Thoughts on the Threefold Law/Law of Return

Thoughts on the Threefold Law/Law of Return

Author:   Vervain   

I realized I was a Wiccan sometime late in middle school, and overall I’ve been very happy with my decision to walk down that path. However, over the nine or ten years I’ve been stewing in the religion, I’ve come to realize that there are parts of what I started with that don’t make sense to me anymore. It’s natural for this to happen — and it’s certainly not something that worries me — I don’t call myself Wiccan because I need to fit my beliefs in a box (I am a mostly solitary practitioner, after all) , so it doesn’t bother me when something doesn’t quite fit into the box Gerald Gardner started building in the 1940’s. However, it does give me something to think about.

The thing that has come to bother me is the threefold law. If you’re not familiar with it, it goes something like this:

Ever Mind The Rule Of Three
Three Times Your Acts Return To Thee
This Lesson Well, Thou Must Learn
Thou Only Gets What Thee Dost Earn

I like the idea that whatever you put out into the universe comes back to you, and that is indeed the heart of this concept. What I don’t like is the idea that it happens in threes–it bothers me mathematically because if everything really happens in threes, you can just factor out the three and that’s the same as everything happening in ones, which makes more sense to me and sounds a lot less like something someone just made up one day. I also don’t like that it sounds like a reward/punishment system (“Thou only gets what thee dost earn”) with some sort of immediacy. Furthermore, I don’t like that it sounds like it was written by someone who wanted to write in Renaissance English but actually lived in the 20th century and didn’t know how.

On the number three: I think it makes sense in a lot of contexts. A disproportionate number of ideas (especially occult concepts) come in threes or are triplets–beginning, middle, ending; maiden, mother, crone; father, son, holy spirit; body, mind, spirit; thought, word, deed… the list goes on. The number three is indeed magickally powerful; but so is every other number in its own way, and in this case, having a number at all is completely unnecessary. The chosen number is consequently completely arbitrary. That is to say, when every bit of energy put into the universe gets multiplied by the same number before it comes back to you, it doesn’t matter what that number is (furthermore multiplying it at all would mean that the energy of the universe is constantly expanding exponentially, and I’m no expert, but it doesn’t seem to me like that’s the case) .

If you need a mathematical refresher, here’s what the threefold law essentially is saying: grant that I put out 4 units of good energy into the universe and 1 unit of bad energy (assuming, which I don’t, that energy can be simply “good” or “bad”) . The threefold law says that I should get back 12 units of good energy (4×3) and 3 units of bad energy (1×3) . But if we look at this as a ratio of good energy to bad energy, then input:output is 4/1:12/3. If you divide the output by 3/3 (which is just a fancy 1) , you get 4/1:4/1.

So, the threefold law is just a fancy way of saying that the amount of each type of energy the universe throws at you is directly proportionate to the amount of that type of energy you put out into the universe. Essentially, the problem I have with the threefold law is mathematical, not philosophical. I understand, if they were going to choose an arbitrary number, WHY they would choose 3–I just don’t understand why a number had to be chosen if it was going to be completely arbitrary anyway.

There is another version of the threefold law called the Law of Return, and this is something I like much better. Below is a rather lengthy quote from Catherine Noble Beyer (just another everyday practitioner who posts some of her thoughts on the interwebs) , whose thoughts I find line up very closely with mine:

“The world does not work as simply as [the threefold law] make it sound. If it did we’d all be donating to charity like mad and reaping the rewards by the handful. The idea of things returning threefold is unnatural. According to the Law of Ecology (from biology class – as Wiccans we should be taking lessons from nature) :

“Everything is connected to everything else
Everything must go somewhere
Nature knows best
There is no such thing as a free lunch

“But it is true that harm tends to beget harm, and it is true that one good turns deserves another: people remember a person’s charity and are more likely to aid them in return. Hence, why I prefer to use the term “Law of Return” over “Threefold Law”.

“Let’s also remember one of Newton’s laws as another lesson from nature: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. “Opposite” does not mean that you receive bad for every good. It means what gets put out comes back. For instance, if you push upon a wall, the wall is actually pushing back with an equal amount of force – if it did not, it would fall over. That’s straight from physics class.”

If you’re very interested in this topic, I suggest you check out her whole article on the subject at http://wicca.cnbeyer.com/three.shtml

The only thing I require, which the Threefold Law has and the somewhat simpler and more sensical Law of Return lacks, is the benefit of being written in a short, rhyming ditty. The reason you hear rhyming spells from, say, the witches in Macbeth, is that in this sort of practice there IS the belief that rhyme better connects a person to the universe–it forces rhythm and brings out the inner child, who is less sophisticated (here I make use of the original c. 1600 definition of sophisticated: “mixed with a foreign substance, impure; no longer simple or natural, ” etymonline.com) and therefore better able to participate in creative acts.

The simple solution to this problem is to write out the Law of Return in a short, rhyming ditty, so I did:

Of your actions ever wary be,
for all that derives is drawn to thee:
Water will wet, fire will burn,
and all you beget alike will return.

That’s all.

_______________________________

Footnotes:
http://wicca.cnbeyer.com/three.shtml

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The Law of Return

mabon-1

The Law of Return


 

The Law Of Return

The Law of Return means that what you do affects what happens to you. If you do good, good is going to happen to you; if you do evil, evil will happen. The Law of Return exists in every religion in one form or another. In some it’s given a multiplier. Good and bad are said to come back upon you three- or tenfold.

The Ethics of Self Responsibility

Simply put, We and only we, are responsible for our own actions. In Wicca, there is no “The devil made me do it.” We don’t believe in devils.

The Ethics of Self Improvement

The desire to improve the world around us, guided in part by the Law of Return. Ecology, teaching and preaching tolerance, racial harmony and reverence for the arts and history, and living one’s life toward peace are important examples. Only by being constant in our learning, and growth, do we help prevent intolerance.

The Ethics of Attunement

Divinity is within us and around us, and becoming in-tune with this power is a major facet of Wicca.

1. We, in our Self, are divine. No one is in control of us except us.

2. The Gods/other powers are divine. The gods/goddesses are more like parents, and less like the god of Christianity.

3. Earth is a living being. Each individual being, plant, animal or mineral on Earth is a part of that being. Everything has a spirit of its own.

taken from ” The Five Points of Wiccan Belief,” laid out by Universal Eclectic Wicca

The Law of Return

The Law of Return

The Law of Return means that what you do affects what happens to you. If you do good, good is going to happen to you; if you do evil, evil will happen. The Law of Return exists in every religion in one form or another. In some it’s given a multiplier. Good and bad are said to come back upon you three- or tenfold.

The Ethic of Self-responsibility
Simply put, We and only we, are responsible for our own actions. In Wicca, there is no “The devil made me do it.” We don’t believe in devils.

The Ethic of Constant Improvement
The desire to improve the world around us, guided in part by the Law of Return.
Ecology, teaching and preaching tolerance, racial harmony and reverence for the arts and history, and living one’s life toward peace are important examples. Only by being constant in our learning, and growth, do we help prevent intolerance.

The Ethic of Attunement
Divinity is within us and around us, and becoming in-tune with this power is a major facet of Wicca.

1. We, in our Self, are divine. No one is in control of us except us.

2. The Gods/other powers are divine. The gods/goddesses are more like parents,
and less like the god of Christianity.

3. Earth is a living being. Each individual being, plant, animal or mineral on Earth is a part of that being. Everything has a spirit of its own.

The Three-Fold Law

 

May whatever ye do, Come back to the,
Three times bad, or three times good

Three-Fold Law, or Law of Return as it is also called, is perhaps one of the more controversial aspects of Wiccan ethics. The basic premise is that anything we do comes back to us in the end, often to a greater degree (such as three-fold). If we do good, then good will be retuned and if we cause harm, we put ourselves in danger of harm.

This relates a lot towards Karma. In that ethically it is equivalent to the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have done to you”. But in the case of the Law of Return, there is a literal reward or punishment tied to one’s actions, particularly when it comes to working magic.

The debate over the validity of the Law of Return and its variations takes many forms. Some feel that it was created to keep new initiates in check as they learned to work with magic, while others feel it is a remnant of Christian thinking, being that a majority of Wiccans come from a Christian background. However, many Wiccans today, including some authors and “community leaders”, take the three-fold law quite literally.

Since the idea that “we reap what we sow” is generally accepted among Wiccans, the Law of Return can fairly be considered a core belief. However, it must be acknowledged that it is neither a necessary nor a universally defining belief of the Craft. There are many Wiccans, experienced and new alike, who view the Law of Return as an over-elaboration on the Wiccan Rede, which recommends that we refrain from causing harm. A Wiccan would not wish to cause harm since he or she deems it wrong to do so, not out of fear of retribution.

Doreen Valiente, one of the most influential and respected figures in modern witchcraft, boldly stated in her speech at the National Conference of the Pagan Federation in November 1997:

Another teaching of Gerald’s which I have come to question is the belief known popularly as “the Law of Three”. This tells us that whatever you send out in witchcraft you get back threefold, for good or ill.
Well, I don’t believe it! Why should we believe that there is a special Law of Karma that applies only to witches? For Goddess’ sake do we really kid ourselves that we are that important? Yet I am told, many people, especially in the USA, take this as an article of faith. I have never seen it in any of the old books of magic, and I think Gerald invented it.

While researching the Three-Fold Law, I took the liberty of writing several early authors who had referenced it in their books. The few responses I received were always the same; they did not know where it came from but it was known, at least as oral tradition, when they entered the craft. Using the dates of their initiations I hoped to at least obtain a starting point for my research. In this case, since Raymond Buckland was the first to be initiated of those authors who took the time to respond, I had a start date of 1963. Buckland was initiated as a Gardnerian by Lady Olwen, Gerald Gardner’s last High Priestess before his death in 1964. Although Buckland recalled that Lady Olwen’s coven referred to the three-fold law, he did not recall any mention of it by Gardner himself in their correspondences. I also knew from Margot Adler, that it was known in the US, at least orally when she entered the craft in 1972. “I know it was talked about the minute I entered the craft in the Brooklyn Pagan Way, and that was 72, but whether it came in written or oral form, I don’t know.” The Brooklyn Pagan Way was run by the New York Coven of Welsh Traditional Witches so the Law of Return had already disseminated outside of Gardnerian practice by 1972.

Starting with books in the 60’s, I sought to find any reference to the Three-Fold Law or variations of that theme. I was particularly interested in finding non-Gardnerian sources since, unlike many other aspects of modern Wicca, the Three-Fold Law appears to be a purely Wiccan construct particularly of Gardnerian lineage, adding a moral element to the practice of magic. I then worked backward seeking earlier influences, as well as forward, seeing who referenced these early books in their bibliographies

The Law of Return

The Law of Return

by Amanda Silvers

 

The threefold law of return: We hear much about this, but do we really comprehend the meaning? What you put out comes back times three (or more), means unequivocally that, good or bad, you reap what your actions have sown.

How do we define “putting something out”? A thought, a deed, a word are all actions that contain energy. Think about this: If you disburse money willingly, with the focus that you are contributing to the prosperity of the community, the prosperous energy returns to you. Not always in the exact way that you want; sometimes in the most unexpected ways!

If you choose to live in lack, feel like there is never an adequate amount of anything and attempt to hoard and hold onto everything, the flow stops. It’s akin to putting a dam on the energy flow. If you are broke, give a little away, whether it’s time or energy or money. Doing so will create a vacuum effect, which will then help to get the flow started back toward you instead of away from you.

Money is only paper with numbers on it, it is used to represent energy. You expend your energy for some of it and then give it away for something someone else put energy into. Just like everything else, it goes around in a never-ending cycle; there is an ebb and flow to it. Sometimes you have more, sometimes less, but there is always a coming and going of cash; that’s why it’s called cash flow!

This philosophy also works in other areas of life, love for instance. Do you suppose that you have only a limited amount of love? Is it to be rationed out as you go through life? Will you run out? I think not. The more affection you give, the more you generate, the more you experience, the more you give! Just like that. The cycle turns the wheel.

Try this in another area. Have you ever been frightened of having something happen and then had it happen just as you hoped it would not? Or have you ever said “I will never ______ (fill in the blank)” and found yourself doing just that shortly thereafter? Magickal components are a part of everyday life. You have an intent, put emotion (energy) into it, take action and bring it into being. You begin to create with nothing more than a word or thought. It works remarkably well for those things that you say never about, because you feel intensely about them and put a lot of energy into them. What do you think would have more power: “I wish I could win the lottery!” or “I will never have enough money!”?

Your subconscious mind does not recognize the word “not”; it’s a non-word. When you say “I do not want to do that,” it is a direct command to your brain; you are basically saying that you really do want to do whatever it is. If someone says to you, “I do notwant to hurt you,” be careful!

If you sit around all the time, agonizing about your bills, your job, your health, your love life… what kind of energy are you putting out? How might that energy be contributing in a magickal sense to your circumstances? Would you do a spell to get a job you hate, or to get into a bad relationship? Of course not! So why sit around and put energy into negative crap when you could be furthering your positive wishes? The universe is a bountiful place; the Goddess is generous with her gifts. There is plenty for all. Does this ring true for you? If not, you might ask yourself, “Why not?” What beliefs that you hold to be true are sabotaging you?

“Try” is another one of my pet peeves. When a person says they will try to do something, it is just an excuse for not doing it, as in “I tried! I just couldn’t.” Think about what you say. Instead of saying “I will try,” see how much power there is in actually committing. Say “I will do it!” Also, how much power is there in saying no to those things you really don’t intend to do. Wow, what an enormous amount of energy you free up by just saying no in the first place! Then you don’t have to worry till the last minute whether you should actually do it, then have to make an excuse for not doing it – not to mention maybe having to do something you’d really rather not. You will find people will respect you more and value your energy more when you can be believed and counted upon to do what you say, as well as for your being in control of your boundaries.

Finally, be careful what you wish upon someone else, because just as positive thoughts come back to you, so do the negative ones aimed at others. Don’t wish on someone else something you would not like to have happen to you and yours. Be careful of those things said thoughtlessly or in jest. How might you feel if the nasty thought you thought when you were angry at your friend or mate were to happen?

Make your statements in the positive. Strive to be conscious of your every thought and word and the energy around them. Focus on the here and now and what’s happening. If you can accomplish this, the law of return will work in your favor and only good things will come to you.

Be careful what you ask for; you just might get it!

The Law of Return and the Wiccan Rede

The Law of Return and the Wiccan Rede

Author: Rebecca Ivy MoonPanther

Note: This article is in two parts. The first part is concerning what I prefer to call the Law of Return (also called the Rule of Three, Three/Seven Fold Law, etc.) .

We all have been wronged before. It sucks, and we all know that some people/things are really experts at knowing what pisses you off the most. And then we often hear of people doing unspeakable things and getting off easy. Take as examples: most school shooters shoot themselves after they have sufficiently caused enough damage; Hitler did so, too. So they get an easy death. One shot and gone, right? How do we know that justice was really served?

I cannot say it truly was. I cannot say it wasn’t either, for the record. But being a witch, and a Wiccan one at that, I believe that everyone, no matter whom or what you are or believe in gets what comes to them. Be it positive or negative. Whatever you give you get back.

I believe in reincarnation, and that every life brings us closer and closer to the divine. No matter how miniscule the step, it is there. Now understand that I am not saying that these criminal shooters or Hitler are going to reincarnate as a target at a gun range and get shot for all eternity. And I do not believe in the patriarchal Hell/Satan either. But I do believe in justice, and I believe in it because of all the unheard voices in the world. The people who have been wronged who cannot speak. The dead who were killed before their time. Men, women, babies, mothers, fathers…people who will not die in vain.

Although, it was fate that they leave this Earth, the Divine Spirit, my Lady Luna and Father Helios cannot see their children suffer without proper retribution. The Law of Return is a universal belief that what you do will come back to you, in whatever multiplication you choose to see, be it three, seven, nine, or just whatever multitude the event happened in (which is my belief) .

Now, my brother (of all people) said something about karma that made a lot of sense.

“If the person does not know what they did was wrong, karma couldn’t come to them.”

Of course, his grammar was not as good, but you get the point. That is a very good point, and I agree. That’s when perception comes into play. If we are talking about a universal principle, we have to take individual perception into account. Everyone sees what he or she wants to see, consciously and subconsciously. You may really, really want to see something, but inside, you know you’re not ready for it.

Like fate. If subconsciously, you believe you did wrong, then wrong will come to you. But if inside you believe you were giving justice, or some kind of belief like that, (i.e. a Nazi extremist, skinhead, or Al Qaeda bomber) , then it will not.

However, retribution will be given in other ways. Like on our side of the world, we are very prejudiced against Middle Eastern folks because of 9/11. The spirits of those men have to see how their fellow Arabs are being treated now. The injustice is because of them. (Heightened security, extra scrutiny, all of it.)

I am really getting off track, but moving on.

The Law of Return basically says that we alone are responsible for our actions. Our actions, our decisions are the only things we, ourselves, can control. Not Satan, not a cult leader… no one else can be responsible for what we freely decide to do. But once you give up your own power, your rebound involves any action that was not made because of your better judgment.

This Law goes so well with Perfect Love and Perfect Trust because you have to love and trust the divine enough to say, “I own my life and my actions because you gave me a mind and a body and a heart to make my decisions with. I am in control, but in the event I get overwhelmed, I can surrender my problems to you.”

I know this law is true because I lost one of my dearest loves, and best friends to a force I couldn’t stop. I know that fate works because I have faith in it. Have faith in the universe, and it will bring you peace.

This second part is my take on the Wiccan Rede.

The Rede has been interpreted as a lot of things. Long, short, law, advice, or not even relevant at all.

The truth is “bad” things and “bad” events exist because, not only were we given the capabilities to make these things (ex: given the knowledge to make steel, which can be made into a sword) , but also because they are here for a reason.

Bad and good are up to the individual’s interpretation, and of course, perception. For example, most of us good ol’ American kids have gone to D.A.R.E., right? Drugs are “bad”. I know this as I have already gone over that abuse hump and survived it to this point.

But at the same time, if there were no drugs or addiction, or abuse or neglect, so many people would not experience the feeling of being alive and reborn that stopping an addiction or freeing themselves from tyranny often gives. Drug free programs would have no use and we would not know the uses, medicinal and otherwise of most plants. Some of our best songs in many genres were written out of and about addiction or abuse of some sort.

There are many things that come out of “harm”, so really, labeling anything as “bad” or “good”, “light” or “dark”, “good” or “evil” is pretty much futile in my opinion. Without one, the other cannot exist. This world is not black and white, or even gray. It is of many shades, hues, sizes, and shapes and we need to consider them all, even within our own “world”.

Although there really is no point in labeling anything as bad or good, we all must have some sort of ethics system to regulate the extension and boundaries of expression and free will. That’s how I see the Wiccan Rede.

I do not see it as a law for every person because it is simplistic by itself. However, within its simplicity is its beauty and curse. We all want to do what is best and what will bring the most positive energy to the universe. That poem simply puts a label to that ideal.

It is not to be taken literally, because if we never harmed anything, we better be plants, because we can’t eat anything. In any topic of ethics, it is very tricky because every side of the spectrum has to be taken into account. This world is complicated, but this aspect of humility towards all things, giving back what you take, and treating all with respect and tolerance is an ideal for which all of us should abide by.

Please know that you don’t have to like something to tolerate it. Tolerance is simply saying, ok do what makes you happy as long as you don’t hurt others.

And, as far as defending yourself, and all that, you are included in the universe, as we are all connected. If I am to hurt you, then I am in essence hurting myself. So, protect yourself!

You are all you have at the end of your days in this life. You are the constant that keeps the fabric of existence in tact. If you were meant to be gone, you would not be reading this. The Goddess has given us trials, and has given us the God in the form of the Sun and his rays for us to see the light of every dark situation. There is always a plan B, and your actions will reflect in your environment.

I think that’s it.

Love and Light to you all.

       


Footnotes:
*These articles are my opinion, based on my solitary studies in Wicca. If you have comments, constructive criticism, or what have you, please contact me.