Rule of Three (Wicca)

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The Rule of Three (also Three-fold Law or Law of Return) is a religious tenet held by some Wiccans, Neo-Pagans and occultists. 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 an upright way. In Hindu Vedanta literature, there is a comparable idea of threefold Karma referred to as Sanchita (accumulated works), Kriyamana, Agami, or Vartamana (current works), and Prarabdha (fructifying works), which are associated with past, present and future respectively. 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 occult author/researcher 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 noted witch Raymond Buckland, in his books on Wicca. Prior to this innovation by Buckland 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]

Raymond Buckland made a reference to an ethical threefold law 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.


Though much closer to Rosicrucianism than Wicca, Rudolf Steiner's "spiritual science" or "anthroposophy" includes a type of threefold law. This is not, however, a theory of power. In Anthroposophy, the focus is on gaining the supersensible insight to bring spiritual power to any natural area of human endeavor like art, education, business, or politics - and also less obviously practical human pursuits like religion or philosophy.

Steiner lays out this theory in a fairly comprehensive way in his 1904 book Knowledge of Higher Worlds and its Attainment. In chapter two, "The Stages of Initiation," he states the threefold law as follows.

"...Once the student has found the beginnings of spiritual vision by means of such exercises, he may proceed to the contemplation of man himself. Simple phenomena of human life must first be chosen. But before making any attempt in this direction it is imperative for the student to strive for the absolute purity of his moral character. He must banish all thought of ever using knowledge gained in this way for his own personal benefit. He must be convinced that he would never, under any circumstances, avail himself in an evil sense of any power he may gain over his fellow-creatures. For this reason, all who seek to discover through personal vision the secrets in human nature must follow the golden rule of true spiritual science. This golden rule is as follows: For every one step that you take in the pursuit of higher knowledge, take three steps in the perfection of your own character."[15]

The focus of the law is not on any obvious consequences to the practitioner; it is instead more of a natural law. Without having taken the requisite steps, one will not be able to make an advance into true knowledge. One may get some results, but those results are likely to be delusions, into which one can fall at any time.


  1. ^ MacMorgan-Douglas, Kaatryn (2007). All One Wicca: A study in the universal eclectic tradition of wicca (Tenth Anniversary ed.). Buffalo, NY: Covenstead Press. ISBN 978-0-615-15094-9.
  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. ISBN 978-0-9805818-2-9.
  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, on his website; updated edition published in his book Ethics and the Craft - The History, Evolution, and Practice of Wiccan Ethics (Waning Moon, 2015).
  5. ^ Spiro, Guy (September 2001). "A Conversation With Phyllis Curott", The Monthly Aspectarian.
  6. ^ Lembke, Karl (2002), The Threefold Law Archived 2005-05-08 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 8 December 2006.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2005-05-08. Retrieved 2005-05-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ Gardner, Gerald (1949). High Magic's Aid. Pentacle Enterprises. p. 188. ISBN 1-872189-06-7.
  9. ^ Coughlin, John J. (2001) The Three-fold Law, part 3: Rise of the Three-fold Law
  10. ^ Adams, Luthaneal (2011). The Book of Mirrors. UK: Capall Bann. p. 218. ISBN 1-86163-325-4.
  11. ^ Buckland, Raymond (October 1968). "I Live With a Witch". Beyond magazine.
  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.
  15. ^ Knowledge of Higher Worlds and its Attainment, 1904

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.