Perhaps more aptly titled: “My Thoughts on the Wiccan Rede and the Three-Fold Law: My Changing Identity”.
So, this is a piece I originally posted on my Tumblr (The Wiccan Rede & My Personal Thoughts – defunct, doesn’t exist anymore), but I’ve edited it a bit here, to make it a bit more intelligible and to remove a bit of wording that I realized while looking it over to be awkward. Of course, this is merely my personal opinion, and it’s a bit of a companion to my “Coming Into This” trio, because it ran kind of parallel to my general understanding of my beliefs. In any case, I’m not trying to offend anyone, and if I’ve misunderstood a concept, please do let me know.
I just had to explain my beliefs on this, as among people I know in my “real”, every day life, my thoughts and understanding of the Wiccan Rede and the Three-Fold Law are not very popular. In any case, this is what I came up with.
I’m sure that for most pagans the subject of the Wiccan Rede is pretty set. Or at least, among pagans I know, so if in the greater community it isn’t so set an opinion, I do apologize. I really can only go off what I know. In any case – what I know is that I’ve drastically changed my opinion on the Rede since I started my real research into paganism 10 years ago now. Of course, this does mean that I’ve grown, which is great, but it is also a bit confusing as to how to explain myself from now on.
I think I was like a lot of beginning pagans. Took the Wiccan Rede (An it harm none, do what you will) as truth and used that, as well as the Three-Fold Law, to explain to people about my beliefs. I called myself an eclectic Wiccan and really didn’t understand what a Wiccan truly was. A bit of pardon, I was only 11/12, and I was just excited to find that there were people like me that believed in something besides the Christian God. And to use the Rede was handy. Easy way for me to explain that I was not cursing/hexing/harming others and that I was not “in league with the devil” – people still thought I was though. After all, “an it harm none” is pretty easy to understand. Of course, it requires a completely literal translation in that point, or at least that’s how I saw it at the time and I still think that if you follow the Rede there’s a bit of literalism in understanding it. It was an easy way to explain what I was though, without having to use the word “Witch”, which in my community was a really bad word to use.
Now…I know looking back that I was never Wiccan. I didn’t really believe the Rede and I definitely didn’t believe in the Three-Fold Law. I knew the Three-Fold Law was physically impossible, because you cannot create more matter than what already exists. I kind of took it, so I could accept it, as I thought it was an essential tenant, and looked at it as a more esoteric kind of thing. Not that literally three-times what I did would come back, more just that one should think carefully before acting. That’s a general rule I follow even today, not acting before I think over the consequences of my actions. I just couldn’t accept the Three-Fold Law though, but I pretended that I did…because I thought that to be a good Wiccan you had to agree with it. The whole concept of returning three-fold always bothered me, it never made sense and it was a tenant I never reconciled. But, being young, and since all the stuff I read touted the rightness and sanctity of the whole idea, I accepted it at least as a spoken tenant and just submerged my inherent disbelief as me being “too young to understand”.
That’s a dumb idea really. After all even now 10 years later, nearly 13 after I started my unconscious/informal search into paganism, I still don’t understand everything. I don’t want to either. Without something left to learn, I feel like I’m not complete. I would much rather spend the rest of my life trying to understand my path and always learning new things than to know it all at one point and have nothing left to learn. Having nothing left to amaze me or shock me…to impress me….that would be my biggest nightmare. So while I don’t understand everything, I have no problem with this. It’s actually part of my path that I like. I’ve had Christian friends tell me that I must be so frightened and afraid of what will happen to me after death, since I don’t have the certainty of Heaven/Hell to look forward to. I’m at peace though. When it’s time for me to learn my answer to what happens after death, I’ll learn it. In the meantime, why worry? I live for the present and my life now.
I’ve realized, perhaps the realization came years ago and I just ignored it – I’ll never be sure – or perhaps it’s more recent, that I haven’t believed in the Wiccan Rede in a long time. I don’t believe in “an it harm none, do what you will”. I find that commandment a bit self-serving and an attempt to assuage Christians (based on where Wicca was founded and where it’s most popular, Christianity is the major religion) that Wiccans weren’t “witches” and that they weren’t to be feared. I’ve come to the conclusion that in my own mind I always associated the Rede with an attempt to make myself or my path less “frightening” to people who don’t understand it. Not that I want to frighten people, I don’t, but I shouldn’t have to justify my beliefs any more than a mainstream religious person should have to.
And to me, the Rede seems like a justification more than an actual belief. My personal opinion is that the Rede is nothing more than an attempt to present Wicca and Wiccans as “harmless” to others. Now to be fair – I don’t ever believe I’ll curse someone and I do believe in avoiding harming or upsetting people as far as is possible, but I’m also not going to let someone walk all over me or harm me. Now, if that means that someday I do place a hex on someone (though I never see that happening) then that’s what happens. My first responsibility is to protect myself and respect myself. I’ve never felt the need to justify my beliefs in other areas of my life, so why should I tout a phrase that I feel is merely pacifying justification when it comes to my religious beliefs?
I think placating a people who are afraid of my beliefs because they are different is wrong and it is useless. If they are afraid of my beliefs, then nothing I say will change that, or at least it won’t change easily. They’re far more likely to at least grow to accept things if I’m honest. I don’t believe in an “all light” kind of magic or beliefs. There’s darkness in everything, in every person, and I know one needs to respect that. So why tout a statement that basically proclaims that I’m only doing things that are “light” and “harmless”?
The truth is, as I see it, if I cast a spell or pray to the gods or goddesses asking to help me get a job (for example), technically their help and my asking for it does in fact ‘harm’ another person. If I get that job, and I believe that the god/goddess(s/es) helped me achieve that objective, I’ve harmed another person’s chance at getting that job. Well, that’s rather literal of course, because it’s not like I went out and physically harmed them to keep them from getting a job, but I have called upon my beliefs/abilities/deities to help me out and give me an edge. That is not physically a problem, but say mentally one. Or perhaps I see it more as that I used my beliefs and my faith to help me out and someone else either did not, or my deities were more receptive and gave me a boost in the job attractiveness market. So technically, even though I didn’t physically cause a person harm or impede them from a job, by using magic or by praying to my deities, I have taken something away from another person. That’s another sort of harm.
So really, it’s impossible to go through life without harming others. It is not intentional, and it may not even be noticeable. I doubt that said, figurative, person I beat out in my job example would ever know or care that I prayed for help from my deities. They’re most likely a person I never met and will never ever see after the fact. Still though, by technical definition I did do some manner of harm to an aspect of their life. Going through life without harming anyone is impossible. I feel like trying to follow the Rede, at least with my beliefs, is like trying to be perfect. It’s impossible and trying to do that is just stressful and a problem, at least by my view.
I can’t tout and follow a statement that to me demands total perfection. No human or being of any kind is perfect. Everything and everyone has their flaws. It’s a good thing too, no matter what anyone says. If everything were perfect, there would be nothing to learn and no experiences without expectation. The lack of expectation in the new and unknown helps I think, to see more of oneself and of the world around. So total perfection and the demand to never harm another is unattainable. Trying to always keep from harming others would make for a tedious living and it would suck the belief and joy in learning and practice that I have right out of me. I would hate to practice if I were constantly looking for any possible way I might break the Rede. It would consume me and I would never do anything because of the fear I might accidentally do something wrong and that it would return even more upon me for an unintentional action.
This isn’t to say that I think you’re exempt from all actions. Even unintentional actions have consequences. However, for me it makes no sense that if I give myself a boost for a job that three times worse should return if I’ve harmed another person’s chances at that job. Perhaps I see the Rede and the Three-Fold Law too literally. And if so, that is just how my mind and my beliefs have taken it. After all, every person sees these things a bit differently. But to my mind, they’re impossible to hold to and to achieve. Trying to achieve the impossible is not something I want to do. I already wasted years of my life trying to reach perfection in school, I am not going to make the same mistake in my spiritual beliefs and life. I want to enjoy myself, and chasing the perfection that I see as being demanded by the Rede and Law is not something that will make me a happy pagan or a happy/spiritual person.
The other problem I have with the Three-Fold Law is how in the western world it’s “karma”. I took an Eastern Religious Traditions course a year ago and studied Hinduism, Daoism/Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Shinto and popular religion. Well, after learning about the true purpose and meaning of karma – the Law bothers me. I understand that things and concepts can change their meaning/purpose over time. However, the fact is that in the western world we talk about “good” or “bad” karma. It doesn’t exist. Karma of any sort upon your death is undesirable by tradition. So to look at the Law, which is touted as a way to get “good karma” and to keep people from incurring “bad karma” kind of grates on my nerves. I am not a practitioner of any of these eastern religions, though I am doing research into Hinduism, Buddhism and Shinto because they fascinate me (that’s another matter). So to me, following the Law, which is basically an accounting rule for the western idea of karma annoys me. It doesn’t fit and it makes me uncomfortable. Therefore, I can’t agree with the Law anymore. Knowing what I now know, I can’t accept it, and I can’t even use it as a way to even obliquely explain my beliefs.
I’ve begun to see that my life isn’t defined at all by Wicca. I called myself Wiccan because it was a safer word than “witch”, and out of a need to feel like I was part of a “valid religion”. It isn’t appropriate though to call myself by a title of a religion that I don’t agree with or even believe in their core tenants. Witch is not a word I fear anymore. I’m not afraid to explain to someone when they ask that I’m what they would call a witch. I use the term to identify myself, it is one of two that I feel really describe who I am nowadays. Witch is a word I like, that I’ve embraced. Yes, I get the fear and loathing when I state that “witch” is perhaps one of the best words for a person to understand my beliefs. I’ve learned to accept these comments and looks, as they don’t really have any bearing on me. What people think about my path is not my concern. They can fear my beliefs, or they can choose to ignore them like I choose to do with all my friends. I also have those people who don’t care, or who ask curious questions. I don’t mind being open, and if my identification makes them wonder, I don’t have a problem explaining what it is for me, or answering their questions.
So I’ve learned over many years that I am a witch. The truth is – I’m also a pagan. I am most drawn to Celtic gods and goddesses, and I’ve begun researching more into Anglo-Saxon mythology as part of my family heritage, though the Greek pantheon has always fascinated me merely for the legends, I’m even drawn to learning more about Kemetic practices and eastern religions, even if I never practice anything from any of these. I’m a pagan though, still learning my true path and what all of my beliefs are. I don’t do a lot of witchcraft, mainly due to living situations, but I will practice more when I have my own place. I believe in multiple gods, different forms. I do not believe there is a solitary Lord and Lady or God and Goddess. I believe there are many, a true pantheon. I may not know all their names, or even understand all of them, but they are there, whether I ask their help or not. If they feel I’m meant to work with them, I will learn/see/come to discover it in time and at a point in my life that is right for me. But I never could believe in the Lord and Lady as all the “Wiccan” sources claimed.
I’ve grown a lot in 10 years. I no longer feel the need to call myself an “eclectic Wiccan” to defend my beliefs to others. I no longer say that I believe in the Wiccan Rede and the Three-Fold Law to show people that I’m harmless. I’m not harmless, no person is, and it’s the fact that we can be harmful and that we must consciously choose to do the right thing that I feel is our greatest strength. The Rede and Law are not right or useful or even relevant for me, not anymore. They have their place for others, but I have realized that they never were a part of my beliefs. In my need to find someplace to belong, to be part of a valid religion that people would accept, I stated these things that I did not believe. I think both are worded well, and they are noble enough to aspire to, but the truth is that I can’t follow either. They have no place is my life and I cannot identify with them or with the religious path they represent.
I’m a witch and a pagan, and I’m proud to say it. I do believe in doing what is morally right, and I do believe in avoiding troubling others. I do not set out to cause discomfort for anyone else, or to harm them in any way. However, I know that at times my witchcraft might give me an edge that does harm another person’s chances for something (say a job). That does not mean I’ve broken some fundamental law of my beliefs or that I’m doomed to be a horrible person. It means that I’m human, just like everyone else. I will always do my best to avoid causing trouble for others. It is part of living on this earth that I will have to be better than others, or get things that others wanted, it is also true that others will get things I want. This isn’t a good or a bad thing, it’s just a fact. So by accepting these facts, and knowing that as long as I follow my morals what I believe is correct – I can know I’m on the right path.
The Wiccan Rede is a noble enough rule to aspire to. I just cannot abide hard and fast rules in religion, and I cannot follow a rule that I feel is inherently flawed or ignores a vital part of human nature. The Three-Fold Law is, in my way of thinking, an impossible construct mixing eastern religious beliefs that have been misinterpreted with impossible physics. A good cautionary tale to avoid doing something without thinking, I can agree the Law is that. As a rule to be observed and followed, I find it flawed and cannot accept it.
I know that many follow these rules and accept them. I’m not saying anyone else is wrong, or even that I’m right. This is all just my thoughts and my beliefs. Of course, everyone sees things differently and I know that probably quite a few people would have found some of the things I’ve said incorrect or against their beliefs. That is not surprising, and I rather expect it. I merely state how I feel, as I realize exactly how much I’ve grown as a pagan since that day when I was 11 years old and I decided that I was officially a “Wiccan”. I’m a pagan and a witch, I’ve grown, and I’m still growing.∗