The phrase “perfect love and perfect trust” comes directly—like the term Wica (Wicca)—from Gardnerian practice and through its many derivative traditions. In published British Traditional Wicca (BTW) sources, the phrase “perfect love and perfect trust” appears in only one place: in the phrase that a candidate for initiation gives upon requesting entrance to the initiatory circle. [i], [ii] , [iii], [iv]
(Very likely the phrase occurs in other traditional practices, depending on when or where the source custom evolved, but no published BTW source, at least, includes the terms in any “law.”)
The published discussions of perfect love and perfect trust, whether in BTW published sources or in eclectic sources, seem to have seized on the words and assumed that modern meanings of those words apply. All arguments about the origins of BTW practice aside, there seems to be some reason to believe that significant elements of surviving magical folklore persist within the practices that are currently being expanded beyond Gardner’s wildest dreams.
If there are survivals of older practice within modern Craft, this phrase perhaps being one of them, does it mean the same thing that it meant to its originators? Words today morph meanings in a matter of hours, or weeks. Many English words have come to mean the very opposite of their original meanings (look up the oldest meaning of pompous, some time).
So, let’s take a look at the words themselves, and their roots. Plain, historical, mundane definitions provide a reality check. Even the current-day commonest usage definition of a word can mean less (or more) than most folks think. In this case, I will focus on the earliest definition of each word because other meanings often drift from the central point of a word.
Perfect, a. [OE. parfit, OF. parfit, parfet, parfait, F. parfait, L. perfectus, p.p. of perficere to carry to the end, to perform, finish,
perfect; per (see Per-) + facere to make, do. See Fact.]
- Brought to consummation or completeness; completed; not defective nor redundant; having all the properties or qualities requisite to its nature and kind; without flaw, fault, or blemish; without error; mature; whole; pure; sound; right; correct.
Per-, A prefix used to signify through, throughout, by, for, or as an intensive as perhaps, by hap or chance; perennial, that lasts throughout the year; perforce, through or by force; perfoliate, perforate; perspicuous, evident throughout or very evident; perplex, literally, to entangle very much.
Fact, n. [L. factum, fr. facere to make or do.] A doing, making, or preparing. [Obs.]
When we look at the roots of a word, the source language(s) often give us hints to the heart of the word’s basic concepts: “to carry [on] to the end.”
Looking at the two Latin roots (Per and Fact) of the word “perfect,” we could define it as meaning “an act carried through.” In modern slang, one might define “perfect” as an adjective meaning, “take it to the limit.” Hmmm, something to chew on. For that matter, the sports term “follow-through” comes to mind rather vividly—a term I use in magic, too.
Next? Oh, yes, “love.”
Love, n. [OE. love, luve, AS. lufe, lufu; akin to E. lief, believe, L.
lubet, libet, it pleases, Skr. lubh to be lustful.]
- A feeling of strong attachment induced by that which delights or commands admiration; preëminent kindness or devotion to another; affection; tenderness; as, the love of brothers and sisters.
- To regard with passionate and devoted affection, as that of one sex for the other.
I think it’s important to note that the older definition comes first, the “brotherly love” definition (there’s probably another whole essay in that simple fact). In the source language list, the Sanskrit source-word definition clearly indicates that both the “brotherly love” and “sexual love” definitions have accompanied this word across its usage through ages and language families. Nonetheless, the “feeling of strong attachment” is the older definition of the English word. OK, now we have enough information to take a look at the first part of the password: “perfect love.”
Perfect Love Is…
Assembling the definition of definitions, we read:
A feeling of strong attachment, carried through or intensified.
In fact, Gardner wrote of his own strong attachments to the New Forest Coven folks, partly related to their feelings that they had shared history in past lives. That perceived connection with reincarnated companions was a piece of the path that led him into the Craft in the first place. Gardner also wrote of the strong feelings that individuals working magic together can develop, something that, in my opinion, qualifies as another aspect of “perfect love.”
But there’s another, more important, aspect to this definition: it describes the operative force behind magic itself. Emotion, intent, direction, and follow-through: these are the cornerstones of what makes magic work. So in the phrase “perfect love” we have encoded how to work magic!
All right, moving on; here’s the definition of “trust”:
Trust, n. [OE. trust, trost, Icel. traust confidence, security; akin to Dan. & Sw. tröst comfort, consolation, G. trost, Goth. trausti a convention, covenant, and E. true. See True, and cf. Tryst.]
- Assured resting of the mind on the integrity, veracity, justice, friendship, or other sound principle, of another person; confidence; reliance; reliance.
See true and tryst? Let’s check those out, just to see how they relate to all of this.
True, a. [Compar. Truer; superl. Truest.] [OE. trewe, AS. Treówe faithful, true, from treów fidelity, faith, troth; akin to OFries. triuwe, adj., treuwa, n., OS. triuwi, adj., trewa, n., D. trouw, adj. & n., G. treu, adj., treue, n., OHG. gitriuwi, adj., triuwa, n., Icel. tryggr, adj., Dan. tro, adj. & n., Sw. trogen, adj., tro, n., Goth. triggws, adj., triggwa, n., trauan to trust, OPruss druwis faith.] Conformable to fact; in accordance with the actual state of things; correct; not false, erroneous, inaccurate, or the like; as, a true relation or narration; a true history; a declaration is true when it states the facts.
Tryst, n. [OE. trist, tryst, a variant of trust; cf. Icel. treysta to make trusty, fr. traust confidence, security.]
- Trust. [Obs.]
- An appointment to meet; also, an appointed place or time of meeting; as, to keep tryst; to break tryst. [Scot. Or Poetic] To bide tryst, to wait, at the appointed time, for one with whom a tryst or engagement is made; to keep an engagement or appointment.
Surprise! Here’s a still-older—and much more concrete—meaning of trust, embedded under tryst. Why does that matter? Because I’m looking at the roots of the words, to see just what solid matter may underlie all the conceptual hot air expended on these terms.
Trust is an extremely abstract concept in its modern meaning. Almost every term used to define it is abstract. Worse still, it takes a lot of these abstract terms to try to define it! “Assured resting of the mind on the integrity, veracity, justice, friendship, or other sound principle, of another person…” That’s quite a string. It’s important to note that the examples used in the definition for trust do not lump all the exemplary “sound principles” into the definition:
trust means: counting on someone for integrity (wholeness) or veracity (truthfulness) or justice (even-handedness?) or friendship…not necessarily all of the above.
In more mundane terms, trust means being able to count on another person for some specific, positive quality (sound principle) or behavior.
Perfect Trust Is…
Hence, “perfect trust” becomes “being able to count on someone carrying through on a principle or behavior“…or, equally, “being able to count absolutely on someone’s principle or behavior.” Given the embedded meaning of tryst, a key behavior is that of keeping appointments.
In a broader sense, looking at the intertwined meanings of true and trust, here are some other definitions of the phrase perfect trust to consider:
- speaking only [magical] facts (the power of words)
- keeping one’s [magical] appointments (esbats and sabbats)
Perfect Love And Perfect Trust Are?
Now where are we?
- Perfect love = feelings of strong attachment, carried through.
- Perfect trust = being able to rely on someone in the extreme.
And when you put them together, you combine the familiar (family-type) ties of relationship (plus the emotional capability for magic) with the reliable opportunity to gather together (to work magic): the crucial ingredients for a magic-working group or family…encoded into a pair of passwords. Paying special heed to the point where this password is introduced, we note that it applies specifically to the locale of a magical meeting: the circle.
Taking all of this together, I see three very important points that little resemble some of the more New Age–style expositions on this topic:
- Perfect love and perfect trust apply within a magical circle.
- Perfect love and perfect trust are goals.
- Perfect love and perfect trust encode within them the essence of magical witchcraft practice.
[i] Gardner, Gerald B., Witchcraft Today
[ii] Ibid., The Meaning of Witchcraft.
[iii] Farrar, Stewart and Janet, The Witches’ Bible Compleat.
[v] Webster’s Revised Unabridged, 1913 edition, online version. http://machaut.uchicago.edu/?action=search&word=&resource=Webster%27s&quicksearch=on
[vi] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition