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Rule of Three (Wicca)

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Title: Rule of Three (Wicca)  
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Subject: Wicca, Contemporary witchcraft, Wiccan morality, Rule of three, Summoner (Wicca)
Collection: Religious Ethics, Wicca, Wiccan Terminology
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Rule of Three (Wicca)

The Rule of Three (also Three-fold Law or Law of Return) is a religious tenet held by some Wiccans/Pagans. It states that whatever energy a person puts out into the world, be it positive or negative, will be returned to that person three times. Some subscribe to a variant of this law in which return is not necessarily threefold.[1][2]

The Rule of Three is sometimes described as karma by Wiccans, however this is not strictly accurate. Both concepts describe the process of cause and effect and often encourage the individual to act in a good way. However the concept of karma, according to the scriptures of Buddhism, Hinduism and other eastern belief systems, does not operate on a system of three-fold return. According to some traditions, the rule of three is not literal but symbolizes that our energy returns our way as many times as needed for us to learn the lesson associated with it. [3]

According to John Coughlin the Law posits "a literal reward or punishment tied to one's actions, particularly when it comes to working magic".[4] The law is not a universal article of faith among Wiccans, and "there are many Wiccans, experienced and new alike, who view the Law of Return as an over-elaboration on the Wiccan Rede."[4] Some Wiccans believe that it is a modern innovation based on Christian morality.[5][6]

The Rule of Three has been compared by Karl Lembke to other ethics of reciprocity, such as the concept of karma in Dharmic religions and the Golden Rule[7]

The Rule of Three has a possible prototype in a piece of Wiccan liturgy which first appeared in print in Gerald Gardner's 1949 novel High Magic's Aid:[8][9]

"Thou hast obeyed the Law. But mark well, when thou receivest good, so equally art bound to return good threefold." (For this is the joke in witchcraft, the witch knows, though the initiate does not, that she will get three times what she gave, so she does not strike hard.)

However, The Threefold Law as an actual "law", was an interpretation of Wiccan ideas and ritual, made by Monique Wilson and further popularized by Raymond Buckland, in his books on Wicca. Prior to this innovation by Wilson and its subsequent inclusion in publications, Wiccan ideas of reciprocal ethics were far less defined and more often interpreted as a kind of general karma.[10]

The first published reference to the Rule of Three as a general ethical principle may be from Raymond Buckland, in a 1968 article for Beyond magazine.[11] The Rule of Three later features within a poem of 26 couplets titled "Rede of the Wiccae", published by Lady Gwen Thompson in 1975 in Green Egg vol. 8, no. 69[12] and attributed to her grandmother Adriana Porter.[13][14] The threefold rule is referenced often by the Wiccans of the Clan Mackenzie in the S.M. Stirling Emberverse novels.

This rule was described by the Dutch metal band Nemesea, in the song "Threefold Law", from the album Mana.


  1. ^ MacMorgan-Douglas, Kaatryn (2007). All One Wicca: A study in the universal eclectic tradition of wicca. (Tenth Anniversary ed.). Buffalo, NY: Covenstead Press.  
  2. ^ Treleven, Amethyst (2008). Seeker's Guide to Learning Wicca: Training to First Degree for the Northern Hemisphere. Adelaide, South Australia: Oak & Mistletoe. p. 14.  
  3. ^ Witch School First Degree: Lessons in the Correllian Tradition (Witch School) by Rev. Donald Lewis-Highcorrell (ISBN: 9780738713014)
  4. ^ a b Coughlin, John J. (2001) The Three-fold Law
  5. ^ Spiro, Guy (September 2001). "A Conversation With Phyllis Curott", The Monthly Aspectarian.
  6. ^ Lembke, Karl (2002), The Threefold Law. Retrieved 8 December 2006.
  7. ^
  8. ^  
  9. ^ Coughlin, John J. (2001) Rise of the Three-fold Law, part 3: The Three-fold Law
  10. ^ Adams, Luthaneal (2011). The Book of Mirrors. UK: Capall Bann. p. 218.  
  11. ^  
  12. ^ The Rede of the Wiccae. Retrieved 8 December 2006.
  13. ^ Theitic (2001). The New England Covens of Traditionalist Witches. At The Witches' Voice. Retrieved 2008-04-07.
  14. ^ Lady Gwynne, the New England Covens of Traditionalist Witches website. Retrieved 2008-04-07.

Further reading

  • Coughlin, John J. (2001). The Three-Fold Law: Part of "The Evolution of Pagan Ethics". Retrieved 8 December 2006.
  • Wren (2000). The Law of Three. Retrieved 8 December 2006.
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