The Rede: What it Really Means
First off, let's consider what the word "rede" means. The dictionary tells us that it is advice or a guideline, rather than a rule or commandment. Many toss it around as if it's a law that all pagans and witches absolutely have to adhere to. This isn't so. For instance, it's not a part of any reconstructionist religions, and it's not really something eclectics or neos need to worry about. If you want to adhere to it, you may, but you could always create your own moral code or adopt another. The only people that absolutely have to stick with it are the initiated BTW Wiccans.
Now, lets look at the Rede itself: "An it harm none, do what ye will". This phrase is commonly misunderstood within the pagan community. Many cut it short to just "Harm none", taking it out of context completely. "Harm none" implies "don't hurt anyone or anything, ever." which is not the Rede's message at all. Not only that, it's impossible to never hurt anything. Both plants and animals are killed for food, after all.
Let's look at the phrase again: "An it harm none, do what ye will." Now, let's put that into modern english: "If it doesn't hurt anyone, do what you want." Now what do you think? Sounds like permission to do anything that doesn't hurt anyone, right? What are some things that are forbidden by other religions but don't hurt anyone? In the middle east singing and dancing are not permitted. Who does singing and dancing hurt? Nobody. Some sects of religions don't permit women to wear pants or skirts that reveal ankles. Why? Who is harmed by such things? Nobody. I think you get the idea and have plenty of other examples popping into your head. The Rede says it's perfectly ok to do these things and you can do them if you want to. That's literally all it says. It's a "thou can" guideline as opposed to a "thou shall not" rule.
So..what about stuff that does cause harm? It doesn't say and so, it leaves it up to your judgement. I'm sure you're a decent person that doesn't want to hurt anyone, but sometimes you just might have to. You might hurt someone's feelings in order to keep them from making a huge mistake. For example, getting married to an untrustworthy partner. In such a case, which would cause more harm? Telling them their fiance is a lying, cheating dirtbag, or letting them find out on their own? What if they have a kid while they're married? What of the potential harm to the child? You could cause greater harm by simply letting something happen. Another example you could easily relate to: correcting misinformation. If you are ever corrected, it is not an attack on you, it is more of a defense against more incorrect silliness spreading. This isn't your fault, it's your books that are the problem. What does this have to do with a greater good? The correct information looks good, not only on you, but on paganism in general. If we really educate ourselves, there is no cause for jokes and snickers from the rest of society. Prove your worth and intelligence and they have nothing to laugh about.
So, let's recap:
A rede is a piece of advice or a guideline.
The Wiccan Rede means "If it doesn't hurt anyone, you may do it."
"Harm none" is not the Wiccan Rede.
The Wiccan Rede only applies to initiated Traditional Wiccans.
You may choose to follow it, but you don't have to.
Things that will/might cause harm is up to your judgement.
The greater good is the preferred decision among most adherents of the Rede.
Is this clear? Questions are welcome. :)
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