The Three-Fold Law

Part 8: Timeline for Some Law of Return Concepts

by John J. Coughlin

Below is a quick timeline for various sources, inspirations, or appearances of the Three-Fold Law/Law of Return or related events. Although I have a rather extensive library, I am sure I am missing some early books and newsletters that may help fill in the gaps. I consider this paper a "work in progress" and encourage you to contact me at jcoughlin (at) if you have any information to share. Please keep in mind, however, that I need to be able to confirm the sources to ensure accuracy although I also welcome first hand experiences, if only to lead me to new material.

Note: First Publication dates given for all books unless otherwise noted.

1st Published Title/Author Tradition of Author Phrase
1930 Psychic Self-Defense, Dion Fortune Not involved in witchcraft but influenced many early Wiccans. It is a well-known cosmic law that everything moves in circles, and whatever forces we send out, and whatever thought-forms we extrude from our auras, unless absorbed by the object to which they are directed, will return to us in due course.
1949 High Magic's Aid, Scire (Gerald Gardner) Gardnerian "Thou hast obeyed the Law. But mark well, when thou receivest good, so equally art bound to return good threefold."(For this is the joke in witchcraft, the witch knows, though the initiate does not, that she will get three times what she gave, so she does not strike hard.)"
1965 Witchcraft, The Sixth Sense, Glass, Justine Outsider (at that time at least) "The witches see eventualities of this kind as the outworking of Nemesis, or the law of come-back"
1968 Beyond magazine, October 1968, article "I Live with a Witch" [1] Gardnerian (Buckland, not the magazine) Ray Buckland "Another of our beliefs is in retribution in this life. We believe that whatever we do will return threefold in this life. Do good to someone and you will receive three times as much good in return. But do evil, and that, too, will return triple."
1970 Ancient and Modern Witchcraft, Raymond Buckland Gardnerian "There is no need for a Hell, or Final Judgment, in witchcraft because of their belief in retribution in the present life. It is thought that whatever you do will return three-fold." (p. 141)
1970 Modern Witchcraft, Frank Smyth Outsider "Witches believe that any act of magic rebounds thricefold on the operator."
1971 Witchcraft from the Inside, Raymond Buckland Gardnerian "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."
1971 Witches U.S.A., Susan Roberts Outsider, but this quote references Gardnerian beliefs Quotes an article from Buckland in the October 1968 issue of Beyond. Roberts also goes on to say "Belief in the simple law of cause and effect is a popular one among witches of all traditions; however, this particular way of expressing it seems to have originated with the Gardnerians and is peculiar to this English tradition." (p. 131)
1971 What Witches Do, Stewart Farrar Alexandrian "It is a well-established occult principle that psychic attack which comes up against a stronger defense rebounds threefold upon the attacker."
1971 The Complete Art of Witchcraft, Sybil Leek "Hereditary" yet later found she worked upon a very Gardnerian-like foundation. "…There is generally a kickback in black magic (many spells reverse themselves against the spell-maker)…" (p. 76)
1972 The Witch's Bible, Gavin and Yvonne Frost Celtic Wicca, Church of Wicca (Very controversial as to whether they are "Wiccan" or another construct completely but their correspondence course and occasional quotes in books and newspapers carried their views to many.) "Good begets good; evil begets evil. There is a reaction to all positive and negative thoughts and deeds." (p. 19)
1974 The Secrets of Ancient Witchcraft, Arnold and Patricia Crowther Gardnerian "Witches believe in a kind of Karma, that evil returns on the evil-doer"
1975 Witchcraft: The Old Religion, Dr. Leo Louis Martello Strega and then Gardnerian All Witches claim to believe in Karma, and one of their tenets is "Do good and it will return to you threefold. Do evil and it will return to your threefold."
1979 Drawing Down the Moon, Margot Adler Welsh Traditional and then Gardnerian "Many believe in the 'threefold law': that whatever you do returns to you threefold. Some witches don't believe in the threefold law, but most believe that you get back what you give out." (p. 112)
1981 A Witches Bible Compleat (Vol 2) or The Witches' Way [2], Janet and Steward Farrar Alexandrian "'the boomerang effect'; namely, that any magical effort, whether beneficent or malicious, is liable to rebound threefold on the person who makes it."

Part 9: Conclusion

[1] It should be noted that Mr. Buckland had appeared in many earlier articles than the 1968 issue of Beyond. I am still attempting to locate these and find earlier references to the three-fold Law. I have yet to find mention of the Three-Fold law in print prior to Gardner's death in 1964.
[2] These are one and the same; A Witches Bible Compleat contains the full text of both Eight Sabbats for Witches and The Witches' Way.

Part 9: Conclusion

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