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What's A Rede Anyway?
As researched by Shea Thomas

"Rede" is a Middle English term that means to give counsel, advise, interpret, or explain. In a more archaic sense it also means to give an account or tell a story. The etymology of the word includes the Old English "raedan" and the Old High German "ratan" which both mean to "advise."Footnote 1 It may also include the Sanskrit "radhnoti" which means "to archive or prepare."Footnote 2 In the dialect of at least one Gaelic place-name it stands for "road", as in Carrick-a-Rede (Rock in the Road). Similar words in modern usage include the English "read", the Dutch "advise" (raad) and the German "speech" (rede).

In both Pagan and secular circles, "rede" is most often interpreted according to the Middle English definition. That is, a rede is more often treated as advice or counsel, rather than a strict law or commandment. To offer just one example of many:

18th Century poet Robert BurnsFootnote 3

If there 's a hole in a' your coats,
I rede ye tent it;
A chiel 's amang ye takin' notes,
And, faith, he 'll prent it.

As it relates to Wicca, there are several potential reasons why "rede" may have been used (instead of a more absolute term); including the humility of its original authors, the situational nature of the Rede itself, the occult tendency to avoid revealed truths, and the related Pagan practice of honoring individual paths which would conflict with the idea of holding out an absolute truth beyond a specific tradition.

At the same time, it remains unclear who first used the term in Pagan circles. The original Rede-poem presents the Rede as a pre-existing phrase, yet none of the Rede-concepts appearing prior to the poem use this exact kind of nomenclature. Indeed, its entirely possible that while the Rede-poem was articulating an old idea, it was at the same time giving it a new name - forever adding the term "rede" to the Pagan lexicon.


Footnotes:

  1. Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (Merriam-Webster 1987).
  2. Sanskrit Dictionary
  3. Robert Burns (1759-1796), On Captain Grose's Peregrinations through Scotland.