There have been so many arguments over this little phrase…‘An it harm none – do as thou wilt!’ In fact it is still a topic of discussion in many Wiccan and even pagan circles. Here I’m going to attempt to bring clarity as to what it means from my own viewpoint of course (so you can take it or leave it as you will LOL).
Like the phrase ‘perfect love and perfect trust’, these words ‘An it harm none…do as thou wilt’ appear at the very end of The Wiccan Rede, which is counsel as to how a witch is supposed to behave. So obviously it is something focusing on Wicca rather than any other tradition or path in paganism. Actually, not even all Wiccan espouse the Wiccan Rede, some Traditional Wiccans hold more to the Charge of the Goddess. Nevertheless, these eight little words have caused much debate amongst the pagan community.
Some liken these words to the Golden Rule, treat others as one would like others to treat oneself, which dates from the 1670’s but is a concept that is far older with similar statements appearing in texts from ancient Babylon, Egypt, Greece as well as India. So the concept is not a new one! Some have even likened it to an amalgamation of the Ten commandments all rolled into eight words. However, I think the real meaning of these eight words is far deeper and requires some thinking about. That’s what I like about paganism as a whole – the fact that nothing is actually laid out and explicit but requires some thought and personal responsibility.
First we need to decide what the words mean – An it harm none, do as thou wilt – many people have said that the first word ‘An’ means And but it doesn’t…it is actually an archaic word meaning ‘if’. So if we try to translate into modern English the words are…If it harm none, do as you will (or some people translate this as ‘want’).
If it harm none! What does it mean by ‘harm’? Is this alluding to physical violence or what? In what ways is it possible to harm another? Well obviously the answer to that is in all kinds of ways, not just physically but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. so it’s rather a veritable mine field isn’t it. How can we ‘do what we want’ without harming others in any kind of way? The thing is that whatever we say, do or think has a ripple effect…many people are, in some way, effected for good or bad. we have no idea who we touch with our words or actions. This is a simple example…you’re walking down the road and there is someone coming in the opposite direction…you smile at them, you might even say ‘good morning’ to them. Now you have no idea how they are feeling but your smile and friendly words just might have an impact on them…so they go and say hi to someone else, or they might smile at another person and so on. It’s like a ripple effect. Of course that’s a really simplistic example but you get my point yes? However, the same thing goes for something negative too. Our words and actions, and yes even our thoughts are energy and energy travels and never stays still. Obviously, anyone with any compassion for fellow human beings doesn’t want to harm anyone do they? So the onus is on each one of us to take responsibility for our thoughts, speech and actions. Obviously we cannot know who, down the line, might be affected and in what ways but in the immediate circle of our reality we can think about how our words or actions might impact on someone.
Of course there’s another perspective to this ‘harm none’ phrase. What about ourselves? Should the harm none admonition include not harming ourselves? Well, I believe it does…the words say ‘harm none’ so by definition that obviously includes ourselves doesn’t it. Sometimes this is easier said than done because we actually harm ourselves in all kinds of ways don’t we, from the obvious things like smoking, to the not so obvious like our diets or even our life styles. And what about the inner critic that beats us harshly with a metaphorical stick if we make a mistake? Isn’t that harming ourselves too?
So in my opinion, these words are something we strive to do, not perfectly, but at least strive to do at the very least. These words put the onus on us to take responsibility for ourselves, our thoughts, deeds and words, not only directed at others but at ourselves too. But bear in mind we are going to slip up from time to time, as is human nature to do.
The final words of the phrase…’do as thou wilt’ (or in modern parlance ‘do as you will’) really allows us freedom to do whatever feels right to us but ONLY if we keep to the first part. It’s not a licence to just go out and do what the heck we want regardless of the impact on others or ourselves. The whole phrase is meant to make us think and weigh up consequences before we act. It’s meant to encourage us to be AWARE!