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On Grudges, Forgiveness, and Wicca

By Mortir

 

"Think, Jinian," Ganver murmured at me. The voice was hypnotic, compelling. "Think what you do, how you feel, what you have just done. You have been angry. You sought something which was not there. Because it was not there, you punished certain creatures for its lack. Will you punish a gnat because it cannot sing? You will not have the power of the star-eye until you understand these things."

- Jinian Star-Eye, Sheri S. Tepper

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A friend of mine once told me in a fit of pique, "I'm a Wiccan, not a Christian, and we're not into that forgiveness crap." I mentally ran down the incredibly short list of the Wiccan Commandment, and noticed that she was right -- there was no specific formal charge to

Forgive those who hurt thy pride, offend thine honor, or otherwise frost thy buttocks.

On the other hand, I thought, almost every other religion I knew of addressed forgiveness in some direct way or another, and since we, as Wiccans, like to think we are working at following the religion or spirituality behind all religions, I wondered why we didn't. Perhaps in striving to separate ourselves from the Christianity that surrounds us, and from which most of us have come, and many of us have been wounded in the name of, we have mistakenly jettisoned a vital universal spiritual and religious principle. I also noted that many of the Wiccans I know tend to get offended and hold grudges of a spectacular magnitude, and feel very righteous in doing so. In realizing somebody should say something, I realized also that I was about to piss off a great number of the Wiccan community who enjoy their grudges. Oh well.

The obvious, which is that holding a grudge breaks the Rede ("An' it harm none do what ye will") I shall belabor presently. First, I want to explain how it goes counter to the entire philosophical ground upon which our religion is founded.

Wicca is based upon the idea that we are all growing and learning, all learning different lessons, are all at different points in our development, and all working at our own pace. The ideas of karma and reincarnation are central in this -- we experience karma to learn our lessons, and reincarnate life after life to learn the lessons we failed, misunderstood, didn't get quite right, or didn't even get close to learning in our previous lives.

Perfect Love and Perfect Trust also take this into account -- loving a person for whom they are, warts and all, and trusting them to be who they are and to behave appropriately to their actual development. If you trust someone in the wrong way, and they disappoint you, you were the one who was mistaken. You revise your expectations of the person, and your estimation of the lessons they have learned. You forgive, but not necessarily forget, because they are working on whatever lesson they failed, and may fail it again; some people may fail it many times before learning it. You trust that they are working on it (they cannot really do otherwise - they'll get it right eventually, though it may be in another life), and love them in spite of it, or perhaps even because of it, for who they are. You hope that they will do the same, for we are all learning our own lessons.

Grudges are directly counter to this: they are attempts to freeze situations as they are, and stop or preclude growth. They do this by fostering the assumption, either openly or tacitly, that the person who hurt you will always be at that level of development (that that is the way they are and will remain, an "evil person" who basely betrayed you and will always do so, and who should suffer greatly for their offense against you, the Light and the side of the angels or whatever) and/or stops you from growing by holding onto that pain, by assuming that you were completely, or mostly, in the right and did little or nothing to contribute to the outcome of the situation, and disregards the whole of the situation, the context of which you and others were a part. You disclaim self-responsibility and stop yourself from learning the lessons you need to because you blind yourself to them. This self-as-victim and other-as-"batwings-from-hell" is false -- you were two (or more) growing and developing humans who, together, created a situation; what can you learn from this? No, I mean other than that the other person's father is actually Ming the Merciless, 'cause odds are, he wasn't.

Now we come to the "An' it harm none" part. In addition to the harms listed above, by seeing the other person as a frog, or minor demon, or slimeball, you are working counter to the other person's development if you push this thought with any magical force (which is so easy to do when you're angry enough to hold a grudge), by adding your own force to the resistance they must overcome to learn their lesson and be a better person -- "Hi there, I'm Saint Urvile the Slimeball. I'm working on generosity when I'm not engaged in two-faced gossip-mongering..." can be a tough image to overcome. You are also harming yourself by binding yourself to this image! Before sending this out, you must create it within yourself, and before too long, you may find yourself engaged in two-faced gossip-mongering about "ol' St. Urvile" and feeling oh so righteous about it. Meanwhile, you've just signed up for refresher courses on the lessons about Gossip-Mongering, Working Bad Woojie-Woojie (consciously or not, as the case may be), Winning and Losing Friends and Influencing People (with the principle of like attracting like, you're likely to wind up surrounding yourself with like-minded folks who will support your self-justification and form a clique or club with you, and making the lessons that much harder to learn), as well as signing up for a masters degree in Why Grudges Are a Bad Idea. People who carry a grudge seldom carry only one. Better make that a doctorate, and count the lifetimes till graduation if you are stubborn. Not to mention that since you're doing this, others are likely seeing you as "the two-faced gossip-mongering slimeball," which, of course, you've become. You sure have made some serious work for yourself just to shift your portion of blame and make yourself feel better, haven't you? Can you make the situation any worse? Sure! With arrogant stupidity, self-righteous pride, and persistence, any degree of self-wounding and situation-worsening is possible!

There are only three ways to deal with anger: express it, repress it, or forgiveness. Almost all of us do some degree of all three.

Repression, or denial, does not work, except for analysts, psychiatrists, psychologists, police, district attorneys and politicians who make their living off of other people's repressed anger. The anger does not go away, though it may seem like it, but is always expressed somehow, and almost always negatively, and almost always destructively and/or self-destructively. Repressed anger accumulates, becomes a mental toxic waste dump which seeps out and poisons one's world, attitudes, relationships, or becomes a munitions pile which can be exploded by a random spark, and these uncontrolled eruptions can ruin relationships, psychically wounding friends, lovers, and children, frightening wildlife miles away, and startling passing motorists.

Expression can be positive, as a force to communicate grievance and a problem with a situation to change it, or negative, as a force to hurt others (whether it is rationalized as a way to communicate the degree of pain to the other by making them feel a similar pain themselves, of just to make them hurt to get even). Positive expressions of anger are almost always of short duration - they are assertions that communicate or fail to, work their change or fail to, and are done. Negative expressions are often longer in duration; there is often a pleasure taken in their expression, and a feeling of satisfaction with the other's pain. This type of anger and its expressions tend to be held onto, they are ineffective as true agents for positive change, and the pleasure taken in the expressions make them self-reinforcing, and they become a vicious circle, the anger is never released, and must be expressed again and again. Like repressed anger, anger that is held onto -- grudges -- is linked with physical health problems, including but not limited to depression, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and strokes. Holding onto anger can cause poor health, and if that isn't harming yourself, I don't know what is.

The last option is forgiveness. Many people seem to have the idea that to practice forgiveness is to somehow make yourself into a sap, sort of a treacly, Polyanna-esque Glenda-the-Good figure (complete with goofy voice and pink tulle, and traveling around in a pink saccharine bubble), someone too weak to "stand up for themselves" or a masochist. That is a defense, like the other self-righteous blinders previously discussed. Forgiveness is difficult. It takes time and effort; it requires a measure of self-responsibility, directly addressing the problem and pain, and forgoing the pleasure of vindictiveness. It requires that you deal with them not just all-at-once, but on a continuing basis while the pain heals and you either attempt to change the situation in some constructive manner or admit that the situation cannot be changed by you and accepting that. It does, however, stop the cycle, reduces your anger, reduces your feeling of need to force someone to change, allows less accumulation of "bad karma," and gets you back on track in lesson-learning for Life 101. It changes your world by allowing you to love more, feel more hopeful, optimistic, sleep better, be less anxious or depressed, and enjoy life, which is something that you had forgotten you weren't doing so much of anymore while being Baron von Grudgebearer (demanding swords, or at least nasty epithets and cutting remarks, at dawn). It does not reduce your ability to be assertive (in fact, it enhances it because you improve your self-esteem), and the more you do it, the more your attitude and world improve (good karma) and the less you find you have to do it because you are being hurt less often because you are less sensitive and looking for a reason to be hurt.

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Gee, it sounds like forgiveness, with occasional assertive positive expressions of anger, is the way to go, here, doesn't it? Realizing that you are angry while not acting negatively on it, and deciding to forgive saves everyone, especially you, a great deal of pain. It allows you to learn by looking at the context, and looking at things from the other person's viewpoint, which also help in the forgiveness process. These are perfectly in accord with Wiccan philosophy and principles, whereas holding grudges violated them. Forgiveness leads to the realization that we are all One, and that the other person, who seemed so nefarious and diabolically evil, is a part of Deity, and a part that is in its own pain and needs its own healing. This realization may take you one step closer to realizing how much you are a child of the gods, and a part of Deity as well, and give you a deeper understanding of why Love is the Law, and to act in accord with it.

Isn't that what we're about?

2002 SerpentStone, All rites reserved.
Used with permission

 

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This page last updated March 10, 2004