The baby bird is lying broken on the ground, dying. Its parents, perhaps detecting some weakness in it, have pushed it out of the nest.

Clearly, it's suffering. What do you do?

“Don't do what you want to do,” wrote Robert Cochrane, father of the contemporary Old Craft movement. “Do what needs to be done.”

Cochrane is critiquing the Wiccan Rede here. “Do what you want to do” is his sneering version of “Do what ye will.”

Old Craft ethic is different from Wicca's. It's tribal at heart, concerned with life together and the obligations that social existence entails.

Now, I don't have anything against the Wiccan Rede, although it strikes me as not really very useful. I've never seen much point to counsels of impossible perfection. And what not to do is only half of the ethical dilemma.

What people seem to forget is that a rede is not a law. In the old Witch language, rede means “counsel, advice.” King Ethelred was Unready because he was “un-reded,” un-counseled. A wiccan rede is “wise advice,” no more.

As such, the Rede does its job reasonably well. As a general rule of thumb, it's no bad idea to avoid harming others.

But as a guide to social behavior, it's a non-starter.

“Do what needs to be done.” Frankly, to me this sounds like a good job description for “witch.”

In a world in which so many people want to duck decision and shed responsibility, it's up to the witch to make the hard calls, the awful decisions that no one should ever have to make. The sad fact is that someone needs to make these decisions, because if no one does, the outcome will probably be that much the worse. So the witch is the one who steps in.

“Do what needs to be done.” There's a context here, and a world of wider responsibility.

There's a baby bird lying there on the ground, and it can't be saved. It's suffering.

Do you harm none, walk on past, and let it dree its own wyrd, suffer out its own karma?

Or do you do what needs to be done, however unpleasant, and end its suffering?

The choice, of course, is yours.

But I know what I would do.