22 JUNE 2007
An old essay I came across…
Posted by Misti at 8:30:00 AM
I wrote this back in 1999 — came across it this morning and thought you might be amused.
Blaming it all on Karma
by Misti Anslin Delaney (1999)
The Samhain morning murder of Ronnie Raub has a lot of people in our community thinking and talking. How, we wonder, could this happen in “our little family”, the community of pagans who we prefer to think of as “good” people and “like us”.
Domestic violence and murder go against everything that most of us believe. Nonetheless, Paul Raub – who considers himself a witch – beat his wife, Ronnie, pretty regularly, according to police reports, and now it seems he may have killed her.
Unfortunately, we in our little pagan community are just humans, and as humans we have the usual range of strengths and flaws. We’d like to think we have the inside track on wisdom, kindness, and truth. But really, we have only one of many paths to those ideals and it guides us only as well as we’re ready to be guided, just as the better known religions guide their followers only as well as those followers are ready to be guided. The wise will find the essence of truth and beauty in any path, and the unenlightened can corrupt even the most wise and beautiful of faiths and philosophies.
A long time ago, a non-witchy friend asked me how anything bad could possibly happen to witches, since we know how to use magic and we can call on our powerful Goddesses and Gods. This friend knew me in a time when everything that could go wrong in my life seemed to be intent on going wrong. (It was my first Saturn return — what can I say?) She was questioning the usefulness of my religion in light of the way my life was going at the time. I was poor, unemployed with no job skills, and the single mother of two rambunctious young boys. At some points I was technically homeless, though thanks to very, very dear people who went far beyond the call of the duty of friendship, I was never literally on the streets. I did cry along with my babies as they cried themselves to sleep from hunger on far too many occasions, when my friends didn’t know the situation.
Another friend of mine, a witch, lost custody of her children to the vicious man who killed two of their children “in utero” by beating her. She found herself wondering why The Goddess had turned her back and wasn’t answering her pleas to bring her children safely home.
So, why do bad things happen to good witches?
Well, why do bad things happen to anyone? People have been asking ourselves that since we first had the words to ask. That question may well be the whole reason we invented religions in the first place. And we’ve never found a deity or a way of life that would protect us completely – perhaps because, as Edith Hamilton once said “Man was not made for safe havens”.
Some people try to blame every tragedy on karma: “I wonder what she did to deserve that?”
That attitude always annoys me. Whenever anything horrible happens to someone in our community, whether it’s Ronnie’s murder or the loss of custody of our children, or just a string of really bad luck, at least one person is bound to wonder aloud what the victim did to deserve it.
That’s not so very different from the attitude people have long taken toward rape victims. What was she wearing, where was she, and what was she doing to invite this kind of treatment? Although it’s far from extinct, this attitude is changing toward rape victims and I think it’s high time we reexamined it in the rest of our thinking about tragedy.
Why doesn’t being a witch, one who knows how to shape reality, one who can call on the might of our powerful Gods and Goddesses, always save us from life’s tragedies? Why don’t the Goddess, our loving Mother, and the God, our strong, protective Father, protect us from the fateful “bumps and bruises and broken limbs” of this world?
I’m convinced that, in part, it’s because we’re not here to live a safe little life in swaddling clothes. We’re here to learn and to grow beyond what we arrive here as, and sometimes the learning is tough.
Just as a good mother lets her infant son take the occasional tumble as he’s learning to walk and lets her young daughter take a chance on falling when she’s learning to ride a two-wheeler, our Cosmic Mother lets us experience life fully, even with all its difficulty and pain. The experiences that what we survive make us who we are. Challenges toughen us to face greater challenges. Challenges that kill us also teach our greater self something… and death isn’t final; it may be a major cosmic bruise, but we know we’ll be back to go on learning.
Sometimes we go through hard times because we’re being taught what we’ll need to know to accomplish the task we’re here for. The greatest of teachers and counselors are often forged in the “fire” of tragedy.
Sometimes, as in major weather disasters, we’re caught up because we got in the way when the needful was happening. From the cosmic point of view, it’s not a disaster, but a readjustment. Yes, a few lives were lost – but in the grand scale they mean less than the overall balance. When the rivers flood, they bring nutrients back to the land; if we’ve been foolish enough to make our homes in the flood plane, then that’s just how it is. When a hurricane, tornado, or forest fire comes through, it tears up and destroys old growth to make room for the new.
The cosmos we live in is much grander than our frail little human brains can encompass. (That’s why Deities present themselves to us in the limited forms in which we know them!) There are forces at work in our world that we can only barely perceive. There is no more evil or malice in storms, floods, and fires than there was when I destroyed my toddler son’s “finger painting in shades of food” on the dining room table. He was heart broken, but it needed to be done. That he didn’t understand about germs and the basic necessity of cleanliness didn’t make me evil or the destruction of his art malicious.
Sometimes we go through hard times simply because we got in the way of someone else’s lessons at the wrong time.
Blaming the victim, though, even if he or she provably has a karmic debt, is never productive and is always cruel. I think it’s a defense mechanism we use to convince ourselves that we needn’t fear being victimized. We, you see, are “good” people. We’ve never earned the kind of karmic debt that would cause something like that to happen in our lives, so we’re safe.
I have news for you.
You just don’t know, can’t know, exactly what your entry in the Akashic record looks like. None of us knows for certain about anything prior to this life. And for that matter, we aren’t always aware of exactly what we’ve done and all of its results in this lifetime. Where karma is concerned, the only place we can make a functional difference is here and now. Maybe we racked up a lot of karmic debt in another lifetime, maybe we racked up a lot of karmic credit. Either way, we can neither know for certain, nor do anything to change it in the short term. From this moment forward, though, we can live with awareness. We can tip the scales for later in the direction of credits. But that won’t protect us from all life’s growing pains.
And bad things do happen to good, pure people all the time. Life’s like that.
Our magick lets us shape reality, but this isn’t Bewitched – magick takes time and planning and hard work in the real world. Sometimes things happen too fast for us to do more than hang on tight. Our magick, too, is always subject to the influence of other wills.
Sometimes it obviously works, and sometimes the results are subtler and to all appearances didn’t work or didn’t work out the way we’d planned.
The strength of our religion, beyond our deities and our spells, lies in its ability to give us a broader view in which to understand the events in our lives. That’s one of the main premises I use in my counseling. Perspective can make all the difference in how well we cope. How we interpret things makes the difference in how we see our options. How we see our options make the difference in how we react and in how quickly we learn.
As I said before, sometimes the greatest of teachers and counselors are forged in the “fire” of tragedy. So how do they survive and thrive and come out stronger where others are broken? They allow themselves to be transformed by the experience—they use the joy and humour of our way of worship to conquer the bitterness. They use their knowledge of the accumulation of many lifetimes of lessons in the growth of the human soul to get some perspective on their situation. And they know, deep within their hearts that without some bitterness, the sweetness of life would be meaningless. They refuse to be conquered by self pity and they ground and center and go on, either in this lifetime or the next.
a long, long time ago
Ronnie found herself in an abusive relationship. Why?
We can’t know. Did Ronnie somehow deserve to be killed? Did Ronnie Raub, at some karmic level, deserve all that she experienced? No, I doubt very seriously that she did. Or did she stumble into someone else’s cosmic lesson? It’s not our place to say. What was she supposed to learn from her killer’s betrayal? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s any of my business. Perhaps it was the payment of a karmic debt, perhaps it was a life’s lesson about learning to have the strength to leave an unacceptable situation, whatever the cost.
Whatever the situation arose from, Ronnie did a brave and dangerous thing. She determined to remove herself and her children from a violent relationship. That would seem to have resulted in her death … as is far too often the case in abusive relationships. (The most dangerous time for an abused woman is after she makes the decision to leave and within the first year after she leaves. That’s when most abusive partners kill their victims.)
If it was her lesson, does that mean that Paul ought to get off, even if it was he who killed her? Absolutely not! We can’t know what path Ronnie was walking, and we can’t know what path Paul walks. But murder has consequences and a part of a murderer’s path is surely to suffer the consequences of his or her acts.
But I firmly believe that Ronnie will be back, stronger than ever, to be an even greater teacher than she was in this lifetime. Her strength and compassion were obvious to all who knew her, and to many who knew only of her.
So maybe one life’s lesson that we should all be tackling is to stop blaming karma for everything that happens. We need to take responsibility for our actions, to accept what life assigns us and deal with it well (whether it’s a major lesson or just the way life gets sometimes), and to take proper action to help those around us when they deserve it, rather than judging them.
In the words of American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: (paraphrased)
Give me the strength to change the things I can,
The serenity to accept what I cannot change,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
It seems to me a valid prayer in any religion.