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Good Witch vs. Bad Witch: Does the Rede Apply to the Unborn?

"Dear Good Witch/Bad Witch:

If Wiccans are to follow the law of 'harm none' then would abortion not be accepted because it ends the life of the unborn? Does that fall under harm none?"

Sara in South Bend

Good Witch says:

Hello, Sara.

For a Wiccan, the issues around abortion are as thorny and painful as they are for everyone else. No woman, Wiccan or non-Wiccan, gets up in the morning and says, “Yay! I’m going to have an abortion today! I’ve always wanted one!” It’s more like, “I’ve chosen the least-terrible of all the terrible options for my particular situation. I’m going to get an abortion (while they’re still legal).”

The difference for Wiccans is we don’t have a book or a religious leader to tell us what we can or can’t do about our pregnancies. We have the power and the terrible responsibility of deciding for ourselves. The “law” you’re referring to is the Wiccan Rede — “An it harm none, do what you will”— and it’s important to understand that the Rede isn’t a law. There’s no governing body enforcing it, and wasn’t given to us by a god or gods. It’s not universally accepted by the Wiccan community, so there’s not much in the way of community enforcement, either.

The Rede is also not an admonition to never do harm. It’s just not possible for a living thing to walk on this earth without causing some kind of harm. Wiccans who follow the Rede sometimes get very hung up on what harm is and isn’t and completely overlook the coolest, scariest, and most empowering part of the Rede: the part where it tells you to do your will.

In other words, it’s saying you have agency, and you should be using it to manifest change. Working your will — your true will, not your “I want a margarita” will — means working to achieve your purpose in the world while taking responsibility for your own actions and making your own choices. So in Wicca, ultimately, the decision about what constitutes harm in a particular situation is yours. But the catch is you have to own the consequences of those decisions, so you’d better think them through carefully. There’s nobody else to take the blame or the bad karma or to point to and say, “So-and-so told me to do it.” To over-quote Spider-Man, 'with great power comes great responsibility.'

To many people who discovered Wicca back in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, Wicca and the Rede were pathways to empowerment and freedom from religious dogma and rigid societal expectations. This was especially true for women, who were “coming out of the kitchen” and into their own. Wicca not only stated that the divine could be feminine; it said the female body was sacred. It may be hard now to imagine just what a powerful thing this was. And many women felt — and still feel — that the power the Rede implies supports them in fighting for autonomy over their own bodies and the right to make their own decisions.

So is having an abortion against the Rede, since it harms a potential life? Or is the harm greater if a woman is forced to carry a fetus to term against her will? Ultimately each Wiccan woman has to interpret the Rede for herself, apply it to her own life situation, and make that decision on her own. She may consult friends and loved ones, and she may consult her gods — a good idea, by the way, if this isn’t a hypothetical question and you are really considering an abortion — but ultimately she has the power and the responsibility to make the right choice. And with abortion, that choice may very well be to take the least terrible of a set of very terrible options.



Good Witch

Speaketh Bad Witch:

Blessed be to you, Sara!

What an interesting question and one not easily answered in my patented 'Bad Witch' style.

First, not every woman in the world is Wiccan, so we aren’t going to fret about those ladies because they don’t follow the Rede’s Harm None clause. Whew. Now we’re only talking about women of child-bearing years who are Wiccan. That really narrows things down because most of the people who say they’re Wiccan aren’t from any sort of recognizable tradition and if they’re already loosey-goosey about the whole Wiccan thing, they probably don’t follow much of the more formal Wiccan material any more closely.

Gosh, now we’re down to so few people that we can almost take it case by case. But that would be rude and also none of our business.

When a woman has to make the usually difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy, she first goes to her ethical core to see if such a thing is even possible given what she believes to be right or wrong. If she is Wiccan, she has considered that 'Harm None' clause because that’s part of what makes a Wiccan Wiccan. And then she may think deeply about whether the pregnancy continuing will in fact cause her harm, either physically or emotionally.

See how tricky this all is? Then she has to balance her needs and the potential harm to herself against her ethical stance to harm none. (And you know that’s really not possible, right? Harming none? We harm the things we eat. We harm people around us when we are tired and careless with our speech or actions. “Harm none” may be a worthy goal to strive for but most Wiccans will tell you it’s a balancing act.)

Many women hold true to the old notion that a fetus growing inside them is not a child but the potential for a child. Some cultures believe that a being is not ensouled until it takes its first breath of air, free from the mother’s womb. And some women believe that the soul that never reached its physical incarnation will simply wait until the next opportunity to come in. So there’s that to consider as well.

As with all questions having to do with Woman as Life Bringer, each woman must make this decision for herself, bringing the resources she has to bear (mate, family, clergy, friends, the Divine, Ancestors, the natural world) in making what can be (but isn’t always) a difficult decision.

And until it happens to us, we aren’t in a place to judge what a woman does or doesn’t do with her bodily autonomy. None of our business, one way or the other.

—Bad Witch

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Aryós Héngwis (or the more modest Héngwis for short) is a native of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, born some 5000 years ago, near the village of Dereivka. In his youth he stood out from the other snakes for his love of learning and culture, eventually coming into the service of the local reǵs before moving westward toward Europe. Most recently, Aryós Héngwis left his home to pursue a new life in America, where he has come under the employ of BBI Media as an internet watchdog (or watchsnake, if you will), ever poised to strike the unwary troll.


  • Jennifer Chandler
    Jennifer Chandler Friday, 08 July 2016

    Dear Good Witch & Bad Witch, I want to thank you both for your wonderful insight and wisdom on this very delicate subject. I have my own private story that has haunted me for 32 years, but after reading both your sides, I believe that I can now heal that wound, once and for all! Again, I thank you both. You have truly blessed me with your wisdom and insight. Blessed Be!

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