Interpreting the Witches' Creed

The Witches' Creed, written by Doreen Valiente, is a beautiful poem that is self-explanatory to most witches. However, to those who are not familiar with or are new to Wicca and Witchcraft, the Witches' Creed is foreign, confusing, and in need of clarification. For this reason, I am providing a brief stanza-by-stanza interpretation of the Creed.

Hear now the words of the witches,
The secrets we hid in the night,
When dark was our destiny's pathway,
That now we bring forth into light.

This is fairly basic. In the past all practices to include the very existence of Wicca and Witchcraft were kept secret. Magick and ritual were performed at night as this was the safest time to do so, thus the "dark" of night is the "pathway" to a witch's destiny. Like many things that were once occult up until recently, many of the secrets of witches are being revealed or brought to "light."

Mysterious water and fire,
The earth and the wide-ranging air,
By hidden quintessence we know them,
And will and keep silent and dare.

Here the elements and the witches’ pyramid are mentioned. The elements being water, fire, earth, and air. The witches’ pyramid being to know, to will, to keep silent, and to dare.

The birth and rebirth of all nature,
The passing of winter and spring,
We share with the life universal,
Rejoice in the magical ring.

This stanza highlights the importance of the yearly cycle. Not only is the change of season important, but that nature is born and reborn is a sign of the sacredness of life. As such, we celebrate/perform magick in a "ring" or circle. In this sense, the magick circle may be regarded as a symbol of the natural forces at play in birth, death, rebirth, and therefore all of life and existence.

Four times in the year the Great Sabbat Returns,
And the Witches are seen,
At Lammas and Candlemas dancing,
On May Eve and old Hallowe'en.

Here, the four major holidays of witches are mentioned.

When day-time and night-time are equal,
When sun is at greatest and least,
The four Lesser Sabbats are summoned,
And Witches gather in feast.

Here the four lesser holidays falling on the solstices and equinoxes are mentioned.

Thirteen silver moons in a year are,
Thirteen is the coven's array.
Thirteen times at Esbat make merry,
For each golden year and a day.

This stanza explains that the year and a day (or traditional year) contains thirteen full moons which are to be celebrated. Likewise, as there are thirteen full moons requiring thirteen esbats in a year, so too a coven should consist of thirteen members.

The power that was passed down the ages,
Each time between woman and man,
Each century unto the other,
Ere time and the ages began.

This stanza highlights the Wiccan belief that power during initiation is passed from a female to a male or a male to a female. Although the belief that Wicca is ancient has since been discredited, this belief was still believed by many during the time the Creed was written. As such, this stanza is also hinting that this tradition as well as all of Witchcraft's traditions have been passed in such a way since the dawn of man.

When drawn is the magical circle,
By sword or athame of power,
Its compass between two worlds lies,
In land of the shades for that hour.

The magick circle is cast either by the sword or athame. The circle is not within one world or another, but is a space between worlds. What "worlds" is usually debatable, although many would suffice to say this one (life) and the next (death). Others may say that "worlds" is not in the physical sense but that the circle is a "place" outside of time itself and so is between that of this reality and another.

This world has no right then to know it,
And world of beyond will tell naught,
The oldest of Gods are invoked there,
The Great Work of magic is wrought.

Those who are not witches, especially those who would torture or otherwise mistreat witches, have no right to experience the magick of being in the circle. Likewise, those who are not open will not be able to find the magick. In the magick circle the God and Goddess (considered to be the oldest of all Gods) are invoked so that magick may be performed.

For two are the mystical pillars,
That stand at the gate of the shrine,
And two are the powers of nature,
The forms and the forces divine.

This stanza opens up for the next few which serve to describe the God and Goddess. The powers of nature are dual: masculine and feminine. Thus, creating a balance in nature and magick.

The dark and the light in succession,
The opposites each unto each,
Shown forth as a God and a Goddess:
Of this did our ancestors teach.

As everything in nature has an opposite whether in power, gender, or otherwise, so too do the witches understand the divine as possessing a dual nature.

By night he's the wild winds rider,
The Horn'd One, the Lord of the Shades.
By day he's the King of the Woodland,
The dweller in green forest glades.

Description of the God. This particular description implies a focus on the God in a nature perspective being a horned ruler of the forests.

She is youthful or old as she pleases,
She sails the torn clouds in her barque,
The bright silver Lady of midnight,
The crone who weaves spells in the dark.

Description of the Goddess. This particular description focuses on the Goddess as a queen of transformation and dark mysteries.

The master and mistress of magic,
That dwell in the deeps of the mind,
Immortal and ever-renewing,
With power to free or to bind.

The power of the God (master) and the Goddess (mistress) dwell within our minds (and hearts). This power, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, cannot ever die within us. We can choose to accept and work with it to free ourselves, or keep ourselves bound by denying it.

So drink the good wine to the Old Gods,
And Dance and make love in their praise,
Till Elphame's fair land shall receive us,
In peace at the end of our days.

Celebrate the Gods and enjoy the life we have been given. Elphame (or "Queen of Elphame") is a goddess of death. Thus, don't stop celebrating life until it's over.

And Do What Ye Will be the challenge,
So be it love that harms none,
For this is the only commandment.
By Magic of old, be it done!

This stanza, as with all creeds and credos incorporating the Wiccan Rede, may be open for interpretation. One interpretation is that the Rede ("An' it harm none, do as ye will") is our major challenge in life. Only through unconditional love can we expect to live by this commandment. (On a side note, many societies today have lost touch with what exactly "unconditional love" is. Coming to understand this and truly accepting others is incredibly difficult when we are taught different kinds of "love." However, we should be striving to love others unconditionally as we walk a path of harming none.)

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