Why the 3 Fold law doesn’t work for me

Posted on September 12, 2012
Filed Under Ethics, Magic | 7 Comments

I’m reading When, Why…If by Robin Wood. It’s a book on magical ethics and I thought I’d finally read it as I’ve had it for years. She mentions the 3 fold law which states that what you do, good or bad, comes back to you 3 times over. In Wicca, in particular, this specific “law” is observed. The author treats it as a natural law of reality and notes that if you harm someone you need to make it up to them three times over in order to avoid the consequences. I’ve never been Wiccan, and I’ve never agreed with this kind of “law”.

I definitely would agree that there are consequences for one’s actions and sometimes those consequences aren’t fun to deal with, but I’ve never really seen anyone get three worse or better what they did, and indeed if the 3 fold law is a natural law of the universe then who ever is enforcing that law is slacking off majorly (especially when it comes to politicians). Similarly I don’t agree with the concept of harm none, and do what you will, because the reality is that life is just not that clear cut. Lets say you do magic to find a job. You are harming the chances of other people getting the job you get by using magic. You may not intend to harm them, but nonetheless by choosing to do magic to help yourself, in just about any circumstance there is a potential for harm. For that matter simply walking around or taking a breath is harming life you may not see or be aware of.

I don’t advocate going out and harming people maliciously. And there are consequences for your actions and choices, including ones you may never be aware of. The ones you are aware of are the ones you have to take responsibility for. How you take responsibility for them is up to you and thus it can be valuable to put some time into creating your ethics, as well as exploring ethics in general. Nonetheless, it’s also important to recognize that there’s no deity or law that’s going to hold you accountable or keep tally of your actions and who those actions have effected. The only being responsible for that tally is you, just as you are responsible for what you choose to do or not do about the consequences.

In my approach to magical work, I advocate not just being clear about your desired result, but also the consequences could occur. If you are comfortable with those consequences, then do your magical working. If you aren’t comfortable, then its time to do some internal work and discover what is making you uncomfortable. You may end up choosing not to do the working and that’s perfectly acceptable as well. Whatever choice you make should be one done with conscious awareness and intention and acceptance of your responsibility.

Comments

7 comments
NicoleK
NicoleK

I often wonder if the threefold law is commonly misinterpreted. Rather than interpreting it as "what you put out will return magnified by three," I wonder if it's a more subtle, symbolic statement. For example, perhaps it refers to the fact that everything you do (and this goes for mundane as well as magical actions) will affect you on all three levels of mind, body and spirit. People often think of magic as acting to physically change the world around them, but the reality is that magic has just as big of an effect on the magician him/herself as on the outside world. Arguably even more so -- the understanding of magic upon which I operate is that it works first and foremost by transforming the magician and secondarily by manifesting change in the physical world. When you perform magic, you initiate a transformation within yourself on a deep spiritual level, which trickles down to impact your mind, whose workings are closely tied to the biological churnings within your body. To me, the threefold law is a reminder of that chain reaction.

As for "an it harm none," I think that has a lot to do with how you define the word "harm." Again, I perhaps have a different understanding than many witches. What does "harm" really mean? It's a huge gray area. Personally, I've found that practicing magic has led me inward to a deeper understanding of my (eternal) self and what's truly important. All this stuff we do in the physical world -- it's life-and-death to the ego, but once you step back from the ego it begins to look more like a great big game, frolic, stage play or art installation created by the universe. All these things the ego considers "harmful" can't ever touch the little shard of the divine within each of us. 

So once you get past the ego, what CAN truly harm us? The answer, I think, is determined by what you perceive your purpose in life to be. For my part, I think we are simply here to make choices and to experience life through our own unique, authentic lens -- in a sense, we are living works of art. Therefore, in my mind, the greatest harm you can do to another person is to interfere with their free will. By that measure, doing a spell to help you get a job in no way impinges on another person's freedom to pursue the same job. However, I do feel doing a spell to directly force change upon an unconsenting individual is a gross attack on free will.

This, of course, is my personal spiritual approach to magic, which may or may not resonate with someone who is more ceremonially inclined. I read "When, Why... If" years ago as a beginning witch and don't really remember its specific contents, but I do feel it was valuable in that it got me thinking seriously about the potential consequences of magic. Great topic!

sarasuperid
sarasuperid

I agree fully with you. I consider myself a very ethical person, and I do take the idea of the three fold law and the rede into account as general good ideas. But I just don't see them as laws of the universe nor sensical in a strict sense. And thinking about what you are doing and if you are willing to take the consequences is so key.

Magicexperiment
Magicexperiment moderator

@NicoleK You bring up some good counter perspectives to the issue. Earlier another person suggested a similar perception of 3 fold applying to body mind spirit, which I could see a bit more readily than how it was portrayed in the book. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

Magicexperiment
Magicexperiment moderator

@sarasuperid Thinking about what you are doing and willing to take the consequences is the key. Ultimately each person has to decide what their own level of comfort is with the choices they make.

NicoleK
NicoleK

@Magicexperiment I just saw that comment on Facebook and was excited to see someone else put forth this idea as well! This was the first time I had ever put it down in writing or tried to express it in a coherent way. :) Thanks for writing a post that led me to a deeper understanding of my own perspective!

Magicexperiment
Magicexperiment moderator

@NicoleK Thank you as well. Your comment as well as the other one is stimulating some thoughts for me as well. I noticed that you are based out of Portland, or. So am I!