26.5.13

The Wiccan Rede

In my previous post, I promised that I would write about the Wiccan Rede. I think that this is an important topic that should be addressed because the it makes up the foundation of the Wiccan moral code and can be extremely useful when you forget where you are in life and where you need to go next; all you have to do is return back to these basics and everything will seem much clearer hence making it easier for you to get back on track.

The word "rede" itself is an Old English word for a piece of advice or lesson (I will list other archaisms later). There have been may debates on the origin of this poem, but it has somehow been widely accepted that it was created in a collaboration between Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente (Gardner's follower who Gardner himself initiated into Wicca, also famous for editing his Book of Shadows and writing many beautiful poems, among which we find invocations, evocations, chants and even just poetry for poetry's sake).

The Wiccan Rede was made of only two lines in the beginning:

"Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill, 
An it harm none do what ye will."
-Doreen Valiente, 1964


(an =  if; ye = eng. you)

A longer version of the Rede came out in 1974 in a magazine entitled Earth Religion News. This version was edited a number of times, but what I give you in this post is the "basic" version (or the most widely accepted one).


The Wiccan Rede


Bide the Wiccan laws ye must, in perfect love and perfect trust.
Live and let live, fairly take and fairly give.

Cast the Circle thrice about to keep all evil spirits out.
To bind the spell every time, let the spell be spake in rhyme.

Light of eye and soft of touch speak ye 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 wind's 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 thee 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 quick 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.

Willow 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 the immortality seen.

Elder be ye Lady's tree burn it not or cursed ye'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, let the Beltane fires burn.
As the wheel turns to Lammas 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.
Then the Sun has reached its 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"



I hope that you like it poetry-wise, but I'm guessing that there are a few things that I have to clear up, so I will give you a nice, relatively detailed analysis of the poem. This will enable us to go a step further into the understanding of Wiccan morals.

I know that this is a long post, but it is going to be even longer soon enough. Every verse should be analyzed to make everything as clear as possible. I will explain why certain traditions are mentioned and what some of the mentioned terms have to do with Wicca. So, get ready for more reading! :) mwahaha!
The reason why I decided to write an analysis is because you will find the Wiccan Rede almost too often, but no explanations will be given with it as to what it actually signifies. This is my interpretation and I hope that you will be satisfied with it. :)


Verse 1
This verse tells us that we are dealing with a law, but the name of the poem denies this and defines the poem as a rede i.e. a lesson/a piece of advice; which means that it would be great if you decided to follow it, but it isn't obligatory. The rest of the verse talks about love, trust, togetherness and fairness because these were the values that any witch had to have in the Middle Ages when they were prosecuted. They could survive only by staying together and in secrecy. Knowledge was often passed on from generation to generation because you couldn't trust anyone but your family. Back then, inter-human relationships were much better, and the Rede urges us to keep some of these qualities alive so we may be better people. These traditions/qualities are, I hope, things that most of you already practice; spreading love, giving trust, helping others, being fair etc. These are all positive human values.

Verse 2
The first line mentions walking around the circle three times because the number 3 is, numerologically and mythically speaking, the number of perfection (three aspects of the Goddess, the Holy Trinity in Christianity etc.). It is a custom to walk around the circle at the beginning of every ritual because this signifies the opening part of the ritual, which is called Opening the circle. During this short act, the circle is cleansed with the four elements. The second line is pretty clear. It is much nicer to read a spell when it rhymes and it is also believed that the spell is stronger if you put more energy into it, and you will probably agree with me when I say that it is much harder to write something that rhymes than something that doesn't.

Verse 3
A detailed analysis isn't really needed here since everything is clearly written. In this verse, certain qualities are praised and we are also told that it is better for us if we listen more (i.e. take in knowledge and experiences from those that are older than us), and talk less.

Verse 4
To go deosil means to go clockwise, and widdershins is the exact opposite (anti-clockwise). We go deosil in a ritual when we do invocations, when we open the circle but also during the waxing moon (when its power is growing). Widdershins is the direction of closing, evocations and so on, although a lot of people will claim that going widdershins actually annuls the effect the deosil direction had, but then again, that is a different story which deserves its own discussion. Wolfsbane is a poisonous plant which is often connected to wolves and other nocturnal animals.

Verse 5
The word "Her" in this verse refers, of course, to the Goddess. The connection between the Goddess and the moon is emphasized. Although every phase of the moon can be connected to her, the full moon stands out because this is the peak of the moon's energy and hence the symbol of the Goddess' strength. This is why the full moon is the best time for doing spells and rituals. Rituals done on the full moon are called Esbaths and they exist primarily to celebrate this time.

Verse 6
The north is connected to the element of earth. Because of this we have the mention of sails being trimmed as an equivalent of us returning back to land. The east is connected to air, and you may know that sound travels through air. Sound brings us news ("the new") and is hence connected to knowledge.

Verse 7
The south is connected to the element of fire (passion, temperament and such) and the west with the element of water which symbolizes emotions which can be as untamed as the sea (this is where the connection with the heart can be made). Notice the order in which the cardinal points are listed in verses six and seven: north, east, south and west. This is usually the direction in which we walk in the circle, or basically in which everything is done. This is called going deosil (clockwise). Objects are also consecrated in this order (earth, air, fire, water) and the elements invoked at the beginning of every ritual, but more on that in another post.

Verse 8
Birch is a tree connected with fertility, healing and peace (all of these characteristics can be connected to the Goddess and female energy). But why 9 woods? This is a reference to an old Celtic tradition when nine types of trees (or rather logs from nine types of trees) would be burnt on Beltane (May 1). Among these nine trees was the birch tree, and the rest are listed in the following verses and are oak, rowan, willow, hawthorn, hazel, apple, vine and fir.

Verse 9
The oak is a symbol of the God, male energy, strength and pride because of the size of the tree top and because of the oak's firmness. Rowan is the tree of spirituality, psychic abilities, protection, success and magick.

Verse 10
Willows are connected with death (but also divination, love, healing etc.) and are hence connected with the Summerlands - the land of the deceased (although this is only one of the names which Wiccans have for the afterlife if they even believe in it since the belief in reincarnation is very common). Hawthorn is the tree of purification and is often connected with faeries. It is well-known that the best fires are lit with this tree and it was cherished because of this, but in the northern parts of Europe, it was the witches' tree (but in a bad way).

Verse 11
I believe that there's nothing to really interpret here.

Verse 12
This part regarding wine should be pretty clear ;) hehe. As for the fir tree, it is usually connected to birth and reincarnation (i.e. rebirth).

Verse 13
The elder tree used to be called the Witches' tree (yes, another one), but Witches really did hold it sacred. It is poisonous, actually, but its flowers can be used in teas and fruits to make wine. It very quickly adapts to its surroundings and has amazing regenerative abilities. Because of this, it seems almost immortal. This could be the reason why it is connected to the Goddess as well as prosperity and healing. The second line informs us of the existence of four main Sabbaths which are listed in the next few verses.

Verse 14
Samhain (October 31/November 1) is thought to be the beginning of the Celtic year (i.e. the Celtic New Year). It is also the day of the God's death in mythology. Imbolc (February 2) brings the growth of the Sun's power and with it longer days. It also announces the coming of spring (flowers start to grow, animals will start mating soon etc.).

Verse 15
Beltane marks the second part of the Celtic year (they only had two seasons; winter which began with Samhain, and summer which began with Beltane). This day is meant for celebrating life and is also the day when the Goddess and God get married/united in mythology. Lammas marks the time of year when the Sun begins to weaken and this will soon lead right back to Samhain.

Verse 16
There are obviously four more Sabbaths that are defined by the Sun: two solstices and two equinoxes. Yule is one of the two solstices (the day is the shortest and the night is the longest), and it is from this holiday that we inherited the tradition of decorating the Christmas tree which used to be called the Yule log (yes, it was a log before it became a tree and a part of this log used to be burnt with next years' log - this was believed to ensure a good and prosperous year). Yule is the peak of winter and also the peak of the Horned God's power (remember that the Horned God rules during autumn and winter, while the Green God rules during spring and summer).

Verse 17
Ostara (March 21) is also knows as the spring equinox (the equal length of night and day) and marks the beginning of spring. The peak of summer (and the Sun's power) is Midsummer/Litha (June 21) or the summer solstice (longest day, shortest night). On Yule (December 21) and Litha (June 21), a battle happens between the Oak King and the Holly King. The Oak King wins on Litha and reigns until Yule when the battle is once more held, but this time, it is the Holly King who wins (who then reigns until next Litha and so on).

Verse 18
The autumn equinox (equal length of night and day) is called Lammas/Lughnasadh (September 21) and is also knows as the first harvest (the wheat harvest). The second verse tells us that we, as human beings, should take care of all the other living beings around us because we are also a part of nature, just as is everything else which is represented by the Goddess.

Verse 19
The first line talks about an old divination method that included throwing a stone in water (providing the surface of the water was calm). Sadly, I didn't have much time to find out exactly how this method works, but perhaps you can do that and tell me :D
The second line is extremely important because it covers one of the main moral dilemmas in magick. We should do magick only if we really have a need for something (i.e. out of necessity) and not out of greed (for instance, if someone pays you do to a spell). Remember, everything you do returns to you threefold (kind of karmic, isn't it?).

Verse 20
Simply put, be careful who you mix with and don't mix with people who will do you harm. The second line is quite clear on its own, but it can be connected with the famous Wiccan saying/greeting: Merry Meet, Merry Part and Merry Meet again. So basically, be happy when you are in company and if you are truly happy with those people, then stay in their company. Or even better, be happy in general! :D

Verse 21
I have talked about the first line in previous posts and have mentioned the meaning of the Threefold Law even in this post. The second line talks about the use of the pentagram - the symbol of protection. Apart from protecting, this can symbolize the opening of the third eye (which is believed to be between your eyebrows, and which symbolizes our spirituality and higher consciousness) which we should use when times get hard. Simply put: don't do stupid things when a problem occurs; stop and think about what you are going to do.

Verse 22
What this verse talks about is mutual trust which is needed in relationships, be they friendly, romantic, professional or any other type. Keep your promises, harm nobody and be fair. But, if the other person doesn't show you equal love, respect and fairness then it is like they have "broken the contract" and you shouldn't feel any more obligations towards that person because they aren't worthy of anything you have to give them.
The last eight words are the first version of the Wiccan Rede which is quite clear :)


I know that the post was very long, but I hope that it was worth writing and that you liked it. Now I'll let you take a rest from me :)

Blessed be! Yours,
Witch's Cat

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