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Origins Of The Rede-Poem
As researched by Shea Thomas
There are two basic versions of the Wiccan Rede. The first is a 26-line poem that made its public debut (with some variations) around the start of the 1970s. The second, and more common use of the term "Rede," is the final couplet comprising the last part of this poem. The history of this shorter eight-world adage is discussed separately in Rede-concept origins.
The longer 26-line Rede Of The Wiccae (The Rede-poem) is best attributed to the family of Lady Gwen (Gwynne) Thompson, a Celtic Traditionalist who submitted the poem as it was given to her by her paternal grandmother, Adriana Porter. The poem first appeared in the Green Egg magazine Vol. III. No. 69 (Ostara 1975) as part of an article titled Wiccan-Pagan Potpourri. Footnote 1 Footnote 2 Footnote 3
While generally considered one of the more original versions, it is unlikely that the Rede Of The Wiccae was the first Rede-poem published. Indeed, Thompson’s unusual decision to submit such an important (and previously private) work may have been a reaction to the existence of derivative versions that were creating confusion as to where her own particular tradition's version had originated.Footnote 4 Thompson felt fairly strongly about this, writing as part of her article in 1975 "Our own particular Rede, however, has appeared within the past year in a perverted form. That is to say, the wording has been changed."Footnote 5
Thompson does not name any names, but she may have been reacting to an adapted version of the poem that appeared in a newsletter called Earth Religion News as early as 1971. This alternate Rede is discussed further under the heading of The Common Rede, and was likely submitted by Ed Buczynski, a former first degree student of Thompson's who was (at the time) working with Herman Slater in the publication of the ERN.Footnote 6 Footnote 7 Other uniquely Pagan writings in existence at the time and reminiscent of the Rede include Witchcraft, the Sixth Sense by Justine Glass (1965)Footnote 8, The Meaning of Witchcraft by Gerald B. Gardner (1959), and The Old Laws, by Gerald Gardner and The New Forest Coven around 1953.
How Old Is The Thompson/Porter Poem?
The exact age of the Thompson/Porter Rede is undetermined. In her submission to The Green Egg in 1975, Lady Gwen herself acknowledged that "many different traditions have different redes," and that this was "understandable, considering the time involved from Alpha to Omega."Footnote 9 This so, we can surmise that even by the time of The Green Egg publication there had already been enough lead time for several different versions to evolve, which by itself would indicate some kind of Rede-presence before 1975.
Additionally, Thompson made no claim to authorship. Instead, Thompson only indicated that this particular version of the Rede was given to her by Porter, and that Porter herself was "well into her nineties when she crossed over into the Summerland in the year 1946."Footnote 10 Thompson herself passed in 1986, so additional inquiries are impossible, but if this is an accurate account of an inter-vivos gift, the genesis of the poem would move even further back in time to a period preceding 1946.
Anecdotal commentary received through the [the orignal Wiccan Rede Project's guest book, not resurrected] would place the Rede-poem in Thompson's Book of Shadows at least as early as 1971.Footnote 11 A similar post from a member of a Gardnerian coven in Southern California would give the poem both a Gardnerian lineage and reported date of 1968 - with the poem in circulation "decades before."Footnote 12 Others have claimed the poem dates as far back as the mid-1930sFootnote 13.
The language of the poem itself offers no clear corroboration. At first blush, the use of the word "Wicca" would indicate a more modern origin, as that term did not enjoy broad usage until the late 1960’s as a means of distinguishing Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions from other forms of witchcraft.Footnote 14 At the same time, the poem's heavy use of folklore and legend would be typical for a piece crafted before 1954, which is when Gardnerian influences began to play a larger role.Footnote 15 The poem's inconsistent meter and sectional nature might also hint at a piece forged from a collection of poems, or one crafted over time by multiple authors.
Despite ongoing questions about age, the Thompson/Porter version of the Rede-poem remains one of the most significant works in modern Paganism. Most striking is the fact that the Rede-poem has generally cemented the phraseology for the shorter couplet. This is noteworthy because the brevity of the couplet and the kind of ethical direction derived from it creates a tendency for careful parsing of the language (debate on the differences between "will," "wilt" and "want," for example). What discussion does exist about the meaning of the Rede almost universally uses the phrasing of the Rede-poem as its starting point. Thus the poem becomes important (if for no other reason) in that its exact wording often sets the stage for the larger ethical dialog.
Where Is The Thompson/Porter Version Now?
Lady Gwen's Book of Shadows (which contains her original copy of the Rede-poem) is currently in the possession of the group Lady Gwen helped found - The New England Covens of Traditionalist Witches (NECTW).Footnote 16 Today, the NECTW is comprised of at least three traditions including the Tuatha de Dannan, the Welsh Rite Traditionalist Gwyddoniad, and the NECTW proper. The NECTW is based in Providence Rhode Island in the United States.Footnote 17 Footnote 18
Footnotes (some old links have disappeared):