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The pentagram within a circle, a symbol of faith used by many Wiccans, sometimes called a pentacle.

Wiccan morality is largely expressed in the Wiccan Rede: 'An it harm none, do what ye will'. While this could be interpreted to mean "do no harm at all," it is usually interpreted as a declaration of the freedom to act, along with the necessity of taking responsibility for what follows from one's actions.[1]

Another element of Wiccan Morality is expressed in the Law of Threefold Return, which is understood to mean that whatever one does to another person or thing (benevolent or otherwise) returns with triple force.[2]

Many Wiccans also seek to cultivate a set of eight virtues mentioned in Doreen Valiente's Charge of the Goddess,[3] these being mirth, reverence, honour, humility, strength, beauty, power and compassion. In Valiente's poem they are ordered in pairs of complementary opposites, reflecting a dualism that is common throughout Wiccan philosophy.[citation needed]


Wiccan Rede

Wiccan morality is expressed in a brief statement found within a text called the Wiccan Rede: "An it harm none, do what you will." ("An" is an archaic word meaning "if".) The Rede differs from some other well-known moral codes (such as Christian or Islamic notion of sin) in that, while it does contain a prohibition, it is largely an encouragement to act freely. It is normally considered that the prohibition against harm also covers self-harm.[1][4] It is also worth noting that "Rede" means advice, as such it is not so much a law that must be followed as advice that it is recommended one follows - not following it would be considered folly more than rule-breaking, though for a group that calls itself "Wise" it follows that such folly would be strongly avoided.

A common belief amongst Wiccans is that no magic, even of a beneficent nature, should be performed on any other person without that person's direct informed consent. This stems from the understanding that it would interfere with that person's free will and thus constitute "harm". So-called 'love spells' are very much frowned upon by the greater Wiccan community for precisely this reason.[citation needed]

The origin of the Rede is unknown, its earliest mention being by Doreen Valiente at a meeting held by the witchcraft magazine "Pentagram".[5] Gerald Gardner compared[6] the moral code of witches with the legendary ethic of the fabled King Pausol[7] which was "Do what you like so long as you harm no one". Nevertheless, the similarity of the phrasing of the Rede (and explicit and verbatim phrasing of other texts) suggests that this statement is partly based on the Law of Thelema as stated by occultist Aleister Crowley,[8] itself deriving from Rabelais' phrase "fay çe que vouldras" ("Do what thou wilt").[9] While the wording may have been influenced by the Law of Thelema, Thelema has no caveat concerning harmful actions and a definition of "True Will" that leads to different interpretations of "do what you will" to that of the Rede.

Alternatively the Rede has been interpreted as purely advising people not to obey moral codes that prohibit non-harmful activity, arguing that it advises what to do "An it harm none" but has nothing to say "An it harm". Wiccans who interpret the Rede in this way will still avoid causing harm; the Rede does after all still mention this as a case to consider separately even in this interpretation. This reading of the Rede also tends to be taken more often by more traditional Wiccans who pay more attention to the Laws, which includes and explicit "Harm None" (though which an emphasis on practical rather than ethical concerns). In practice the combination of such a reading of the Rede along with the Laws comes to much the same moral code as the more restrictive interpretation of the Rede.

Rule of Three

Many Wiccans also promote the Law of Threefold Return, a belief that anything that one does will be returned to them threefold. In other words, good deeds are magnified in like form back to the doer, and so are ill deeds.

American author Gerina Dunwich disagrees with the concept of threefold return on the grounds that it is inconsistent with more than one law of physics. Pointing out that the origin of the Law of Threefold Return is traceable to Raymond Buckland in the 20th century, Dunwich is of the opinion that, "There is little backing to support it as anything other than a psychological law."[citation needed] Dunwich offers an alternative interpretation, that whatever we do on a physical, mental, or spiritual level will sooner or later affect us, in either a positive or a negative way, on all three levels of being.[citation needed]

A possible prototype to the Rule of Three may be found in the prescribed ritual practice of the newly initiated second degree Wiccan scourging "her" initiator with three times as many blows at the end of the ceremony as "she" has received from "him" at the beginning. Gardner maintained that his 1949 novel High Magic's Aid contained elements of Wiccan belief presented in the form of fiction, and he wrote of this scourging: "For this is the joke of Witchcraft, the Witch knows though the initiate does not, that she will get three times what she gave, so she does not strike hard."[2]

American High Priestess Phyllis Curott posits that the "Rule" of Three is inadequate as a model for Wiccan morality, since it is based on expediency (self-serving interests). Rather, she describes that Witches do not harm because they experience all of nature (included in this definition is all sentient beings, including other humans) as the physical expression of the Divine. To harm another then, would be to dishonour the sacred that dwells within all things.

Wiccan 'Laws'

Many lineaged Wiccans also follow, or at least consider, a set of 161 laws, commonly called the Ardanes. A common criticism of these rules is that they represent outdated concepts and/or produce counterproductive results in Wiccan contexts. Modern authors, specifically Doreen Valiente, have also noted that these rules were most likely invented by Gardner himself in mock-archaic language as the byproduct of inner conflict within Gerald Gardner's original coven over the issue of press relations, to justify Gardner's own authority over that of his High Priestess.[10][11]

See also


  1. ^ a b Harrow, Judy (1985) "Exegesis on the Rede" in Harvest vol. 5, Number 3 (Oimelc 1985). Retrieved 2007-02-26.
  2. ^ a b Gerald Gardner, High Magic's Aid, London: Michael Houghton, 1949, p.303
  3. ^ Farrar, Janet & Stewart, Eight Sabbats for Witches.
  4. ^ Lembke, Karl (2001) Beyond the Rede. Retrieved 2007-02-26.
  5. ^ Holzer, Hans "The Truth about Witchcraft Today"
  6. ^ Gardner, Gerald "The Meaning of Witchcraft"
  7. ^ King Pausol was actually a fictional character from a French novel by Pierre Louÿs (1870-1925): Les Aventures du roi Pausole : Pausole (souverain paillard et débonnaire) published in 1901
  8. ^ Sutin, Lawrence, Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley, p. 410. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-25243-9.
  9. ^ Rabelais. Gargantua and Pantagruel, Book I, Chapter 1.LVII.
  10. ^ Valiente, Doreen, The Rebirth of Witchcraft, London: Robert Hale, 1989, pp 70 - 71
  11. ^ Hutton, Ronald. The Triumph of the Moon. 

Bibliographical and encyclopedic sources

  • Raymond Buckland, The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 2002).
  • Anne Carson, Goddesses and Wise Women: The Literature of Feminist Spirituality 1980-1992 An Annotated Bibliography (Freedom, California: Crossing Press, 1992).
  • Chas S. Clifton and Graham Harvey, The Paganism Reader, New York and London: Routledge, 2004.
  • James R. Lewis, Witchcraft Today: An Encyclopedia of Wiccan and Neopagan Traditions (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1999).
  • J. Gordon Melton and Isotta Poggi, Magic, Witchcraft, and Paganism in America: A Bibliography, 2nd ed., (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1992).
  • Shelly Rabinovitch and James R. Lewis, eds., The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism (New York: Kensington Publishing, 2002).

Academic studies

  • Nikki Bado-Fralick, Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wiccan Initiation Ritual (Oxford University Press, 2005)
  • Chas S. Clifton, Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America (AltaMira Press, 2006)
  • Ronald Hutton, The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft (Oxford University Press, 1999)
  • Laura Jenkins (Otago University press, 2007)
  • Zoe Bourke (Otago University press, 2007)
  • Helen A. Berger, A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999).
  • Jon P. Bloch, New Spirituality, Self, and Belonging: How New Agers and Neo-Pagans Talk About Themselves (Westport: Praeger, 1998).
  • Graham Harvey, Contemporary Paganism: Listening People, Speaking Earth (New York: New York University Press, 1997).
  • Lynne Hume, Witchcraft and Paganism in Australia (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1997).
  • James R. Lewis, ed., Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996).
  • T. M. Luhrmann, Persuasions of the Witch's Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England (London: Picador, 1994).
  • Sabina Magliocco, Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004)
  • Joanne Pearson, Richard H. Roberts and Geoffrey Samuel, eds., Nature Religion Today: Paganism in the Modern World (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998).
  • Sarah M. Pike, Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community (Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001).
  • Kathryn Rountree, Embracing the witch and the goddess: Feminist Ritual-Makers in New Zealand (London and New York: Routledge, 2004).
  • Jone Salomonsen, Enchanted Feminism: The Reclaiming Witches of San Francisco (London and New York: Routledge, 2002).
  • Allen Scarboro, Nancy Campbell, Shirely Stave, Living Witchcraft: A Contemporary American Coven (Praeger Publishers, 1994) [1]

External links

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