Sep 4, 2009

The Three-Fold Law

Three-Fold Law (or Law of Return as it is also called) is probably one of the more debated aspects of wiccan (and some pagan) ethics. The basic concept is that anything we do comes back to us in the end... often to a greater degree (as in three times what it is). If we do good... then good will be returned and if we cause harm... we put ourselves in danger of harm. 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 correctness of the Law of Return and its variations takes many forms. Some feel that it was created to keep new wiccans and pagans 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 and pagans come from a christian background. However, many wiccans/pagans 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/pagans... the Law of Return can easily 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 and pagans, experienced and new alike, who view the Law of Return as an over-elaboration on the Wiccan Rede which encourages that we refrain from causing harm. A wiccan/pagan would not wish to cause harm since he or she believes it wrong to do so... not out of fear of the energy that would return.

The Wiccan Rede

(Full Version)


Bide within the Law you must, in perfect Love and perfect Trust.
Live you must and let to live, fairly take and fairly give.
For tread the Circle thrice about to keep unwelcome spirits out.
To bind the spell well every time, let the spell be said in rhyme.

Light of eye and soft of touch, speak you little, listen much.
Honor the Old Ones in deed and name,
let love and light be our guides again.

Deosil go by the waxing moon, chanting out the joyful tune.
Widdershins go when the moon doth wane,
and the werewolf howls by the dread wolfsbane.

When the Lady's moon is new, kiss the hand to Her times two.
When the moon rides at Her peak then your heart's desire seek.
Heed the North winds mighty gale, lock the door and trim the sail.
When the Wind blows from the East, expect the new and set the feast.
When the wind comes from the South, love will kiss you on the mouth.    When the wind whispers from the West, all hearts will find peace and rest.

Nine woods in the Cauldron go, burn them fast and burn them slow.
Birch in the fire goes to represent what the Lady knows.
Oak in the forest towers with might, in the fire it brings the God's
Rowan is a tree of power causing life and magick to flower.
Willows at the waterside stand ready to help us to the Summerland.
Hawthorn is burned to purify and to draw faerie to your eye.
Hazel-the tree of wisdom and learning adds its strength to the bright fire burning.
White are the flowers of Apple tree that brings us fruits of fertility.
Grapes grow upon the vine giving us both joy and wine.                               Fir does mark the evergreen to represent immortality seen.
Elder is the Lady's tree burn it not or cursed you'll be.

Four times the Major Sabbats mark in the light and in the dark.
As the old year starts to wane the new begins, it's now Samhain.
When the time for Imbolc shows watch for flowers through the snows.
When the wheel begins to turn soon the Beltane fires will burn.
As the wheel turns to Lamas night power is brought to magick rite.

Four times the Minor Sabbats fall use the Sun to mark them all.
When the wheel has turned to Yule light the log the Horned One rules.
In the spring, when night equals day time for Ostara to come our way.
When the Sun has reached it's height time for Oak and Holly to fight.
Harvesting comes to one and all when the Autumn Equinox does fall.
Heed the flower, bush, and tree by the Lady blessed you'll be.

Where the rippling waters go cast a stone, the truth you'll know.
When you have and hold a need, harken not to others greed.
With a fool no season spend or be counted as his friend.
Merry Meet and Merry Part bright the cheeks and warm the heart.
Mind the Three-fold Laws you should three times bad and three times good.
When misfortune is enow wear the star upon your brow.
Be true in love this you must do unless your love is false to you.
These Eight words the Rede fulfill:

"An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will"


Anna said...

great post a debate I avoid because I've seen people get pretty heated, LOL! But I like the reminder of the importance to just treat others as you wish to be treated, the rest takes care of itself. :-) .. p.s. I LOVE feeding your fish. :-)

Rue said...

I agree with Anna - some people have very strong feelings about this! I like to think that I 'harm none' - but I know there are times that I fall short. We are human, so there is always going to be room for error! I really would do anything to protect my family though - so I suppose I'd have to be willing to accept the consequences that comes with that...

Lisa said...

I am so new to, well, all of this, but I think it's important to know that we don't need to wish harm to others. The Universe has a way of working things out for the good of all. If justice must come, then let the Universe decide. I have done things in my life that would desire mercy over justice so that I might have a chance to come to this new place in my life.

Bennu said...

Interesting take on the Threefold. Personally, I think it's wise to generally find wisdom in the idea of the Golden Rule, but I think the Threefold Law falls sorrowfully short on being moral or ethical.

In fact, I tend to think of the Threefold Law as the antithesis of morality because it doesn't speak anything about what is good or right, but what benefits the witch.

It's like saying that you shouldn't steal, not because it's wrong, bad, impoverishes or harms others, but because you might get caught and punished.

If you're interested, I go into more detail on my rationale on my own blog (

Witchy Mom's Homeschool said...

A really wonderful post! I have always believed in the law of Return (but admittedly forget about it when I probably should remember it!)

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