Within the Wiccan religion and witchcraft there are many pieces of literature that have become sacred teachings to the followers of both Wicca and witchcraft. One of these is now known as The Wiccan Rede. The Wiccan Rede was first published in the Ostara edition of a magazine called The Green Egg by a self-claimed hereditary witch who went by the pseudonym of Lady Gwen Thompson. It was published in 1975 and with its publication there was much controversy around where this piece of poetry, that was so rich in Witchcraft law and ritualistic secrets, came from. Whether or not Lady Gwen Thompson borrowed the final words, ‘eight words the Wiccan rede fulfil, an ye harm none, do what ye will’ from Doreen Valiente, we will never know, but she is quoted saying those words in a public speech a few years earlier.
The origin of the Wiccan Rede that was originally named ‘The Rede of the Wiccae – Counsel of the Wise Ones’ is not as important as the treasures found within its couplets. Each set of couplets holds invaluable wisdom to anyone, whether they are a Witch, a Wiccan, a Christian or of another path. Within the original Wiccan Rede there are 49 couplets. The original does not end with ‘an ye harm none, do what ye will’ but instead it ends with the common Wiccan greeting: ‘…and merry meet and merry part, and merry meet again!’
The Wiccan Rede is possibly one of the greatest pieces of useful writing to be learned by any practitioner. It is also the first piece of literature coupled with the Charge of the Goddess written by Doreen Valiente, that a neophyte in Wicca is urged to study. There are many beautiful messages within the Wiccan Rede, and we will cover some of these now:
‘Nine woods in the Cauldron go, burn them quick and burn them slow;’
Lady Gwen Thompson mentions 10 trees in this stanza they are, Grape, Fir, Apple, Hawthorn, Willow, Hazel, Rowan, Birch, Oak and Elder. They are all allowed to be burned in ritual except for the Elder Tree which is cautioned to be ‘the Lady’s tree’ she states that you will be cursed if you are to burn this tree. She only goes into explaining that the Oak will ‘guide you in your every search’ and does not explain the great significance of the other trees in this stanza, she does however give you their exact meaning in the couplets that follow.
Each one of these 10 trees are sacred Celtic divination trees. They are all used for their medicinal and magical properties. Magical wands, intricate handles of athames, pentacles and other magical items were carved from these 10 plants and trees. It is interesting to note that Mark Ventimiglia, author of the book ‘The Wiccan Rede’ sees this differently and separates the magic of nine mentioned trees and replaces it with 9 non-mentioned herbs including catnip and garlic. Each person will find their own wisdom within the Wiccan Rede and that is perhaps part and parcel of the magic that this poem has gathered over the years.
‘As the old year starts to wane, the new begins with dark Samhain.’
When you begin walking the path as a Witch or as a Wiccan, your timing to the normal Gregorian calendar falls away and you take up the new cycle that is known as the Wheel of the Year. Samhain is the Sabbat likened to Dia de Muertos or the Day of the Dead. This is one of the most solemn, magical and most introspective times on the Wheel of the Year. Samhain is the time when all deities are in the underworld moving through their own version of the descent of the goddess. At Samhain no deities are called in, ancestors are called to share meals and festivities and there is ample time for all forms of divination and craft creation for the new year to come.
The word wane is to decrease, fall away or become weaker. The old year is ended with the minor sabbat Mabon. Mabon sees the final descent of both the injured Oak King as well as the Goddess a little time after, between Mabon and Samhain. At Samhain, it is the New Year for all Witches and Wiccans. This is also one of the most magical and celebratory times on the Wheel of the Year because the veil is at its thinnest, only matched almost equally by Beltane.
‘Four times the Minor Sabbats fall, use the sun to mark them all:’
Just before this stanza, Lady Gwen Thompson mentions the Major Sabbats, outlining the fact that they are two in the light and two in the dark. In this one she shows how the Minor Sabbats are outlined and marked by the position of the sun. It is interesting to note that the entire Wheel of the Year is marked by the seasons and the position of the sun. It is also more interesting that Gerald Gardner, father and founder of Wicca, used 4 Germanic Sabbats and 4 Celtic Sabbats to make up the 8 Sabbats found on the Wheel of the Year. How did Lady Gwen Thompson know this, when she claimed that it was her mother who gave her these secrets?
‘Deosil go by waxing moon, sing and dance the invoking rune;’
Deosil is clockwise. Waxing is growing. The moon belongs to the Goddess or the Lady in Wicca. The lunar timing and calendar belong to her continuous journey. In Wicca and in witchcraft the Moon is the Goddess and the Sun is the God. Invocation or invoking is bringing an energy, entity or deity into oneself; this is akin to channelling. In the above couplet we see how The Wiccan Rede advises us to bring things into our lives during the waxing moon. The reference to the motion, deosil, is the way you would raise energy within your working inside a ritual space or circle.
‘Widdershins go by waning moon, Chant ye then a freeing tune;’
Widdershins is anticlockwise. Waning is decreasing or growing weaker. Opposite to the above couplet, as Wicca always finds balance, when the moon decreases or wanes to end in the dark or black moon, we see that this is a time to set ourselves free of things that do not serve our highest purpose anymore. The waning moon is a time to cleanse and clean the home of the mundane goods that we do not need anymore as well as the energies and entities that no longer need to linger.
On a final note about the Wiccan Rede: This is one piece of literature that encompasses almost everything that Wicca stands for. In a single poem, Lady Gwen Thompson managed to condense all Wiccan lore as well as advise the neophytes and remind the elders of the magic that is contained within the beauty and the wonder of Wicca. Always remember to ‘Bide the Wiccan Law ye must, In Perfect Love and Perfect Trust;’ that is the true law of Wicca, to be able to find that place where you can walk into sacred space with a fellow human in perfect love and perfect trust.
“…And Merry meet and merry part
And Merry meet again!”
Below is the original wording of the Rede of the Wiccae by Lady Gwen Thompson:
Bide the Wiccan Law ye must,
In Perfect Love and Perfect Trust;
Live ye must and let to live,
Fairly take and fairly give.
True in love, ever be,
Lest thy love be false to thee.
With a fool no season spend,
Nor be counted as his friend.
Soft of eye and light of touch,
Speak ye little, listen much.
Ever mind the rule of three,
What ye send out comes back to thee.
This lesson well, thou must learn
Ye only get what ye do earn.
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill –
An it harm none, do as ye will.
Deosil go by waxing Moon,
Sing and dance the invoking Rune;
Widdershins go by waning Moon,
Chant ye then a freeing tune;
When the Lady’s Moon is new,
Kiss thy hand to Her times two;
When the Bow rides in the eve
Turn to what you would achieve;
When the Moon rides at her peak,
Then thy heart’s desire seek;
When the Sickle shows Her face
Release the old with proper grace.
Greet the Days and greet the Nights
With joy and thanks for all delights.
Sing the seasons all around
Til wondrous awe and love abound
Heed the North wind’s mighty gale,
Lock the door & trim the sail;
When the wind comes from the South,
Love will kiss thee on the mouth;
When the wind blows from the West,
Hearts will find their peace and rest;
When the wind blows from the East,
Expect the new and set the feast.
Nine woods in the Cauldron go,
Burn them quick and burn them slow;
Grape and fir and apple tree,
And Hawthorn are sacred to Thee,
Willow, hazel, rowan, birch,
And oak will guide your every search;
Elder be the Lady’s tree –
Burn it not or cursed ye’ll be.
Birchwood in the fire goes
To tell us true what Goddess knows.
Oak trees tower great with might,
Burn the Oak for God’s insight.
Rowan is a tree of power
Causing life and magic to flower.
Willows at the waters stand
To help us to the Summerland.
Hawthorn burn to purify
And draw the faerie to your eye.
Hazel tree, the wisdom sage,
Lends strength that comes with honored age.
White the flowers of Apple tree,
The holy gift of fecundity.
Grape grows upon the fruitful vine,
Sacred gifts of joy and wine.
Fir’s ever greenness declares life
Succeeds beyond any strife.
Heed ye flower, bush, and tree,
And by the Lady Blessed be.
Where the rippling waters flow
Cast a stone and truth ye’ll know;
Four times the Major Sabbats mark
In the light and in the dark:
As the old year starts to wane
The new begins with dark Samhain.
When flowers blossom through the snow
Fair Brigid casts her seed to sow.
When winter yields to warmth’s return
Let the Beltane fires burn.
As summer turns to Lammas night
First fruits and Grain Gods reach their height.
Four times the Minor Sabbats fall
Use the Sun to mark them all:
At Yuletide, with feast and mirth
We celebrate the God Child’s birth.
Spring Equinox, Eostara’s fest,
All newborn creatures will be blessed.
When the Sun has reached its height
Celebrate the greatest Light.
Offer thanks at second reaping;
Mabon poised for winter’s sleeping.
Cast the circle thrice about,
To keep unwelcome spirits out.
To bind the spell well every time,
Let the spell be spake in rhyme.
Follow this with mind & art,
Bright the cheeks and warm the heart,
And merry meet & merry part
And merry meet again!
Lady Gwen Thompson (The Ostara Edition of the Green Egg Magazine, 1975)