Do What You Will, But Harm None

Do what you will, but harm none” is such a clear and compelling statement. Each of us should be free to live the way we like, so long as our actions do no harm.

I first came across the term “Do what you will, but harm none” in the Schrödinger’s Cat trilogy of novels by Robert Anton Wilson. The trilogy follows the adventures of a set of characters across a series of parallel universes. In each universe, every character (and the world they live in) is subtly different. 

For example, in one universe, James Joyce becomes a Catholic priest instead of a novelist. He instigates a massive reform of the Catholic Church every bit as radical and revolutionary as Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake. Pope Stephen, as James Joyce is known in that particular universe, reduces the religious dogma of the Catholic Church to that one simple phrase:” Do what you will, but harm none “.

An Epiphany

As soon as I read these words, I just “got it.” I would have been in my early 20s when I first read these novels (in their original form). I was searching for an identity and a philosophy to stand by, and there it was right in front of me. I thought to myself, if the Catholic Church was really like that, I might want to join

Of course, what I didn’t know was that those words were actually based on the Wiccan Rede, a statement that provides the key moral system in the Neopagan religion of Wicca and other related Witchcraft-based faiths.

Although first published in 1964, this phrase can be traced back to Aleister Crowley in 1904, and even as far back as the fourth century. Regardless of its origin, it is probably the single most influential idea in my life. That and Yoda’s “Do, or do not. There is no try “.

Do what you will, but harm none

I try to live that philosophy every day of my life. I don’t always succeed. I can still do harm through my actions, sometimes deliberately, sometimes not. I mean, how do I reconcile my love of meat with doing no harm? Like all belief systems, there are compromises. But I hope, in general, that I manage to live up to the core values.

I really wish more people would live by this philosophy. All those people who are against gay marriage, or who won’t let kids dress up as Harry Potter. Anyone who is trying to stop other people from being free. If what they want to do isn’t harming you, then let it go. Let men marry each other; and women. Let kids dress up as wizards; whatever. I don’t care if you think the idea of two men rubbing uglies together is shocking; they’re doing you no harm. But your insistence that gay marriage shouldn’t be allowed is doing harm; so stop it!

“Do what you will, but harm none.” Sums it up, really, doesn’t it?

%d bloggers like this: