Wiccan Rede: Harm none, spell won’t be done

Wiccan Rede: Harm none, spell won’t be done August 18, 2018

Many moons ago, through a strange twist of fate, Phyllis Curott’s Witch Crafting landed on my door mat.  I wasn’t particularly excited about reading it but through lack of other reading fodder at the time, I began to read.  By the end of the book, I realised ‘witch’ was something that had been missing in my life.  Without anyone to turn to on my new path, I began to read but this time with an insatiable appetite.  It wasn’t long before I came across the Wiccan Rede:

“An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will”


It seemed like a sound principle to live by.  Actually, after being raised with a good deal of guilt, it was quite liberating.  Do what I want?  Really? Cool.  And as I liked to believe that I wouldn’t harm anyone, at least intentionally, I had the green light.  Go me!

To be honest, the Wiccan Rede didn’t change me but it’s a phrase that many people who walk a witchy or Wiccan path like to bring up from time to time.  Usually, it’s called upon to remind others to keep their magick and their lives in check.  Tagged on with it is the three-fold law, just to make sure those errant witches are mindful of consequences.

I’ve watched online witch-wars take place because of moral high grounds and judgemental attitudes over what is considered harmful.

But here’s the thing: the final line of the Wiccan Rede is impossible to live by.  You cannot not do harm.

Every decision you make has a consequence that is harmful to someone or something somewhere.  Decide to buy milk from the supermarket instead of the independent corner shop?  You’ve harmed the little guy’s profits.  Choose to do a little love magick to spice up your weekend…. well, you might have just harmed your significant other’s chances of watching the football game.

You get the idea.

Every choice, from the magickal to the mundane, has a consequence.

Of course, there are varying degrees of harm.  If you intentionally set out to go against your moral compass then maybe you should have a serious rethink about what you’re doing.  But ultimately that’s up to you to decide.

What the Wiccan Rede teaches us is not to use our magick for nefarious purposes.  This is subjective because what’s considered harmful to one person isn’t to another (which means we shouldn’t judge because unless it’s aimed at us, it’s not our business). If you fully lived by the Wiccan Rede, you would be impotent to do anything.

I feel the change in the air of late.  As my friend Jonathan Argento is quick to tell me: “Witches stand in opposition.”

We can’t be inactive when we have magick at our fingertips and a world that needs to change.  Gently, gently, softly, softly, ever afraid of upsetting somebody…that’s not the witches’ way.

We must take a risk with our witchcraft.

The environment is crumbling, poverty is on the rise, social imbalance is tipped heavily in the one percent’s favour and we try to stuff holes of unhappiness with consumerism.  Plastic drifts in our oceans, kids in ‘developed’ countries are malnourished, politicians care more about corporations than people, and there are homeless people on every street corner.

Will we tame our craft to appear harmless or will we rise to the challenges of our times?  Witches, let’s forget the Wiccan Rede: we have a world to save.

About Lyn Thurman
Lyn Thurman is a witch and priestess on the south coast of England. She's the author of The Inner Goddess Revolution and Goddess Rising, and the creator of the Sea Whispers oracle. When she's not writing, she is breathing magic into business through Biz-Witchery (or obsessing over vegan cakes). You can read more about the author here.
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  • Susanne Warnett

    Lyn you have really hit the nail on the head I think. One of the reasons I rejected Wicca was because I felt the rede was impossible to live up to if you took it seriously, yet I still felt an increasing sense of disconnection from my powers because what was the good in practicing magick if I might inadvertently cause harm? But something has to change. We have so much power to wield, and yes some people might get caught in the crossfire, but I can’t sit back and do nothing.

  • Exactly, Susanne! I didn’t really give it too much consideration until I got older and then it seemed more like a shackle than a good guide to living. Totally agree with you… we can’t sit back and do nothing. x

  • Susan Ellis-Saller

    Excellent article, Lyn! Many times, we unintentionally hurt others or the pain/damage we do is something that needs to happen as a catalyst for growth and change. We can’t (underlined) sit idly by and be goody-goodies. Someone’s got to stir the proverbial pot to create change!

  • My sentiments exactly, Susan!

  • Kestrel Blackfeather

    Poverty on the rise?

    Looking at the data from the World Bank, global extreme poverty has fallen from about 40% in 1980 to less than 10% today.

    Social imbalance?

    More people are more equal in terms of rights and opportunities than ever before. Anyone with access to the Internet can share pictures, videos, articles, and communicate – unless you’ve been banned from social media platforms for your political view, of course. But even then, you can host your own content, and there’s a plethora of private forums and chat channels.

    Environment crumbling?

    Hardly. Things were definitely headed in a bad direction a few decades ago, but western civilization in general has taken a hard turn toward responsible stewardship. Awareness of environmental issues is very high. If we look at CO2 as an example, US emissions fell 12% from 2005 to 2012 and continue to fall. There’s more work to do but we’re headed in the right direction – we just need to get countries like China and India on board. That will come as poverty continues to decline – because people who aren’t in poverty can afford to care.

    I don’t know where your doom and gloom outlook is coming from. The future is bright. Maybe you’ve worked yourself into a corner where you’re unable to see what is happening, but I encourage you to question your assumptions. Things today are not as they used to be.

  • Thank you for your comment and I respectfully agree to disagree with you. But I’m happy that your experience of the world is rosy and your stats back that up.

  • Gretske Bolochi

    Brilliant article! I agree with you absolutely!

  • Thank you!

  • The Wicca path needs to replace the Rede with a deeper understanding of utilitarian ethics if it is to survive, IMO. Utilitarianism is all about finding the path of the greatest good/least harm, not no harm. Sometimes that path requires short-term harm for long-term benefit. Sometimes it requires a little bit of egoism (as in the millions of bacteria I killed brushing my teeth today had to die so I have better oral health – self-defense, right?) There must be the realization that often doing nothing harms everyone. Wiccans need to realize that the law of three has a caveat about self-defense. It needs to be replaced by a deeper understanding of how karmic retribution works. Pacifism left over from the 1960’s doesn’t cut the muster anymore – it never did.

  • Badgergrl

    Yours is the second article I’ve read recently that rejects the Wiccan Rede. Interesting. I only made a mildly supportive statement in the comments section of that other article and was quickly chastised from someone else in the community. Yet after a few months of thought I find I must agree with you. If I would take action against someone in the physical world because they attacked my family, why would would I stop from working against them with magic?

  • Vail Kalynchuk

    As time has gone on I too have felt the Rede is not worth much. Great in concept, and as a teen it seemed so clear and concise. Years later, though, I feel its cheapness. Any action can be viewed as “harm” from an array of standpoints. Driving a car to work, or eating meat, or buying from certain stores due to your budget, and so much more. Everything we can possible do can be viewed as harm, once you start thinking about it.

    Someone would in turn say “Ok, but such n such is an extreme”, or, “Just do what seems right to you.”
    However, where is the line, then? The line that is morally pleasing for oneself, but not a “lazy” cop out once you look deeper, for apeasing those Harm None morality gatekeepers? What seems acceptable to oneself will be alarmingly harmful in someone else’s view.

    It’s an impossible standard to uphold once you open that “What really is Harm None?” can of worms. I understand that really, “Harm None” is a summary of “Don’t be a dick to others, the planet, or yourself”. But maybe the term itself needs a revamp because it’s become obsolete in many people’s craft.

  • mage_cat

    An expanded version of the rede that I’ve been fond of for enough years that I’ve forgotten the exact origin is “If it harms none, do as you will. If it causes harm, do as you must.” I think it is a version that should see wider circulation.

  • Sharon Igoe Von Behren

    Personally, I believe the Rede still has merit—especially if we stop for a minute and remember that the word “rede” does not mean “directive”, but rather “advice.” The Rede says “An it harm none, do as ye will”, but doesn’t say “Never harm.” It’s meant to have us stop and think about our actions, think about repercussions and ramifications before going off and doing our own thing, regardless of anyone or anything else. I believe that it is still good advice. Witchcraft is a powerful force, and using the Craft, the will, and the mind of the practitioner to do whatever we think is good and right without considering the possible effect is insanity in a world where anything and everything goes. Even physicians take an oath to “do no harm”—but they have to cut open bodies to mitigate worse harm to an individual. Surgery, medications, chemotherapy—any intervention causes harm. The Rede reminds us to balance the harm, decide which is the best course of action, and if harm is necessary, then do what will create the best possible outcome for all involved.

    “Stirring the pot to create change” is not necessarily the best course of action, and I don’t think that we get to decide what “harm” is necessary as a catalyst for growth and change. I’m also not saying that there shouldn’t be change, and that we are not to see what needs to be done and do it—rather, I’m saying that to do it just for the sake of “growth and change” is perhaps not the best course of action, and we need to look at the long view and bigger picture before taking matters into our own hands.

  • jupe77

    I think it really has to do with intent to deliberately cause harm, the same as in law.