New Age Religion, or alternative spiritual practices, or “not Judeo-Christian,” is all the rage these days, particularly European pagan traditions and Wicca. Eastern religious traditions are getting plenty of love as well, including meditation. While there are many lifetime practitioners who were never swayed by hot trends into the tradition, the number of Americans who claim beliefs that can be considered New Age has grown exponentially in recent years. Just float over to your local bookstore, you’ll find books about applying Buddhist mindfulness practices to Google’s business model as well as using pagan spells to spice up your love life. Past the trends though, there are centuries of wisdom that can be appreciated by practitioners and non-practitioners alike. Today, we’ll be talking about one of the most famous bits of pagan prudence: The Wiccan Rede.
Disclaimer: I am not a practitioner of Wicca or pagan traditions. I have done some research into the practices and have asked some practitioner friends to confirm the validity of my descriptions. This is a post describing practical application of the Wiccan Rede to the lives of those who follow the traditions as well as those who don’t.
What is the Wiccan Rede?
First officially recorded as a couplet by the English practitioner Doreen Valiente but based on centuries of tradition, the most commonly accepted wording of the Wiccan Rede reads as follows:
“Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill, An’ it harm none do what ye will.”
Other variants exist, with varying degrees of Middle English pronouns and lengths, but most follow the same idea: Do your own thing, so long as you aren’t causing harm to others (or maybe I’ll say non-consensual harm, we try to be inclusive here). This is commonly interpreted as a declaration of personal freedom, and it most certainly is. There is, however, another way to integrate this immortal couplet into your life: Use it as a mental frame to be less judgmental of others.
I have already covered the perils of holding a negative outlook on life, but holding a judgmental attitude of others brings its own detriments to well-being. People who hold judgmental attitudes of others tend to report higher levels of stress symptoms, as well as strained relationships (and barriers to forming new ones). You may say, “I’m not judgmental, I’m perfectly fine with other races/sexualities/religions/etc!” Judgmental thinking comes in many more forms than those broad categories, however. Judgmental thinking can manifest in mocking someone for their hobbies, lifestyles, choice of fandom, belonging to subcultures, and a whole other mess of things that, in the grand scheme, ultimately do not matter.
I Don’t Care, and That’s Great
This is where the Wiccan Rede comes back in. Forming opinions on people and situations we encounter is an inevitability. Even the most shallow or indifferent opinions formed is an act of thought and analysis. Instead of judging people or interests based on how strange or out of the ordinary they may be, try this modal of thinking instead: Everyone has the personal freedom to engage in whatever interests, hobbies, or subcultures/fandoms they want to; and the only thing that should truly matter is whether or not those actions cause harm, distress, or burden to others. In an oxymoronic way, you could call it indifferent compassion.
Now, ask yourself some of these questions:
Do people imagining fursonas for themselves, creating suits, and attending fur-centric conventions cause you or any other non-furries any harm?
Do pre-teens and teenagers who text on their phones a lot and post selfies to social media, but otherwise perform well in school, cause you any actual harm? (Assuming they aren’t driving while texting, of course)
Does a person who identifies as the opposite gender using the restroom of their choice, doing nothing more than peeing, washing their hands, and leaving cause any societal harm?
Do people who consume strange (legally and consensually-produced) porn have any real effect on you?
Do young boys who play video games instead of playing outside cause any social ruin?
Do people who enjoy a certain franchise you find annoying cause you any actual harm?
Do men who roleplay as puppies with consenting partners cause any actual detriment or inconvenience to anyone else?
Public Scorn A’plenty
Browse social media for about five minutes and you’d be certain to find a meme or status/tweet condemning or mocking at least one of the groups mentioned above, often accompanied by the I Don’t Want to Live on This Planet Anymore reaction. But, what constructive purpose does that serve? Is anything really accomplished by throwing out unfettered and usually uninformed scorn? What is really more socially harmful: Furries and kids who text too much, or pumping more negativity into the world?
Sometimes, of course, criticism is deserved. Belonging to a fandom is cool, attacking other fandoms is not. Having alternative sexual tastes is dandy, but randomly throwing out images people don’t want to see is not. Having a religion is just fine, but using it as justification to condemn and discriminate is not. Cosplaying Homestuck characters isn’t an issue, but ambush hugging other cosplayers and getting gray paint on their costumes is not.
It all comes back down to the Rede: If someone isn’t acting or living in a way that causes harm, distress, or burden to others, is there really any reason to criticize or condemn them? Nothing positive is accomplished. The criticizer only subjects themselves to the negative health and social benefits of judgmental thinking, and the criticized only gets receives more derision on top of the crap they already catch just for being, *dramatic music*, different.
In the End, It Doesn’t Even Matter
So, next time you come across something you find strange or weird on the Internet (because there’s plenty of it), or feel tempted to share some random post mocking others, ask yourself this simple question: If it harms none, shouldn’t they be free to do what they will? You don’t have to publicly praise things that you do not understand or do not interest you, but by just shrugging off the temptation to condemn, you may just discover some new interests or new friends in the process.
You don’t have to join a coven or stock up on mystically-charged gemstones to cast some positive spells of your own. Looking at the world in the context of the Wiccan Rede promotes positivity and acceptance where it did not exist before. The effect it has on your mood and perspective, while both on the Internetz and that strange thing called ‘real life,’ can be magickal.