Exploring Modern Pagan Ethics III: Witchcraft, Hexes and Cursing


Phyrgian Curse Tablets (1st-3rd Century CE)

This is the final of my three-part series on modern Pagan Ethics, and I am seriously wondering if I should do any type of series in the future. I may, but right now I need to give a rant about some thing. But I’ll save that for my next blog entry. While I have discussed some of the misnomers about the Law of Three and the Wiccan Rede, it seems that many in the Neo-Wiccan camp insist on interpreting both principles as inviolate laws. They refuse to mingle with Witches (even those who are Traditional Wiccans) that profess they have zero issues with cursing and hexing, like we somehow have a disease that affects us. Or, worse, yet, that we carry “negative energy.”

You know what? Nature is positive and negative. We are fucking human, and we experience the range of emotions going from anger, to happiness, to sad, to bored, to extreme pissiness, to horny, to whatever else we have. Our sex tastes feature from gentle to rock-your-ass-clawing-biting-spit-blood-cum-in-your-face deal. We love our neighbors, and hate our neighbors. We love our families, and we hate our families. We feel love and betrayal. We feel injustice and the venom that can come from traumatic pasts or unsavory characters.

And yes, we carry negativity, because it’s called LIFE!

I have zero conflict about lending healing energy when someone needs it, and I have absolutely no conflict within me when I am betrayed, hurt or attacked to attack back. When someone does their absolute best to ruin my life or my reputation, I will pull out my arsenal, dig a pit to the Underworld, offer some blood, bury a tablet, and resort to eviscerating them in writing. That’s witchcraft; that’s magic.

I am a Witch, and a Wiccan. I honor the Dead and the Old Ones. I know how to channel and call up spirits for harm and healing. One of my Gods, Apollon, is the God whose arrows inflict both plague and healing. Hekate is my Goddess who rules the heavenly skies and the dread denizens at the crossroads. Dionysus calls down madness upon those who reject Him or offend His people. Whatever consequences I face from my actions, it’s upon my head. I know what the fuck I am doing, and the last thing I need is some wannabe witch telling me, “Oh but you’re going to surround yourself with negativity and don’t forget the Law of Three and Harm None!” Honestly, those words (or something similar) are all I need to figure out what kind of person I am dealing with. They have told me more than I ever need to know. And I pity the person who thinks that because I am Wiccan, I won’t resort to magic to get even.

Here’s the reality of the situation:

We all have ways we deal with conflict, betrayal, hurt and bad people. Sometimes the ways in which we are dealt are not fair. I don’t have a lot of money. I can’t afford lawyers. I struggle. My witchcraft is born because of the suffering I live. I think many American Neo-Wiccans are spoiled. While I think that there are many ways to deal with certain conflicts in a healthy manner, some things cannot. Bad employers discriminating against you? Someone suing you? Someone accusing you of something that you’re innocent of? Someone is threatening to take away your kids and leave you with nothing? Trust me, when your back is against the wall and you can’t think of a way out: magic. Hexing. Cursing.

I am a Witch, and I have no shame.

Eirene kai Hugieia!
(Peace and Health!)


Exploring Modern Pagan Ethics Part II: The Wiccan Rede

Francois Rabelais (1494-1553). Picture courtesy of Wikipedia.

Francois Rabelais (1494-1553). Picture courtesy of Wikipedia.

In my last blog post I talked about the Threefold Law and its relevance in modern Paganism, and how I do believe it has its place in Wicca especially. I guess I should clarify: many Pagans claim the word “Pagan” and yet do not follow Wicca or Wicca-inspired paths (e.g. Neo-Wicca). So I guess I should have changed the above to “Modern Wiccan Ethics,” but there you go. If I did, my OCD would have started clawing at my screen because the first part – already published – is called “Modern Pagan Ethics.” Oh well…I don’t give a shit. It’s my blog, and we’ll just keep going, shall we? On this second part, I’d like to dissect the Wiccan Rede a bit further, and see if it has any relevance to practicing Occultists, particularly those who follow Wicca or a Wicca-inspired path. In addition, many new Pagans start off their education by coming to Wicca first. Everyone comes up to the Wiccan Rede sooner or later, just like the Threefold Law. As a practicing Occultist, I constantly question everything: is it relevant? Does it work? Why do we have this creed/practice/belief? What is this based on? Questioning is never frowned upon, or should never be in any case. It’s a healthy part of Occultism, and allows us to evolve systems. Before you read my take on the Wiccan Rede, there are a couple of other pieces I think are informative. The first was written by Donald Michael Kraig, author of Modern Magick and Modern Sex Magick, and you can find the link here. In response to his blog post, respected Gardnerian High Priestess Deborah Lipp (author of The Way of Four and other books) wrote her own thoughts on the matter here. I encourage you to read these posts before reading my own. On Don’s blog you’ll even see my own response, which is the first one. In fact it was reading those pieces that made me want to go back, study, and then blog my own thoughts on the matter, which led to this three-part series. So let’s start with the basics: just what is the Wiccan Rede?

The Wiccan Rede
Pick up any book on modern Wicca or Wicca-inspired practices, and undoubtedly in the “Witch Ethics” section you will find mentioned the Threefold Law and the Wiccan Rede. Typically, the definition is given that:

“Rede” means ‘Counsel.’ It counsels a witch to harm none but do what ye will.”

More or less statements follow along those same lines of thought. The admonishment is that when you cast spells and work magick, you can do whatever you want as long as you don’t harm anyone in the process. As an encouragement for apprentice witches to be sure they don’t, they are encouraged to study some healing modality. After all, we wouldn’t want to give people a reason to persecute us, now would we? I mean, we don’t want to practice “Black Magick” so-called, right? That’s evil. (If you cannot sense the snarkiness in my tone, please be assured I am being sarcastic). The Wiccan Rede perhaps became even more popular thanks to modern pop culture shows such as Charmed, where the Rede is quoted in the first episode (even though the Halliwell Sisters end up doing a lot of major harm throughout the series). The Rede itself is usually found in the form of an eight word rhyming couplet, which is:

“Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill,
An it harm none, do what ye will.”

Origin Story
Following the popularity of his first book on Witchcraft, in 1959 Gerald Gardner published The Meaning of Witchcraft, his final volume before his death in 1964. In this book Gardner went into a bit more detail on his personal experiences and practices within the Witch Cult of the New Forest. His purpose, probably since the publication of High Magic’s Aid, was to ensure the revival and, thus, survival of the Witch Cult that he was a part of. Of course, after Witchcraft Today, Gardner discovered that there were other groups in existence around England. Whether they were fragmented survivals from the Middle Ages or before, or else inventions spurred by the English Occult Revival of the early 20th century, is moot at this point, and I’ll post my thoughts on the matter in another blog post. Our purpose here is to find the origins and relevance of the Wiccan Rede. In his book, Gerald makes the following statements:

“John Calvin’s [ortho]doxy (a most ill-favoured hag) was embodied in his favorite dictum, ‘All pleasure is sin.’ … Witches cannot sympathise with this mentality. They are inclined to the morality of the legendary Good King Pausol, ‘Do what you like so long as you harm no one.’ But [Witches] believe a certain law to be important, ‘You must not use magic for anything which will cause harm to anyone, and if, to prevent a greater wrong being done, you must discommode someone, you must do it only in a way which will abate the harm.’ This involves every magical action being discussed first, to see that it can do no damage, and this induces a habit of mind to consider well the results of one’s actions, especially upon others.”   –The Meaning of Witchcraft, p. 127

Here is the first recorded instance, as far as my own research will allow, that demonstrates Gardner contrasting the dogma of Protestant Christianity and that of Witchcraft as he knows it. He quotes “Good King Pausol,” and then goes on to elaborate what he feels it means when it comes to the “harm no one” dictum. Who is this Good King Pausol?

The French Connection
France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a haven of Bohemian art, lifestyles and literature. This fragile time period is known today as La Belle Epoque (“The Beautiful Era”). The country had literally become tired of wars and internal struggles between rising and falling governments that swung between monarchies and republics. Thousands of lives were lost in a maelstrom of poverty, useless border wars, and revolutionary struggles that seemed to end in failure. France was attempting to find its place in the world, which was a growing economy of Western powers setting foot and claiming foreign territories as their own. Western European colonies were the political trends of the time, along with the burgeoning growth of industrial power. Yet the French people fought to make great strides by mostly electing left-wing, pacifist candidates for government positions during the Republic eras. Paris became a cultural center with the famous works of the late Vincent Van Gogh, new Expressionist styles of art, along with Art Nouveu and Impressionism. Although this was still a significant dark period for many underclass workers and rampant struggles between Church and State, nonetheless France’s literary, medical and artistic circles flourished. One of the prominent literary and progressive voices at the time was a gentleman by the name of Pierre Felix Louis (1870 – 1925). Although heterosexual, he was routinely welcome into homosexual circles due to his progressive stances, being friends with Oscar Wilde. He wrote on lesbian erotica and Pagan themes since the age of 18. Intrigued by Classical Greek thought on homosexual and lesbian love, he changed his last name to Louys, substituting the “i” for “y.” This means little to some people, but in French the letter “y” is known as the “Greek i.” In 1901 he wrote a novel called Les Adventures du Roi Pausole, souverain paillard et debonnaire (The Adventures of King Pausole, the bawdy and good-natured sovereign).

The novel takes place in the fictional utopian kingdom of Trypheme, where Good King Pausole rules a land with free love. He has a large harem, and has sex with  a different concubine everyday of the year. On page 4, the Code of Trypheme is given as :

“I. – Ne nuis pas a ton voisin.
II. – Ceci bien compris, fais ce qu’il te plait.”

(My translation):

“I. – Do not harm your neighbor.
II. – This well understood, do what pleases you.”

The author continues to elaborate on this code which runs the entire kingdom:

“Il est superflu de rappeler au lecteur que le deuxieme de ces articles n’est admis par les lois d’aucun pays civilise.
Precisement c’etait celui auquel ce peuple tenait le plus. Je ne me dissimule pas qu’il choque le caractere de mes concitoyens.
Pausole se reservait le plaisir quotidien de sauver par ses arrets quelques libertes individuelles.”

(My translation):

“It is unnecessary to remind the reader that the second of these articles is allowed by the laws of any civilized country.
It was precisely that which the people wanted the most. I do not conceal from myself that this shocks the character of my fellow citizens.
[King] Pausole retains the daily pleasure of saving judgement due to some liberties.”

Essentially, what we have is a novel that is written exploring the concepts of free love and law by Conscience, rather than Rule by Law (or Church Law for that matter!). Keep in mind that many European countries were having struggles between the power of the Roman Church and that of the state. Many utopian novels at the time explored these utopian themes, and French literature wrote it on quite a bit. It’s easy to see that one of the major influences on Louys’ book was Francois Rabelais (1494 – 1553). Rabelais was a French Renaissance humanist, Greek scholar and a monk who poked fun at religion. In The Complete Works of Francois Rabelais it’s said that “[Rabelais] has so many French and Anglophone admirers that space only allows for a minute sampling; in France Jules Renard, Anatole France, Pierre Louys…” Rabelais also had an admirer in the person of Aleister Crowley, who most likely adopted the “Do What Thou Wilt” dictum from Rabelais.

A Case of Synchronicity
Gardner knew many Occultists in his time, being a member of several groups, which is not unusual. Hell, I love joining and celebrating with many groups so I can study the systems, history and lore and in order to further network with other Occultists as well. Wisdom comes from many wells, after all. Sometimes separate sources can give a person inspiration to further their own Work, and in the case of Gardner I think he found it with Crowley as well as the works of Pierre Louys, both of whom were greatly influenced by Rabelais. By the time Wicca came to the public, in Occult circles Crowley’s “Thelema” and its maxim of “Do what thou wilt” was well-known. Whether Gardner knew that Rabelais was the prime influence upon both of these people we will probably never know (unless we conjure his spirit and ask his opinion), but it’s clear that the dictum of “Do what thou wilt and harm none” was enough for him to adopt it into his version of the Craft. At first, it was probably oral lore, since as far as I have been able to ascertain it is not written down in the actual Book of Shadows. Yet, Doreen Valiente was familiar with it enough to quote in a speech. In November 1964 a private newsletter titled Pentagram had a copy of Doreen Valiente’s lecture before 50 Witches and Occultists, and part of it was:

“I think we have earned the right to proclaim the old teaching of tolerance and freedom, and mutual respect, which is contained in the saying called the Wiccan Rede. ‘Wiccan’ is the Anglo-Saxon plural of ‘wicce’; and ‘Rede’ means counsel or teaching:  Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill: and it harm none, do what ye will. This is a simple, positive moral code; and it could make the world a much happier place.” – Doreen Valiente, November 1964.

A Positive, Moral Code
If you notice, there is a difference in how Gardner quotes it in his Meaning of Witchcraft as opposed to how Doreen says it. It’s no secret that Doreen was an accomplished poet, and rewrote the original Book of Shadows to include lots of poetry that flowed more beautifully in rhyme. Personally, I believe it was Doreen who came up with the eight word couplet, putting into verse something that might have, as I already stated, been oral lore in Gardner’s reworking of the Craft. Wanting to make Witchcraft public and with as little controversy as possible, I think the “harm none” saying was a way for Gardner to help new Witches be guided in their moral compass when working magick. But wanting a break from the old rulebook of Ten Commandments, Occultism instead admonishes those walking the Arcane Arts to follow their own conscious (call it what you will: Higher Self, Agathos Daimon, Holy Guardian Angel, Inner Light, etc.). Instead, it was something which covens could use when working together. Since the increase in solitary practitioners away from a coven setting, I think that the Wiccan Rede has received a bad reputation of ridicule. Many solitaries, not experiencing the workings of coven magick, work independently and take the interpretation of the Rede way too far. They treat it as an inviolable command by the Great Goddess. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

Many Witches, myself included, are in the medical field. We are trained in knowledge which has the potential to kill a human. Yet that knowledge is necessary so that we know how to help facilitate healing the body as well. Psychologists are trained in the inner workings of the mind and have the potential to really induce mental and emotional breakdowns if they wanted to. Yet these trappings are again necessary. Many of the old herbals admonish the use of toxic herbs in the use of healing, such as digitalis for cardiac problems, henbane for anesthesia, and belladonna for certain respiratory disorders.* I get irritated when I have to inject needles, wrap a cast, or cause some sort of discomfort and ignorant Pagans are yelling at me that I am “harming!” I also became irritated when I used to go shopping at the store for meat and some Pagans with a politically-vegan bent berated me that I was breaking the “Harm None” rule to animals. Everyone who yells about this has totally missed the point about the maxim in the first place.

Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill…
The Wiccan Rede, according to Gardner, was placed so that a coven working magick could agree on the outcome. In coven settings, a group mind is necessary. Everyone has to be “in one accord,” in a unified agreement as to the purpose of the Working. Part of an apprentice Witch’s training in a coven setting is to become used to the symbols and associations unique to that coven so that when certain tools and symbols are pulled forward, everyone knows EXACTLY what they are doing. Discussion and preparation are accomplished beforehand so there is a mutual harmony. Everyone’s focus is imperative to the success of the Work at hand. So the Rede, in and of itself, is a compliment to the Threefold Law. Both are encouragements for Witches to rely on their own critical thinking skills, and not on the laws of some sacred book deemed hallowed by the Saints of Witchdom. A Witch must use their own powers of Deductive Analysis and Reason, and then be prepared to bear responsibility when it comes to the consequences of their actions. As I stated in my last blog post, consequences can be positive or negative. “Harm none,” however, is NOT a commandment. It is simply a neat rhyming couplet to help us with our decision-making. The root of this dictum comes from the utopian dreams of French novelists, where people are admonished to follow their conscience and characters have a living of free love away from the leering eyes of judgmental people. Humans, in the eyes of the Craft, already have notions of right and wrong within us. This was a total break from the Roman Church and its Protestant offshoots, which insist that man is born sinful and is prone to bad behavior from the onset; humanity, via the laws of the Church, must be guided to do what is right. This kind of mindset then creates a struggle between fundamentalist Christians and others when laws are being proposed which outlaw victimless crimes (like smoking marijuana), or keep certain ways of living illegal which are ludicrous to outlaw in the first place (such as homosexuality, same-sex marriage, adultery and bigamy to prevent polyamory, etc.).

Most covens won’t take anyone under the age of 18, and it is hoped that by then you have some semblance of right action. If not, then you need some serious help (and I don’t mean that sarcastically; many people grow up in very abusive environments and it takes us many years – decades even –  to adopt positive behaviors and better notions of right and wrong). In the Craft, your personal experiences mean something, and you are treated like a capable adult who is old enough to make their own decisions. No one needs to hold your hand. No one needs to sit over your shoulder like a reprimanding angel. In the coven setting, there does need to be agreement for mutual harmony, but in the solitary life we are all admonished to follow what we already know. If people can sit and understand how freeing the Rede is, and how much empowerment the Craft can give us, then I think it truly would be a better world indeed.

Eirene kai Hugieia!
(Peace and Health!)

*WARNING: Do NOT ingest these toxic herbs, as they are potentially lethal and very unsafe for human consumption!


Gardner, G. (1959). The Meaning of Witchcraft.

Julian, P. (1982). La Belle Epoque.

Louys, P. (1901). Les Adventures du Roi Pausole, souverain paillard et debonnaire.

Rabelais, F., transl. by Donald Frame. (1991). The Complete Works of Francois Rabelais.

Exploring Modern Pagan Ethics Part I: The Threefold Law

Scourging of the Initiates into the Dionysian Mysteries.

Scourging of the Initiates into the Dionysian Mysteries.

This is the first of a three-part series exploring some ethics that are popular in modern Paganism. It will give me a chance (hopefully) to have some creative dialogue with people who may or may not agree with me. From there I will also be presenting how the Hellenic Mysteries construed their viewpoint of the Cosmos, and where this paradigm fits into the Ophic Strix teachings. When it comes to ethics and the Mystery Traditions, there are some long-held beliefs I have come to challenge. Just because it was handed to me, doesn’t mean I am going to accept it. I can’t. It’s in my nature to question and put to the test that which is given to me, whether it’s old-wives tales from my parents (anyone remember being told swallowing gum would stay in your tummy for 7 years?) to religious teachings (3-fold Law, Harm None, etc.). In this segment I am going to dissect the Threefold Law and find out what is really being taught here. More importantly, is it relevant? When it comes to occult practices, the question is always asked if what you are doing works. If it works, keep it. If it doesn’t, discard it. If it does indeed work, keep using it and find out how. So here we go:

Just what exactly is the Threefold Law (sometimes also referred to as the “Rule of Three”)? The word “Law” is there to imply that it is akin to some physics law like the Gauss’ Law of Gravity or the First Law of Thermodynamics. In other words, something that is quantifiable and has been observed to be a principle in action. But rather than being a scientific law, it belongs more in the realm of Metaphysics. But first things first: where in the hell did it come from? And what’s with the number “Three” in there?

The Leland Connection
As far as I have been able to ascertain, Gerald Gardner was a voracious reader of all things Occult. He was also very familiar with the writings of Charles Godfrey Leland (1824-1903), an American folklorist who traveled extensively and studied subjects which were considered obscure. For example, he was one of the first Westerners to write about gypsies and the Myths of the Algonquin Indians. But perhaps he is more popularly known in modern Paganism for his Aradia, Or the Gospel of the Witches which talks about a 14th-century figure named Aradia who was sent to earth to teach witchcraft and the religion of the Goddess Diana. A lot has been written about the influence that Leland had on Gardner and the origins of Wicca, so I won’t go into any detail here. If you want any further information, see my reference list below. For this blog article what is particularly interesting is an excerpt in the first chapter when the Goddess Diana is giving instructions to Aradia. The Goddess tells her:

“And when a priest shall do you injury,
By his benedictions, ye shall do to him
Double the harm, and do it in the Name
Of Me, Diana, Queen of witches all!”

What is particularly noteworthy is the command by the Goddess to inflict harm, and doubly so! That Gerald was familiar enough with this passage leaves room for little doubt when one looks at some of the influences that this writing has had on modern Wicca. For example, compare these passages from the Gardnerian Book of Shadows with those of Aradia:

“Whenever ye have need of anything, once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full, then shall ye assemble in some secret place and adore the Spirit of Me who am Queen of all Witcheries. There shall ye assemble, ye who are fain to learn all sorcery, yet have not won its deepest secrets – to these will I teach things that are yet unknown. And ye shall be free from slavery. And as a sign that ye be free, ye shall be naked in your rites. And ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love – all in my praise.” (Book of Shadows)

“Whenever ye have need of anything, Once in the month, and when the moon is full,
Ye shall assemble in some desert place,
Or in a forest all together join
To adore the potent spirit of your queen,
My mother, great Diana. She who fain
Would learn all sorcery yet has not won
Its deepest secrets, them my mother will
Teach her, in truth all things as yet unknown.
And ye shall all be freed from slavery,
And so ye shall be free in everything;
And as the sign that ye are truly free,
Ye shall be naked in your rites, both men
And women also: this shall last until
The last of your oppressors shall be dead;
And ye shall make the game of Benevento,
Extinguishing the lights, and after that
Shall hold your supper thus.” (Aradia)

The Hellenic Connection
Gardner was a fan of Plato, of this there is little doubt. Gardner makes references to Plato in his Witchcraft Today. It is quite possible that Gardner was familiar with Plato’s The Republic which featured The Myth of Er.  The Myth of Er is an eschatological tale as recounted by the Greek Sage Socrates to a person named Glaucon. Socrates states that a warrior by the name of Er had a near death experience in which he woke up about to be burned on the funeral pyre but was able to recount his journey to the Underworld. In Er’s vision, some souls who had been just while alive had journeyed to the Upperworld where they found bliss, while the unjust souls went further into pits below the thrones of the Judges to meet their retribution. To recount the entire Myth in detail would be too long, but there is an interesting passage that Socrates tells Glaucon:

“The story, Glaucon, would take too long to tell; but the sum was this:—[Er] said that for every wrong which they had done to any one they suffered tenfold; or once in a hundred years—such being reckoned to be the length of man’s life, and the penalty being thus paid ten times in a thousand years. If, for example, there were any who had been the cause of many deaths, or had betrayed or enslaved cities or armies, or been guilty of any other evil behaviour, for each and all of their offences they received punishment ten times over, and the rewards of beneficence and justice and holiness were in the same proportion [emphasis mine].”
-Plato, The Myth of Er, from The Republic, transl. by B. Jowett.

Another work that Gardner might have been familiar with was written by the playwright Aeschylus, who wrote the play The Oresteia. This Greek trilogy weaves a tale of endless cycles of family vengeance and bloodshed. The family featured, the House of Atreus, was founded by Tantalus who had offended the Gods when he cooked his own sons and fed them in a banquet to which he had invited the Gods to eat. Other stories of child sacrifice and murder are given, which arouse the Erinyes (the Furies), whose function under the order of the Titans was to call for exact retribution. In other words, blood for blood, an eye for an eye. However, the main character of the tale, Orestes, is given a fair trial in Athens where the Deities Apollon and Athena are present. Orestes is acquitted, and the Erinyes are pacified by Athena, who calls an end to the old order of cyclic bloodshed and karmic vengeance and replaces it with the laws of the state and the institution of civilization.

Early References
Before the Witchcraft Act was repealed in England (thanks to the efforts of the Spiritualists), Gardner wrote a fiction novel titled High Magic’s Aid. It carried a lot of Occult principles, and some have suggested that Gardner was trying to put into print teachings and rites that he was familiar with from the New Forest coven of which he was a member. During an initiation ritual, there is a moment when the newly initiated Witch, who is given the Craft Name Janicot, must bind and scourge their initiator. The initiating Witch, named Morven, tells Janicot something interesting as the latter binds Morven:

Learn, in witchcraft, thou must ever return triple. As I scourged thee, so thou must scourge me, but triple, where 1 gave thee three strokes, give nine, where seven, give twenty-one, where nine, give twenty-seven, where twenty-one, give sixty-three. (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). Jan was nervous but she insisted, and at last he gave her the required number, but struck very lightly. Then [Morven] said; Thou hast obeyed the law. But mark well when thou receivest good, so equally art bound to return good threefold.” (High Magic’s Aid).

Unlike the words of the Goddess Diana who encouraged the witch to do double harm upon the priest, in this passage Morven warns Janicot to be aware that whatever intent and energy is sent out, it will return back onto him. But more than that, the Witch is obliged to return positive intents threefold when good has been done to them. In a way this admonishment behaves much like the concept of Pay It Forward. In this sense, then, what we have is a positive way of viewing how to interact and behave with the world rather than a “Thou Shalt Not” of negative commands. The admonishment and reminder of how this concept works is exemplified in the initiation ritual so that it becomes part of tactile memory: do not strike hard, for you will be struck likewise in return.

Why the Number 3?
While this concept is easy to grasp for many modern Pagans, the fuss enters the picture when it comes to the number “3.” This is usually where people get confused, and all sorts of writings are out there detailing the various ways that the Threefold Law is interpreted literally. There are those who say that your energy will come back and affect you mind, spirit, body. There are those who say it will literally come back three times so that you are affected three times the amount (personal mathematical calculations ensue). There are more, and everyone debates about it. Personally, I think the point is missed in the usage of the number 3. If you read High Magic’s Aid, you will quickly see the number 3 throughout the book: 3 people, 3fold law, 3 strikes of the bell, 3 knots, etc. Again, Gardner knew his Myths and Occultism. 3 is a sacred number, and always has been among Indo-Europeans cultures. Frequent examples of the number 3 can readily be found such as the Three Fates, the Three Graces, Triple Goddesses, 9 Muses (3×3), 9 Worlds (3×3), Three Realms, Three Roads (a crossroad), etc. Indo-European cultures frequently held a tripartite view of the world in which society was divided up into 3 major classes (i.e. Priests/Nobility, Warrior, Worker). Examples include Celtic, Roman, Greek, Iranian and Indian cultures (The Trinity and the Indo-European Tripartite Worldview, 1999).

It has been suggested that perhaps our Indo-European ancestors at one time might not have been able to count beyond the number 3, and that everything revolved or was an extension of that number (The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics). Stanislaus Dehaene writes:

The Indo-European root of the word “three” suggests that it might have once been the largest numeral, synonymous with “a lot” and “beyond all others” – as in the French tres (very) or the Italian troppo (too much), the English through, or the Latin prefix trans-. Hence, perhaps, the only numbers known to Indo-Europeans were “1,” “1 and another,” (2) and “a lot” (3 and beyond).

The Principle of Magnification
So, putting it all together, what are we talking about? What does the Threefold Law really encompass? If we examine carefully the thread of our studies and the references cited, what we are seeing is an old concept akin to Karma. Many people today are familiar with the concept of karma, thanks to the New Age explosion of the 1960s. But unfortunately the word has devolved into meaning some things which don’t equate with the actual concept. Karma, in popular Western culture, has come to mean simply “bad fortune that you deserved.” I hear it all the time. “My ex’s car won’t start, and he just got laid off. That cheating bastard now knows: karma is a bitch.” Have you ever heard that? “Karma is a bitch!” When I hear it, I shake my head. These people have no concept of what karma actually is. To them, karma is simply another word for “Payback” or some imagined Cosmic Retribution system where Luck/the Divine favors that individual over another. Simply put, Karma means “Action.” Behavior equals consequence, and those consequences can either be positive or negative. They can affect you and your immediate surroundings. In Occultism, everything has a vibration. All choices, actions and behaviors create a ripple effect. It’s like the world around us is a big pond, and every one of us is a pebble waiting to be dropped into the pool. When we make a choice or act upon a decision, we are the pebble which drops into the pool. Ripples ensue. But then other pebbles are also dropping: other people are making their own choices everyday. Some are far from us, and others are nearby. But no matter what, we will be effected in some way by these actions. And if you’ve ever seen a ripple in a pond, you know that the ripples wave out and get bigger. They magnify.

The number 3, in my personal opinion, may not be meant to have been taken literally. I think the number “3” in “Threefold” means that our actions go above and beyond ourselves, that our actions don’t just impact us alone. Lots of people make ill-advised decisions, thinking that their actions only affect them. But they don’t; it’s an illusion. An illusion of separateness rooted in selfishness and confirmation bias. We want a sense of independence that states we can do whatever we want without consequences, and if there are any, only we will be punished. We’ll deal with it, because it couldn’t possibly hurt anyone else. It’s interesting to me that when we are positively rewarded for making affirmative choices, we feel the need to share our glee with our family and friends. Everyone shares in our triumphs and successes, and everyone benefits in many ways. But when it comes to our negative decisions, many times we do the obverse and feel that our consequences will have no ill affects on anyone. Strange, isn’t it?

What the Threefold Law does, as hinted in High Magic’s Aid, is that Initiates and Witches are invited to actively participate in the Cosmos. Our rituals of scourging and binding are stark reminders that what we do does have a real potential affect. We are no longer a witch alone: we are a community. We are part of something bigger, a Cosmos alive and eager to play with us. Yet, the message through the scourging and binding is also meant to remind us that we are in control of our choices. When we are given an opportunity to enact (strike), we must do so with careful forethought, because our actions will reverberate and magnify, and at some point they will return to us. Like the Butterfly Effect of Chaos Theory in miniature, forethought and active participation in our lives is what is being admonished. To take our personal power, because we as Witches understand that we have a responsibility with the Magic(k) we hold. We don’t have to have a list of “Thou Shalt’s” and “Thou Shalt Not’s.” No, we have gifts of Reason and Conscious. We have personal power that should not be lightly surrendered to others. We have responsibility we must take for our actions, and we can blame no one but ourselves. The relevancy of the Threefold Law is not only in its recitation, but in the principles embodied during the Initiation Rites. This is something to contemplate, I believe, and understand just why certain principles are there. But I’ll cover that in another blogpost. For now, I think we have enough here to contemplate. But I’ll end with a saying in my temenos that I think carries weight with the Threefold Law:

“Never surrender your personal power.”

Eirene kai Hugieia!
(Peace and Health!)


Aeschylus. Transl. by A. Shapiro and P. Burian (2003). The Complete Aeschylus: Volume I: The Oresteia.

Dehaene, S. (2011). The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics.

Gardner, G. (1949). High Magic’s Aid.

Gardner, G. (1954). Witchcraft Today.

Grimassi, R. (1995). Italian Witchcraft: The Old Religion of Southern Europe

Leland, C.G. (1899). Aradia, Or the Gospel of the Witches of Italy.

Plato. Transl. by B. Jowett. (2008). The Republic

Porter, A.P. (1999). The Trinity and the Tripartite Indo-European Worldview. Budhi, III. nos 2-3; pp. 1-28.