Samhain night is one of the 8 Sabbats of the Neopagan Wheel of the Year.

Samhain is an important holiday in Wicca, Druidry, and some other modern witchcraft traditions. So much has been written about this holy day that I am loathe to add anything to it. But there were a lot of questions I had: did Halloween customs really originate with Samhain? How? Did the Irish bring it over? What about this talk of it being a New Year? Is this an ancient truth or a modern construct in Wicca? And why the end of October/beginning of November? What makes this season particularly important?

Samhain means “Summer’s End,” as opposed to the holy day of Cetsamhain, or “Opposite,” that is, the opposite of Summer’s End (i.e. Summer’s Beginning). The latter we also know as Beltainne. (1). It is a Gaelic feis (festival). The name may come from a month in the Coligny Calendar which has the name of Samonios. Samonios takes place from mid-October – mid-November (possibly new moon to new moon). Samonios means “Seed Fall.” The name alludes to the time when, in Gaul (modern day France) and the other lands of the Celtic tribes saw nuts, acorns, and other seeds from trees and plants begin to fall as the trees lost leaves, preparing for Winter.

The Coligny Calendar 



The Coligny Calendar

The Coligny Calendar that was discovered in 1897 is a bronze tablet which dates to the 2nd century C.E. The calendar was created in ancient Gaul by the Sequani tribe. It is written in 2 languages: Gaulish and Latin. This helped immensely in deciphering it. It might have been created as a result of trade and travel between Gaul, Rome, and Magna Graecia. The calendar is in the style of what is known as a parapegma. A parapegma was a type of ancient almanac: a tablet which had descriptions of weather phenomena, seasons, and star constellations. Holes were made and pegs were formed which could fit into those holes. The pegs would be moved to indicate the days of the month. Using this instrument, the pegs could be inserted days in advance to accurately predict the weather and star movements.

In the Coligny Calendar, each month begins with a set moon phase. It is lunisolar like our modern Gregorian and Julian calendars, but the Coligny has an emphasis on lunations. It has 5 months of 29 days and 7 months of 30 days. (2) In 12 months this makes for a total of 355 days. Every 2 1/2 years, a 13th additional month was added. Together this creates 2 full years of 13 months (385 days), and 3 hollow years of 12 months each (355 days). This makes the average year 367 days. A ‘day” to the Celtic tribes was from sundown to sundown. Months were divided into 2 halves: 15 days leading up the full moon, and 14 – 15 days after. Room was given for lunar cycles throughout the month.


The Gaulish Celtic Months from the Coligny Calendar

As previously stated, Samonios is the time period between mid-October to mid-November. Now, some have conjectured that Samonios comes from “samon,” meaning “Summer,” and that the Coligny Calendar begins in April/May, Samonios located in that time period rather than November. However, little evidence has yet mounted to support this hypothesis. Another conjecture is that Samonios takes place around the Winter Solstice. The reasons are varied, but again there is little evidence to support this. Alexei Kondratiev, the late Celtic scholar and linguist, uses linguistic evidence in Celtic languages which points to Samonios being equated with the month of October/November.(3). Samonios through Giamonios (April/May) marked the dark half of the year, or Winter. Giamonios through Samonios marked the light half of the year, or Summer. (4). This demonstrates that the Celtic tribes had only two seasons.

As also previously stated, the months most likely began new moon to new moon. In the Coligny Calendar there is an interesting inscription that reads:

“Three Nights of Samonios [today]”

It is thought that perhaps these three nights of Samonios correspond to three nights of Samhain.

The Dead and the Barrow Mounds
Ireland tends to be the best bet for how Samhain was celebrated. After all, it is a Gaelic festival. According to evidence, this was a time to honor one’s ancestors as a collective. Evil spirits, which would roam, were to be warded off. Sacred mounds were places where the dead were buried, and Druids would often sleep on these mounds at certain times of the year to gain ancestral knowledge and wisdom. Inhumation was the top way that the Celts buried their dead. The bodies were contracted; that is, they were places in a fetal position. (5). Some conjecture that this was purposefully done to show the dead were being “birthed” in the Otherworld. They were buried with ornaments and food. Bodies occurred at various levels in the mounds, showing that the barrows were used repeatedly. In Ireland, the most famous barrows were located at the famous hills of Tlachtga and Tara. While Tara is a famous hill, Tlachtga was the religious heart of Ireland for almost 2,000 years. (6). The festivities located here had origins in a fertility cult, but eventually were incorporated into the later Fire Festival.

A Fire Festival, a bonfire was lit on possibly the hill of Tlachtga. Bonfires were also lit throughout the land, possibly kindled by the major one on Tlachtga. All fires were extinguished to be set alight by that bonfire alone. Cattle were driven between the two fires, most likely to rid them of pests. Hollow turnips were carved which were turned into lanterns; they illuminated the processions and possibly were believed to harness the power of light against the evil spirits which roamed about. On the political capital of Tara, 12 miles away, the people gathered to hear the Druids recite the ancient laws, enact new laws, and recite the histories of the land. (7). This helped the people stay in touch with the environment and their ancestors. Grievances, debts, and disputes were judged and settled. The king also mated with a white mare, the representative of the Goddess of Sovereignty. After ritual copulation, the horse was sacrificed and dismembered.

When families settled in each evening for the 3 days Samhain was celebrated, food and offerings were left out for them. The light from the turnip lanterns guided them, but many spirits were thought to be tricksters (the fairy folk), and so venturing out past nightfall was taboo.

The Catholic Church: Allhalowtide
Samhain is a 3 day festival, and so is the Catholic holy days of Allhallowtide. Allhallowtide includes All Saint’s Eve, All Saint’s Day, and All Soul’s Day. There is Christian history of respecting the dead and remembering them. A 4th century theologian by the name of Ephraim (later known as Ephraim the Syrian) wrote about honoring the dead and the importance of relics. He writes:

Wherefore, of those that live with God , even their very relics are not without honor. For even Elisha the prophet, after he was fallen asleep, raised up a dead man who was slain by the pirates of Syria. For his body touches the bones of Elisha, and he arose and revived. Now this would not have happened had not the body of Elisha were holy.

We could conjecture that the practice of holy relics came from pre-Christian practices of Hero cultus, and possibly it is so. However, needless to say that even if this were the case, it does not pollute Christianity with “pagan practices.” Christianity is but one religion which found its own practices verified through exegesis of the New Testament and Tanakh (Old Testament). The veneration of the dead is a near-universal practice. I believe simply that early Christians found a way to incorporate this practice into their own liturgy using their own sacred texts.

Allhallowtide was the vigil held before the actual honoring of the saints and the martyrs: All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day. These were also known as the “triduum of death.” In the mid-15th century, Pope Sixtus IV extended Allhallowtide to an 8-day celebration. This was rescinded in the 1950s following Vatican II Council.

Originally, Allhallowtide was celebrated in Ireland in mid-April. (8). It was the end of the Winter season approaching the beginning of Summer, so the placement makes sense. It wasn’t transferred to November until the 11th century, when it finally moved to the late October/early November date. Interestingly enough, when the old Irish calendar was replaced by the Gregorian calendar in 1752, 12 days were dropped. This caused date confusion, moving Samhain to November 12th. This is now referred to as “Old Samhain.”

New Year’s? 
Today many in the Neopagan and modern witchcraft communities celebrate Samhain on November 1st and as the hallowed Celtic New Year. Is this true? Scholars are divided here. As mentioned earlier, many things took place at Samhain on the hill of Tlachtga. It was a time of important transition. The Winter in Ireland was harsh, and families would settle in for the entire season. Tlachtga is also famous in that the sun rises into the mound on the morning of Samhain. Obviously it was a very important festival. There were practices which seemed to follow other New Year’s festivities in other countries on Samhain: games, feasting, drinking, divination for one’s future lover, as well as dousing the old fire and reigniting the new. But still, the evidence that it is a specific New Year holy day is scant. When the Irish Revival took place in the late 19th – early 20th century, the hypothesis of Sir John Rhys as the “Celtic New Year” became prominent. So much so that in a famous film “Meet Me in St. Louis,” one of the characters on Halloween night states, “Well another year come and gone.” This was entrenched in the popular mind, and it has been repeated by authors ever since. Regardless, it is now accepted as the Neopagan New Year. More specifically, the Wiccan and Druid New Year. Not all Neopagans celebrate Samhain after all.

We’ve taken a journey from the past to the present. A lengthy blog post to be sure, but one I found important for myself as well. When writing, I am always learning new things. This helps me, as a Wiccan (among other things) to understand the holy day better. It gives me a sense of history and purpose. It allows me to question and contemplate. I don’t like accepting things “because they are that way.” It’s just not me.

Samhain seems to have always been a festival held by the Celtic tribes, although our best evidence is from the annals and myths of Ireland. It was an important occasion, marking so much activity for the political and spiritual well-being of the tribes. Today we can stop and remember our link with the land, sea, and sky around us. We can learn to embrace the dead and, yes, learn to have a healthy sense of fear for the aos sidhe (fairy folk). I’ll write about my thoughts on the fairy folk in a later blog post. For now, suffice it to say not all spirits are wings and fairy dust. There are real spirits which need to be held at bay for a variety of reasons.

The Roman Church had its own theologians which wrote on the importance of honoring the dead. Sure, it might have stemmed from the earlier Hero Cults, but borrowing has always been a religious tradition. This doesn’t make the Church corrupt, so much as what it is: a religion. Does it make it hypocritical? Sure. Especially when writers with that religious background condemn all things “pagan.” But it’s important to take into account that nothing was stolen. It merely traveled and amalgamated.

This Samhain I plan on remembering my ancestors and helping to celebrate the collective dead with my coven. I always venerate mine, but Samhain affords me the opportunity to cherish and share these things with like-minded individuals. If one thing ancient Samhain customs have taught me while writing this, it is that community is important. We are all related, and at some point your ancestors converged with mine. We need to keep this in mind. It is a time of reflection: to know where we came from. May the blessing of Samhain this season bless you and your ancestors. Remember, what is remembered lives!


(1) Nichols, M. (2010). The Witches’ Sabbats. OR: Acorn Guild Press, LLC.

(2) McCluskey, S.M. (1998). Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press.

(3) Kondratiev, A. (2003).  Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual. NY: Kensington Publishing Corp.

(4) Hopman, E.E. (194). A Druid’s Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year. NY: Simon and Schuster.

(5) Scott of Rothbury, A., Reverend. (1894) The Celts and Druids and Their Stories From the Earliest Times, in Twelve Chapters. North Shields, Bedford Street: W.J. Potts, Printer and Publisher.

(6) Gilroy, J. (2000). Tlachtga: Celtic Fire Festival. Glanmire, Cork Co., Ireland: Pikefield Publications.

(7) Crump, W.D. (2008). Encyclopedia of New Year’s Holidays Worldwide. NC: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers.

(8) Hutton, R., Prof. (1996). Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. NY: Oxford Paperbacks.


Maintaining Memory

Ancestral Altar

                               Ancestral Altar

If my family got together and spoke to me once a year and walked away thinking I’m all better for it, they better think again. How do your ancestors feel? Samhain/Shadowfest/Feast of the Dead shouldn’t be the only time we commune with our beloved Dead. They have a right to commune with you, to be fed and honored.
Honor your past so that your present has meaning and your future is blessed.

It’s That Time of Year
This time of year is interesting in the NeoPagan world, because many of the people and groups influenced by Traditional Craft and are DIY Wiccans honor their ancestors on Samhain. By the by, DIY Wiccans is now my term of preference rather than “eclectic Pagans” and “NeoWiccans.” Feel free to use it. Anyway, Samhain is an important part of the NeoPagan Wheel of the Year. If you pick up any 101 book, it’s a night of sorrow and joy to feast with the departed. Many will even state that it’s a wonderful night to divine, and mediumship is popular. Black robes, lit candles, and processional chants with shrines hallowed for passed loved ones (including animals) are the highlight of the festivities. Some folks incorporate what’s known as a “Dumb Supper,” a silent meal shared by the community in honor of the beloved dead.

My quote above is not to go against the Wheel of the Year and be disrespectful towards this sacred day or the people who celebrate it. It is special and very important because it connects the community with the realization of Memory. But if the dead are so powerful and existent, why not continue to celebrate them beyond Samhain/Shadowfest/Feast of the Dead? They subsist as you and I do, but in a different reality than what many of us are used to. In this blog I won’t go into hauntings and my personal take on them. I don’t want to lose the focus here, which is that many modern communities, for the most part, have severed themselves from the living well of Memory. To many the dead aren’t as interactive and alive, or if they are they are not fed to maintain their egregore with the family unit.

The Wellspring of Memory
An abundant stream of consciousness that finds its source in the Underworld cauldron of wells and trees, the Wellspring of Memory is the most powerful contact that a people have with their lineage. It is something within our very DNA that births and links generations upon generations with their past, so that they might carry on the continued work of their ancestors. We honor the past by being alive, by overcoming the odds and becoming more than what we are on a daily basis. Each time we grow into self actualization, we are culminating into the peak of what our ancestors have fought and conquered so much for. Memory is a living fabric connected to the strings of Ananke, of Fate: a golden thread which connects all people. But in a family unit, a specific clan within a tribe within a nation, the clan is banded together with their own stories and songs which may be similar or different than the tribe and nation they belong to. And these stories and songs of the ancestors were passed down to succeeding generations at one time. People were proud of their heritage, and some still are. My own family is just discovering our lineage through mementos and photographs. We are informing one another, thanks to my mom who set the whole thing up, about our family histories. Knowing these informs me of my own spiritual practices. Why? Because I believe that blood and bone never die.

The Body of Memory
The immense information held deep within the blood and bones of who we are, the Body of Memory is the vessel that is evidence of the past succeeding into the present. It is the caricature of triumph held within our very flesh. Like I said above, if my family all spoke with me once a year and thought that was okay, they better think again. Many of us hate to be disconnected and feel alone. Loneliness is the requiem of companionship, and humans are nothing if not social creatures. We evolved that way. It’s how we’ve been able to thrive for hundreds of millennia. It’s not enough to know you meet someone and you have similar tastes in music, art, films, drinks, food, etc. It’s not enough to simply have a family or even friends around us, because loneliness is a disassociation of the soul: the soul has forgotten why the connection to the living exists in the first place. It has forgotten the message of Memory, the stream of consciousness connected to Ananke that underlies all of us. There is no clan, no Mythos, no tribe, no rites of passage to pass on the past to the present and give us hope for the future. We have forgotten that our bodies are a living testimony.

The Shrine of Memory
As the living are lonely, so are the dead. They aren’t frightening, just sad. Many folks have a shelf or several in their homes that has photos of the their departed loved ones. They frequently look at them and smile, saying, “Happy birthday dad” or “I miss you brother.” Today lots of folks also have Facebook pages up to memorialize the deceased. This is commendable, because it demonstrates that within our very being we are desiring to acknowledge that our bodies are the central whirlpools of energy within the stream of Memory: in other words, we are desperate to remember and keep something alive within us. The only way to be truly alive is to maintain the shrine of Memory. A shrine is a shelf or flat surface that acts as a house. This “house” has photographs and mementos of the beloved dead. Candles may be lit and offering bowls may be present. This shrine is the external manifestation of the internal stream. This is the central point that our inner energies are connected to. The building and maintaining of a shrine to the dead is not only ancient, but it is where we actually weave the strings of Memory and Ananke to tie us always to the spirits. We establish the foundation for an egregore. After that, it is up to us to continue to remember the dead not just by being alive, but by helping them to not be lonely. We need to acknowledge them all of the time. We need to feed them, care for them, and speak with them. They are desperate to speak and help us. Many, myself included, are learning or have learned to ask them for assistance rather than a Deity because the ancestors are closer to us. In my temple, we honor the dead before we call on the Gods, because it was our ancestors who taught us the stories of the people. They revealed the spirits and Gods. They contacted the Old Ones and shared these so that we might be able to have an identity and be a part of something greater than ourselves: to bring honor to them. Honoring ourselves is honoring them.

Exploring Modern Pagan Ethics Part II: The Wiccan Rede

Francois Rabelais (1494-1553). Picture courtesy of Wikipedia.

Francois Rabelais (1494-1553). Picture courtesy of Wikipedia.

In my last blog post I talked about the Threefold Law and its relevance in modern Paganism, and how I do believe it has its place in Wicca especially. I guess I should clarify: many Pagans claim the word “Pagan” and yet do not follow Wicca or Wicca-inspired paths (e.g. Neo-Wicca). So I guess I should have changed the above to “Modern Wiccan Ethics,” but there you go. If I did, my OCD would have started clawing at my screen because the first part – already published – is called “Modern Pagan Ethics.” Oh well…I don’t give a shit. It’s my blog, and we’ll just keep going, shall we? On this second part, I’d like to dissect the Wiccan Rede a bit further, and see if it has any relevance to practicing Occultists, particularly those who follow Wicca or a Wicca-inspired path. In addition, many new Pagans start off their education by coming to Wicca first. Everyone comes up to the Wiccan Rede sooner or later, just like the Threefold Law. As a practicing Occultist, I constantly question everything: is it relevant? Does it work? Why do we have this creed/practice/belief? What is this based on? Questioning is never frowned upon, or should never be in any case. It’s a healthy part of Occultism, and allows us to evolve systems. Before you read my take on the Wiccan Rede, there are a couple of other pieces I think are informative. The first was written by Donald Michael Kraig, author of Modern Magick and Modern Sex Magick, and you can find the link here. In response to his blog post, respected Gardnerian High Priestess Deborah Lipp (author of The Way of Four and other books) wrote her own thoughts on the matter here. I encourage you to read these posts before reading my own. On Don’s blog you’ll even see my own response, which is the first one. In fact it was reading those pieces that made me want to go back, study, and then blog my own thoughts on the matter, which led to this three-part series. So let’s start with the basics: just what is the Wiccan Rede?

The Wiccan Rede
Pick up any book on modern Wicca or Wicca-inspired practices, and undoubtedly in the “Witch Ethics” section you will find mentioned the Threefold Law and the Wiccan Rede. Typically, the definition is given that:

“Rede” means ‘Counsel.’ It counsels a witch to harm none but do what ye will.”

More or less statements follow along those same lines of thought. The admonishment is that when you cast spells and work magick, you can do whatever you want as long as you don’t harm anyone in the process. As an encouragement for apprentice witches to be sure they don’t, they are encouraged to study some healing modality. After all, we wouldn’t want to give people a reason to persecute us, now would we? I mean, we don’t want to practice “Black Magick” so-called, right? That’s evil. (If you cannot sense the snarkiness in my tone, please be assured I am being sarcastic). The Wiccan Rede perhaps became even more popular thanks to modern pop culture shows such as Charmed, where the Rede is quoted in the first episode (even though the Halliwell Sisters end up doing a lot of major harm throughout the series). The Rede itself is usually found in the form of an eight word rhyming couplet, which is:

“Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill,
An it harm none, do what ye will.”

Origin Story
Following the popularity of his first book on Witchcraft, in 1959 Gerald Gardner published The Meaning of Witchcraft, his final volume before his death in 1964. In this book Gardner went into a bit more detail on his personal experiences and practices within the Witch Cult of the New Forest. His purpose, probably since the publication of High Magic’s Aid, was to ensure the revival and, thus, survival of the Witch Cult that he was a part of. Of course, after Witchcraft Today, Gardner discovered that there were other groups in existence around England. Whether they were fragmented survivals from the Middle Ages or before, or else inventions spurred by the English Occult Revival of the early 20th century, is moot at this point, and I’ll post my thoughts on the matter in another blog post. Our purpose here is to find the origins and relevance of the Wiccan Rede. In his book, Gerald makes the following statements:

“John Calvin’s [ortho]doxy (a most ill-favoured hag) was embodied in his favorite dictum, ‘All pleasure is sin.’ … Witches cannot sympathise with this mentality. They are inclined to the morality of the legendary Good King Pausol, ‘Do what you like so long as you harm no one.’ But [Witches] believe a certain law to be important, ‘You must not use magic for anything which will cause harm to anyone, and if, to prevent a greater wrong being done, you must discommode someone, you must do it only in a way which will abate the harm.’ This involves every magical action being discussed first, to see that it can do no damage, and this induces a habit of mind to consider well the results of one’s actions, especially upon others.”   –The Meaning of Witchcraft, p. 127

Here is the first recorded instance, as far as my own research will allow, that demonstrates Gardner contrasting the dogma of Protestant Christianity and that of Witchcraft as he knows it. He quotes “Good King Pausol,” and then goes on to elaborate what he feels it means when it comes to the “harm no one” dictum. Who is this Good King Pausol?

The French Connection
France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a haven of Bohemian art, lifestyles and literature. This fragile time period is known today as La Belle Epoque (“The Beautiful Era”). The country had literally become tired of wars and internal struggles between rising and falling governments that swung between monarchies and republics. Thousands of lives were lost in a maelstrom of poverty, useless border wars, and revolutionary struggles that seemed to end in failure. France was attempting to find its place in the world, which was a growing economy of Western powers setting foot and claiming foreign territories as their own. Western European colonies were the political trends of the time, along with the burgeoning growth of industrial power. Yet the French people fought to make great strides by mostly electing left-wing, pacifist candidates for government positions during the Republic eras. Paris became a cultural center with the famous works of the late Vincent Van Gogh, new Expressionist styles of art, along with Art Nouveu and Impressionism. Although this was still a significant dark period for many underclass workers and rampant struggles between Church and State, nonetheless France’s literary, medical and artistic circles flourished. One of the prominent literary and progressive voices at the time was a gentleman by the name of Pierre Felix Louis (1870 – 1925). Although heterosexual, he was routinely welcome into homosexual circles due to his progressive stances, being friends with Oscar Wilde. He wrote on lesbian erotica and Pagan themes since the age of 18. Intrigued by Classical Greek thought on homosexual and lesbian love, he changed his last name to Louys, substituting the “i” for “y.” This means little to some people, but in French the letter “y” is known as the “Greek i.” In 1901 he wrote a novel called Les Adventures du Roi Pausole, souverain paillard et debonnaire (The Adventures of King Pausole, the bawdy and good-natured sovereign).

The novel takes place in the fictional utopian kingdom of Trypheme, where Good King Pausole rules a land with free love. He has a large harem, and has sex with  a different concubine everyday of the year. On page 4, the Code of Trypheme is given as :

“I. – Ne nuis pas a ton voisin.
II. – Ceci bien compris, fais ce qu’il te plait.”

(My translation):

“I. – Do not harm your neighbor.
II. – This well understood, do what pleases you.”

The author continues to elaborate on this code which runs the entire kingdom:

“Il est superflu de rappeler au lecteur que le deuxieme de ces articles n’est admis par les lois d’aucun pays civilise.
Precisement c’etait celui auquel ce peuple tenait le plus. Je ne me dissimule pas qu’il choque le caractere de mes concitoyens.
Pausole se reservait le plaisir quotidien de sauver par ses arrets quelques libertes individuelles.”

(My translation):

“It is unnecessary to remind the reader that the second of these articles is allowed by the laws of any civilized country.
It was precisely that which the people wanted the most. I do not conceal from myself that this shocks the character of my fellow citizens.
[King] Pausole retains the daily pleasure of saving judgement due to some liberties.”

Essentially, what we have is a novel that is written exploring the concepts of free love and law by Conscience, rather than Rule by Law (or Church Law for that matter!). Keep in mind that many European countries were having struggles between the power of the Roman Church and that of the state. Many utopian novels at the time explored these utopian themes, and French literature wrote it on quite a bit. It’s easy to see that one of the major influences on Louys’ book was Francois Rabelais (1494 – 1553). Rabelais was a French Renaissance humanist, Greek scholar and a monk who poked fun at religion. In The Complete Works of Francois Rabelais it’s said that “[Rabelais] has so many French and Anglophone admirers that space only allows for a minute sampling; in France Jules Renard, Anatole France, Pierre Louys…” Rabelais also had an admirer in the person of Aleister Crowley, who most likely adopted the “Do What Thou Wilt” dictum from Rabelais.

A Case of Synchronicity
Gardner knew many Occultists in his time, being a member of several groups, which is not unusual. Hell, I love joining and celebrating with many groups so I can study the systems, history and lore and in order to further network with other Occultists as well. Wisdom comes from many wells, after all. Sometimes separate sources can give a person inspiration to further their own Work, and in the case of Gardner I think he found it with Crowley as well as the works of Pierre Louys, both of whom were greatly influenced by Rabelais. By the time Wicca came to the public, in Occult circles Crowley’s “Thelema” and its maxim of “Do what thou wilt” was well-known. Whether Gardner knew that Rabelais was the prime influence upon both of these people we will probably never know (unless we conjure his spirit and ask his opinion), but it’s clear that the dictum of “Do what thou wilt and harm none” was enough for him to adopt it into his version of the Craft. At first, it was probably oral lore, since as far as I have been able to ascertain it is not written down in the actual Book of Shadows. Yet, Doreen Valiente was familiar with it enough to quote in a speech. In November 1964 a private newsletter titled Pentagram had a copy of Doreen Valiente’s lecture before 50 Witches and Occultists, and part of it was:

“I think we have earned the right to proclaim the old teaching of tolerance and freedom, and mutual respect, which is contained in the saying called the Wiccan Rede. ‘Wiccan’ is the Anglo-Saxon plural of ‘wicce’; and ‘Rede’ means counsel or teaching:  Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill: and it harm none, do what ye will. This is a simple, positive moral code; and it could make the world a much happier place.” – Doreen Valiente, November 1964.

A Positive, Moral Code
If you notice, there is a difference in how Gardner quotes it in his Meaning of Witchcraft as opposed to how Doreen says it. It’s no secret that Doreen was an accomplished poet, and rewrote the original Book of Shadows to include lots of poetry that flowed more beautifully in rhyme. Personally, I believe it was Doreen who came up with the eight word couplet, putting into verse something that might have, as I already stated, been oral lore in Gardner’s reworking of the Craft. Wanting to make Witchcraft public and with as little controversy as possible, I think the “harm none” saying was a way for Gardner to help new Witches be guided in their moral compass when working magick. But wanting a break from the old rulebook of Ten Commandments, Occultism instead admonishes those walking the Arcane Arts to follow their own conscious (call it what you will: Higher Self, Agathos Daimon, Holy Guardian Angel, Inner Light, etc.). Instead, it was something which covens could use when working together. Since the increase in solitary practitioners away from a coven setting, I think that the Wiccan Rede has received a bad reputation of ridicule. Many solitaries, not experiencing the workings of coven magick, work independently and take the interpretation of the Rede way too far. They treat it as an inviolable command by the Great Goddess. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

Many Witches, myself included, are in the medical field. We are trained in knowledge which has the potential to kill a human. Yet that knowledge is necessary so that we know how to help facilitate healing the body as well. Psychologists are trained in the inner workings of the mind and have the potential to really induce mental and emotional breakdowns if they wanted to. Yet these trappings are again necessary. Many of the old herbals admonish the use of toxic herbs in the use of healing, such as digitalis for cardiac problems, henbane for anesthesia, and belladonna for certain respiratory disorders.* I get irritated when I have to inject needles, wrap a cast, or cause some sort of discomfort and ignorant Pagans are yelling at me that I am “harming!” I also became irritated when I used to go shopping at the store for meat and some Pagans with a politically-vegan bent berated me that I was breaking the “Harm None” rule to animals. Everyone who yells about this has totally missed the point about the maxim in the first place.

Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill…
The Wiccan Rede, according to Gardner, was placed so that a coven working magick could agree on the outcome. In coven settings, a group mind is necessary. Everyone has to be “in one accord,” in a unified agreement as to the purpose of the Working. Part of an apprentice Witch’s training in a coven setting is to become used to the symbols and associations unique to that coven so that when certain tools and symbols are pulled forward, everyone knows EXACTLY what they are doing. Discussion and preparation are accomplished beforehand so there is a mutual harmony. Everyone’s focus is imperative to the success of the Work at hand. So the Rede, in and of itself, is a compliment to the Threefold Law. Both are encouragements for Witches to rely on their own critical thinking skills, and not on the laws of some sacred book deemed hallowed by the Saints of Witchdom. A Witch must use their own powers of Deductive Analysis and Reason, and then be prepared to bear responsibility when it comes to the consequences of their actions. As I stated in my last blog post, consequences can be positive or negative. “Harm none,” however, is NOT a commandment. It is simply a neat rhyming couplet to help us with our decision-making. The root of this dictum comes from the utopian dreams of French novelists, where people are admonished to follow their conscience and characters have a living of free love away from the leering eyes of judgmental people. Humans, in the eyes of the Craft, already have notions of right and wrong within us. This was a total break from the Roman Church and its Protestant offshoots, which insist that man is born sinful and is prone to bad behavior from the onset; humanity, via the laws of the Church, must be guided to do what is right. This kind of mindset then creates a struggle between fundamentalist Christians and others when laws are being proposed which outlaw victimless crimes (like smoking marijuana), or keep certain ways of living illegal which are ludicrous to outlaw in the first place (such as homosexuality, same-sex marriage, adultery and bigamy to prevent polyamory, etc.).

Most covens won’t take anyone under the age of 18, and it is hoped that by then you have some semblance of right action. If not, then you need some serious help (and I don’t mean that sarcastically; many people grow up in very abusive environments and it takes us many years – decades even –  to adopt positive behaviors and better notions of right and wrong). In the Craft, your personal experiences mean something, and you are treated like a capable adult who is old enough to make their own decisions. No one needs to hold your hand. No one needs to sit over your shoulder like a reprimanding angel. In the coven setting, there does need to be agreement for mutual harmony, but in the solitary life we are all admonished to follow what we already know. If people can sit and understand how freeing the Rede is, and how much empowerment the Craft can give us, then I think it truly would be a better world indeed.

Eirene kai Hugieia!
(Peace and Health!)

*WARNING: Do NOT ingest these toxic herbs, as they are potentially lethal and very unsafe for human consumption!


Gardner, G. (1959). The Meaning of Witchcraft.

Julian, P. (1982). La Belle Epoque.

Louys, P. (1901). Les Adventures du Roi Pausole, souverain paillard et debonnaire.

Rabelais, F., transl. by Donald Frame. (1991). The Complete Works of Francois Rabelais.