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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 understanding.  Cliches begin as great wisdom - that's why
          they spread  so  fast -  and  end as  ritual  phrases, heard  but  not
          understood. Living spirituality so  easily hardens to boring religious
          routine, maintained  through  guilt  and  fear, or  habit  and  social
          opportunism - any reason but joy. 
                    We come tothe Craft witha first generation'sjoy 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
                    I think the best ofthese safeguards is already builtinto 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
          mysticism.  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
          Gardnerian  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. 

                         Last amended June 11, 1989  --  Page NEXTRECORD 


               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  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. 
                    Althoughour canon is not closed - andthe day it is the day I
          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 anessential statement
          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
          behavior  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  a compulsive 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. 

                         Last amended June 11, 1989  --  Page NEXTRECORD 


               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 lookat it, 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 and modernbiology alike teach us that ourEarth 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
          critical 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,  contextual. 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 decisions. 
                    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,assuming ethical adulthood,offers us norote rules.
          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 

                         Last amended June 11, 1989  --  Page NEXTRECORD 


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