Week 35 (R): the rule of three
Ever mind the Rule of Three:
What you send out comes back to thee.
I believe that what you sends out comes back to you. At least, I want to believe. But then some shitty people go on being shitty, and I don’t see them suffering the way they inflict suffering on others. So is this a rule that only applies to Pagans? Is that how that works? What good is a tenet that on the surface appears to be universal but in fact only applies to members of that faith?
The Rule of Three is in good company, what with Islam teaching its followers to respect others, Jews are taught to imitate their G-d’s love for people, and Christianity’s tenet of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. And I’d wager that most Atheists would agree that we ought to be nice to one another. So why does this seemingly universal law not immediately noticeable?
Sometimes called the Threefold Law or the Law of Return, the Rule of Three was one of the first things I learned when I started reading about Paganism. Most (all?) Wiccans subscribe to the Rule of Three, so that was what I believed in. But over the years, my skeptical side has pointed out “Hey, that guy’s an asshole, why isn’t what he’s sending out coming back to him?!” Then I felt almost cheated, in a way. Even if I haven’t always seen it in action, I think the Rule of Three still has value.
For one, it reminds us that what we send out can return to us. In general, I think it reminds us to create more than we destroy. To construct goodness and positivity, rather than forge negativity and ugliness. Maybe this sounds like something a fluffy bunny would say. Perhaps this is an overly optimistic view of the world, but I truly do believe–or at least want to believe–that as people (not just as Pagans) we ought to always be trying to enhance the world rather than diminish it.
Should Paganism have rules of conduct? Yes, absolutely. Some sort of guidelines for my moral compass is a necessary part of my (and I think I can say most people’s) life. But should the Rule of Three be one of them? I like it at its core–be good to each other–but I also have seen situations where you cannot continue to be good to someone without cost to yourself. And I believe in self-care above a great deal of other things.
Week 28 (N): nature
As the tired adage of naturalists and hippies goes, the Earth is important. For one, it’s the only planet we’ve got that’s habitable in any practical sense of the word. While I’ve been annoyed by this somewhat overused refrain since college, I can still see the truth in it. Jacqueline Basham‘s art, particularly the one that admonishes us to “live gently upon this Earth”, reiterates this excellent point.
Part of my flavor of paganism is the belief that the Earth is important. It’s not called a nature-based religion for nothing: nature is sacred. Part of it is because the Earth is where we live, but I think it’s more than having a simple respect for one’s house. Go outside and look around. Most of the time, staring at trees or walking barefoot in the grass, causes deep, inexplicable shivers in my spine. This was true even when I was a kid, before I found my Pagan path, which explains why it felt like coming home. I had finally found other people who saw nature as I did: as a deeply spiritual, magical, all-encompassing experience.
Book of Mirrors tackled this topic last month and expressed her irritation at the idea that Pagans are responsible for healing the Earth. I respectfully disagree. However, I take a broader approach: I think that, as people (rather than just as Pagans), it’s our responsibility to live responsibly and take care of what is our home. I think that practices like fracking, non-sustainable farming techniques, irresponsible manufacturing, and others are an affront to humanity. These things damage the Earth. And, as one of the species who live here, we absolutely have a duty to be respectful.
Week 22 (K): quick, hand me that karma! or how people sometimes get concepts like karma wrong
You hear about karma everywhere, but definitions vary widely. I’ve heard karma referred to as “payback”, “life”, and “the universal force that controls all our lives” (yes, someone really said that). It’s both all and none of those things. Like most things that are explained simply, it’s far more complex than that.
Karma derives from a Sanskrit word that means action or work. It’s the idea that the present affects the future. It reminds me a little bit of the butterfly effect: the idea that the tiniest thing can result in huge changes down the road. Only instead of in terms of magnitude, karma is measured in terms of degree. That is, the good deeds you do in the present can positively affect your future, both in this life and the next. Conversely, bad intentions add up to future suffering.
Part of karma is the idea of causality. Both action and intention affect your life. Like attracts like, which is normally a phrase that makes me puke since it comes from some very foofy New Age principles that aren’t really my thing. But it’s also a truism: if you do bad things, bad things are more likely to happen to you. What you do, and the intentions behind your actions, affect your quality of life.
It’s more about consequences than it is about rewards and punishment. Coming back again to the “like attracts like”, it’s not that you’re being rewarded for being nice to people. It’s that what you do has consequences, and those consequences often match the deed. Reincarnation is another familiar (but commonly misunderstood) concept that’s closely tied to karma, which is why I mentioned that your actions can affect this life and the next.
So karma isn’t necessarily “the rule of three: what you send out comes back to thee”, which is how I’ve heard a good deal of pagans explain it. I think that’s an oversimplification of the idea that actions have consequences. And while the teacher side of me is a fan of simple explanations for complex concepts, it also flattens the idea of karma more than is necessary. Simplicity should only make something easier to understand; it shouldn’t dull the original.
Full disclosure: I’m mixing traditions here a bit in my explanation of karma. Most of this is Hindu tradition as I understand it, but there’s some Buddhist flavoring to this post as well. Part of the reason for this is because I’m an eclectic witch, so mixing traditions is a pretty common occurrence. If you understand karma differently, I’d love to hear more.
Karma is an ubiquitous feature of New Age and Pagan communities everywhere. People don’t think deeply about it as a concept though, and many rarely question what it actually is. The real answer is: complicated. Like string theory, if you think it’s simple and straightforward, you probably don’t understand it.
Karma on Wikipedia (surprisingly comprehensive)
Physics and Punishments (a really excellent comparison of karma to Newton’s Third Law)