Crowley himself, in the essay The Antecedents of Thelema, briefly credits the influence of St Augustine’s phrase “Love, and do what thou wilt”, found in Homilies on the First Epistle of John, VII.8 as an earlier prequel to the law of Thelema; he then goes on to give far more credit to Rabelais as painting the vision of what was to come with Thelema. Parallels between the two are clearly visible. Crowley started the Abbey of Thelema in Sicily, Italy. Rabelais wrote of the “Abbey of Theleme” which was build by the giant Gargantua. The two abbeys of Thelema, the fictional one in the satirical writings of Rabelais and the real life one of Crowley, both encouraged “Do What Thou Will” as their central tenet.
Crowley did not make any reference to other influences on the channelled doctrine of “love is the law, love under will”, but we may note a possible predecessor in Lew Wallace’s epic novel of 1880, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Chapter VI of the book makes two references to love and law in conjunction which could have inspired a fertile mind. These are, “The law of the place was Love, but Love without Law,” and “Better a law without love than a love without law.” This is an obscure possibility, but then Crowley was an avid reader, so who knows.
The concept of the power of the will was expressed clearly by the seventeenth century theologian Joseph Glanvill, in a manner which may well have influenced Crowley’s later views, remembering that Crowley came from a strict Christian upbringing in the Plymouth Brethren with a preacher father. Glanvill also wrote the work Saducismus Triumphatus in 1681 supporting the existence of witches and their powers and attacking sceptics. On the will he said:
“And the will therein lieth, which dieth not. Who knoweth the mysteries of the Will with its vigour? For God is but a great Will pervading all things by nature of its intentness. Man doth not yield himself to the angels nor to death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.”
In Crowley’s writings, the law of Thelema is explained in terms of True Will, the ultimate spiritual essence of the individual, the part of us that makes each one of us unique and that through finding the goal of this essence (True Will) we can reach fulfilment by following the path in life that we are meant for. Finding your True Will is hard work, it is not an easy path, it demands that you respect your own True Will at all times, but also that you respect the True Wills of others.
Many believe that the Rede as we know it originated with Doreen Valiente, who first mentioned the Rede in the form it is best known today. Valiente referred to it as the ’Witches’ Creed’ instead of “Rede” in some of her writings, as the following example from her book Witchcraft Today clearly illustrates:
“Eight words the Witches’ Creed fulfil: If it harms none, do what you will!”
Valiente’s use of the term ‘Witches’ Creed’ is significant when we consider its earlier uses. The term ‘witch creed’ was widely used in early psychology to refer to the demonization of negative qualities to witches, which may be significant when we remember Valiente was involved with the psychologist and witch Charles Cardell and his branch of witchcraft in the late 1950s. The term ‘witch creed’ was also used in classic works such as Walter Scott’s Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1831) to describe practices of identification and counter-magick against witches. That is was a commonly known term in the nineteenth century can be seen by its use in the 1860 work by Walter Thornbury, Turkish Life and Character:
“It is just a fossil bit of Paganism, like our English witch creed, our amulets, and our charms.”
The first public reference to the Rede was also by Doreen Valiente, in a speech given on October 3, 1964 at an event sponsored by the Pentagram newsletter. The text of this speech was subsequently published in number 1 of Pentagram later in 1964:
“Demanding tolerance between covens as well as toward the outside world, Doreen spoke the Anglo-Saxon witch formula called the Wiccan Rede or wise teaching: Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfil, An' it harm none, do what ye will.”
In 1975, Gwen Thompson, a high priestess of an American Welsh tradition, claimed in Green Egg magazine that her grandmother Adriana Porter had passed the Rede on to her, and that her copy predated both Gardner and Crowley. Her long poem entitled The Rede of the Wiccae, which ends with the familiar Rede couplet, has confusingly become known to many as the Wiccan Rede, which is not the case. We may note with interest however that Ms Thompson was said to be a subscriber to Joseph Wilson’s magazine The Waxing Moon, which reprinted Valiente’s words in 1965-6.
Although we cannot definitively state the source of the Rede, it does seem likely that it was derived from the works of Crowley, who himself drew on earlier writings. The need for a practical ethical code has always been paramount in magickal and spiritual systems, so it is perhaps no real surprise that the Wiccan Rede, which did not play a major part in the initial public dissemination of the Wiccan tradition, has gone on to become one of the best known and most definitive statements of Wicca and the Pagan revival.
Extract from: Wicca: Magical Beginnings written by d’Este & Rankine, 2008 (Avalonia.) PB / Kindle @ https://amzn.to/3Ay4HJr. Shared here with the intention to inspire and inform the now and future generations interested in Wicca and other Pagan traditions inspired by it.