This is a the third in a five-part miniseries about the intersection of Paganism and science by Trellia. This article first appeared at Trellia’s Mirror Book.
One thing I’ve really come to respect about Paganism, and particularly Wicca, is that rather than attempting to teach rules and ethics, it teaches wisdom. There’s really only one moral “rule” in Wicca, which is the Rede, “An it harm none do what ye will” — in other words, do what you like as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone or anything. Which is a fairly liberal code in itself, but even then, some Wiccans do not follow it; to quote Pirates of the Caribbean, they might see it as “more of a guideline than a code.”
But related to this is the “rule of three,” also known as the “threefold rule.” This is usually interpreted as, anything that one does to another person, they can expect it returned on them threefold. So if a Wiccan decides to curse a person, that curse will magically come back on them — but three times worse.
I don’t actually view the Threefold Rule as being a magical force at all. I interpret it as words of wisdom for life in general. In one way, it is simply a re-phrasing of the saying “to reap what you sow,” i.e. your actions, good or bad, always have consequences.
But the Threefold Rule seems more often than not to apply specifically for negative things, especially inflicting pain or unhappiness on another person. And in this case, I can also see how the Threefold Rule could specifically be an expression of a phenomenon recognised by science.
Studies have shown that when it comes to conflict, be it physical or verbal, we usually underestimate how aggressive we are. If we punch someone, it tends to be much harder than actually intended, inflicting more pain than we wanted to. This means that the other person retaliates with a much harder punch — but again, they too underestimate the force of the blow, and so on. This is why fights tend to escalate, simply because we do not realise just how much pain we are causing the other person.
It appears to be the case with non-physical conflict as well. When we say something mean to someone, they are very often a lot more hurt by our words than we actually realise, and so in retaliation they come back and say something much more hurtful. What may start out as a simple criticism may be interpreted as a personal insult, resulting in a greater insult back, until the argument blows out of control and relationships break down.
This is what I think the Threefold Rule is hinting at. Whenever we take action, especially if that action has the potential to cause harm or conflict with another person, we should expect a much greater reaction from the other person because we are probably causing a lot more harm than we actually intend. The Threefold Rule therefore encourages us to think carefully before taking any action (be it magical or not), to thoroughly explore the possible repercussions of that action, and to take full responsibility over the results. I think this is a very sensible rule for anyone to follow, Wiccan or otherwise.
The Author: Trellia
Although I’ve been interested in Paganism for many, many years, I have only recently started practising Paganism on a regular basis. As suggested in Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, I’ve decided to start a “Mirror Book;” a journal of my progress and thoughts in discovering my own spiritual path. You can read this progress online at The Mirror Book.
I would definitely describe myself as an Eclectic Pagan, borrowing from many different traditions, but I have a particular fascination with Shinto, the “indigenous” Japanese religion. This is partly because of my own background – I studied Japanese at university, lived in Japan for several years and currently work for a Japanese non-profit. It’s also partly because, as there is a thriving family of foxes living very near my house, I venerate Inari, a Japanese deity closely associated with foxes, as a patron deity; I have a shrine to Inari in my courtyard.
I’m also more than a little interested in the Gothic subculture; you can view my “Gothic Stereotypes” art here.