Wiccan Rede has roots in Christianity
‘Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill, An’ it harm none, do what ye will’.”
Truth or diabolical suggestion? Could it be possible that the supreme neo-Pagan (Wiccan) Rule is not Pagan at all in origin? And where does this discovery leave us who live according to this Law?
In 1904 Aleister Crowley wrote DO WHAT THOU WILT SHALL BE THE WHOLE OF THE LAW in his Book of the Law, (Liber al Vel Legis). Gerald Brusseau Gardner (a speculated Crowlian initiate) later adopted the phrase for his own Neo-Pagan teachings.
On 3 October 1964, Pentagram (a quarterly newsletter and witchcraft review), sponsored the first public Witches Dinner of modern times. On this occasion, the phrase adopted as the Rede, was first publicly uttered by Doreen Valiente, in the form we currently use today.
Prior to that, a similar phrase appears in Gerald Gardner’s ‘The Meaning of Witchcraft’ whence he wrote that witches generally are inclined to share the morality of King Pausole in the novel, ‘The Adventures of King Pausole’, written in 1901 by the French novelist Pierre Louys. The philosophy of King Pausole was “do what you like so long as you harm no one”. This means that the Rede is not an ancient Pagan teaching as some of us believe it to be.
In Crowley’s ‘The Book of the Law’ is a verse which states: “Invoke me under my stars! Love is the law, love under will”. Very similar to our modern day “Love is the Law, Love is the Bond”, yet totally different in meaning and result. And there goes another piece of the puzzle.
A second school of thought claims that the Rede was extracted directly from the Wiccan Credo which is believed by some to have been written circa 1910 by Adriana Porter. But who inspired her? Does this teaching appear anywhere else before this time? Yes, in the 16th century novel Gargantua and Pantagruel written by Benedictine monk, Francois Rabelais.
Francis Dashwood (inspired by Rabelais) adopted the phrase ‘Do What Thou Wilt’ as the motto of The Order of the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe, also known as the Monks of Medmenham (Hell-Fire Club). The motto was inscribed over the entrance of the Medmenham Abbey. Dashwood held that man has a natural right to be free and explained that by freedom it is not meant that every individual can act as he pleases, according to his own passion, vices and mental infirmities; rather, freedom is a right every man has to do what he will with his own.
Could Francis Dashwood (1708-1781), the 2nd Baronet Dashwood and 15th Baron le Despenser have inspired Aleister Crowley’s “Do what thou will shall be the whole of the Law; Love is the Law, Love under Will”?
It is the writer’s opinion that it was undoubtedly the influence of Francis Dashwood and his ‘Hell-Fire Club’ which led Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) to develop the Law of Thelema, even if Crowley claimed that it had been dictated to him by an Egyptian entity named Aiwass.
“Dilige, et quod vis fac” (Love and do what thou wilt), was first coined by Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430). This meant that if you loved God, you were free to act according to your will, since a man who loved God would naturally select the path of virtue.
It was none other than St. Augustine who therefore inspired Francois Rabelais (1494-15) to adopt the motto “fay ce que voudras” (French for “do what thou wilt”) for his fictional Abbey of Theleme, in his magnum opus Gargantua and Pantagruel. Rabelais said people could act according to their will, because people who were free, well-bred, and easy in honest company had good instincts and a natural tendency towards virtuous deeds which would safeguard them from vice. He called this honour.
Isn’t it important to also note that Crowley’s Abbey of Thelema (Greek for Will) in Sicily was directly inspired by the Thelemite monks of Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel? How many more of these discoveries can we endure and continue to nurture an interest and love for the Path we have chosen?
In his Satanic Bible, Anton LaVey derides the Satanic rituals and initiation rites of Francis Dashwood and his Medmenham monks, for they had eliminated the blood, gore and infanticide of the previous century’s Black Masses. The brotherhood formed by aristocratic libertine gentlemen, (such as Lord Byron, John Dee, Horace Walpole and well-known freemasons of the time), recruited prostitutes from brothels in London to act as their monastic companions, dressed them up as nuns in order that they could partake in erotic, psycho pompous spiritual plays, and LaVey puts it all down to harmless, good dirty fun. These gentlemen were infamous at the time for their self-proclaimed “anti-moralistic” behaviour.
Crowley, on the other hand, had been obliged to leave Sicily under the accusation of being a Diabolist and Satanic mystic, despite his denials of any involvement with Satanism and his contradictory declaration of being the Beast of Revelations. LaVey said Crowley worked overtime, posing as, in Crowley’s words, “the most wicked man ever to have lived”.
Now if the Rede is a Christian maxim, inverted in its meaning by those who preceded us on this Path, where does this leave us as Neo-Pagans today? How do we regulate our PERSONAL morality? What set of secular ethics do we leave to future Pagan generations? Can we continue to look to the Rede as the paramount guideline for our moral code? Does the Pagan Society at large need a moral code?
Yes! Morality defines the principles which govern our behaviour and reactions. Without these principles, no society can survive for long. This rule applies to all Pagan Paths.
“Do as ye will …” does not mean that if it feels good you can do it. It exhorts one to maximum personal responsibility. It means that one must exercise caution: use your power of discernment before putting out any energy in form of thought, words or deeds. Action causes reaction and these must be executed in full awareness and complete understanding, in a spirit of love and balance if it is not to cause harm elsewhere. By harm is intended, mental, physical and spiritual damage. It means, do what you must do in order to survive, to heal, to improve in life, in order to create, to be entertained, to be safe, etc. without negative repercussions elsewhere.
I believe that provided we know whence the Rede comes from, provided we are not ignorant of the facts aforementioned, provided we can deal with whatever objections may be thrown our way regarding the golden rule of Paganism, we can continue to fulfill the Rede, knowing that the Goddess has, through the ages, spoken the same words to us through many a writer’s pen.
And harm none, in whatever you do! Blessed Be!