Questions you’ve asked on Things You’ve Read: karma

Q: I read that if you take a spell from someone else and use it, you are sharing in the karma from the person who wrote that spell.

A:  Seriously?!  You read that?!  Good lord, stop going to that website.  That’s utter bollocks, sorry. In fact, most anything said by most contemporary neopagans about karma is utter bollocks, sorry to say. And this bit about a spell’s karma is about the height of absurdity in a vast sea of absurd stuff written about karma by folks who don’t have even a third-rate education in religion but are still gonna try to talk about it. And the information is out there, free for all, since we have libraries and the internet. Yet people can’t even be bothered to learn before they go spreading bullshit about a concept that comes from a major world religion adhered to by millions of people right this very second.

“Hmm, I could study this before I open my mouth, or I could just repeat whatever I saw on tumblr.  What a dilemma.” (cue Jeapordy theme)

First of all, karma doesn’t even work like that.  Karma has to do with ethics, action, and volition; it has to do with intention. A set of written instructions has no karma. It cannot serve as a vector for someone else’s karma. Karma is not mana or juju from a roleplaying game where an object or even a speech act accrues it or absorbs it, and it’s not a separate energy that two people could divide between them or share.

And even if a spell (or cake recipe, or auto repair manual) had or could transmit karma, the most fundamental principles of karma would dictate that the same recipe could be followed by two different people with two different ethical results depending on an extremely complex interplay of factors. In other words, two different people can take the same action — like using the same spell or pinching a baby or throwing a jellyfish back in the water — and have two different karmic results from it.

Second of all, and most importantly for our purposes here, karma has no place in traditional conjure. You are welcome to believe in it. Heck, you are even welcome to believe in the new-age bastardized Western version of it that modern neopagans will feed you when they relate it to the Wiccan Rede or so-called Rule of Three or whatever.  (It has nothing to do with either one of those things.)

What you can’t do is import that into your conjure work and call it traditional hoodoo. It’s not traditional hoodoo and it’s also not a traditional Eastern view of karma.  People will say things like, “you can’t deny the rule of karma any more than you can deny the law of gravity,” and that is just plain wrong. There are so many problems with that analogy it’s hard to know where to start.

But you can’t even begin to conceive of how karma works until you’ve taken reincarnation into account. (If you don’t believe in reincarnation, stop using the word “karma.” What you’re talking about isn’t karma – it’s some shit somebody made up.)

Presuming that karma=”as you sow, so shall you reap,” and that all the sowing and reaping happens within a short, predefined period of time in which you are an observer for the whole thing unfolding (like your single lifetime) is just preposterous. Karma does NOT mean “I was mean to the guy who asked me to prom, so when I am in college, I will get dumped/stood up/whatever and that is my karma.”  It does not mean “I will reap the rewards of good action in this lifetime” or “If i cast a ‘black magic’ spell, it will return on me.”  That is just ridiculously oversimplified.

Karma is far too complex a concept for me to explain briefly in a blog post, esp. when that blog is dedicated to the concepts, theory, and practice of hoodoo and karma has no place in traditional hoodoo. It is difficult for me to say anything about karma without drastically oversimplifying it; it is an extremely complex concept.  But I will note that the idea of “This bad or good thing happens in this life because of my bad or good actions in this life; what I reap is a result of what I sow in the present” — and this is essentially what people are saying when they try to apply karma to the practice of spellwork — is explicitly refuted in Buddhist teachings.  In fact, the teachings are explicit that one is NOT required to “repay” all the past “debt” of one’s karma; to proclaim otherwise is to deny the possibility of emancipation. In the Anguttara Nikaya, III.101 (Lonaphala Sutta), is written:

  • Monks, for anyone who says, ‘In whatever way a person makes kamma, that is how it is experienced,’ there is no living of the holy life, there is no opportunity for the right ending of stress. But for anyone who says, ‘When a person makes kamma to be felt in such & such a way, that is how its result is experienced,’ there is the living of the holy life, there is the opportunity for the right ending of stress. – trans. Thanissaro Bhikkhu

And here is another translation:

  • O priests, if anyone says that a man must reap according to his deeds, in that case, O priests, there is no religious life, nor is any opportunity afforded for the entire extinction of misery. But if anyone says, O priests, that the reward a man reaps accords with his deeds, in that case, O priests, there is a religious life, and opportunity is afforded for the entire extinction of misery. — trans. Henry Clarke Warren, in Sacred Writings: With Introductions and Notes, Charles William Eliot, ed., P.F. Collier & Son, 1910.

You might have to read this more than once for the distinction that is being made here to sink in. And you really probably have to read it in its larger context, which is why I’ve cited my sources and linked to versions you can get to and read yourself.  And reading in the larger context would rightfully include reading the Buddhist works to which the above words were a response, such as tracts that lay out karma as a strict series of cause and effect (eg, a man who steals grain will be reborn as a rat; it is this simplistic view of karma as strict cause and effect that Buddha was objecting to).

You must also understand that this is my understanding from my study and I do not speak for all Buddhists or Hindus etc. I have, however, made a rather more than typical effort at understanding what is meant by karma, since my parents gave me this name and I began making study of it by the age of 5. But you should certainly study and read for yourself. You shouldn’t take the word of ANY random internet person on this matter.  Karma is an important concept in an important religion on the planet you live on. You should know what it is.

But if your interest in this is only as a student of hoodoo or some other type of folk magic, then this is your main takeaway point: conjure has nothing to do with karma, at least not as it is typically understood in the West by modern-day neopagans (or by anyone with just a quick, surface understanding they’ve absorbed from popular culture). For that matter, most of what you’ll see on Pinterest or random blogs to do with witchcraft has nothing to do with karma, not really. It has to do with the ethics of some — not all — contemporary witches and pagans, and some — not all — of those folks are trying to turn it into some universal law, which is just utter bullshit. It’s such a profoundly wrong view it’s astonishing to me how it keeps getting circulated and then keeps getting *even worse.* (20 years ago, someone would tell you doing a compelling spell was bad karma and it would come back on you. Now, they’ll tell you it will come back on you *three times.* Or 7! or 21! rofl, wtf even is that? You can believe that if you want, but don’t call it karma ffs.)

And by the same token, the idea that there is such a spell that could give someone karma or have some effect on their karma is totally, completely absurd. That’s just such an imprecise use of the term “karma” that it’s rendered totally meaningless.

Even the general definition you will see in dictionaries, of karma as meaning that every action will return to the doer with equal impact, is a vastly oversimplified reduction that is, in many Eastern religious literary contexts, actually *wrong.* Let’s just take the context of that passage I quoted above, so a Buddhist one, and let’s run with that analogy of sowing and reaping.

While it is true that a man reaps the seed he plants, it is not only his conscious action that has a bearing on what he reaps. There is also the quality of the seed; the choice of seed; the inherent intellect of the man from birth that influences his understanding of planting; the education of the man during life that influences his understanding of planting (and the karma of his parents has an effect on all of these things); the moral disposition behind the planting of the seed (if any); the desire that informs the action of the planting (if any); the type of ground in which the seed is planted; the effects of weather patterns, soil quality, rainwater, irrigation, and environmental predation; whether he afterwards pulls out the weeds and waters the crop; etc.

Karma is important, but so are birth, personality, effort and intention, time and conditions, beauty and ugliness. If one sows a seed for good but later repents of that good, there is no good that recurs to him as a result of that sowing. If one sows a seed with no desire at all, that action has no karma. That’s how two people can perform the same action with two different karmic outcomes.

In any event, you should not presume that with limited human temporal understanding, you will have the slightest grasp of what causes and effects are at work in your life or the life of someone else. The overwhelming majority of us cannot hold on to a sufficiently enlarged perspective long enough and often enough to be able to *really get* all the intricate interplay across lifetimes and among families, etc.

In short, do not let someone give you a one-sentence or one-paragraph definition of karma.  If you want to understand it, don’t accept some modern Western, pre-digested version of it. Study it for yourself in context.

If you are not willing to do that, fine, then just drop it. It doesn’t fit conjure, which largely has its roots in a mostly traditional Judeo-Christian worldview. It doesn’t fit Wicca, which is actually way more conservative and old-fashioned about this matter than a lot of religions. It doesn’t fit anything as a “universal law.” Don’t take some half-baked crap and try to apply it to a religion, worldview, culture, or practice that has never heard of it. To do is insulting to conjure, insulting to Buddhism, and insulting to the intelligence.

2 thoughts on “Questions you’ve asked on Things You’ve Read: karma

  1. Comment from original blog post:

    (Anonymous) on August 11th, 2012 08:45 pm (local)
    From the NinjaCat

    Hooray!!! Well said, Miss Z! I’ve said quite a similar speech more than once, though I think you put it more eloquently. 😉 Some days I wish people would understand that “Instant Karma” is just a catchy John Lennon tune, and that “karma” actually means that which you do in this life will affect your next incarnation. That’s not necessarily “Do bad and bad happens to you” either….it’s more about lessons learned and progress made.

    Like

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