" couplet was first mentioned in public by Doreen Valiente in 1964. (

Guidance to the Student for Consideration

The first thing to bear in mind when considering the Rede is that Wicca is an occult religion.

The second thing to recall is that it is poetry. If you're expecting to understand it with a surface or literal reading, you're not going to understand it.

The third thing to remember is that the traditional lore is the beginning of wisdom, not the end. It is presented with the intention that the Student will meditate upon what is being taught, rather than accepting it at face value -- especially when face value doesn't make much sense.

These guidelines will serve the Student well not only when considering the Rede, but the rest of Wiccan teaching as well. For that matter, delving into the true meaning of something is a good practice in general.

Exegesis and Close Reading

"An It Harm None Do What You Will" is an awfully small sentence to hang an entire ethical practice on... unless the words are packed rather densely with meaning. They are. The first key to understanding the Rede is to understand the words that make it up.

An "An" means "If." When considering future acts, it is rarely possible to be able to foresee all possible outcomes. The point of the Rede is not that if you inadvertently do harm some sort of punishment is going to fall on you. You are expected to think about what you're doing. You are expected to take responsibility for what you do. Omniscience is not part of the bargain.
Harm "Harm" is not hurt. Living for one day, let alone a lifetime, without killing is not possible. If you live, something dies. Even the most conscientious Vegan kills to live every single day. And one day something will kill you, and by that death something will live. This is part of the Mysteries.

"Harm" in preventing someone from enacting their Will.

It is no one's Will that they be exempt from the cycle of life an death, such a Will could not manifest as a living being -- the cycle is inherent to our construction. Rather, participation in the cycle can only be a living being's Will.

It is no one's Will that they Harm you -- the Wills of our full selves work in harmony with one another. For this reason, self defense is not Harm -- someone against whom you need to defend your is either acting out of accord with their Will or their Will involves learning about the futility of seeking to Harm.

None Think through the effects of your actions. "None" is a broad term. It includes yourself. It includes the world. It includes your dinner. To strive to Harm none, strive to understand all.
, "An It Harm None" is a phrase which sets the scope of the phrase "Do What You Will." Do not construe the Rede to forbid every action that might harm anyone or anything, because that will lead you to the twin errors of framing the Rede as a rule instead of advice and of espousing a rule that is impossible to obey. That is a trap for the foolish to reveal themselves so that the wise may avoid them.
Do Contrary to popular belief, life is not what happens while you're making other plans. There is a time and a place to be passive. Sometimes the skillful tactic is to let the natural processes of the universe work themselves to your benefit. Often the skillful tactic is to take action. Action need not be drastic or dramatic -- the most advanced Aikido masters can send an attacker flying with the barely perceptible twist of a finger. But action is a deliberate choice.
You You are an agent in the world. It is all too easy to allow the agendas of other agents take your time and energy, even for the best of reasons. There is a subtle difference between your Will being aligned with another and the two of you (or two thousand of you) acting in accordance because you are of a like mind; and your working someone else's Will instead of your own.
Will "Will" is not want. Also notice the capitalization. The most common misunderstanding of the Rede is the belief that it is a statement of license. It's not.

It is not purely random happenstance that you live. It is random happenstance that the body you inhabit was created where and when it was, but it is not random that yours is the soul that entered it. Before you were born, with the perspective that being fully unified with your entire self (More on the Selves that make the whole in another essay), the choice was made to enter that body at that place at that time. There was a purpose driving that choice. It is unusual that while living we achieve more than a glimpse at what that purpose is, though striving for an understanding of it is itself a life's work. This purpose is your Will, the Will that initiated your entry into the world this time around.

Having delved into the meaning of the words, we now see that a less occult (and less compact) way of expressing the Wiccan Rede would be:

You have a Will. Determine what it is and Do it. A good way to check your search for your Will and your plan to Do it for errors is whether or not it interferes in someone else's Will. If it does, you are unlikely to have a correct understanding of your Will. When it is difficult to tell whether an act will Harm is an excellent time to examine your choices to see if another course would be wiser.

Your work to understand the Rede is still not finished. This is an introduction to the Rede, intended to point the Student towards further meditation on the words and their meaning. Also, before you lies the quest to understand your Will, to learn how to determine when your plan for implementing your Will is leading to Harm, how to prevent others from Harming you...

Resources for further study

Wren Walker discusses the Rede a bit on WitchVox

John J. Coughlin has a work in progress on the evolution of Wiccan ethics that includes a good history of the Rede.

Judy Harrow has published an exegesis of her own on the Rede. It should be not hard to see that it informs my own.

The Wiccan Rede Project is chock full of good stuff on the topic.

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