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'An It harm None...?

Just what do the words “‘An it harm none, do what thou wilt” mean? The Christians have their Ten Commandments, which they use to determine right from wrong, we have our Rede. The Christians seem to be happy with their ten rules for living a good life, and that’s fine, but they were written for a time different from our own.

That’s not to say the Ten Commandments are no longer of use, simply that what was important to a culture thousands of years ago, may not be as important to today’s culture. Most of the Commandments still make sense. They are things such as honor your parents, don’t murder, don’t steal, but I’ve always wondered how not taking the Christian God’s name in vain and not making images of God, or Heaven, or Hell, makes anyone’s life better.

I mean, if you take the Catholic churches own view, they are breaking the second Commandment by using the Crucifix. After all, they state very clearly that Christ was God among men. He was the son of God, an actual piece of God made mortal. By their own teachings, He is in Heaven, so doesn’t the crucifix count as a graven image? I don’t use this to knock the Christian Church, I’m only pointing out that they don’t seem to follow the rules they say their God laid down.

Also, with only ten rules to follow, that leaves an awful lot of things that aren’t accounted for. The Seventh Commandment is against adultery. By my understanding, that means that once you are wed to another, you never stray from that person emotionally or sexually. That makes perfect sense, but what if you are not married? When did sex outside of marriage become a sin?

If it’s not explicitly listed in the Commandments, doesn’t that mean it’s ok? After all, the Christians claim that their God is omniscient, and omnipresent. Wouldn’t that also mean that He would have known and listed sex outside of marriage as a Commandment if He didn’t want it? There are a myriad of things that the Christian Church frowns upon, but are not listed or even hinted at in the Ten Commandments. It’s always been my impression that as long as you do not break any of those Commandments, your soul is free of sin, and you will be allowed into Heaven.

So the Christians have ten rules that they are supposed to follow. We have our Rede. The actual Rede is an entire document, but the last part says, “These eight words, the Rede fulfill: ‘an it harm none, do what thou will”. So the entire document is literally summed up and condensed into those eight words. The full Rede is a lovely poem that speaks of casting Circle, and where, when and how to perform ritual, but it doesn’t actually give any rules.

The Rede talks about the nine Sacred woods of the Druids, and the Four Winds, and what to expect when they blow. It speaks of the Wheel of the Year, and the Sabbats, as well as the seasons in which they fall. Not until the very end, does the Rede say anything about rules, and those are few and easy to remember. The Rede says not to be greedy, not to get close to those who are foolish, and to keep in mind the Three-fold Law.

The last sentence is what everyone knows and remembers, ‘an it harm none, do what you will. Most people when they first hear this, believe it is license to do anything you wish. After all, it does say do what you will. It’s the first four words that make all the difference. If, and only if it harms none, you can do whatever you like.

Think about this. The Christians have their Ten Commandments that tell them exactly what they cannot do. We on the other hand have this vague and open rule, but it requires us each to take responsibility for our own choices. Our laws are not laid out for us to blindly follow, we must think before we act, so that we may always act wisely. We cannot say “The Devil made me do it!” Firstly because we don’t believe in Christian archetypes of ultimate good or evil, but also because if we always think about who might be harmed first, there is much less chance of doing the wrong thing.

Think about this; if everyone thought about the harm any action they took might bring, what kind of world would we live in? Now, I’m not saying that anyone should be paralyzed out of doing anything. There are those who refuse to do anything because somewhere, somehow, some harm might come from their actions. That’s not what the Rede is all about. If you live, you are going to cause harm. You must eat to survive, so something, be it animal or plant, must die in order for you to live.

I know too many Pagans who have become not just Vegetarian, but Vegan, because they don’t want to cause harm. Personally, I think they are fools. Living in harmony with Nature does not mean starving yourself, it means taking only what you need, and being grateful for the gifts Nature gives. I’ve actually heard people say they won’t eat honey, because the bees are enslaved creatures. You won’t find a single Native culture on the planet that was ever vegetarian. It’s the proteins in meat that caused our brains to grow to the size they are, and allowed for us to become sentient beings.

So if it’s not meant for the Rede to be taken literally, what is meant? An it harm none…well as far as our responsibility over the beasts of the field are concerned, any grazing animal that becomes too plentiful, is doomed to starve when the food runs out. Culling, either by natural predators, or by man is a good thing. It’s when people kill for sport, or take more than they can use, that it’s harmful. Eat that steak, and enjoy it guilt free, we’re not the Catholics. If I see a mosquito, it’s dead. I’m not going to worry over a blood-sucking pest, and I could never kill enough by myself to threaten the food supply for birds, bats, and any other animal that relies on insects for food.


So let’s stop with all the ‘I won’t harm one of Nature’s creatures’ crap, and be realistic. Meat is good, and good for you, just don’t hunt animals unless you plan to eat them. If you are husbanding animals of any kind, you are ensuring the survival of that species and making sure that you will always have a source of food, or other valuable byproducts. The animals only care that they get food on a regular basis, and that they reproduce. People have the responsibility to be sure that they do so, but not into over population. Animals are killed all the time in nature, and we are a part of Nature. There is nothing unnatural about it.

Now we come to harming none as it pertains to other people. Every action you take, or don’t take, is going to have repercussions. It radiates out from you like ripples in a pond. You are a part of nature, not separate from it. Every action has a consequence. The only question is, are you willing to take responsibility for that consequence? You are going to harm others, and you are going to be harmed by others. There’s no avoiding it, you have free will, as does everyone else. You must accept that there will be times when harm is unavoidable. If fact, harm is unavoidable no matter what you do.

If harm is unavoidable, how do you harm none? You don’t. Instead, you cause as little harm as you can, and take responsibility for what harm you do cause. Walking barefoot in the grass is a wonderful thing, but did you ever stop to think that with each step, you are causing harm to the grass? Your weight on the grass bends and breaks the plant fibers with each step. Some would tell you that you shouldn’t be walking on the grass. Personally, I’m more for taking responsibility, and watering, and feeding the grass so that there is no permanent harm.

The same goes for people. If you do something that harms another, take responsibility for the action. I say take responsibility for the action, because they are the one who decided it was harmful, not you. This assumes of course that the action was taken without intent to harm. For example, let’s say that you’re a male, and you find that two women find you attractive. You get to know each of them individually, and you like them both, but one of them just has more chemistry with you, so you choose to date and become intimate with her.

The other woman is hurt because she really does like you. You didn’t intend to hurt her, you dated her, or spent time with her to get to know her, it’s just that someone else is a better fit for you. Hopefully there’s a way to turn this into a friendship. Feelings and emotions are very fragile things, and that is where you are most likely to do harm. Let’s face it, few of us are really likely to find ourselves in a situation where we are going to cause physical harm.

I believe that people are basically good. Some just don’t feel that they have the chance to show it, others suffer from some imbalance that causes them to become violent. I’m not going to get into the ethics of abuse here, except to say that if you are in an abusive relationship, get out. There are always those around you who will help, even if you don’t see them. Learn the lesson, get out of the relationship before it costs you your life.

But what if you happen to know someone who is in such a relationship? Will you do more harm by helping them, or by doing nothing? Each case is unique, and only by contemplating and talking with the person involved, can you decide. In either case, take responsibility for what you choose to do. This might not be without risk. If you choose to help someone in an abusive relationship, the abuser may come after you. Harming none also includes you. Do not put yourself at risk of harm unless it can’t be helped, and is for some greater good.

You’d better believe that if I find myself in a situation where I might be harmed, I’m going to do something about it, and I’m not likely to take the time to think through the Rede first. If someone intends to do me harm, I will seek to harm them first, and best. If I think my life is at stake, I’m going to be very willing to kill in order to stay alive. If it ever happens, I’m also going to take responsibility for my actions when the police arrive.

Harm none? Sure, whenever possible. If harm can’t be avoided, I will take responsibility for whatever I do. Throughout your life you are going to be faced with choices. The idea is to make the best choices possible, but sometimes you take the easy way out, or you simply don’t know which is the best choice. What do you do? If you took the easy way, and it resulted in harm, you take responsibility, and try to set things right. That usually means more than a simple apology.

What if you really just don’t know what the right thing to do is? Well, sometimes taking time to choose will help. Usually when you are faced with a situation you’ve never encountered before, you’ll have time to think things through. Time can show you what the right choice is, but not always. It may come down to choosing what you believe is ultimately best for you. Always, ALWAYS take care of yourself first. Give yourself to others only when you have enough left over to give after taking care of yourself.

Don’t sacrifice yourself for others because you think everyone expects it of you. Do right by yourself first, then do right by others. If you find later that the choice you made was the wrong one, do what you can to correct it. Sometimes you won’t be able to. Perhaps that was the lesson you were supposed to learn. There are times in everyone’s life where there just is no right answer, only the lesser of two evils. Search your heart, and trust your feelings, to know what is right for you.


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