The basic premise of The Law of Return is not strictly Wiccan, it is a universal spiritual principle that any intention or energy that an individual sends out into the universe will be returned to him or her whether it is positive or negative. It does not teach morality as it does not determine what is “bad” or “good” but instead explains the effect of our actions. It is the idea of Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This does not mean that if you act in a “good” way you will receive something “bad” in return, instead it means that what you put out will come back. There is no concept of divine judgement, no concept of higher authority to send out retribution for “bad” deeds or blessings for “good” deeds. It is simple cause and effect.
Many have taken the idea of The Law of Return and merged it with The Threefold Law but it has been ignorantly done with no true comprehension of what the idea of the Threefold Law truly meant when Gerald Gardner wrote about it in the fictional novel High Magic’s Aid:
“Then she took the cords, and prompted him to bind her as he had been bound, then she spoke. Learn, in witchcraft, thou must ever return triple. …Then she said; Thou hast obeyed the law. But mark well when thou receives good, so equally art bound to return good threefold.”
Who was Gardner addressing in this novel? Who was the audience for his fictional book? Witches or those who desired to become a witch, of course! And what is the teaching? The teaching is that when you (the witch) receives good, so (you) equally are bound to return good threefold. But we must also consider the context that the teaching was presented. In the novel the “good” received was given by another newly initiated witch, an individual with the understanding of the teaching, and not just by anyone.
So let’s consider the idea a little closer. When a witch does “good” by another witch, the receiving witch is bound to return the “good” threefold. Who doesn’t like to receive good intentions? So it would be beneficial for one witch to bless, assist, or support another witch because it is understood that the receiving witch would return the “good” threefold. With Gardner’s original teaching the universe is not the agent of the threefold response, the witch is. This teaching is a standard for witches on how to treat each other not a teaching on how the universe responds to our magickal intentions whether they be “good” or “bad”. In fact, Gardner’s original teaching doesn’t even address the idea of “bad” workings, just “good”. This is similar to the interpretation of The Wiccan Rede that was addressed in last month’s column. The Threefold Law is not karma, it is not a penalty from the universe, nor is it retribution from the gods; it is a standard that was set for witches on how to treat each other. This means that when a witch does “good” for someone who is not a witch he or she would not expected a threefold return but if that same witch does “good” for another witch, a coven mate perhaps, or a friend who is also a witch, then he or she would expect a threefold return.
Now though Gardner’s original teaching does not address “bad” workings, The Wiccan Rede does:
“Mind the Threefold Law ye should – Three times bad and three times good.”
So if we keep with the idea that the The Wiccan Rede was written for a Wiccan audience then it is understood that it would be interpreted in the same way. If a witch does something “bad” to someone who is not a witch then he or she would not expect a threefold return, but if that same witch does “bad” to someone who is a witch then he or she would expect a threefold return, however the return would only happen if the victim witch discovered who it was that did the “bad” and honestly if the witch was able to discover who the originating witch was, he or she should really expect retribution because those types of workings shouldn’t be so easy to trace. This is a way of giving back that which is received, whatever one witch sends to another, is permitted to be returned threefold, whether the intentions were good or bad.