Recently an ADF member asked a question that I have often asked myself. Where in our modern druid spirituality does the concept of forgiveness lie? Is it a virtue? What did the ancestors and ancient myths have to say? I am sure many a modern pagan has wrestled with this issue. It's a drum beat the Christian based over culture beats again and again and again. So where do we, as modern pagans stand? From what do we draw on?
The ancient myths and stories are surprisingly silent on the topic of forgiveness. In point of fact, in many of them revenge, harsh and cold, is prominent. We do see stories of an "Eric" or "Wergild" being paid. That is an exchange of payment to compensate some wrong doing done to another. The price being based on the value of the victim. This however speaks more to the idea of justice then it does to forgiveness, so it's not much help. No in the old stories forgiveness simply isn't there.
It seems to me that the concept of forgiveness is very much a child of the Abrahamic traditions. However that does not mean it should be thrown out the window. One of the main concepts of ADF druidry is that of nurturing relationships. Relationships with the holy kindred, with the cosmos, nature, each other and ourselves. Thusly forgiveness, it seems to me, is a necessity for the continued healthy *Ghosti of these relationships. Forgiveness is an important tool to spiritual, emotional, and mental health. To be clear I want to point out that I am not talking about forgetting. That is simplistic and foolhardy. Knowing, believing that forgiveness has intrinsic value, I sat down and began to think about what forgiveness really is? What is it made up of? Like a stone in a river I turned it around over and over, taking away the extra and polishing the core of the concept. What I have come away with is that forgiveness is nothing more than a letting go of anger. That's it. It's that simple and yet so hard to do at times.
It is the natural state of things that we feel emotion. A complex web of cognitive and subconscious thought, hormones, ego and culture. Ideally emotions should flow freely like a river or creek. Sometimes the water is shallow, like the river I grew up on in the summers. So shallow in places you could walk from one shore to the other never getting more then thigh deep. Other times the water is deep and fast and dangerous overflowing the banks and seemingly washing us away from time and place. Always flowing, always coming, that is emotion. Having someone hurt and anger us is an inevitable part of being in relationship, any kind of relationship. it's going to happen from time to time. However when we hold onto the hurt and anger is when we start to have problems. It's akin to trying to dam up the river. The anger and hurt build and build and build. We then are forced to release small amounts of that emotion in some form to keep it from over whelming us and overflowing the banks of the river and the dam. These dammed and stagnant waters are resentment. If we don't do something those waters become putrid, tainting the relationship . The ideal of course is to not build any dam at all. To simply let the emotions flow, but being channeled into a healthy and constructive outlet appropriate to the situation at hand. When we do build dams, as we all do from time to time, it will be best to tear them down. That is to let go of the anger and resentment, to forgive. Only then when we have let go can we get in right relationship with whatever or whoever caused us to feel hurt.
Forgiveness is a subtle thing, at times a difficult thing. Even after forty years on this planet, I still struggle with it at times. So how do we let go? how do we forgive? That is an excellent question, but like so many of the most important questions of life, there is no one easy answer. It's a learning. It's something we must all figure out for ourselves. It seems to me that it is very much a personal process. Magical workings may be of help. Perhaps writing, or singing, physical activity and exercise. For some it may be they can take the dam down quickly, for others it may take longer, and it may depend on just how long or how "high" the dam has been in place and built. Some hurts may take us years and years to let go of. Perhaps some we never will, though we should all try, for the beauty of a natural flowing river cannot be understated.
So is forgiveness a virtue? Since I see forgiveness as nothing more than a fancy word for letting go of anger, I say no. It is a skill and a tool for better health and a happier life for sure. Letting go is Wisdom and that is a virtue. Letting go shows moderation and that is a virtue. Letting go takes vision and perseverance and those are also virtues. Most of all letting go takes courage and that is most definitely a virtue.
The ancient stories don't model forgiveness well it seems to me. Perhaps it was the time, or they just didn't understand the value of it. Whatever the reason, forgiveness is a good thing...a healthy thing. It's part of our modern culture and I hope it stays. I hope that we all get very good at it. Not for the benefit of those who hurt us, but for the good of ourselves and for the good of our relationships.
May the kindred bless your journey.