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Finding Your Pagan Moral Compass: On Forgiveness

Author: Deborah Castellano
Posted: June 19th. 2011
Times Viewed: 5,531

Sometimes being Pagan is challenging. We have a much murkier moral structure than many other world religions, especially if you're more of a “freelance” Pagan like myself. There's honestly not any one-belief structure I subscribe to in its entirety, which makes for days where I miss being Catholic in my own way. While it wasn't always easy to adhere to the belief structure, there was a structure to follow for everything. You could expect Mass to go a certain way, you could expect sinning to go a certain way and you could expect forgiveness to go a certain way and you could expect death to go a certain way. As a creative of habit and structure, I miss those certainties even if they weren't always necessarily certain in my own head as a Catholic.

When I learned about the Japanese tea ceremony, learning all the structure to it seemed very daunting to me. There are so many nuances to it. But it made sense when it was explained to me that this was how many people in Japan relax. The structure that dictated literally everything that happened during the ceremony, from the conversation to how you held your teacup, meant that you could relax because there was no uncertainty. Everything was decided before you even stepped foot into the teahouse. As someone who is incredibly anxious and who is triggered by uncertainty, it made sense to me.

Setting up your own moral compass is challenging, which is why a lot of people prefer a pre-fab version, even in Paganism. Some subscribe to a general rule of three and/or some kind of karmatic system. I don't actually really personally subscribe to either of those. I don't disbelieve in it or anything; it's just not for me. The universe seems too chaotic and complicated like a constantly weaving and unweaving tapestry to give me my justice Judge Judy style like I prefer it.

This also makes me too impatient for karma to play out over life times as Dharma subscribes and I have witnessed the laws of three play out spottily at best. This means that a lot of times if I want to see justice done in a particular situation, I need to do the mundane work myself. I do some magic work to give the universe a good hard shove to influence the outcome and to petition my gods to step in on my behalf as well. Generally, I've found this approach to work out pretty well for me when a situation in unjust, though I need to contemplate beforehand how worth while it is to spend all this time and energy on something or if it's best to just let it go.

But there's justice and then there's forgiveness. I haven't really seen too many large religions not espouse forgiveness. Forgiveness has been linked to a lot of things: a lighter heart, better psychological health and the Mayo Clinic also cites actual physical health benefits like lower blood pressure. Gurus from all over the world from Jesus to the Dalai Lama think it's a good thing to do. But honestly? I don't always forgive. I personally have yet to find a spiritual explanation that I feel sufficiently adequate to dictate what to do when someone does something to you that's unforgivable.

And I think that can put a lot of stress on people because we are taught from a young age that forgiveness makes us better people and makes us closer to the gods by doing so. Refusing to forgive then must therefore make us bad people who are mean and not at all close to our gods and our hearts must be full of little rain clouds. We are not worthy of love or goodness in our lives because someone (s) did something unforgivable to us and it's then very painful and difficult as we try to force ourselves to do something we don't want to do or are not ready to do so that we can go back to perceiving ourselves as generally good people.

So let's unpack this some, shall we? Obviously, forgiveness in general is a good thing because we want to be forgiven ourselves for wrong doings. If you plan to have a relationship with someone – a family member, a friend, a lover, etc. where you have a close loving relationship, forgiveness is necessary for you to be able to have a good relationship otherwise the relationship becomes too weighed down with negativity and distrust to be able to function. In general, you should not be giving yourself an aneurysm every time a stranger cuts you off in traffic or acts badly towards you. It's not good for you as your stress levels become damaging to your health.

So let's talk about two different situations where, in my opinion, forgiveness is not strictly necessary. The first would be an acquaintance like a co-worker or a coven mate. Maybe you worked on a project together and they undermined you, discredited your work and perhaps spread a rumor through the workplace/coven that was hurtful and not at all true to you and damaged your reputation. In this kind of situation, you should address the problem with this acquaintance and let them know that what they did was not okay. You should also address the issue with your manager/coven leader to explain your position. From there you have two options – one would be to give that person another chance to not act like an ill-mannered lout but to not be surprised when they do the same thing again or two, try to avoid that person as much as possible.

If it's a work place scenario, document all of your work and make sure to keep your boss in the loop as much as possible. If it's a Craft situation, how much you work with that person is up to you. I would personally not attend any ritual led by someone I was on bad terms with and I would definitely not work with him or her on creating a ritual. If my group was big enough, I would however likely attend a ritual with that person present and potentially be on a committee with that person if s/he was not in charge of it. I would avoid direct contact as much as possible as well.

In both scenarios it's best to avoid talking badly about the person as it will likely bite you in the butt, but it's not a bad idea to be honest if asked about it. For example, “Sarah told me that you were sleeping with half the coven. Is that true?” “No, it's not true and I find it hurtful that Sarah would say that.” Note the response was about finding Sarah's behavior hurtful, not a verbal vomit about how Sarah should talk because she's a useless skank herself.

Now let's get to the real meat of the matter: someone close to you has done something that you find unforgivable. Maybe your best friend slept with your husband and that's not okay in your relationship set up. Maybe your spouse hit you and was demeaning to you. Maybe a family member stole and sold a priceless family heirloom from you. Everyone's line in the sand is different as to what crosses into unforgivable territory. But my point is that it's okay to have that line.

I've personally found it's possible to not forgive someone and not have it eat you up inside. If that line has been crossed for you, it means you can't have any kind of relationship with that person anyway. In fact, I've found it easier for it not to eat me up inside because I'm not forcing myself to do something I don't want to do and to force myself to reconcile something I haven't reconciled. I've found it more healing to give myself permission to say, ‘What that person did to me was so messed up that it hurt me more than I ever could have imagined and shook me up so badly that I will never be the same again for it and it was not okay and it will never be okay and I don't have to ever forgive that person of what s/he did’.

Forgiveness doesn't always mean acceptance, but the line is thin and there have been points in my life that it was too thin for me to be able to navigate successfully. I was still able to process it and come to terms with it without having to forgive it. I honestly slept better because I could come to peace with how I felt. When making our moral compasses for ourselves, it's my belief that we shouldn't force ourselves to do something we're not ready for (and may never be ready for) and give ourselves permission to not forgive if it doesn't feel right to.


Deborah Castellano

Location: , New Jersey


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