Principles of Wiccan Belief
1. We practice rites to attune ourselves with the natural rhythm of life forces marked by the phases of the moon and the Seasonal Quarters and Cross-Quarters.
2. We recognize that our intelligence gives us a unique responsibility towards our environment. We seek to live in harmony with nature, in ecological balance offering fulfillment to life and consciousness within an evolutionary concept.
3. We acknowledge a depth of power far greater than that apparent to the average person. Because it is far greater than ordinary it is sometimes called “supernatural”, but we see it as lying within that which is naturally potential to all.
4. We conceive of the Creative Power in the universe as manifest through polarity — as masculine and feminine — and that same Creative power lies in all people, and functions through the interaction of masculine and feminine. We value neither above the other, knowing each to be supportive to the other. We value sex as pleasure, as the symbol and embodiment of life, and as one of the sources of energies used in magical practice and religious worship.
5. We recognize both outer worlds and inner, or psychological, worlds known sometimes as the Spiritual World, the Collective Unconscious, Inner Planes, etc. – and we see in the interaction of these two dimensions the basis for paranormal phenomena and magickal exercises. We neglect neither dimension for the other, seeing both as necessary for our fulfillment.
6. We do not recognize any authoritarian hierarchy, but do honor those who teach, respect those who share their greater knowledge and wisdom, and acknowledge those who courageously give of themselves in leadership.
7. We see religion, magic, and wisdom in living as being united in the way one views the world and live within it – a world view and philosophy of life which we identify as ‘Witchcraft – the Wiccan Way’.
8. Calling oneself “Witch” does not make one a Witch – but neither does heredity itself, nor the collecting of titles, degrees and initiations. A Witch seeks to control the forces within themselves that make life possible in order to live wisely and well without harm to others and in harmony with Nature.
9. We believe in the affirmation and fulfillment of life in a continuation of evolution and development of consciousness giving meaning to the Universe we know and our personal role within it.
10. Our only animosity towards Christianity, or towards any other religion or philosophy of life, is to the extent that its institutions have claimed to be ‘the only way’ and have sought to deny freedom to others and to suppress other ways of religious practice and belief.
11. As American Witches, we are not threatened by debates on the history of the Craft, the origins of various terms, the legitimacy of various aspects of different traditions. We are concerned with our present and our future.
12. We do not accept the concept of absolute evil, nor do we worship any entity known as “Satan” or “the Devil”, as defined by the Christian tradition. We do not seek power through the suffering of others, nor accept that personal benefit can be derived only by denial to another.
13. We believe that we should seek within Nature that which is contibutory to our health and well-being.
********* This is not in any way an all-encompassing credo applicable to all groups who consider themselves Wiccans or Witches, but rather is the set of principles adopted by one such group. As there are differences between various Christian sects, so are there difference between those of Wicca. However, while the specifics may differ, the general attitude and reasoning behind these declarations remains relatively consistent.
The Wiccan Credo is a Wiccan poem. Some Wiccans believe that it was written circa 1910 CE by Adriana Porter. Others suggest that it was created during the very early years of Gardnerian Witchcraft, during the 1940s and 1950s. (1) It includes the text of the main Wiccan rule of behavior, the Wiccan Rede, and a reference to the Threefold Law.
The third last stanza refers to the “Threefold Law”. It states, in part:
“Mind the Threefold Law you should, Three times bad and three times good.”
The end of the Credo contains one version of the Wiccan Rede. It reads:
“Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill:
An’ it harm none, Do what ye will. Blessed Be to thee.”
The Wiccan Rede and Threefold Law:
“Rede” is derived from an Old English word “roedan” which means to guide or direct. (1) One common version of the Rede is:
“An it harm none, do what thou wilt.” “An” and “wilt” are Old English words for “if” and “want to.”
Alternate renderings of the Wiccan Rede are:
An it harm none, do as ye will
Ãn it harm none, do as ye will
An ye harm none, do what ye will.
A’in it harm none, do what thou wilt.
An’ it harm none, do what thou wilt.
If it harms none, do what you will.
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill, An’ it harm none, do what ye will.
Do what you will as long as it harms none
The Rede states that a Wiccan is free to do what ever they want to, as long as it does not harm themselves or anyone else. Harm is normally considered to include manipulation, domination, attempts to control, physically injure, emotionally harm, or hurt another person or group in any way.
The Threefold Law (a.k.a. the Law of Return) adds a reward for those who follow the Wiccan Rede, and a punishment for those who violate it. The law states that:
“All good that a person does to another returns three fold in this life; harm is also returned three fold.”
The Rede and Law obviously prevent a Witch/Wiccan from doing harm to themselves or to others, taking harmful drugs, etc. “This belief constantly reminds us that there are many consequences to our actions and we must consider all possible outcomes before acting. The Wiccan Rede thereby binds Wiccans to do the right thing.” (2)
Some followers of other religions have attributed many evil activities to Wiccans — from the laying of curses to conducting love spells; from conducting human sacrifices to performing black magic. These actions are strictly forbidden to all followers of Wicca. In most cases, beliefs in evil magic by Wiccans can be traced back to European religious propaganda during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance in Western Europe which was used to justify witch hunting and burning.
Comparing the Wiccan Rede with behavioral rules of other religions:
The Wiccan Rede is one of many Ethics of Reciprocity which are found in essentially all of the world’s religious texts. In Christianity, the Ethic of Reciprocity is sometimes called the Golden Rule. It urges believers to treat other people decently. For example, in Christianity, three of the 50 or so Gospels which circulated in the 1st century CE state:
“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12, King James Version. “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” Luke 6:31, King James Version. “…and don’t do what you hate…”, Thomas (6).
Those Ethics of Reciprocity which are found in non-Wiccan religions concentrate on one’s duties to other people. The Wiccan Rede goes further by also prohibiting a Wiccan from engaging in an action that hurts themselves.
The Pentateuch — the first five books in the Hebrew Scriptures — lists 613 behaviors that the ancient Hebrews were expected to either adopt because they are not sinful, or avoid because they are wicked. These laws are referred to as the Mosaic Law. About two dozen of these behaviors are grouped into the Ten Commandments. In contrast to the 613 specific injunctions, the Wiccan Rede consists of only one general rule which is intended to govern all behaviors.
Most religions teach very specific rules of behavior. The Roman Catholic church, for example, sorts them into two categories: mortal and venial sins. In contrast, the Wiccan is not given a list of prohibited and compulsory actions. They forced to consider all of the likely ramifications of each action before deciding whether it meets the standard of the Wiccan Rede. It can only be performed if it is free from harm. Judy Harrow writes: “The Craft, assuming ethical adulthood, offers us no rote rules. We will always be working on incomplete knowledge. We will sometimes just plain make mistakes. Life itself, and life-affirming religion, still demands that we learn, decide, act, and accept the results.” (3)
Robin Woodsong writes: ” ‘Do as you will and harm none’ is not an easy way to structure morality. We have difficult personal choices to make and hard decisions to follow. It would be much simpler if all aspects of our lives were regulated, and the rules and regulations written down and posted. No more thinking, no hard choices, no more struggling over ethical conflicts.” (4) Being a Wiccan can be a difficult religious choice.
History of the Wiccan Rede within Wicca:
John Coughlin researched the writings of Gerald Gardner (1884-1964) and Doreen Valiente (1922-1999). These are the two individuals who are generally regarded as the founders of modern Wicca. He found the first reference to a ethical criteria similar to the Wiccan Rede in Gardner’s third book: “The Meaning of Witchcraft.” (5) He wrote that Wiccans:
“…are inclined to the morality of the legendary Good King Pausol [sic], ‘Do what you like so long as you harm no one.’ But they believe a certain law to be important, ‘You must not use magic for anything which will cause harm to anyone, and if, to prevent a greater wrong being done, you must discommode someone, you must do it only in a way which will abate the harm’.” (6)
It appears that King Pausole was a character in a novel by a French writer, Pierre Louys, called “The Adventures of King Pausole,” published in 1901.
Coughlin writes that: “The first recorded mention of the Wiccan Rede in the eight-word form popular
today, at least that I have been able to discover thus far, was in a speech by Doreen Valiente on October 3, 1964 at what may have been the first witches’ dinner organized in modern history. The event was sponsored by ‘Pentagram,’ a quarterly newsletter and ‘witchcraft review’ started and published by Gerard Noel in 1964:”
“Demanding tolerance between covens as well as toward the outside world, Doreen spoke the Anglo-Saxon witch formula called the Wiccan Rede or wise teaching: ‘Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfil, An’ it harm none, do what ye will’.” (7)
Origin of the Wiccan Rede:
The original source for at least part of the Wiccan Rede appears to be by a 16th century novelist, François Rabelais.
“DO AS THOU WILT because men that are free, of gentle birth, well bred and at home in civilized company possess a natural instinct that inclines them to virtue and saves them from vice. This instinct they name their honor.” (8)
This concept appears to have been adopted by Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) in his Law of Thelema which is contained in his 1904 book Liber AL vel Legis (The Book of the Law). Many believe that Crowley received the text of the Law from an angelic entity named Aiwass:
“Who calls us Thelemites will do no wrong, if he look but close into the word. For there are therein Three Grades, the Hermit, and the Lover, and the man of Earth. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” (9)
Later in the Book of the Law is a verse which states: “Invoke me under my stars! Love is the law, love under will. Nor let the fools mistake love; for there are love and love. There is the dove, and there is the serpent. Choose ye well! He, my prophet, hath chosen, knowing the law of the fortress, and the great mystery of the House of God.” (10)
Excerpts from these two verses are sometimes quoted together as two commandments: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” “Love is the law, love under will.”
Ellie Crystal writes: “Most Thelemites hold that every person possesses a True Will, a single overall motivation for their existence. The Law of Thelema mandates that each person follow their True Will to attain fulfillment in life and freedom from restriction of their nature. Because no two True Wills can be in real conflict …this Law also prohibits one from interfering with the True Will of any other person.” (11)
Crowley initiated Gerald Gardiner into the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) in 1946. Gardner may have taken the phrase from Rabelais and Crowley: “do what thou wilt,” grafted it onto a clear, unambiguous expression to do no harm, and produced the Wiccan Rede as we know it today.
An alternate explanation is that the Rede was extracted directly from the Wiccan Credo which some Wiccans believe was written circa 1910 CE by Adriana Porter.
1. Spring Wolf, “The Pagan’s Path™,” at: http://www.paganspath.com/
2. Daria, “The Wiccan Rede,” Psychic Journal, 1999-APR-19 at: http://www.psychicjournal.com/
3. Judy Harrow, “Exegesis on the Wiccan Rede,” Harvest, Volume 5, #3. Online at: Real Magick: http://realmagick.com/
4. Robin Woodsong, “A view on the Wiccan Rede,” Real Magick, at: http://realmagick.com/
5. Gerald Gardner, The Meaning of Witchcraft, (Reprinted 1982), Page 127.
6. John Coughlin, “The Wiccan Rede: A historical journey. Parg 2: The Early Years,” Waning Moon, 2001-2002, at: http://www.waningmoon.com/ .
7. John Coughlin, “The Wiccan Rede: A historical journey. Part 3: Eight Words…,” Waning Moon, 2001-2002, at: http://www.waningmoon.com/ .
8. François Rabelais, “Gargantua,” (1534).
9. Aleister Crowley, “The Book of the Law,” Chapter 1, Verse 40.
10. Ibid, Verse 57.
11. Ellie Crystal, “Aleister Crowley,” at: http://www.crystalinks.com
Principles of Wiccan Belief
Principles of Wiccan Belief