An essay by Deborah Snavely
Note: Previously published in the BAPAN by Bay Area Pagan Assemblies (501(c)3), 2000
The phrase “perfect love and perfect trust” (perhaps) originates with the ancient Western Mystery Schools. Modern occult students find it in both Masonry and British Traditional Wicca (BTW). The phrase has made its way into the popular culture of New Age witchcraft, eclectic “Wicca,” and do-it-yourself traditions of all sorts. As a result, the published discussions of perfect love and perfect trust 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 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 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 #1 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.
Let us review the word “perfect” to begin with. I will also pursue the “see XXX” references for the word roots, just to provide context for root meanings.
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.]Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition
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.]
1. 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.
2. To regard with passionate and devoted affection, as that of one sex for the other.Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition
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 entrance 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 connection was how he came 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 enable 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.]
1. Assured resting of the mind on the integrity, veracity, justice, friendship, or other sound principle, of another person; confidence; reliance; reliance.Webster’s Revised Unabridged, 1913 edition, online version. http://humanities.uchicago.edu/ARTFL/
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.] n. 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.Webster’s Revised Unabridged, 1913 edition, online version. http://humanities.uchicago.edu/ARTFL/
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.
I note that trust is an extremely abstract concept in its modern meaning; almost every term used in its primary definition is abstract and it takes a lot of them 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…though 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.” One behavior I believe is meant is that of keeping appointments.
In a broader sense, looking at the intertwined meanings of true and trust, some other definitions of the phrase perfect trust exist:
- speaking only [magical] facts (the power of words)
- keeping [magical] appointments (such as 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 these passwords are introduced, we note that they apply 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, not laws.
- Perfect love and perfect trust encode within them the essence of magical witchcraft practice.
- Gardner, Gerald B., Witchcraft Today
- Ibid., The Meaning of Witchcraft
- Farrar, Stewart and Janet, A Witches’ Bible Compleat.
- Internet Sacred Text Archive, http://www.sacred-texts.com/pag/index.htm
- Webster’s Revised Unabridged, 1913 edition, online version. http://humanities.uchicago.edu/ARTFL/
- Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition http://humanities.uchicago.edu/forms_unrest/webster.form.html