Saturday, July 18, 2015

Tips for Living Wicca: Daily Bomb #5: The Threefold Law... not what you think it is.

The Daily Bomb was explained in detail in this first Daily Bomb post here. 

In a nutshell, there is a terrible epidemic of misinformation in Wicca... and it is important that Wiccans start correcting it (even if it means re-examining your previous ideas). 

Now that we've cleared up some stuff on the Wiccan Rede, let's move on to another saying that's majorly associated with Wicca.

#5 The Threefold Law was pulled out of Gerald Gardner's fiction.

Once again, many modern Wiccans will tell you that the Threefold Law is is a universal Wiccan rule that everyone adheres to, and the way they talk you'd think it was some ancient wisdom that is never doubted. 

So wrong. Again we have to go back to Gerald Gardner to understand how this particular piece of liturgy came to be blown out of proportion today.

Back in 1939, it's generally accepted that Gardner was initiated into a coven. He wanted to write about Witchcraft in the 40's, but he couldn't because of anti-Witchcraft laws in effect.... but that only meant he couldn't write non-fiction. The laws did not prevent him from writing a fiction novel. 

And he did: he wrote High Magic's Aid-- a fiction novel about sorcery and witchcraft set in the 1100s. Gardner added tidbits about his coven, disguising it as fiction. The Threefold Law was not one of those disguised tidbits.

In High Magic's Aid, an initiation scene includes the quotes,  "Then she said; Thou hast obeyed the law. But mark well when thou receivest good, so equally art bound to return good threefold."

That was it-- just a sentence. And if you notice, the sentence merely says that if someone does something nice to you, you should do nice back times three. It says nothing about a universal pay-back system based on a multiple of thee.

A few years later, the anti-Witchcraft laws were repealed, and Gardner wrote a nonfiction book about Witchcraft. Guess what? Bingo... no Threefold Law.

That's right... the Threefold Law was Gardner's fiction. NOT in his non-fiction.

And what of his own High Priestess and co-creator of Wicca and all it's liturgy, Doreen Valiente, the Mother of Modern Witchcraft-- what did she have to say about all this?

Let's turn to this 1991 interview with Fireheart Magazine:

Fireheart: Maybe it's karma or the threefold return, and they're saying, "We'll give it to her one way or the other."

Doreen Valiente: I don't believe this stuff about the threefold return, you know. I've always been very skeptical about that, but I'm a lot more skeptical than I used to be. The older I get, the more skeptical I get. I don't believe in all sorts of things that I used to believe in.

Fireheart: Where do you think the threefold idea came from?

Doreen Valiente: I think old Gerald cooked it up in one of his rituals, and people took it terribly literally. Personally, I've always been skeptical about it because it doesn't seem to me to make sense. I don't see why there has to be one special law of karma for Witches and a different one for everybody else. I don't buy that. 

In other quotes you can find with a quick search, Valiente says outright she thinks Gardner made it up, and that she's never seen it in any of the 'old books'. And remember: she would have seen it; she reworked all of his liturgy and rituals.

Some people try to connect it to the Hindu concept of karma, and indeed, the Hindus and Buddhists DO have a concept of karma, but it has nothing to do with x3, and it is a very different concept from the Western/Wiccan view of karma. The threefold law got associated with karma later, but it did not come from the concept of karma.

So how did all this Threefold Law stuff become some entwined with Wicca? Mostly Raymond Buckland pushed it in his books. And then people seemed to latch onto it eventually... not everyone; but you wouldn't know that from popular Llewellyn books or the Internet.

Once again I must point out-- if you believe in the Threefold Law, THAT'S OKAY!!!!! I'm not saying you're WRONG for believing it.

The problem comes when people keep telling everyone that this is some kind of Wiccan 'Rule'-- or that ALL Wiccans follow it. Or believe it. Or that it's always been some bit of wisdom at the heart of Wicca. That's simply not true...

My Tip for You Today:  Spread the word. 



  1. This was another subject that I couldn't quite wrap my head around. I couldn't figure out why three was used - why 3? It seemed more like the superstition my mom used to say, that deaths come in threes. It wasn't until much later that I came across books and people who disregarded this statement.

    But honestly? I didn't realize its origins. I'm not even sure I bothered to look into it all that much to begin with. It was, though, something that tons of people seemed to follow and encourage newcomers to believe.

    1. The number three has long been seen as a mystical number (trinitarian gods, things coming in threes, etc.) so it's gotten thoroughly rooted in superstition. I remember my parents used to say deaths come in threes too; so of course when someone died all I did was look around for 2 other deaths (no matter how unrelated) to confirm this. I agree with you, never really made sense.

    2. I always interpreted is as meaning that the good and ill one puts out returns to you (karma/retribution), but affects you threefold--in mind, body, and soul. Not that it returns time three.