…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.
—The Charge of the Goddess
Here continues a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.
What Is Compassion?
As has become my habit, I begin with the word itself. Its medieval meaning in old French is defined as sympathy or pity…from a Latin word having the same meaning, and that originates from from the Latin word roots, com “together” and pati “to suffer.” At its root, compassion is constructed from Latin roots meaning to suffer together.
When it comes to suffering, our first thought is of bodily suffering: ill health, injury, and death.
In our mundane lives, there are commercial sympathy cards to send after a death. Like compassion, the roots of the word sympathy mean a community of feeling, from the older Greek language rather than Latin. Wakes & funerals, memorials & “celebrations of life”—all of these human mourning rituals center around sharing the suffering, expressing the grief, supporting the most-stricken. Suffering together. Empathy is a term often used today to describe this sort of fellow-feeling.
To paraphrase Albert Schweitzer (writing in Kulturphilosophie, 1923), “Until we extend the circle of our compassion to all living things, we will not ourselves find peace.”
“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.” ~ Thomas Merton 1968
Fellow-feeling is not limited to the compassion humans show other humans:
- The very first Society for the Prevention of Cruety to Animals was founded in the UK in 1824. There are now dozens, perhaps hundreds, of SPCA organizations around the globe.
- International Bird Rescue was founded in 1971 to address the plight of oiled birds and animals fouled by oil spills at sea and along shore.
- Notecards of sympathy for accident or illness are popularly known as get-well cards. And so commonplace are they that commercial publishers routinely stock co-worker cards, family-member cards, accident cards, illness cards, etc.
- Guest housing at no cost is made available by hospitals for family supporting inpatients having major treatment therein. In February 2014, I stayed in such when I was my sister’s driver and “coach” for a total knee replacement hours away from my home and hers.
Hundreds, even thousands, of organizations non-profit or religious or community-based, exist to support every sort of ailment, accident, ecological mishap, and ever-diminishing wild lands and wildlife. The fact that so many exist is tribute to the generosity of human spirit.
It is community that makes grief in the face of death & tragedy bearable. “Crying together” as an author described it, sharing memories and faux pas, hearing tales from friends or family that bereaved others had never heard. Whether the community of death takes the form of an Irish wake, or Tlingit funeral potlatch, a New Orleans jazz funeral or the ballyhooed first responder’s death-on-duty funeral with its national attendance and miles-long procession of firefighter and LEO vehicles—it is the community, that fellow-feeling, that supports the spirits when one’s own are at their lowest ebb.
Compassion in the Occult
One of the first things witches use magic for is healing. They are often asked to aid non-witches, and within the many traditions of Wicca, word will spread rapidly when a serious illness or injury affects one of our own. I have personally done healing work, alone and with a full coven, for the benefit of witchy-kin with colon repair, thyroid cancer, heart attack, and a diabetic struck ambulance-hard with influenza. In my turn, I received considerable magical support when I suffered a disabling stroke (“cardiovascular accident”) at the young age of fifty…and a week following my admittance to hospital (where I spent 5 days), I was able to attend the planned first of a series of Intro to Wicca classes long-planned. I have seen my share of intentional miracles. It is less than a year since I burned my candle on behalf of another well-known witch stroke-struck, and I’m happy to say that person was a scant two days in hospital and much faster rehab.
Because birth families usually control the handling of body disposition and public funeral rites, often in religious formats far removed from Wicca, Witches usually hold their own ”crossing rites” for their dear departed—circles in which a deceased coven member is mourned, remembered, waked, and sometimes offered the opportunity to share departing messages through divinatory tools or a mediumistic coven-mate. Quoted below is a short segment of the closing to such a crossing rite, penned at the outset of 2001, and used by me in both personal and public crossing rites since then.
Of body & bone, of earth & stone, of things once owned, be free!
Of blood & tears, of weary years, of ancient fears, be free!
Of passions tamed, rage unrestrained, of ancient pain, be free!
Of words unspoken, visions broken, of memory’s token, be free!
—©2001–2017, D. Snavely
“…. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. …” Desiderata—M. Ehrmann, 1927
Mundane life is full of dark. “News” headlines are virtually written in blood. Turn on the radio during drive time and chaos from the next block to the next continent will swamp you. Our own human natures find gloom more seductive than the greatest joy, unless we choose to let it go. Memorable disasters, death anniversaries, worrisome woes, those downers make up far too much of everyday gossip. Seek out your own compassion, share it when and with whom it you feel it’s needed…and spread the rest of it like balm on your own spirit.