Forgiveness, Forgetfulness, and the Ties that Bind

Photo by Meruyert Gonullu via Pexels

Photo by Meruyert Gonullu via Pexels

by Christopher Penczak, Edited by Tina Whittle

Not that long ago, I was quoted, correctly, saying that I’m Italian and I hold a grudge. And that is not untrue. Or perhaps it’s the combination of my Italian heritage and the natural inclinations of a Sun sign Taurus. Yet I had a few students who were shocked, because I’m one of the few Witchcraft teachers they know who also talks about forgiveness a lot, even asking our first-year students to work with a forgiveness mantra for self and others. How do I hold these two seemingly contradictory things at one time? These are the mysteries, and such paradox is inherent in all mystery teachings.

Some students get quite upset, thinking I am trying to sneak Christianity into their Witchcraft. Their Witchcraft is one of power, justice, and even vengeance. When I began my training, purposeful curses (other than those for defending yourself) were not often talked about. It was probably happening quite a bit, but it wasn’t discussed openly. In the current times where the talk is more overt, the practice has certainly multiplied, but is often exercised quite unskillfully. A number of students started studying with me because they cast curses, often a little too successfully or with the curse backfiring, and they needed help. A few thought (erroneously) that cursing was just a self-help pseudo-therapy type of thing seen mostly on social media, something to release anger and make you feel better, nothing that would have an effect they regretted.

While I’m certainly not Christian, as an occultist, I cannot ignore the strands of Christian mysticism in the Western Mystery Tradition of the last two thousand years. If you practice forms of Hermeticism, Qabalah, and alchemy, if you have any influence from tarot, the grimoire traditions, or the Golden Dawn branches, you have been touched by it. The Christianity of the early Celtic Church doesn’t leave me shuddering in the same way that parts of Roman and Orthodox Christianity do, though the high rituals of those branches certainly have their own magick to them. The principle of the redeemer, the concepts of the Age of Pisces, and the non-Christian forms of salvation that are found in the Greek term Soter/Soteira are things I readily embrace as part of the occult tradition. Today many Witches are seeking Christian folk magick to supplement or even replace their Neopagan occultism, but ignore the theological principles in the tradition. Embracing, rejecting, or actively ignoring Christianity plays a role in our Witchcraft.

When I ask someone to explore forgiveness, I often get the response that they can’t. A very good friend and now graduated student tells me that I just don’t understand the abuse she suffered, and she cannot forgive her abusers, and I do understand that, at least intellectually. The discussion went into the concept of the forgiveness of a debt, and how that metaphor plays into our modern concepts and understanding of karma, not necessarily with “good” and “bad” karma, but credit, something owed to you, and debt, something you owe. The ideal of liberation is to be free of credit and debt, and simply enact your true will in all things, incurring neither.

If one who does harm is not contrite and has not made efforts to resolve or restore the harm, you do not absolve them. But if you focus on their harm to the extent that it harms you, you must take steps to resolve it for yourself. Like not wanting to have someone on your accounting books, absolving the debt, expecting nothing, allows you to let them go and not carry with you the hurt and the expectation that what is owed will be restored. You will balance your own books, let go of that expectation and debt, and be free. Yet you wouldn’t engage them again, or in this metaphor, lend them money again. That would be foolish. Forgive the debt, but don’t forget the circumstance.

When I say I hold a grudge, I remember those who have done wrong, and who have not sought to rectify or offer apology only to continually repeat the same bad behavior, and I won’t do anything to further support them in their harm. If my actions could contribute to preventing further harm, then I would. While it’s not exactly malice, there is a satisfaction in seeing those who do harm not be happy or successful until they change their patterns of harm. I wish all my enemies great happiness when doing good, or at least being neutral, but if their happiness is rooted in causing harm to others, I certainly don’t wish them happiness and success. I wish them no success until they change. I do truly wish they would figure it out and cease harming. And I am open to the idea that they might serve a purpose I cannot see, understand or personally accept. I am open in my grudge to observe change and respond to it. I might even take the risk that change has occurred…once! But if my hope is betrayed again, until I see the change with others and verify that it’s true and lasting, I won’t engage. There is a chance for true forgiveness and resolution for all, but it takes willing partners on all sides.

A Witch can forgive. I encourage it when possible and right for you. But I don’t believe a Witch can forget. Even when it’s resolved on both sides, that which is remembered has led to that resolution, and it gives hopes for others doing harm that change, restitution, and forgiveness is possible. If we believe in an interdependent and interconnected world, we must be willing to hold the possibility of redemption and reunion for all our parts, those within us and those within the world.

Temple of Witchcraft