Wiccan Rede or Wiccan Rule??

These Eight words the Rede fulfill:

"An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will"

The "archaically worded" construction "An it harm none, do what ye will," rendered into modern English is literally, "if it doesn't harm anyone, do what you want."

Many modern Wiccans "reverse" the construction, however, taking the first part and putting it after the second to read: "Do what ye will an it harm none," or in modern English "Do what you want if it doesn't harm anyone."

Many give the word "an" or "if" a value of "so long as" - which is acceptable substitution, because it doesn't alter the meaning of the Rede itself. However they then proceed to read "so long as" as "only if," and that is completely different, because the Rede has ceased to be a "wise counsel" (anyone checked the meaning of "Rede" in the dictionary lately?) and become an injunction: prohibitive commandment, rather than permissive advice.

In other words, the original archaic construction actually says "if it is not going to hurt anyone, it is OK to do" - this is not the same as "if it hurts anyone it is "not" OK to do."

What is the significance of the change?

The "actual construction Rede," or AC Rede, says it is OK to do something that won't harm anyone, but it does not say anything about those things which do cause harm, except to set an ethical standard of harmlessness as the criteria to judge by.

The "modern reconstruction Rede" or MR Rede, explicitly says that any and all actions that cause harm are forbidden.

The two constructions do not mean the same thing at all. And it should be obvious that this has implications on our thinking, and discussions of the possibility of "obeying" the Rede.

Most of you will have heard or read, as I have, people saying the Rede is something to strive to live by, even though mundane reality makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to do so to the letter. This is only true of the MR Rede, not the AC Rede!

As examples, they cite situations such as self-defense; this violates the MR Rede. But it does not violate the AC Rede.

Earlier, I stated that the AC Rede does not rule on actions that do cause harm - and this is true. It only rules on those actions which do not, by saying that they are acceptable. This is relevant to "victimless crimes" for example - civil "crimes" may in fact be "ethical," by the judgment of the AC Rede.

What the AC Rede does do, in terms of actions that cause harm, is state an ethical value by which an individual must judge the results of her/his actions before acting. In other words, by stating that a harmless action is ethical, the AC Rede sets harmlessness as the criteria for evaluation. Acting to prevent greater harm - but in the process causing lesser harm - may then be ethical, if there is no harmless, or more harmless, method of preventing that greater harm - because not acting to prevent harm is to cause it, by an act of omission rather than commission.

In short the difference between the AC Rede, and the MR Rede, is that the AC Rede is a perfectly-obeyable ethical standard, but the MR Rede is not, as so many people have pointed out. Do we take as our ethical standard a "counsel" which can be obeyed, or one which necessitates rationalizing in some instances? Which is truer to the Wicca, and to the "real" Rede?