The Wiccan Rede

The Wiccan Rede is a twenty-six line poem written in 1964 by Doreen Valiente, a witch who studied under Gerald Gardner, and succeeded him as de facto leader of the Gardnerian Wiccan tradition. The rede serves as instruction on Wiccan orthopraxy.

The final couplet of the rede is often referenced on its own, and is considered the most important part of the poem. These Eight words the Rede fulfill: An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will.

The full text of the poem is as follows:

Bide within the Law you must, in perfect Love and perfect Trust.

Live you must and let to live, fairly take and fairly give.

For tread the Circle thrice about to keep unwelcome spirits out.

To bind the spell well every time, let the spell be said in rhyme.

Light of eye and soft of touch, speak you little, listen much.

Honor the Old Ones in deed and name, let love and light be our guides again.

Deosil go by the waxing moon, chanting out the joyful tune.

Widdershins go when the moon doth wane, and the werewolf howls by the dread wolfsbane.

When the Lady’s moon is new, kiss the hand to Her times two.

When the moon rides at Her peak then your heart’s desire seek.

Heed the North winds mighty gale, lock the door and trim the sail.

When the Wind blows from the East, expect the new and set the feast.

When the wind comes from the South, love will kiss you on the mouth.

When the wind whispers from the West, all hearts will find peace and rest.

Nine woods in the Cauldron go, burn them fast and burn them slow.

Birch in the fire goes to represent what the Lady knows.

Oak in the forest towers with might, in the fire it brings the God’s insight.

Rowan is a tree of power causing life and magick to flower.

Willows at the waterside stand ready to help us to the Summerland.

Hawthorn is burned to purify and to draw faerie to your eye.

Hazel-the tree of wisdom and learning adds its strength to the bright fire burning.

White are the flowers of Apple tree that brings us fruits of fertility.

Grapes grow upon the vine giving us both joy and wine.

Fir does mark the evergreen to represent immortality seen.

Elder is the Lady’s tree burn it not or cursed you’ll be.

Four times the Major Sabbats mark in the light and in the dark.

As the old year starts to wane the new begins, it’s now Samhain.

When the time for Imbolc shows, watch for flowers through the snows.

When the wheel begins to turn, soon the Beltane fires will burn.

As the wheel turns to Lamas, night power is brought to magick rite.

Four times the Minor Sabbats fall use the Sun to mark them all.

When the wheel has turned to Yule, light the log the Horned One rules.

In the spring, when night equals day time for Ostara to come our way.

When the Sun has reached it’s height, time for Oak and Holly to fight.

Harvesting comes to one and all when the Autumn Equinox does fall.

Heed the flower, bush, and tree by the Lady blessed you’ll be.

Where the rippling waters go cast a stone, the truth you’ll know.

When you have and hold a need, harken not to others greed.

With a fool no season spend or be counted as his friend.

Merry Meet and Merry Part bright the cheeks and warm the heart.

Mind the Three-fold Laws you should three times bad and three times good.

When misfortune is enow wear the star upon your brow.

Be true in love this you must do unless your love is false to you.

These Eight words the Rede fulfill:

“An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will”

-Doreen Valiente

I do not follow the Wiccan Rede. For several reasons, beyond the fact that I am not Wiccan.

The three-fold law referenced in the rede originates from the novel High Magic’s Aid, written by Gerald Gardner in 1949, before he began the Wiccan religion. He didn’t include that principle in his original conception of Wicca. More importantly, the threefold-law described in the book is not a warning for the witch, but for everyone else. It advises a non-witch that if they are kind to a witch they will be rewarded, but that a witch who has been wronged will have their revenge three-fold. Rather than forbidding a Wiccan from taking revenge, it should tell them that taking revenge is expected.

Beyond that, everyone causes harm. If you cast a money spell, that is money that came to you from someone else. If you eat a salad, the lettuce is a life form you’ve murdered, and your tomatoes were picked by underpaid migrant workers. Almond milk is bad for bees. You are reading this on a device probably made by slave labor. Washing your hands kills billions of bacteria. Even algae can starve aquatic life of light and oxygen. No living thing can truly “do no harm.” The idea is frankly a little silly if considered critically.

Moreover, some people deserve to be harmed. Witchcraft exists most on the margins, and it is sometimes the only recourse marginalized people have to defend themselves when society fails them. It is not wrong to defend yourself or others. It is not wrong to balance the scales. It is not wrong to use magic to work against those who make the world worse. In fact we have a moral obligation to help our community by any means which doesn’t endanger ourselves or the innocent, including by harming those who hate us.

I do rather like the expression “do no harm, but take no shit.” In practice, I’m more partial to the idea of trying to do more good than you do harm, and minimizing your negative impact on the world, but that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

None of this excuses you from trying. Doing no harm is a noble goal, but it’s one you cannot achieve, and you shouldn’t expect yourself to. “Harm reduction” is the name of the game. Do your best, but don’t ever expect to be perfect.


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