“Many people are drawn to the Craft for what it isn’t. Those who stay in the Craft appreciate what it is.”
Please note: This was originally a series of three blog posts I made early on in this blog’s creation. I have decided now to put them into their own page tab, with some minor updates, for reference and so that new visitors seeking some basic ‘ground rules’ of Craft practice and belief would be able to find them easily. So if this seems very long, that’s because it was originally three separate pieces.
There will also be some things talked about here that may seem different from what you have seen or heard from other sources. I’ve been doing this “Witchcraft” thing for a long time. I don’t claim to be the ultimate authority, but I have been around and learned from multiple sources and people. Because of that, some of the ‘sugar filter’ has been worn away by realism and practicality, by experiences outside of what books and websites will tell you, and what gets repeated as absolute fact by folks who haven’t actually done the research on their own before passing things along. I think for the most part that last thing isn’t done with the idea to intentionally mislead, but is the result of laziness brought on by it just being easier to pass along something that sounds good and that you agree with than it is to do some digging and find out where such-and-such actually came from. You don’t have to agree with what I say here, and you’re free to dismiss it if you choose, I just hope that you will think about it and decide why you don’t agree with it or don’t like it before casting it aside out of turn. This blog isn’t really geared towards beginners, though I try to have some stuff that will be helpful to those who are new to the path. Most of my articles are written here from the viewpoint of someone who isn’t looking at all of this with brand-new and eager eyes, clouded by fantasy and wishful thinking. Rather, for someone like me, who loves and appreciates the Craft for what it is, and who is still amazed by it, even more so, after the initial enchantment has worn away.
This page is centered predominately on the religious and philosophical beliefs of Wicca as I know it to be. I tend to refer to my own path as Pagan Religious Witchcraft, but because the word “Wicca” is accepted as the legal and societal moniker for these recognized and protected beliefs, I use that word as well to define and describe what I do and teach. It fits, even if the classical definition of Wicca is interpreted to mean something else depending on who you ask.
So, for clarity, I use the terms Wicca and Witchcraft interchangeably, because I practice “both” and see them as the same thing. Not all Witches or Wiccans do this. For more explanation on why I choose to, see the page tab Is there a difference between Wicca and Witchcraft? Along with this, I must express that the views and thoughts within this blog are my own. Not all Wiccans/Witches believe the same way that I do, but I think a good many of them probably see things in similar ways. If you have questions, please ask.
Wicca: The Basics
Wicca is a “monistic” religion (not to be confused with monotheistic). This means that Wiccans view Godhead as being at one with all Nature, unlike some other religions which are “dualistic”, believing that man and Nature are corrupt and separate from God and that the goal of man is to escape from life, the world, and even the “Self” identity. Dualistic religions view the word as a vale of tears, and emphasize the suffering and negativity of life.
Wiccans, on the other hand, realize that there is indeed an unpleasant side to existence and the material world, but they believe that evil can be surmounted by maintaining a positive outlook and realizing humanity’s divine nature.
When Wiccans do use the term “duality” in our religious beliefs, we are referring to the creative, harmonious, and complementary duality of male and female, rather than the sharp dichotomy between good and evil which dualistic religions make.
Pagan Witchcraft is an autonomous religion. There is no central authority or liturgy; various traditions have their own rituals, philosophy and beliefs. Most are derivative of the dominant tradition, Gardnerian. Traditions have undergone continual evolution, multiplying, changing, even dying, in accordance with prevailing religious needs. Some have added elements from Eastern, Native American, aboriginal and shamanic systems; others have injected politics into their traditions. New rituals, songs, chants and poetry are continually created. Critics say as a result, Witchcraft is an unstable religion. Witches view the change and flexibility as positive, a guarantee that our religion will never grow stale with obsolete ideas.
All modern Witchcraft traditions share a deep respect for nature and all living things. Most Witches are pantheists, believing the Divine Force manifests in multiple forms, recognized as Pagan deities. Rituals are colorful, creative, and energizing. Witches believe in enjoying sensual and sexual pleasures without guilt. Magic, whether performed individually or in a coven, should be directed toward a good purpose, not to harm.
Within traditions, covens are autonomous, some fiercely so. Each customarily has a secret Book of Shadows, which includes the tradition’s laws, ethics, rituals, administrative rules and other material, including personal material and material relating just to the coven. Most traditions have formal Initiation procedures. It has become increasingly acceptable to dedicate oneself to the Craft and to practice alone rather than as part of a coven.
Neo-Pagan Witches define ourselves as healers, servants of the community and servants of the Goddess and (usually) the Horned God, whom we worship in our religion. We believe in respecting the sanctity of all life and being in harmony with all living things and with the forces of the universe. Ideally, we strive to attune ourselves to nature and the elements, forces we control in the working of magic. We develop our psychic abilities and seek to raise our spiritual consciousness through study, the practice of our Craft and observance of a moral and ethical life-style, in accordance with Craft laws and tenets. “Witches, on the whole, enjoy ritual – and they are naturally joyous people,” state English Witches Stewart and Janet Farrar in Eight Sabbats for Witches (1981). “Like worshipers of other religions, they find that appropriate ritual uplifts and enriches them.”
One of the Witches’ most important basic beliefs, obviously, is the reality and the possibility of magic. This involves the idea that the physical world is only part of reality, the part that we are able to comprehend with our five senses. Beyond are vaster realms; and in these the witch seeks to venture. This, again, involves a further belief, namely that human beings have more senses than the usual reckoning of five. By means of these innate psychic capacities, the realms beyond the physical are contacted. These powers, say the witch, are perfectly natural; but latent and inactive in the majority of people. They are powers that have become overlaid and hidden by the artificialities of civilization; but they can be reawakened.
This is one of the matters that have brought Witches so often into conflict with the priests of orthodox religions. The established religion of a country does not find it acceptable for people to have their own contact with the Beyond, independently of orthodox priests and their rules and sacraments. The Establishment does not like having its authority weakened.
The Goddess and God
Witches reject the masculine, patriarchal concept of God, in favor of older ideas. We do not see why a rigid monotheism should necessarily be a sign of human advancement, as it is generally taken to be. It seems more reasonable to us to conceive of divinity as being both masculine and feminine; and as evolving moreover a hierarchy of great beings, personified as Gods and Goddesses, who rule over the different departments of nature, and assist in the evolution of the cosmos.
The God and Goddess are primordial in nature. Both the Horned God and the naked Goddess, the latter sometimes alone and sometimes in triple form, are both found, in man’s oldest sacred art, in his most ancient sanctuaries, the caves of the Stone Age.
The triple form of the Goddess is related to the three phases of the moon, waxing, full and waning. Her relation to human fertility is a vital one, as the female menstrual cycle of twenty-eight days coincides with the duration of the lunar month, a fact which primitive people would undoubtedly have noted. Indeed, some archeologists believe that markings found to have been made by early Stone Age people are observations and reckonings of lunar phases, mankind’s first attempt at astronomy and the making of calendars.
The virility of the great horned beasts, the stag and the bison, upon which man in his hunting phase depended; the beauty and mystery of the light of the moon, the meter-out of time and ruler of the tides, both of water and of feminine life; these were fundamental, primitive things. The pagans, who worshiped the divine made manifest in nature, personified them as the first divinities known to us.
They saw, as the peoples of the East still do, the interplay of opposite yet complementary forces, without which no manifestation can take place. These fundamental powers are called in the ancient Chinese system known as the I Ching or Book of Change, the Yang and the Yin. The Yang is the active, masculine power (the God) and the Yin the passive, feminine one (the Goddess).
The Goddess is first of all earth, the dark, nurturing Mother who brings forth all life. She is the power of fertility and generation; the womb, and also the receptive tomb, the power of death. All proceeds from her; all returns to her. As earth, She is also plant life: trees, the herbs and grains that sustain life. She is the body, and the body is sacred. Womb, breast, belly, mouth, vagina, penis, bone and blood – no part of the body is unclean, no aspect of the life processes is stained by any concept of sin. Birth, death, and decay are equally sacred parts of the cycle. Whether we are eating, sleeping, making love, or eliminating body wastes, we are manifesting the Goddess.
The Earth Goddess is also air and sky, the Celestial Queen of Heaven, the Star Goddess, ruler of things felt but not seen, of knowledge, mind and intuition. She is the Muse who awakens all creations of the human spirit. She is the cosmic lover, the morning and evening star, Venus, who appears at times of lovemaking. Beautiful and glittering, She can never be grasped or penetrated; the mind is drawn ever further in the drive to know the unknowable, to speak the unspeakable. She is the inspiration that comes with an in drawn breath.
The Celestial Goddess is seen as the moon, who is linked to women’s monthly cycles of bleeding and fertility. Woman is the earthly moon. The moon is the celestial egg, drifting in the sky womb, whose menstrual blood is the fertilizing rain and the cool dew. She rules the tides of the oceans, the first womb of life on earth. So the moon is also Mistress of Waters: the waves of the sea, streams, springs, the rivers that are the arteries of Mother Earth, feelings and emotions, which wash over us like waves.
The Goddess is the universal Mother. She is the source of fertility, endless wisdom and loving caresses. As the Wicca know Her, she is often of three aspects: the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone, symbolized in the waxing, full and waning of the Moon. She is at once the unploughed field, the full harvest, and the dormant, frost-covered Earth. She gives birth to abundance, but as life is her gift, she lends it with the promise of death. This is not darkness and oblivion, but rest from the toils of physical existence. It is human existence between incarnations.
Since the Goddess is nature, all nature, She is both the Temptress and the Crone, the tornado and the fresh spring rain, the cradle and the grave.
She is possessed of both natures. Wiccans revere Her as the giver of fertility, love, and abundance through the light half of the year and they acknowledge Her darker side as well in the dark half. We see her in the Moon, the soundless, ever-moving sea, and in the green growth of the first spring. She is the embodiment of fertility and love.
The Goddess has been known as the Queen of Heaven, Mother of the Gods that made the Gods, the Divine Source, the Universal Matrix, the Great Mother, and by countless other titles.
Many symbols are used in Wicca to honor Her, such as the cauldron, cup, labrys, five-petalled flowers, the mirror, necklace, seashell, pearl, silver, emerald, to name a few.
As She has dominion over the Earth, Sea, and Moon. Her creatures are varied and numerous. A few include the rabbit, bear, owl, cat, dog, bat, goose, snake, cow, dolphin, lion, horse, wren, scorpion, spider and bee. All are sacred to the Goddess.
The Goddess has been depicted as a huntress running with Her hounds; a celestial deity striding across the sky with stardust falling from Her heels; the eternal Mother, heavy with child; the weaver of our lives and deaths; a Crone walking by waning moonlight seeking out the weak and forlorn, and as many other beings. But no matter how we envision Her, She is omnipresent, changeless, eternal.
The image of the Horned God in Witchcraft is radically different from any other image of masculinity in our culture. He is difficult to understand, because He does not fit into any of the expected stereotypes, neither those of the “macho” male nor the reverse – images of those who deliberately seek effeminacy. He is gentle, tender and comforting, but He is also the Hunter. He is the Dying God – but his death is always in the service of the life force. He is untamed sexuality – but sexuality as a deep, holy, connecting power. He is the power of feeling, and the image of what men could be if they were liberated from the constraints of patriarchal culture.
The image of the Horned God was deliberately perverted by the medieval church into the image of the Christian Devil. Witches do not believe in or worship the Devil; we consider it a concept peculiar to Christianity. The God of the Witches is sexual – but sexuality as seen as sacred, not as obscene or blasphemous. Our God wears horns – but they are the waxing and waning crescents of the Goddess Moon and the symbol of animal vitality. In some aspects he is black, not because he is dreadful or fearful, but because darkness and the night are times of power, and part of the cycles of time.
The Horned God represents powerful, positive, male qualities that derive from deeper sources than the stereotypes and the violence and emotional crippling of men in our society. If man had been created in the Horned God’s image, he would be free to be wild without being cruel, angry without being violent, sexual without being coercive, spiritual without being unsexed, and able to truly love.
For Witches, the God is the image of inner power and of a potency that is more than merely sexual. He is the undivided Self, in which mind is not split from body, nor spirit from flesh. United, both can function at the peak of creative and emotional power.
The God has been revered for eons. He is neither the stern, all-powerful deity of Christianity and Judaism, nor is He simply the consort of the Goddess. God or Goddess, they are equal, One.
We typically see the God in the Sun, brilliantly shining overhead during the day, rising and setting in the endless cycle which governs our lives. With the warmth that bursts the dormant seeds into life and hastens the greening of the Earth after the cold snows of winter.
The God is also tender of the wild animals. As the Horned God, He is sometimes seen wearing horns or antlers on his head, symbolizing his connection with these beasts. In earlier times, hunting was one of the activities ruled by the God while the domestication of animals was seen to be Goddess-oriented.
The God’s domains include forests untouched by human hands, burning deserts, and towering mountains. The stars, since they are but distant suns, are sometimes thought to be under his domain.
The yearly cycle of greening, maturation, and harvest has long been associated with the sun, hence the solar festivals of Europe which are still observed in Wicca.
The God is the fully ripened harvest, intoxicating wine pressed from grapes, golden grain waving in a lone field, shimmering apples hanging from verdant boughs on October afternoons.
With the Goddess, He also celebrates and rules sex. Wiccans don’t avoid sex or speak of it in hushed words. It’s a part of nature and is accepted as such. Since it brings pleasure, shifts our awareness away from the everyday world and perpetuates our species, it is thought to be sacred. The God lustily imbues us with the urge that ensures our species’ biological future.
Symbols often used to depict or to worship the God include the sword, horns, spear, candle, gold, brass, diamond, the sickle, arrow, magical wand, trident, knife and others. Creatures sacred to him include the bull, dog, fish, stag, dragon, wolf, boar, eagle, falcon, shark, lizard and many others.
Of old, the God was the Sky Father, and the Goddess, the Earth Mother. The God of the Sky, of rain and lightning, descended upon and united with the Goddess, spreading seed upon the land, celebrating Her fertility.
The Goddess is the Encircler, the Ground of Being; the God is That-Which-Is-Brought-Forth, her mirror image, her other pole. She is the earth; He is the grain. She is the all-encompassing sky; He is the sun, her fireball. She is the Wheel; He is the Traveler. His is the sacrifice of life to death that life may go on. She is Mother and Destroyer; He is all that is born and is destroyed.
Relationships of the God and Goddess:
Dualistic Relationship – The God and Goddess relate to each other as brother-sister, or husband-wife. Ex. Zeus/Jupiter and Hera/Juno/Demeter or Diana/Lucifer and Diana/Apollo, bears resemblance to the Yin/Yang concept of duality.
Triadic Relationship – Father, Mother and Child. Ex. Osiris, Isis and Horus or Zeus, Demeter and Persephone or Zeus, Demeter and Dionysus. Also God, Mary and Jesus.
Triple Face of the Goddess – Maiden, Mother and Crone. Ex. Persephone, Demeter and Hecate or Diana, Selene and Hecate.
Dual Nature of the God as King of the Waxing Year and King of the Waning Year. In some cases this is developed into a triad, where the two gods are seen as brothers, one light, the other dark, contending for the hand of the Goddess and in other cases, there is a father – son relationship, where the child becomes the Divine King, only to wane with the coming winter and be succeeded by his son and rival. Ex. Set and Osiris, Prometheus and Epimetheus, Baal and Mat, or Lugh and Balor. Also the Oak and Holly Kings.
Ethics and Morals
An it harm none, do what ye will.
This is known as the Wiccan Rede.
‘An’ is an antiquated term meaning ’if’ not ‘and’.
The word ‘rede’ basically means ‘advice’ or ‘counsel’.
Upon first glance, this seems rather simplistic and I’ve heard complaints from those among other religious traditions claiming that it’s “too free”.
This is not true.
The core belief in Witchcraft is that each person is responsible for their own actions and for the consequences of them. The Rede displays this. On one level it means that we are free to live and work and do as we choose as long as we do not seek to harm others through our actions. It is a noble goal and one to strive for. I don’t think that anyone can really argue that being above seeking harm is foolish or wrong and the law or commandment exists in other forms in other religions. Among Christianity it is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And also, Love your neighbor as you love yourself. All are solid guidelines to go by. The Rede gives guidance to our actions, both mundanely and magically.
But it does not caution us against doing harm. It says nothing about not doing harm. It only says that if an action harms none, then we are at liberty to perform it. Like all religious and moral guidelines, this one has been reinterpreted countless times by people seeking to understand just what it is saying.
I firmly believe that beginners should follow the Rede as often as possible. When you are learning about this path and how to walk it, the Rede is a valuable tool for not getting yourself into trouble through foolish, wanton actions or power-mongering spellwork. It takes time and maturity to learn how to balance the ability to do something with the judgement as to whether or not you should do it. As you continue to study and grow though, you may come to realize that there is a need for balance and understanding and that the Rede seems to make it impossible to live. How can we exist without bringing harm to something? Unless or until humans develop a way to exist totally on happy thoughts and eat air, our need for food and shelter ‘harms’ other things. How can one exist and follow the Rede if this is the case?
Intention and balance are what lies behind right or wrong action. It is intention that determines if something is good or evil. If your intention is good, then the action is good. If your intention is bad, then the action is bad. To work magic is to put our will, our intention, into a specific purpose to cause change. This is why Witches believe it is very important to be mindful of all actions. We weigh our intent against what we are doing to see if it will tip the karmic scales one way or the other.
Balance is also necessary because Witches understand that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are subjective points on an ongoing scale, they are not opposite points that counter one another. Anything taken to an extreme of either too much or too little is ‘bad’ whereas anything held in the middle, in balance, is ‘good’.
Courage is something we consider to be a virtue. But too much courage is foolhardiness, too little is cowardice. Only when Courage is found in balance between these two is it deemed a virtue.
Compassion is a virtue. Too much compassion, and we have no boundary for justice or consequence. Too little compassion and we’re hard-hearted and cruel. Compassion must exist in the center of these two things to be virtuous.
These are just a couple of examples, if you think about it, I’m sure you will come up with others.
On another level, there is a deeper understanding to the word “Will” in the Rede. It does not mean simply ‘what you want’. If it did, then the Rede would have said, ‘An ye harm none, do what ye want’. Our Will is our higher purpose, our reason for being. In magic, your Will is the power that drives spellwork and is indicative of a single, unified purpose where this energy is directed.
I don’t know about you, but my Will isn’t yet present in everything I do. I haven’t yet mastered the art of single-mindedly focusing on whatever it is I’m working on or thinking about. If I want to take a shower, I take a shower, it isn’t my sole purpose for being. I don’t (usually) approach the shower with a clear mind and only think on the actions I’m taking to turn on the water or select a soap. So when considering the words of the Rede, it is saying that in our single-minded focus (Will) for whatever action we choose, we should be mindful of our intention and see that it is not with the purpose of inflicting harm or violating another’s free will.
So does magic for protection or justice for a wrong-doer cross this line?
“A Witch keeps her own counsel.”
– Doreen Valiente
That’s a choice or decision that each person has to make. I believe in protection, but I also believe in justice. Some Witches will not perform binding or hexing because they believe it violates the Rede. That is one side to it. The other is that if you believe such is completely justified and will serve the greater good, then do it. By all means, protect yourself physically and magically. Do not fear to ask for or seek justice because it will harm someone’s free will when you believe you are performing an action for the greater good. However, weigh your actions and intentions carefully. Are you seeking to bind someone because it is really, truly necessary and the best course of action? If not, you risk suffering the return for your selfishness and self-serving actions. Do you believe that hexing someone is justified for a wrong they committed? Are you certain beyond any doubt of their guilt? If so, it is your choice to enact what justice you feel is needed. But be warned, if you do this for selfish motivations, the hex will return to you. The power we have as Witches grows or wanes depending on our wisdom. If you act with wisdom, your power will grow. If you act without it, it will dissipate. The gods will keep everything in balance.
Balance is key.
It is also acceptable to ‘return to sender’ any negative energies or intentions. As responsible Wiccans, we are not supposed to cause harm maliciously to anyone. However, it is permitted, and in my opinion it is expected, to send back negativity aimed at us. We were not the originators of the attack, and therefore, are not the ones responsible for it. Energy that is returned to the sender is what would occur naturally. It is my belief that sending this energy back is an important act. Negative people should not be coddled to or enabled. Sending back their own stuff to them is important for their growth. They must know that such actions are not appropriate and will not be tolerated or accepted.
Or, if you prefer and think it wiser and safer, you may simply ask the gods to deliver justice or retribution to you or the other party. In some cases, I definitely agree this is the best course of action. Handing over justice or vengeance to the gods and asking them to serve it puts it out of your hands. If you do hand it over to them, they will deliver the recourse and you will have to step back. In this case, the gods will weigh the balance and serve retribution or justice as they deem necessary. This may or may not satisfy your personal feelings, but that is the sacrifice you make in assuring that fair justice is done and that you have not violated the other person’s rights or free will. Also, the gods will look at whom it is making the request and weigh them into account as well. If you are not innocent of what you are asking for, the scales may lean towards you. Be willing to accept these consequences.
It is because of the Rede that Witches understand it is wrong to work person-specific love magic or to curse someone with our powers. It is considered harmful to violate another person’s right to free will. It is vital that we do not frivolously seek to cause harm. That’s a wasteful action and not one that Witches, as spiritual beings, should casually participate in. Throwing your ‘powers’ around or flinging curses at other people will draw the repercussions of such actions upon you. Consider the Law of Return.
The other major belief that exists in Wicca is the Law of Threefold Return. Sometimes this is shortened simply to the Law of Return or Rule of Three (3x).
The Rule of Three operates in part on karma. A lot of people think karma is a mystical ‘checks and balances’ system, and it is in a way, but karma is simply the consequence of action. It has no moral stance. Karma is if you throw a ball in the air, it will fall back down. It is a natural, universal constant. Whatever you do will bring about consequences, good or bad because action follows action follows action, etc.
The way 3x fits into this is through understanding that everything is connected, interwoven, and at its core, everything is one.
Whatever you do affects the web that connects you to everything else, and as your action’s energy travels along this ‘web’, it will gain in force. Eventually, this energy will travel back to you. If you commit a harmful action, then you have sent that sort of energy out into the web to manifest itself and multiply. If you perform a benevolent action, likewise, benevolent energy will multiply. The Law isn’t necessarily only slanted to caution you against doing harm, it’s also there to encourage you to do good. WHATEVER you do will return to you, because no one exists in a vacuum. You and I are affected by others, just as you or I will affect others. Ideally, people would want good things to happen so they would do good. If not, well, the consequences aren’t pleasant otherwise.
As far as I know, Wicca is the only religion that sees this law as manifesting by returning what is sent out 3x over. One of my teachers didn’t really specify that the Law of Return works on a 3x level. She simply said, “What you do comes back.” Whether you accept that what is sent returns, or that what is sent returns 3x stronger really doesn’t matter. The concept is the same: understanding that everything is connected and that your actions will bring about positive or negative consequences. The lesson behind the Law is that you take responsibility for your actions, that you are mindful of the intent behind things you do and thoughts you have, and that you strive not to act out of or cause intentional harm.
The Threefold Law
Ever mind the Rule of Three, what thou sends out shall return to thee…
When discussing the “3-fold Law” with someone, I gave it some serious consideration. The person I was talking to firmly believed that this ‘law’ was totally false because, they insisted, there is nothing that manifests itself in nature in threes. That is a different and totally involved argument right there, but since we were discussing philosophy, I kept it in that realm. I responded that I think that the concept of 3-fold Law is not necessarily based in natural (i.e. visible/physical experience) and is better understood to be rooted in concepts of philosophy, thought, and behavioral patterns and things which are non-physical. These are very often grouped in triads. It also makes sense to me that the action does return 3-fold because what you do will return to you, but it returns on three levels – you are affected physically, mentally, and spiritually by most actions and that could very well be the root and manifestation of 3-fold return.
Our behavior is an action, our thoughts (at least until the point when they finally manifest in the physical) aren’t tangible things. They’re ethereal and therefore, a ‘law’ that operates on the ethereal or philosophical level shouldn’t need proof given on the physical level to determine its validity.
However, in philosophy, belief, thought, and understandings of these fields, we have instances of Threes popping up all over the place. For instance:
The ancient Celts perceived things as being in sacred triads – down to the root of Land, Sea, and Sky.
We perceive time as: past, present, future.
Distance is determined by: here, there, in between
We operate in triads of mind, body, spirit
We think or act in terms of thought, word, and deed.
Spiritual realms are frequently visualized and understood to be an Upperworld, Middle World, and Lower or Under World.
While Two is the number of balance and duality; Three is the number where we have a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Many of us conceive our deity in triads of Maiden, Mother, Crone and Son, Hunter/Consort, Sage.
Ancient spirals and triskeles are threes. The Triquetra is a triform symbol. So it is an acceptable belief, in my mind, to conceive of energy moving in Threes or waves of three. Whether or not this has physical proof isn’t really the point to my mind or understanding because we are talking about spiritual principles, beliefs, philosophy, and such.
The point behind the Law of Threefold is that you become aware of and take responsibility for your actions, not because there is some omnipotent force out there that will weigh justice on you for every little thing you do, but because as responsible and mature individuals, we need to be the ones to step up and say that we accept the consequences of our actions, for good or ill, because if you are mindful of everything you do and aware of how those actions will impact others or even yourself, then you will grow and move with wisdom.
The True History and Meaning of the Law of Threefold Return
But, as far as where the actual concept of the Threefold Law is concerned, as it is commonly understood, it comes from a few sources that got mangled along the way. Please understand that I am not explaining this history of it in any way to discredit its use or practicality as a code of ethics or of moral behavior. I just want to explain where it actually comes from. One of these sources, the one it’s initially traced to as has been popularized in modern Wicca is Raymond Buckland.
Raymond Buckland was an initiate of Gerald Gardner’s tradition in Britain. He later immigrated to the United States and with him, he brought Gardnerian Wicca teachings and practices.
Gardner is credited with filling in a lot of the gaps that he found in the practices and beliefs of the Witchcraft he became an initiate of. One of the texts he read and used was a book called “Aradia: The Gospel of Witches” by a man named Charles Leland. In this book, Aradia, a woman living in medieval Italy taught her followers that when someone does something to them, they should return like action to the person three times over.
MEANING: if someone was kind to one of Aradia’s followers (i.e. a witch) then the witch should return such kindness three fold. If someone crossed a witch or brought harm to them, likewise, the witch should return such to the person with three times the force. It was THE WITCH who performed the consequential action of returning three times good or three times bad to someone, this was done so that people would learn not to mess with Aradia’s followers or those under her protection. It fell to the Witch to deliver this consequence, not some universal system of ‘checks and balances’.
So, fast-forward to our current era: Sometime back in the 1980s, Raymond and his wife Rosemary were being interviewed and the host asked them the question about curses that all witches everywhere get asked at some point or another. “Do you put curses on people?”
I don’t know if it was Raymond or Rosemary who responded, but basically the answer was (paraphrasing) “Goodness no, we believe that what you do will be returned to you three times as strongly as you did it, so there is no real motivation for harming someone. No one wants to suffer three times the effect of what they’ve done.”
Which is correct, but just not exactly in the same way as it was originally intended or understood…
… and from that response, came the popular understanding of Universal Law that is considered to be the Law of Threefold Return.
Karma is something else that gets bandied about without a true understanding of what the word means. It isn’t concerned with meting out justice, only balance. Karma is the result of an action — any action, and it isn’t necessarily even a real part of Wiccan philosophy. We use an adaptation of the word, redefined because it’s something most people have heard of, but even that definition is a gross misinterpretation of what karma actually is. Eventually I will either write up something on this topic specifically, or I will update this section of the page with more about this.
Whether you see this as coming back three times more powerfully, or just that what is sent will return, it will happen whether you acknowledge or believe in it or not.
If you are a Witch, you should accept this, not because it was written by so-and-so and not because it’s a common belief touted about all over the place, but because you understand that is how energy works. If you acknowledge connection to the Earth, moon, stars, sky, sun, plants, other people, animals, etc. then you HAVE to accept that what you do will come back to you.
Basically, you don’t get to pick and choose what parts of this knowledge or understanding you will embrace. If you’re going to claim that there is a connection existent between everything, and claim to feel that connection in the air you breathe, the energy you move during ritual, and the divinity you feel during spiritual experience, (all of which are the biggest things experienced by walking the Witch’s Path) you had better be prepared to accept that you’re a part of that connection — even when you don’t want to be.