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                                EXEGESIS ON THE WICCAN REDE 

                                      by Judy Harrow
          originally published in HARVEST - Volume 5, Number 3 (Oimelc, 1985) 
          second  publication: THE  HIDDEN PATH  - Volume  X, Number  2 Beltane,
               All religions began with somebody's sudden flashing insight, 
          enlightenment, a shining  vision. Some  mystic found the  way and  the
          words to share the  vision, and, sharing it, attracted  followers. The
          followers may 
          repeat  those precise  and poetic  words about  the vision  until they
          congeal into set phrases, fused language, repeated by rote and without

               Cliches begin as great wisdom - that's why they spread  so fast -
          and end as ritual phrases, heard but not understood. Living spiritual-
          ity  so easily hardens to boring religious routine, maintained through
          guilt and fear, or habit and social opportunism - any reason but joy. 
                    We cometo the Craftwith a firstgeneration's joy ofdiscovery,
          and a first generation's memory of  bored hours of routine worship  in
          our  childhood.   Because  we have  known the  difference,  it is  our
          particular challenge  to find or make ways to keep the Craft a living,
          real  experience for  our grandchildren  and for  the students  of our
                    Ithink the best of these safeguardsis already built into the
          Craft  as we know it, put there by our own good teachers. On our Path,
          the  mystic experience itself  is shared, not just  the fruits of mys-
          ticism.  We give all our students the techniques, and the protective/-
          supportive  environment that enable almost  every one of  them to Draw
          the Moon and/or Invoke the God.  This is an incredibly radical  change
          from  older religions, even older  Pagan religions, in  which the only
          permissible source  of inspiration  has been to  endlessly reinterpret
          and reapply the vision of the Founder (the Bible, the Book of the Law,
          the Koran,  ... ). The practice  of Drawing the Moon  is the brilliant
          crown of the Craft. 
               But notice how often, in the old myths, every treasure has its 
          pitfalls? I think I'm beginning to see one of ours. Between the normal
          process of  original visions clotting  into cliche, and  our perpetual
          flow of new inspiration, we are in danger of losing the special wisdom
          of  those who  founded the  modern  Craft. I  do not  think we  should
          assiduously  preserve every precious word. My love for my own Gardner-
          ian tradition does not blind me to  our sexist and heterosexist roots.
          And yet,  I want us to  remain identifiably Witches and  not meld into
          some homogeneous "New Age" sludge. For this, I think we need some sort
          of anchoring in tradition to give us a  sense of identity. Some of the
          old sayings really do crystallize great wisdom as well, life-affirming
          Pagan wisdom that our culture needs to hear.  


               So I think it's time for a little creative borrowing from our 
          neighbors. Christians do something they  call "exegesis;" Jews have  a
          somewhat  similar process  called "midrash." What  it is  is something
          between interpretation and meditation, a very concentrated examination
          of  a particular text. The assumption often  is that every single word
          has  meaning (cabalists even look  at the individual  letters). Out of
          this  inspired  combination  of  scholarship and  daydream  comes  the
          vitality  of  those paths  whose  canon  is  closed. The  contemporary
          example,  of  course, is  Christian  Liberation Theology,  based  on a
          re-visioning of Jesus that would utterly shock John Calvin. 

                    Although our canonis not closed- and theday it isis the dayI
          quit -I'm  suggesting that we can  use a similar process  to renew the
          life of the older parts of our own still-young heritage. 
                    So, I'dlike totry doingsome exegesison an essentialstatement
          of the Craft way of life. Every religion has  some sort of ethic, some
          guideline for what it means to live in accordance with this particular
          mythos, this worldview.  Ours, called the  Wiccan Rede, is one  of the
          most  elegant statements I've  heard of  the principle  of situational
          ethics. Rather  than placing  the power and  duty to decide  about be-
          havior with teachers or rulebooks, the Rede places it exactly where it
          belongs, with the actor. 
                               eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill: 
                                AN IT HARM NONE, DO WHAT YOU WILL. 
          I'd like to start with the second phrase first, and to take  it almost
          word by word. 
          do what YOU will.  This is the challenge to  self-direction, to figure
          out what we  want, and not what somebody else wants for us or from us.
          All of us are  subject to tremendous role expectations  and pressures,
          coming  from our  families,  our employers,  our  friends, society  in
          general.  It's  easy to  just be  molded,  deceptively easy  to become
          acompulsive  rebel and reflexively do  the opposite of whatever "they"
          seem to want. Living by the Rede means accepting the responsibility to
          assess  the results of  our actions and  to choose when  we will obey,
          confront or evade the rules. 
               Do what you WILL. This is the challenge to introspection, to know
          what we really want beyond the whim of the moment. The classic example
          is that of the student who chooses to study for an exam rather than go
          to  a party, because what  she really wants is to  be a doctor. Again,
          balance is needed. Always going to the  library rather than the movies
          is the  road to burnout, not the  road to a Nobel.  What's more, there
          are others values in life, such as sensuality, intimacy, spirituality,
          that get  ignored in  a  compulsively long-term  orientation. So,  our
          responsibility is  not to mechanically  follow some rule  like "always
          choose to  defer gratification in  your own long-term  self interest,"
          but to really listen within, and to really choose, each time. 


               DO what you will. This is the challenge to action. Don't wait for
          Prince  Charming or  the revolution.  Don't blame  your mother  or the
          system. Make a  realistic plan that includes all  your assets. Be sure
          to include magic, both  the deeper insights and wisdoms  of divination
          and  the focusing of will and energy  that comes from active workings.
          Then  take the  first  steps right  now.  But, beware  of  thoughtless
          action,  which  is  equally  dangerous. For  example,  daydreaming  is
          needed,  to envision  a goal, to  project the  results of  actions, to
          check progress against  goals, sometimes to revise goals. Thinking and
          planning are necessary parts of  personal progress. Action and thought
          are complementary; neither can replace the other. 
                    When youreally look atit, wordby word, itsounds likea subtle
          and profound  guide for life, does  it not? Is it  complete? Shall "do
          what you will" in fact be "the whole of  the law" for us? I think not.
          The second phrase of the Rede discusses the individual out of context.
          Taken by itself, DO WHAT YOU WILL" would produce a nastily competitive
          society,  a "war  of each against  all" more  bitter than  what we now
          endure.  That is,  it would if  it were  possible. Happily,  it's just
          plain not. 
                    Pagan myth andmodern biology alike teach us thatour Earth is
          one  interconnected living sphere, a whole system in which the actions
          of each affect all (and this is emphatically not limited to humankind)
          through intrinsic, organic feedback paths. As our technology amplifies
          the effects of  our individual actions, it becomes  increasingly crit-
          ical to  understand that  these actions  have consequences beyond  the
          individual; consequences that, by the very nature of things, come back
          to the  individual  as well.  Cooperation,  once "merely"  an  ethical
          ideal, has  become a survival imperative. Life  is relational, contex-
          tual. Exclusive focus on the individual Will is a lie and a deathtrap.
                    The  qualifying "AN IT HARM NONE," draws a Circle around the
          individual Will and places each of us  firmly within the dual contexts
          of the human community and the complex life-form that  is Mother Gaia.
          The first phrase of the  Rede directs us to be aware of results of our
          actions projected  not only in  time, as long-term  personal outcomes,
          but  in  space -  to consider  how  actions may  effect  our families,
          co-workers, community,  and the life of  the Earth as a  whole, and to
          take those projections into account in our 
                    But, like the rest of the  Rede, "an it harm none" cannot be
          followed unthinkingly. It  is simply impossible for creatures  who eat
          to harm none. Any refusal to decide or act for fear of harming someone
          is also  a decision  and an  action, and will  create results  of some
          kind.  When  you  consider  that "none"  also  includes  ourselves, it
          becomes clear that  what we have  here is a goal  and an ideal,  not a
                    The Craft, assumingethical adulthood, offersus no roterules.
          We will always be  working on incomplete knowledge. We  will sometimes
          just plain  make mistakes.  Life itself, and  life-affirming religion,
          still demands that we learn, decide, act, and accept the results. 
                                    Judy Harrow 


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