Breaking Oaths and Vows

poppies and promises
poppies and promises

Today would have been 21 years. A relationship old enough to drink on its own. (With good reason.)

But I needed to break the vows I made, and so I did, 6 days and 6 years ago.  (For those of you not into math, that was after 15 years.)

Which was one of the hardest decisions (if not THE) I have had to make in my entire life.  Because, as I just talked about recently, words have power.  It’s something I believe is a key part of my path as a Witch. I didn’t want to be an oath-breaker (which, as Storm explains here, is not equivalent to warlock.)  I take responsibility for my words and actions.

So that begs the question, when and where is it OK to break a vow, to rescind your word?  

It depends on the health of the relationship and mutual respect of those vows.

Now the situation I’m talking about was a marriage, but anything that involves oaths and vows is essentially a kind of relationship – and that applies to plenty of situations in Witchcraft.  If you join a coven or similar group, an oath is made.  If you enter into a contract with a spirit, you’re setting an obligation.  If you form an agreement with a deity, you’re making a vow.  If you make a promise to yourself – yes, even that is a kind of relationship.

True oaths and vows aren’t one-sided either.  They go both ways, which is what creates the third entity of the relationship and determines its health.  The relationship is a metaphysical suspension bridge between the two parties, and it must be equally supported by both sides in order to work.

Woodcut of witches making an oath (fantasy)
Woodcut of witches making an oath (fantasy)

Now that doesn’t mean if someone is failing to hold up to their side of the agreement, that you just drop the whole thing.  Communication is key – and things tend to break down when it doesn’t happen properly.  When communication stops or gets blocked, then emergency repairs may need to happen to get things moving again. Again, just like a “real” bridge.  Note: Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t make it not real. Witches should know that especially.

But some bridges are beyond repair, even after multiple attempts.  Sometimes abuse is masquerading as communication, essentially bombing the bridge. So the bridge must be dismantled, considered, and maybe built again somewhere else.

What are the grounds for this course?  Here’s a checklist:
1) Is the vow something both parties understood completely when making it?
2) Were both parties upholding the vow to the best of their ability?
3) If failing to do so, was the issue respectfully addressed so it could be remedied?
4) Following that, were sincere and successful attempts made to make it possible to honor the vow?
5) Is the physical, emotional, mental, and/or spiritual health of either party being compromised either because of the vow or the lack of adherence to it?

If the answers are Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, and No, then things are probably pretty good.

If the answers are No, No, No, No, and Yes, then there’s a serious problem, and most likely there are some solid reasons to dissolve the vow, ASAP.

You might ask: Even with a deity? Yes – the myths are full of situations where gods broke oaths or weren’t truthful in their actions.  (Pomegranate seeds anyone?) Spirits and deities aren’t perfect either. We all are growing, changing, and hopefully learning.

Another question that might be asked: What’s the difference between an excuse and a solid reason?  If you never meant to follow through in the first place or took it seriously to heart when made, then the vow is essentially void to begin with. Or if you can’t be bothered to keep it in good health because of lack of interest or being lazy, then it’s an excuse.  But if your life, well-being, sanity are in danger, then it’s time to cut ties.

That was the point where I made the decision.  Which was greater? My guilt and angst for breaking a vow, or losing my life over an extremely unhealthy relationship? I realized the other side wasn’t holding their vow true, and hadn’t been for a long time.  In retrospect, this incredibly hard and painful decision was the best thing I could have done on so many levels.

I also don’t regret the choices I made that got me into that situation in the first place.  I wouldn’t be where I am, who I am now.  So I would say the most important thing that comes with breaking a vow – is making sure you have learned from it.  That you make the necessary changes so that you can make better, healthier vows in the future.  Because if you keep falling into a pattern of broken and bad vows – there’s a good chance it’s probably not the fault of other party, but rather the common factor in all of those vows: you.

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