The Wiccan religion is based on these eight words. They define the entire Wiccan experience. They run through the history of modern Wicca as the individualism of its practitioners. They form one of the basic beliefs of the Wiccan. They are the injunction inherent in all Wiccan rituals. They also offer the key to understanding how the Wiccans view the nature of Good and of Evil, a nature that must be divined from study of the religion, for the Wiccans themselves do not discuss them much.
The origins of Wicca are lost in the mists of time. Some believe that certain underground rituals and beliefs survived from the ancient cultures that were taken over by Christianity. These traditions would have been passed down orally, perhaps through white witches and midwives, surviving the Burning Times, as Wiccans call the witch hunts that ran from about 1300 to 1600 C.E., to emerge in pale and tattered form today. This may or may not be fully true. It seems, however, that at least a few "witches" survived the Burning Times, for in 1940, Gerald Gardener and Alistair Crowley, both rather eccentric Englishmen, began to reconstruct from archaeological evidence many rituals that both already knew, Crowley apparently through his family. To make a long story short, Wicca began to gain popularity, due also, perhaps, to the spiritual and social change of the 1960s.
Today, there are many branches of Wicca: the Gardenarians, begun by Gardener himself, who are very ritualistic, the Dianic, a very feminist path, the Faerie, and many, many solitaires. Most solitaires would be described as "eclectic;" they have studied archaeology, Wicca, and their own souls, and have arrived at their own unique interpretations.
Although paths vary, most Wiccans subscribe to several basic tenets. Wicca is based on ancient polytheistic beliefs. Most of the followers of these beliefs were very aware of the land that was their life, and their beliefs reflected that. Like the ancient people, most Wiccans of today see the universe as an interwoven tapestry, in which all creation is imbued with a divine essence, created by the Goddess and the God, the feminine and masculine aspects of the divine. The Charge of the Goddess asserts "'...I call upon your soul, and come unto me. For I am the soul of nature that gives life to the Universe. From Me all things proceed and unto Me they must return.'" This cycle continues from one life into the next, and everything one does comes back to them through the cycle; either in this life or the next. The Wiccan always seeks to connect to the cycle or rhythms of life and the universe, and to live in harmony with it. The Wiccan rede states: "An it harm none, do as ye will." This may be taken as the premier rule of the Wiccan, and one of the few unchanging aspects to which Wiccans adhere. They believe in free will, deliberately exercised. A general belief is that the energy, the essence of all the universe may be manipulated by will-- and this is at the heart of the Wiccan magick (which is generally spelled by them with a final "k" to differentiate it from the slight-of-hand practiced by popular magicians). Magick is a great exercise of free will, and a celebration as well.
Wiccans employ two major types of ritual: celebration and action. The Wiccan celebrates the cycles of nature throughout the year. The principal celebration days, the Sabbats, are the days of the sun: equinoxes, solstices, and the days midway between each. These are the Wheel of the Year. The lesser celebrations are Esbats, which follow the moon. Both the Sabbats and the Esbats celebrate the dependance on the land, and are placed at what are felt to be times in which the energy flow of the universe is strongest or in change in one aspect or another. This energy is the key to the other type of ritual.
The second type of ritual is one of action. Wiccans seek to manipulate or utilize the energies around them to keep themselves in harmony with nature, to change their lives for the better, to do something beneficial for the world and/or themselves. This is magick. "Ritual magick is merely the taking of energy from another plane of existence and weaving that energy , by specific thoughts, words, and practices, into a desired physical form in this plane of existence" (Conway, Celtic Magic, 6). Rituals may be used to heal the self or others, protect oneself, bring luck, commune with the Gods, and learn the Goddess' will in one's life. Of course, such rituals may have effects on others, and so responsible Wiccans always define the parameters of their spells carefully, specifying a wish not to harm others.
What makes these rituals potent is the idea that one's thoughts, intentions, words and actions influence the energy around one, shaping it to one's desires. Following naturally from this, thought often becomes reality.
From these universal aspects of the Wiccan religion, one begins to see the pattern of Good and Evil in their system. Wiccans rarely philosophize, preferring action to idle talk and fearing that too much dwelling on the nature of Evil will only invite it into their lives, the Wiccans do not write much on the subject. Another reason is that the beliefs of individual Wiccans differ so very greatly that any attempt at a definition of Good or Evil would only alienate many of their members and restrict their freedom. However, it is possible to extrapolate from the examination of ritual, belief, and history just exactly what a majority of Wiccans would see as Evil and Good in the most general senses of the words.
The first, and most important, clue to the Wiccan understanding of the nature of Good and Evil lies, appropriately enough, in the Wiccan rede. "An ye harm none, do what ye will." This double injunction, to utilize free will and also not to harm others, gives two important points. The implication is that it is wrong to harm others. A simple enough statement, and one that is in harmony with many religions. However, the rede goes beyond that. "An it harm none...." If nothing, not person, nor tree, nor rock, nor cloud, nor good red herring is hurt, "do what ye will." The second part is a positive injunction. The word will is the most important there. In this case, it means do what you "deliberately choose"(Amethyst, the Wiccan Rede). One should exercise one's free will. The two together are even more potent. While one is using one's own will, one should not deprive others of theirs-- thereby harming them. The Wiccan belief in the harmony and interconnectedness of all things gives insight into why this would be so important. It would be detrimental to everyone to harm anyone, for the imbalance of energy would be reflected on oneself. Also, as the Charge of the Goddess states, the Goddess gave Her children free will, and to deny that free will would be to become separate from the Goddess. Because all comes from the Goddess and God, so the separation from them that would result from denying their gift of free will is an awful thing to contemplate. It means a lack of harmony with nature, it means being out of rhythm with creation.
We see here both specific cases of Good and Evil and general causes behind them. If it is Good to obey the Wiccan rede and harm no one, and celebrate one's free will, then Evil, going past the neutrality of not recognizing the choice, is seeking to harm others, and oppressing others and/or one's self. Wiccans must constantly be seeking the truth within themselves and the will of the Goddess for their lives, so that they do not fall into these traps. The will of the Goddess is the harmony of nature, and therein lies a second piece of Evil. It is Evil to deny free will because it is Evil to be separated from the Goddess. From it, harm proceeds, and in harm it grows.
It is the Threefold Law in action: "Mind the Threefold Law you should/ Three times bad and three times good." What one does, for good or ill, comes back to one threefold. The Threefold Law supports the already divined aspects of Good and Evil. If one should do harm to a neighbor, the balance of nature would require that they suffer that harm themselves, and three times as much. So, by harming another, one harms oneself. To the individualistic Wiccan, this is anathema. The Charge of the Goddess also states that one should be happy. Harming oneself negates that charge. On a purely social level, the harm that Wiccans do might come back not only on themselves, but pass on to those around them. This just leads directly back into the Threefold Law.
There is one last piece, though. Most Wiccans, when asked, will very clearly state that they believe in no supreme Evil. This is for several reasons: Evil is a separation from the Goddess and God. Since they created everything, they could not create something that was not of them, therefore, supreme Evil could not exist. Also, the Wiccan believes that giving belief to an idea gives that idea reality, and there is no desire among the Wiccans to give reality to the idea of a Supreme Evil. So they concentrate on positive aspects, on actions, on celebration. Such positive things will bring them closer to the Goddess, more in tune with the earth, and the goodness, being believed in, acted out, and thought on, will become reality.
On a purely practical note, the fact that Wiccans are so individualistic, and do believe so much in free will means that, "for every twelve witches, you get thirteen opinions on any subject." (SunBear and Salmon, What is Wicca) How could anyone agree on specifically evil things? So why try? There are so many other things to be done in the world.
Wicca is as much a spiritual path as a religion, vague and individualistic, its main tenets being the interconnectedness of all creation and the right of people to choose their own path. As such, it tends to avoid discussions concerning the nature of Good and Evil, preferring instead to go out and do things. However, a simple, if vague, pattern may be discerned in what they do. Evil may be defined as a separation from harmony and divinity, as deliberately harming anything, and as denying free choice. Good is anything, especially action, including word, thought, and deed, that affirms creation and free choice, that uplifts, that celebrates and enhances connection with divinity. The Wiccans prefer to deal with Good, and not think about Evil, because thinking about Evil only gives it power. In the end, as with so many things in Wicca, it all comes down to eight small words : "An ye harm none, do what ye will." So mote it be.
Alder, Margot: Drawing Down the Moon. Boston: Beacon Press, 1981.
Amethyst: The Wiccan Rede. http:// www.public.iastate.edu/%7Eshwalker/rede.html
Conway, D.J.: Celtic Magic. St. Paul, Lewellyn Publications, 1990.
-- : Maiden, Mother, Crone. St. Paul, Lewellyn Publications, 1994.
-- : Moon Magick. St. Paul, Lewellyn Publications, 1995.
Raven: What You Wanted to Know About Witches (But Were Afraid To Ask). http:// www.public.iastate.edu/%7Eshwalker/wicca/wicca_flyer
Ruby, Chris: Introduction to Wicca. http://ruby.he.net/~chris/wicca.html
-- : Thoughts on Magickal Energy. http://ruby.he.net/~chris/Energy.html
Starhawk: The Spiral Dance. San Francisco, Harper & Row: 1988.
SunBear and Salmon: What is Wicca. http://www.public.iastate.edu/%7Eshwalker/wicca/wicca.what_is