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Article Specs

Article ID: 3801

VoxAcct: 215837

Section: words

Age Group: Adult

Posted: January 12th. 2002

Days Up: 1,212

Times Read: 2,611

The Threefold Law

Author: Karl Lembke

See Karl's letters policy at the bottom of this article.

Everyone knows the threefold law, even if not everyone believes it. It's one of the first things brought up whenever ethics in magic is discussed. There are several formulations of the threefold law, all of which have some truth, and some myth.

What you do comes back threefold. No one, not even the most naive, believe that every action brings about three copies of that action. But many people believe in a threefold return in terms of general effect. Punching a person in the nose won't necessarily result in three punches in your own nose, but it might result in something that hurts three times as much as the original blow. Or it might result in a dozen small irritations.

Another way the rule of three is viewed is return on three levels. An action that you undertake might rebound on you in three realms. Such return might occur in the physical, mental, and spiritual level, for example. Or it might refer to personal, social and universal.

Or, it might refer to something quite different.

In A Witches Bible, the Farrars describe the second degree initiation rite, which includes symbolic scourging. The Initiator tells the Initiate that " Witchcraft you must give as you receive, but ever triple." The Initiate is scourged, and then in return scourges the Initiator, three strokes for every one received.

The Initiate is then told, "But mark well, when thou receivest good, thou art equally bound to return good threefold."

The use of the scourge is both a lesson and a test. The lesson is an illustration of what the Farrars call the "Boomerang effect; namely, that any magical effort, whether beneficent or malicious, is liable to rebound threefold on the person who makes it." It is also a test for the Initiate. Can the Initiate respond in a controlled fashion? Can he bring restraint to bear in the face of temptation?

Vivianne Crowley declares that what we reap from magical workings is cumulative, but because of our new status at second degree, and not automatically as a result of our actions. At second degree, we become moral authorities in our own right. Prior to this time, others have taken responsibility for what transpires in circle; after Elevation to Second Degree, we are empowered to make decisions, including moral decisions, for others. We reap the effects of these decisions on ourselves, and also on those who are under our guidance.

The threefold law reflects our position in a community, and warns us that our actions will rebound upon us through those around us. In Wicca, the rule of three means many things. But it doesn't fully mean any one thing.

Many religions have a notion of return. In the testament of the Christians, Jesus tells his disciples that, "As ye sow, so shall ye reap."

From the Vedas, we have "karma." The word "karma" literally means action or work, and it represents he belief that what you do comes back to you. The bad things and the good things that happen to you are the result of actions you have taken in the past, including actions in another life.

"The mills of the Gods grind slow, but exceedingly fine." Inherent in the laws of return found in various religions is the notion that this return is somehow just. People ultimately get what they deserve. The flip side, of course, is that ultimately, people deserve what they get.

The laws of return, whether we call them karma, the rule of three, or divine justice, explain a lot, and can be very comforting. It's always reassuring to know that there's some cosmic order to our lives. However, I think these laws are often misunderstood, and misused.

You see, if a person's actions come back to him, does that mean that a person's situation any person's situation is the result of his or her actions? Does this mean that a person who's in a bad way deserves that fate? Maybe we shouldn't interfere.

Maybe people will say this as an excuse "not to get involved"?

I think this is a grave misuse of karma, of return, and of the rule of three. I don't believe things are nearly that simple.

A person who is having a difficult time may be reaping what he planted, or he may be the instrument of a lesson. It may be your task to help this person out of his difficulties. Or it may be my task. Sometimes, our karma involves lifting the burdens of others, and helping them to find their path.

Indeed, at second degree, the initiate learns that sometimes a person is required to get involved. Our knowledge and ability carry with them the responsibility to use them for good -- to use them the help others, as well as ourselves, attain their True Will.

The Wiccan Rede advises us to avoid harm. But when faced with a person who needs aid, we recall the words of Doreen Valiente "allowing harm to continue is not 'harming none'; rather, it harms everyone." And indeed, we're allowed to act even in ways that may cause harm, in order to keep harm from continuing unchecked.

Now that I've mentioned the Wiccan Rede, I will address the presence in the "Rede of the Wiccae" by Lady Gwen. The notion of the rule of three in Gardnerian and other Craft lore predates the publication of the Rede poem in Green Egg by decades. Nevertheless, this couplet does appear in the poem, so let's look at it through that perspective.

The Rede is advice. The Threefold Law is not a commandment. Indeed, the Farrars point out that a magical action "is liable" to have a threefold return. It's not a hard and fast rule, and it's not a guarantee of threefold retribution or reward. It is, though, a reminder that all our acts have consequences, and it behooves us to consider our actions as if we were going to reap three times what we sow.

As I mentioned last month, I don't consider the poem to be the true Rede. I think of the Rede as a formulation of the laws that govern the universe. I believe that one aspect of the Rede deals with the interconnectedness of all things in the universe.

Magic depends on this interconnectedness. The laws of contagion and similarity, the first two laws of magic identified by anthropologists, depend on this sort of relationship. Things that were connected remain connected, and things that resemble each other influence each other. Furthermore, things that we do have effects far beyond the immediate realm. When we cast a spell, we set energies in motion that will travel around the world, if necessary. We create, with intention, the puff of air which sets a hurricane in motion around the world. And the actions we undertake without such intention send out their ripples as well.

These ripples spread through the three realms I've mentioned.

On the personal level, you tend to become what you do. The thoughts and attitudes you hold in mind influence you. Angry thoughts will cause you to become angry, and an angry demeanor will attract anger into your life. Further, your mental state sets up vibrations in the ether which will color your environment and attract similar energies.

On the social level, you are treated in accord with what you do. If you act in an angry manner, others will respond to you the same way. Word will get out, and others will expect anger from you. Angry people will come into your life, and people who don't like anger will leave. After enough time, your anger takes on a life of its own, reinforced by everyone around you.

On the spiritual level, you'll find that the bond you have with Deity resonates with what you do. The notion that all gods are one God, and all goddesses are one Goddess is very important here. You may not hold that to be literally true, but do understand that the Divine has an endless number of masks through which It may be perceived. These masks also adapt. The energy to maintain them comes from both the Presence behind them, and the presences before them. The energy you send toward the Divine will shape the mask through which the Divine interacts with you.

I believe the Divine always pushes us toward the good, and even a wrathful god will serve to lead us. But there are many paths that lead toward our destiny, and many guides we can follow.

Needless to say, a calm and loving attitude will have a similar effect on all three levels. Ultimately, that attitude leads toward a path that's much nicer to follow.

The rule of three advises us to take responsibility for our actions. We might as well take it, since it's been given to us by the Gods.

Letters Policy: Letters received by Karl are subject to being reprinted on his website. If you do not want your letter published, please say so at the top of the letter.

Karl Lembke

Bio: Karl Lembke is a high priest in the Starkindler tradition of Wicca, and a member of the priesthood in the DCWA. He lives in Tujunga with two dogs, on loan from their owner. Mundanely, he works for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which has been on high alert since September 11. He is a card-carrying Libertarian, and is currently running for the California State Assembly. (Pagan Coalition, anyone?)


Karl Lembke

Location: Tujunga, California

Bio: Karl Lembke is a high priest in the Starkindler tradition of Wicca, and a member of the priesthood in the DCWA. He lives in Tujunga with two dogs, on loan from their owner. Mundanely, he works for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which has been on high alert since September 11. He is a card-carrying Libertarian, and is currently running for the California State Assembly. (Pagan Coalition, anyone?)

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