Your Own Tradition
VIRTUALLY ALL RELIGIOUS organizations give their adherents a set of guidelines or rules of conduct. In such laws we often find the true nature of the faith, which can be difficult to determine from the actual behavior of most of its representatives.
Wicca possesses not one but several sets of such rules. The most famous of these, which has been published in several different forms, originally stemmed from what is now known as Gardnerian Wicca.7 Many other versions exist, and some covens create their own set of laws for use by their members. Underlying all such Wiccan rules is one basic concept: harm none.
Traditional Wiccan laws can be grouped into specific categories for study. Looking at these, and reading a few sample sets (included at the end of this chapter), should readily provide all that you need to write or adapt a set of laws for your tradition.
Here’s a basic breakdown of traditional Wiccan laws. The first section details laws specifically concerned with coven working, which are of less importance to solitary Wiccans. The second section is devoted to laws of great potential use to the solitary practitioner.
Traditional Wiccan Laws—
Usually lists duties of High Priestess and High Priest. The average length of time that the offices are held is also often discussed. Many delineate initiatory levels and define the nature of the council of elders (usually made up of those who have received the highest elevation, and who are called upon for guidance and counsel by coven members), or other such groups within the group. Many also describe other coven officers.
Traditional warnings to keep secret those things which are only for the eyes and ears of other initiates of the same tradition. Some laws threaten the oath breaker with divine retribution if the oaths are broken. (Solitary Wiccans can certainly create a “secret” tradition. Whether you care to discuss your religion and your religious practices with others must be a personal decision. Only you can decide precisely what to reveal.)
Dictates the proper method of settling problems. Some covens utilize their council of elders in the decision-making process, or to provide guidance to those with grievances. In most traditions, the highest-elevated Wiccans are free to leave and form their own covens, if they can no longer work with their parent coven. Many laws also concern High Priestesses and High Priests who break the laws or who lose interest in the coven.
Persecution Tales and Advice
These supposedly ancient laws allow for confession during extreme torture, but thoughtfully permit denial of all information given to the “magistrates.” They also contain the promise that drugs will reach those who have been condemned as Witches so that their certain deaths by execution will be less painful. (This is obviously of little help today.)
Many traditions possess laws regarding attendance at rituals. Great latitude exists, and not all traditions even have such laws. In most, Wiccans are expected to show up for all rituals unless previously excused by the coven leader(s). In some sets of rules, missing six consecutive meetings is grounds for banishment from the coven, if only because the Wiccan is showing little or no interest. (This is of little concern to solitaries. However, a few words of encouragement concerning the regular observance of our rituals would be a nice touch to include in your set of laws.)
Traditional Laws of
Interest to Solitary Wiccans
Sometimes lists times and dates of ritual observances; more generally, the laws state that the Goddess and God are deserving of worship, and remind the Wiccans to be worshipful. (This makes sense. Why else would we be Wiccans? Such words might appear in the beginning of the law.)
Many laws state that blood is not to be shed within the circle; no ritual animal sacrifices may be made. (This is a universal Wiccan tradition, whether or not it’s explicitly stated in the laws.)
Avoidance of Harm
The central, unifying theme of most laws: Wiccans simply don’t cause harm to others. (This law, in some form or another, should be in your set.)
Use of Magic
Generally states that magic is not to be worked for pay, as it could lead to performing destructive rites. Magic is also never to be used to boost one’s pride or to cause harm in any way. However, some sets of laws do allow Wiccans to use “the power” (i.e., magic) to “prevent or restrain” others from causing harm (this is generally known as “binding”). (See The Law of the Power, below.)
Such laws warn Wiccans not to boast or to threaten others, and to treat others—Wiccans and non-Wiccans—with kindness and compassion. Additionally, some laws state that Wiccans must not use drugs within or without the circle, must not gossip about other members, and must not interfere with the teachings of other Wiccans. (It never hurts to include such messages in your laws. Though you may be the only one to read these reminders of the importance of kindness, the message may, at times, be necessary.)
Some laws state that all who express interest in Wicca should be taught, unless they begin to misuse their instructions. Such laws have largely been either dropped or reinterpreted. Truly following them today could lead to each Wiccan teaching one hundred or more students, which would result in poor lessons and, thus, poorly instructed students. Such laws simply aren’t practical in today’s world when so many clamor for teachings.
Keeping the Law
Wiccans are reminded to keep the law and not to allow it to be broken. (Sound advice. This usually appears near the end of the laws.)
The Love of the Goddess and the God
A gentle reminder that we’re not alone. (Generally, it’s best to begin and to end the law with confirmations of divine concern.)
* * *
After reading all this, you might be thinking, “Why do I even need a law if I’m just doing my rituals alone?” A fair question, even if we set aside those laws concerning covens. The answer is simple: most of the laws appropriate to solitary Wiccans form part of the general Wiccan tradition. Without them, we are left without guidance. Forming them into set sentences and including them in your tradition’s Book of Shadows ensures that you can study them at your leisure, and refer to them for guidance. It’s all very well to state, “I won’t do this, and I’ll remember to do that.” Having a set of laws concerning these things is a great memory assistant.
Using the above outlines of laws, we can come up with our own. Their precise form, and their method of presentation, is completely up to you. Some sets of laws are numbered; others aren’t. Some are written in rhyming couplets, but most are in prose.
Here are three versions that I’ve written. The first is partially based on the above analyses; the second is reprinted from Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, as is the third, which deals exclusively with magic.
• We are of the Old Ways, among those who walk with the Goddess and God and receive their love.
• Keep the sabbats and esbats to the best of your abilities, for to do otherwise is to lessen your connections with the Goddess and God.
• Harm none. This, the oldest law, is not open to interpretation or change.
• Shed no blood in ritual; the Goddess and God need no blood to be duly worshipped.
• Those of our way are kind to all creatures, for hurtful thoughts are quite draining and aren’t worth the loss of energy. Misery is self-created; so, too, is joy, so create joy and disdain misery and unhappiness. And this is within your power. So harm not.
• Teach only what you know, to the best of your ability, to those students whom you choose, but teach not to those who would use your instructions for destruction or control. Also, teach not to boost pride, for ever remember: she who teaches for vanity or glory shall take little pride in her handiwork; she who teaches out of love shall be enfolded in the arms of the Goddess and God.
• Ever remember that if you would be of our way, keep the law close to your heart, for it is the nature of the Wicca to keep the law.
• If ever the need arises, any law may be changed or discarded, and new laws written to replace them, so long as the new laws don’t break the oldest law of all: harm none.
• Blessings of the God and Goddess on us all.
The Nature of Our Way
• As often as possible, hold the rites in forests, by the seashore, on deserted mountaintops, or near tranquil lakes. If this is impossible, a garden or some chamber shall suffice, if it is readied with fumes or flowers.
• Seek out wisdom in books, rare manuscripts, and cryptic poems if you will, but seek it out also in simple stones and fragile herbs and in the cries of wild birds. Listen to the whisperings of the wind and the roar of water if you would discover magic, for it is here that the old secrets are preserved.
• Books contain words; trees contain energies and wisdom books ne’er dreamt of.
• Ever remember that the Old Ways are constantly revealing themselves. Therefore, be as the river willow that bends and sways with the wind. That which remains changeless shall outlive its spirit, but that which evolves and grows will shine for centuries.
• Mock not the rituals or spells of another, for who can say yours are greater in power or wisdom?
• Ensure that your actions are honorable, for all that you do shall return to you threefold, good or bane.
• Be wary of one who would dominate you, who would control and manipulate your workings and reverences. True reverence for the Goddess and God occurs within. Look with suspicion on any who would twist worship from you for their own gain and glory, but welcome those priestesses and priests who are suffused with love.
• Honor all living things, for we are of the bird, the fish, the bee. Destroy not life save it be to preserve your own.
• And this is the nature of our way.
The Law of the Power
• The power shall not be used to bring harm, to injure, or control others. But if the need arises, the power shall be used to protect your life or the lives of others.
• The power is used only as need dictates.
• The power can be used for your own gain, as long as by doing so, you harm none.
• It is unwise to accept money for use of the power, for it quickly controls its taker. Be not as those of other religions.
• Use not the power for prideful gain, for such cheapens the mysteries of Wicca and magic.
• Ever remember that the power is the sacred gift of the Goddess and God, and should never be misused or abused.
• And this is the law of the power.
Most Craft laws are secret, and can’t be published in any form. However, the above examples included in this chapter, and in the suggested reading, should provide you with enough information to create your own laws.
May you do so with wisdom and love.
Few sets of Wiccan laws have been published. Even most of the standard Wiccan guidebooks fail to include laws. However, a few books do include discussions of and/or complete texts of laws. Here are most of them. Studying these laws in concert with this chapter will greatly assist in the creation of your own set. (For additional publication information regarding these books, see the bibliography.)
Kelly, Aidan A., Crafting the Art of Magic, Book 1. Contains one version of the Gardnerian laws on pages 145—161. Also includes an intriguing “Proposed Rules for the Craft” on pages 103—105.
See also Doreen Valiente’s The Rebirth of Witchcraft, pages 69—71 for background information concerning the Proposed Rules as well as the Gardnerian laws. The whole inside story concerning the most famous set of Wiccan laws is quite fascinating.
Additional information concerning these laws—without the text itself—can be discovered on pages 303—304 of Janet and Stewart Farrar’s The Witches’ Way.
Johns, June, King of the Witches. Contains another version of the Gardnerian laws in Appendix A, where they’re mislabeled as “The Book of Shadows.”
Slater, Herman (editor), Pagan Rituals III, Outer Court Book of Shadows. Originally written by the late Ed Buczynski for students of his Welsh tradition, this book contains a rather forceful section entitled “The Laws” on pages 113—115. Though short, it’s a good guide to a tradition’s secret (non-Gardnerian) laws, though many are far gentler. (Keep in mind that this was written for students, not for experienced Wiccans.)
Various other sets of Wiccan laws have been published in old Pagan periodicals, most notably in the earlier format of Green Egg. The issues that contain these laws are now out of print and are, thus, avidly sought by collectors. (Some of these laws, by the way, have been added to traditional Books of Shadows with no hint as to their origination.)
7. For a fascinating look at the possible origins of these laws, see Witchcraft for Tomorrow by Doreen Valiente.