The Three-Fold Law

Part 4: Law of Return and Karma

by John J. Coughlin

The varied beliefs in Karma in witchcraft will be dealt with in a separate paper but it is worth pointing out that although reincarnation is generally considered a core belief in modern Wicca, very little emphasis is typically placed on the process itself, and many Wiccans and pagans have a tendency to believe that we work out this "karmic debt" (for lack of a better term) in the present life.

In Hinduism, where the concept of karma originates, karma is an aspect of reincarnation and influences the environment of our future lives. However, since some witches do not believe our actions influence future lives, sometimes karma in Wicca is associated with the cause and effect principle within the present life only. This process is sometimes presented as "retribution" in order to avoid confusion with the Hindu context of karma, but "retribution" can infer an outside intelligent agent behind the process, causing further misunderstanding of its own.

A good early example of this can be found in Buckland's Witchcraft from the Inside first published in 1971:

It is a belief that each incarnation will be better than the previous one; there is only progression, no regression. Along with this belief goes another - in retribution in the present life. It is thought that whatever is done returns three-fold. If good is done then good will return threefold in the same life; but if evil is done, then that too will return threefold in this life. [Italics as presented in the text] [1]

Since Buckland did not believe that this "retribution" carried over, he did not use the term "karma" to describe it. However, not all authors shared this view and some, such as the Farrars, stressed karma as an aspect of reincarnation, where our future lives are dependant upon how we live our present life.

Typically the more emphasis on the three-fold law, the less emphasis on karma, but these variations among authors would attribute for much of the confusion today where karma, an already misunderstood concept in the West, is used synonymously with the Law of Return, or as the Law of Return as it manifests in future lives.

Part 5: Law of Return as Divine Justice

[1] Buckland, Raymond, Witchcraft from the Inside, 1971, page 69

Part 5: Law of Return as Divine Justice

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