The Wiccan Rede and Threefold Law: Not as Stupid as You Think

The Wiccan Rede and Threefold Law: Not as Stupid as You Think August 14, 2018

Not too long ago I wrote about some of the stereotypes that plague Traditional Witchcraft. The overall message was that making broad generalizations or stereotypes about an entire group of people, especially when based off limited knowledge or experience, is never a good thing. Unfortunately, this still happens (for several reasons) and it’s obviously not limited to just Traditional Witches. Wiccans too are faced with many stereotypes and generalizations made about their path. One of the most popular and ridiculous sentiments being that Wicca is “Witchcraft without teeth.”

Why doesn’t Wicca have teeth? The idea is that Wicca is focused exclusively on love and light. A Wiccan cannot curse or hex because of two moral guidelines, the Wiccan Rede and the Threefold Law. And if a Wiccan can’t curse or hex, then they must be weak and their Craft must be watered down, sanitized, and powerless. But what if I told you that neither the Rede nor the Threefold Law are universal to all of Wicca and weren’t even originally a part of the path?

Now I can only speak from the standpoint of a non-initiate. But here is what Gardnerian High Priestess Thorn Mooney had to say in her fabulous new book Traditional Wicca, “Though the Wiccan Rede and Threefold Law have so long been promoted as universalities – essential beliefs that define all Wiccan practitioners – this has never actually been the case.” So then where did they come from? Well, let’s take a step back in time…

Photo by Mikhail Pavstyuk on Unsplash

One of the primary sources that people cite as a possible origin for the Rede comes from a quote by Gerald Gardner in his book The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959) which read, “They [Witches] are inclined to the morality of the legendary Good King Pausol, ‘Do what you like so long as you harm no one.’” Some people also consider Crowley as a source of inspiration, with his famous line, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”

Whatever the case, the eight words we know today as the Wiccan Rede were not publicly recorded until 1964 when they were first spoken by Doreen Valiente. After that it began to grow and snowball over the years. In fact, in 1974 a woman named Gwen Thompson published a 26-line poem which featured those eight words, titling it The Wiccan Rede. It appeared in the magazine Earth Religion News and would be followed by a slightly different version written by the same author in Green Egg magazine a year later. This poem is what many people today refer to as the “long version” of the Rede. It may be of interest to note here that Gwen Thompson was not an initiated Wiccan.

Focusing on the actual Rede, those eight words, many people argue over how exactly to interpret them. The stereotype is that the Rede strictly forbids harm to anyone and everything. But of most importance, the word ‘rede’ itself simply means advice or counsel. This may be a subtle difference for some, but advice doesn’t equal a binding law. I’ve always looked at the Wiccan Rede as another form of the Golden Rule, or simply don’t be a jerk for no good reason. Therefore, it doesn’t truly outlaw the working of baneful magic. In fact, harm is an inevitable part of life, we do harm (whether we are aware of it or not) every day. I believe that Rede advises us to do as a little harm as possible, unless in those rare circumstances when doing no harm would be more harmful.

Photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash

What about the Threefold Law, the idea that whatever you send out – whether positive or negative – comes back to you threefold? Again, this concept wasn’t originally part of traditional Wicca. It’s said that this idea was popularized by Monique Wilson and Raymond Buckland but that it was based on a misinterpreted passage from Gardner’s fictional novel High Magic’s Aid.

In the novel, the main character is told that “Thou hast obeyed the Law. But mark well, when thou receivest good, so equally art bound to return good threefold.” What this meant is that whatever one does for the Witch, the Witch must return that threefold. If someone does a favor for the Witch, that individual will be returned a favor threefold. The book only mentions positive acts, but I imagine that the reverse could be true as well. This doesn’t exactly translate to what we know today as the Threefold Law.

….

Okay, so we’ve established that the Rede and the Threefold Law weren’t always a part of Wicca and even today are not universal to all Wiccans. But I’d like to point out that this isn’t meant to disparage those who do choose to follow these moral guidelines. In fact, I often wonder about the people who berate those who do. What’s so wrong about someone wanting to do as little harm as possible? It’s strange to think about, do some those critics favor violence over peace?

Before I get yelled at let me say this, I understand that frustration that surrounds those situations in which someone pushes the Rede or Threefold Law on you. The misguided idea that those concepts are universal to all of Wicca, or Witchcraft for that matter, is incredibly annoying, especially when someone is actively calling you out. But we are (hopefully) mature adults and can make equally mature choices. We can inform someone of our viewpoint, and if they take it to a place where you feel disrespected, you can walk away. You don’t have to get nasty in return, stereotyping an entire group of people based off a small subset. Remember that those who speak the loudest don’t necessarily define everyone, there are a lot of people off doing their own thing, too busy to be bothered.

But let me also say this, those who do follow the Rede or Threefold Law are not weak, stupid, unread, or otherwise powerless. They have different beliefs than you and I and that’s just fine. So, unless someone is shoving those beliefs down your throat or spreading misinformation (in which case remember those mature adult choices), why does it matter so much what moral guideline they follow? It has absolutely no bearing upon your practice, and the time you spend bashing those people is precious time you could be spending furthering your own practice. Because if you’re spending your time spreading negativity about someone else’s practice, who is the real loser?

About Kelden
Kelden is a practicing Traditional Witch of over twelve years. His practice is largely influenced by the history and folklore of Witchcraft as well as the land upon which he lives. He holds degrees in human services, psychology, and marriage and family therapy. He works as a therapist and enjoys gardening and reading in his spare time. You can read more about the author here.
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