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by Oak, of Athena's Owl Coven

"...And all the snarls of karma be uncurled." -- the NROOGD Basic Ritual

(Author's note: Much of the following comes primarily from a series of personal insights and intuitions. I cannot defend it on the basis of "traditional lore", although some of these concepts occur in the lore of several traditions. Some of this is just what makes the most sense to me. I hope that readers will discover through their own experience whether these ideas make sense to them also.)

Karma is a name that we use for what many consider to be a natural law of the universe. The word itself is Indian, but our European ancestors had similar words, like "fate" and "wyrd", which describe some of the same ideas. Still, most people in the Craft have some idea of what "Karma" means, which makes it as useful a word as any. Though we borrowed the word from the Eastern religions, Karma, being a natural law, applies as much to us as it does to Hindus and Buddhists.

Despite the fact that many Witches and Pagans believe in the idea in one form or another, just what is meant by "Karma" can be confusing. Part of this is due to a lack of information. The NROOGD teachings, for instance, contain references to Karma (primarily in Aporrheton 5: the Craft Laws), but seem to assume that the reader already understands what Karma is.

The essence of Karma is very simple: Karma is cause and effect carried out on large scales as well as small ones. Another way of saying this is that one's choices in the past govern what choices one will have in the present and future. What distinguishes the actions of Karma from ordinary reality is that Karmic effects are not limited to mundane notions of causality or to ordinary time scales. Most people who believe in Karma also believe in reincarnation, which allows for many lifetimes for causes and effects to be acted out.

Another related idea that of connection. How we interact with others will certainly affect our Karma; how others interact with us will affect theirs. It often happens that these will be complementary effects, as if there were some sort of agreement. While we are responsible for working out our own Karma, for making our own choices, others will aid us, and we will aid them.

Inherent in the concept of Karma is the idea of balance. If the choices you make and actions you take upset the balance in your life, then the action of Karma will be to present you with choices that will allow you to create a new balance. Such imbalances are not necessarily bad; without them we literally could not go anywhere, since even the simple act of walking requires momentarily unbalancing the body between steps. Beyond this, Karma acts to balance the entire universe. In this way, Karma is a counter to another natural force called "entropy", which this is the tendency of matter and energy to break down into simpler, less ordered forms. Karma is the opposite to this tendency, causing more spiritual balance and harmony over time. On the mundane plane, we call this action "evolution" and see it in material as well as spiritual lifeforms.

In our own lives, we can also describe the action of Karma as a series of lessons. Each time we depart from perfect balance and harmony, we will receive, through the action of Karma, new opportunities restore that balance. It is an error to think of Karma as a system of rewards and punishments. There is no such thing as "bad Karma." When events challenge us with difficult choices, it is not necessarily because of "evil" behavior in our past; it might just as easily be because we have reached a new level of spiritual evolution and are thus ready for more significant lessons. As in any course of study, when one lesson is completed, another is presented to the student. In the school of Karma, though, there are no failures. We will continue to receive the same lesson until we get it right!

One of the hardest concepts for many people to understand is that there is no one controlling this process but ourselves. Karma comes from within, not without, and though we may not always recall the choices we made, it up to us to deal with their consequences. In fact, taking responsibility for our Karma is most important use we can make of these teachings. Theoretical ideas about Karma would be useless unless we can use this knowledge to improve our lives. Often this means rethinking our ideas about our limitations. The more that we are willing to take responsibility for, the more power we will have over the course of our lives. Despite appearances, no one else is preventing us from having the things we desire or doing the things we want to do. To release ourselves from obstruction or move into new areas of opportunity, we must realize that only we are the cause of what happens to us.

On the other hand, it is also wrong to confuse responsibility with blame. When our choices cause us to do things that we regret afterwards, we tend to feel bad and not trust ourselves. We often try to avoid making any choices at all in the area that caused the problem. This is a mistake, because the situation requires more responsibility, not less. If you fall off your horse, the thing to do is get right back on.

If blaming ourselves for our Karma is wrong, blaming others for theirs is as bad or worse. To do so is to ignore the connections we all share. Some people use Karma as an excuse to disparage those suffering some misfortune. Not only is such fault-finding unwarrented, such people ignore the fact that this same situation contains choices for them also: an opportunity to offer aid, perhaps, or possibly a warning not engage in the same behavior that caused the problem for the other person. It is simply impossible to isolate oneself.

Another error often made by witches is thinking that magic and spellworking can somehow "short-circuit" Karma. As is correctly stated in Aporrheton 5*, we cannot change someone's else Karma, only our own. Indeed, attempting to cast a spell which goes against the Karma in a situation is one of the principal reasons that spells sometimes fail. The thing to remember is that any time we become aware of any kind of power available to us, the choices we make regarding how we use it will affect Karma. The practice of magic is no exception.

Karmic ideas also provide an explanation for divination. Through our connections with the universe, we can learn as much of the state of others' Karma as we are willing to take the responsibility to know. Because of these connections the results of any action that we take, even shuffling a deck of cards or tossing some coins, will to some extent reflect the totality of the state of the universe. If we can teach ourselves to read these influences, we can indeed discover the influences that will shape our future and others'.

Most importantly, though, with time, intent and the use of meditation, we can slowly learn the shape our Karma has taken over the ages up to our present life. We will find how seemingly accidental occurrences, large and small, belong to a larger pattern, one with a unique meaning for ourselves alone. Once we begin to grasp this pattern, we may place ourselves in harmony with it, to actively cooperate in learning the lessons Karma teaches. In this way, we come to be the conscious agents of our own spiritual evolution.

*Aporrheton 5: one of a series of essays by Aidan Kelly on various aspects of the NROOGD tradition. The Aporrhetons are used as teaching materials. The name comes from the Greek “Lesser Mysteries” of the Eleusinian, those mysteries which must be protected by law – in contrast to the Greater Mysteries (arrheton) which by their nature cannot be told.

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This work is copyright The Witches Trine and the author, 1996. All rights reserved.

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