Craft Law holds that we have a variety of duties: to the Gods, to our fellow Witches, to our neighbours, and to the Earth.
Our duties to the Gods:
To the Gods we offer our devotion, freely given, for they demand no sacrifice of us. Our offer is simple enough: to share our acts of love and pleasure with Them when we feel so inclined. Those acts of love and pleasure go beyond the obvious ones that we share with our lovers in private moments – think of the taste of cool water on a hot day, or the beauty of the Moonrise on a clear night, or the sheer joy of music well-performed.
The Witch’s customary duty, and great pleasure, is to listen for the messages of the Gods. The Gods do not force us to listen to Their words, nor can other Witches tell whether we are or are not paying attention to the Gods. But all the same, we learn through the wise words of our teachers, and the example of our fellow Witches, that listening – actively and openly – to the Gods is a good thing to do. For sometimes the Gods lead us to the solution of difficult problems; sometimes They inspire us; sometimes They may challenge us to grow. Were we to block our ears to Them, we might miss those blessed opportunities.
Our duties to our fellow Witches:
We swear a significant Oath at Initiation, and our Oath binds us to act in certain ways towards our fellow Witches. As an obvious example, we owe them the duty to keep silent concerning their identities unless they clearly and explicitly grant us permission to name them as Witches. Likewise, we owe our colleagues the duty to be discreet about divulging the location, timing or nature of our rites; that duty requires that we remember that there may be unheralded listeners to our public conversations (the walls may have ears, you know!), people who might disrupt or threaten our exercise of our religion if they knew where and when we were gathering together.
We have a duty to learn all we can. No one person could ever master all the knowledge and skills that are relevant to our Craft. Neither are we interchangeable parts. Every human comes endowed with a unique combination of talents, interests, and temperaments. If we each develop our own potentials as fully as possible, we can become wonderful resources for each other. Sharing this diversity will enrich our covens and our community, and provide our own direct students with the best possible environment for their development.
We also owe each other some basic courtesies: no coven runs upon guesswork or happenstance, so it behoves us to let our fellow Witches know whether we will be able to join them for next week’s coven meeting. Likewise, we should be prepared to pitch in to get the groundwork done before and after Circle: the furniture moved and the floor swept, the candles trimmed, the dishes washed, the furniture put back again…
Our duties to our neighbours:
The Laws direct us to keep a book of recipes for all the potions that the world at large expects Witches to know, even though we may have no foreseeable use for such knowledge. The Laws also direct us to keep a separate book of curative knowledge, from which our Coven neighbours as well as our fellow Witches might derive great benefit.
From these injunctions, we might imagine that there was once a time when Witches were known as keepers of knowledge of all sorts. As we grow in our knowledge and skills, we come to understand that we owe to our neighbours the duty of learning and teaching knowledge that would be of benefit to all people, Witch and Coven alike. That knowledge may range from the drawing of warts to the mysteries of comforting the terminally-ill.
The duty to share our knowledge with our neighbours doesn’t require that we advertise ourselves as Witches – we can, and many of us do, discharge it adequately by simply lending a helping hand in times of need, without making a big issue out of our own religious beliefs – or those of our neighbours. Indeed, there may be times and places that are not safe for the explicit expression of our faith, yet it still remains our duty to pitch in and help limit or prevent needless suffering. There is no need or benefit in boasting of our faith at such times.
Our duties to the Earth:
We practice a faith that is grounded in Nature, that honours and celebrates the rhythms of the Earth. The Earth is the Mother of all things, and the source of our very being. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we owe certain duties to the Earth.
The first, and simplest of these, is to walk lightly upon Her body, avoiding needless stress upon the natural systems within which we live.
Walking lightly on the Earth implies that we understand how Her natural systems function, and how our activities fit in with those systems. There lies our second duty to the Earth, to learn about the world around us, and to make sure that our students in turn receive the knowledge we have gained. Our third duty to the Earth lies in the realm of action, to make practical use of our knowledge to act as guardians of the natural systems around us. For some of us that may mean becoming involved in local politics, to change the human systems of our culture towards more Earth-friendly ends. For others of us that may mean acquiring formal technical or professional education, and then putting our knowledge to use in our workplace. It may also be as simple as speaking out when our neighbours dump engine oil into a storm drain, as immediate as practising source reduction of waste in our homes, or as subtle as volunteering to help teach nature studies at our local school.
Putting things into context:
The Wiccan Rede directs us to do as we will, so long as it harms none. That’s no simple rule to follow, for virtually every act we take involves harm to something or someone. When we walk on the grass, the weight of our footsteps crushes some of the plants. Every meal we eat comes to us at the cost of at least one life, whether it be the death of an animal or plant, or the sacrifice of the life-to-be embodied in an egg or a fruit.
Perhaps in the end we should be practising the sort of conservator ethic that applies on a lifeboat adrift at sea: to minimise waste just as we strive to limit suffering. And when we walk out under the starry sky at night, we may see more clearly that our Earth is a lifeboat, and that may impel use to give more attention to our many duties as Witches. So, we can better understand the Wiccan Rede and our duty of care if we look at it in terms of relative harm rather than absolute harm.
The real test of our devotion to the Craft, the Earth and the Gods may be our continual awareness that all of our actions could cause harm to someone or something, and that our central duty is to refrain from needlessly harmful acts.