Beth was curled into a fetal position, her head in my lap and her arms wrapped around my waist. She was sobbing. I held her distantly, empathetic for the pain she was feeling but not for its cause—she’d betrayed me. They’d both betrayed me, and now I was supposed to pardon them.
“Please, Jessi, you have to forgive me. I’m so, so sorry.”
I stroked Beth’s hair. Mascara bled onto my jeans and I felt her weight shift between sobs. I took no pleasure in watching her suffer like this, but my own suffering was so fresh and visceral I had a hard time feeling compassionately for her. Ultimately, I couldn’t endure the sadness that enveloped us. I said, “It’s okay, Beth. Of course I forgive you.”
After she left, I lay awake trying to let it go, but I couldn’t. I kept flashing back to her confession and to Henry’s corroboration while a searing pain burned inside my heart. The shadow kept peeking out from in between forced forgiveness—make them pay, it said. Why forgive when you can make them feel as horrible as you do? It’s not fair that they, the wrongdoers, should be set free while you continue to suffer.
The plot began forming despite my best efforts to take the high road. I preyed on their weaknesses—vanity, insecurity, shame—and created a rift between them. I was incredibly impressed by the swiftness with which my plan took effect, and even more pleased when its consequences were even more extreme than I’d intended.
Soon enough, things were more or less back to normal—I’d made it so I’d never have to see them together, and my shame slipped back into shadow. Yet, the effects of my revenge were hardly worth the temporary reprieve it gave me. As time passed, it became clear that not only was I going to have to truly forgive them, but I was also going to have to forgive myself for the devious things I’d done. I was young and naïve, of course, but I wasn’t stupid. I’d let my own shame and insecurities get in the way of doing what was right, and I had to atone for it later. If I’d simply allowed myself a proper grieving process and actively worked through forgiveness, I’d have saved myself a hell of a lot of stress and shadow work in the long run.
Forgiveness—easy to conceive, difficult to achieve. Saying “I forgive you” is common practice in our culture, so much so that we often feel compelled to say it even when we don’t mean it. Due to this, many of us walk around with a collection of grudges tucked neatly in our psycho-spiritual suitcases. Some of these grudges are so veiled in shadow that we have no idea that we still hold them, and so have no idea how keenly they influence our behavior. When we fail to forgive, we develop a warped perception of the world—we focus on the negative aspects of a person’s behavior while ignoring the positive. We close ourselves off to intimacy. It becomes easier for us to assume that everyone’s acting in accordance to some insidious agenda, causing us to project false truths onto the world at large. It’s a slippery slope into full-blown misanthropy, a condition that rarely inspires peace and happiness.
Truthfully, our intense emotional reactions to betrayal do serve a purpose—they allow a process of imprinting that allows for a distinct recollection of the conditions that led us to harm (and thus, the conditions we’d best be wary of in the future). However, if we find ourselves unable to forgive and release once we’ve learned this lesson, it’s much more detrimental to our health and wellbeing than the betrayal itself ever was, and we run the risk of developing chronic blockages that influence our relationship with others.
So, what can we do about it? How do we free ourselves from the negative attachments formed by betrayal/abuse and cleanse our souls of the anger and resentment that holds us hostage? Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all method of achieving a mindset of forgiveness, but there are some practices and methods that have helped many release resentment and invite compassion into their lives. Being a witch and a moonchild, I’ve found the most effective of these to be a ritual of forgiveness, and in these humble pages, I offer you my personal forgiveness ritual in the hopes that it may serve you as well as it’s served me.