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Karma: Origins, Meaning of this Term & How it Works

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Written by: Dawn Black (Witchipedia)


Reviewed by: Tina Caro

Karma originated from the Hindu religion, inherited by Buddhism and Jainism and appropriated by many modern Western magico-religious traditions. Each of these defines karma somewhat differently.


Karma, originating from ancient India, is a profound concept that encompasses actions, intentions, and consequences.

Its etymology can be traced to the Sanskrit word “kri,” meaning “action,” highlighting its intrinsic connection to deeds.

Understanding karma involves recognizing the 12 intricate laws governing its operation, guiding one’s journey through life.

Contrary to common misconceptions, karma extends beyond mere actions and includes thoughts and intentions, emphasizing the importance of mindfulness.

While scientific proof of karma remains elusive, its symbolism and influence on our lives invite contemplation and exploration within the realm of witchcraft.

What is karma?

Karma means “action or deed,” and it refers (at its most simplistic) to the actions and intentions in this life that affect our position after death and rebirth. “Good” karma can improve circumstances upon rebirth while “bad” karma can lead to rebirth at a lower station.

Depending on the tradition, this does not necessarily mean “good” and “bad” as in moral and immoral or kind and cruel but refer rather to behavior appropriate to one’s place in the universe or station in society. Thus, “good” karma for a soldier, might not be the same as that for a doctor, a man’s different from a woman’s, etc.

Modern Western magico-religious practitioners often embrace karma as a system of reward and punishment for may equate it with such concepts as The Law of Attraction, The Law of Return or The Law of Causality.

In this definition, karma often brings about punishment (karmic retribution) or reward with during a person’s lifetime instead of, or as well as after death.

In the West, instant karma refers to getting one’s “just desserts” immediately after the causal action.

Among Western magic-users, spells to speed up “karmic retribution” appear to be quite popular.

Karma is a concept deeply rooted in Indian culture and holds significant importance in Buddhist and Hindu religions. It revolves around the idea of “cause and effect,” where every action we take has consequences that extend beyond ourselves, affecting others as well.

Karma is not merely a system of rewards and punishments; it involves experiencing the effects of our behavior on ourselves. Contrary to the misconception of fatalism, Karma is within our control and dependent on our actions and choices.

In the Indian tradition, Karma is interconnected with a broader system called “Samsara,” which refers to the cycle of reincarnation each soul undergoes. Reincarnation is an inescapable reality, and our future lives are influenced by our decisions and behaviors in each lifetime.

The ultimate goal of Samsara is complete liberation from all physical bodies.


The term “Karma” originates from Sanskrit, an ancient language of India. While there is no exact translation in Italian, it can be likened to the concepts of “act,” “action,” or “rite” in a religious context.

Understanding Karma

It is crucial to recognize that Karma is not an external law but rather something that depends on our actions and behavior. Different types of Karma exist:

  1. Individual Karma: This type is entirely shaped by our own actions.
  2. Familial Karma: Based on the actions and circumstances within our family lineage, it influences the present members positively or negatively.
  3. Collective Karma: This Karma pertains to us and the people living in the same area, such as a street or neighborhood.

From this classification, it becomes evident that each individual actively participates in shaping their own life as well as the lives of others.

Karma: The 12 Laws

Throughout our existence, it is essential to cultivate positive Karma. To guide us in this pursuit, there are twelve laws associated with Karma. These laws serve as life lessons aimed at improving our inner selves. Let’s explore them in detail:

  1. The Law of Cause and Effect: “As you sow, so you shall reap.”
  2. The Law of Creation: Acknowledge that we are interconnected with everything around us, influencing our lives.
  3. The Law of Humility: Acceptance of things we do not appreciate is vital, as they continue to exist.
  4. The Law of Growth: Inner growth occurs through personal transformation and not by trying to change the external world.
  5. The Law of Responsibility: Take accountability for our actions, and when things don’t work out, seek understanding.
  6. The Law of Connection: Recognize that everything is interconnected, and each event leads to future outcomes.
  7. The Law of Focus: Immersing oneself in spirituality contradicts harboring negative emotions like anger and frustration.
  8. The Law of Altruism and Hospitality: Practice the values we believe in when opportunities arise.
  9. The Law of the Here and Now: Dwelling on the past prevents us from fully experiencing the present and having a clear vision of the future.
  10. The Law of Change: Learn from past mistakes to avoid repeating history.
  11. The Law of Patience and Reward: Hard work and patience yield results that bring joy and satisfaction.
  12. The Law of Meaning and Inspiration: Giving selflessly generates positive energy, which ultimately returns to us.

Misconceptions and misinterpretations

Contrary to popular belief, Karma is neither a form of punishment nor reward; it remains neutral. Its concrete nature, positive or negative, is determined by our thoughts, actions, and beliefs in the present.

It is crucial to emphasize that Karma is not synonymous with fatalism, despite its misuse in this context.

Is there evidence of karma?

While scientific evidence of Karma is impossible to provide, various anecdotes and stories help explain this concept. Here are three examples that highlight significant aspects of Karma:

  1. Tyller A. Meyers, a nineteen-year-old from Norwalk, Ohio, had a penchant for stealing traffic signs, particularly STOP signs. Tragically, he died in a road accident at an intersection where he had previously removed the STOP sign, leading to the lack of proper signaling.
  2. In 2011, a terrorist group, led by a woman, planned an attack on the crowds gathered for New Year’s celebrations in Moscow’s Red Square. However, due to a simple oversight, the would-be suicide bomber forgot to turn off her phone, which served as the detonator. When her phone company sent a ‘Happy New Year’ text message, she inadvertently triggered the explosion and met her own demise without causing harm to others.
  3. A homeless man named Billy Ray Harris found a valuable platinum ring with a diamond in his cup, along with spare change he received through almsgiving. Sensing its true owner, he returned the ring to Sarah Darling. Touched by his honesty, Sarah and her husband initiated an online fundraising campaign for the homeless, raising nearly $190,000. Billy Ray, who was believed dead by his family for 16 years, found a home, employment, and even reunited with his long-lost family.

Karma symbolism

While some argue that Karma cannot have specific symbols, certain representations carry significant psychological meaning. These symbols are often incorporated as tattoos. Here are a few powerful karmic symbols:

  1. Tree of Life: Signifying birth, life, death, and rebirth in the eternal cycle.
  2. Lotus: Symbolizes purity and enlightenment, emerging from the darkness of muddy waters into the light.
  3. Yin Yang: Represents the balance between light and dark, good and evil, reminding us of the interconnectedness of the universe.
  4. White Spiral Shell: In Buddhist philosophy, it symbolizes a wind instrument that harmonizes the world.
  5. Infinity Knot: Represents the endless cycle where every positive or negative action corresponds to Karma.
  6. Wheel of Dharma: Symbolic of the Buddhist religion, with each spoke representing a step in the Noble Eightfold Path.

The effects of Karma and ways to influence It

Karma is a concept deeply rooted in various belief systems and spiritual traditions. It suggests that our actions, thoughts, and intentions have consequences that shape our present and future experiences. By consciously calibrating our mental and behavioral actions, we can positively influence our karma, even if negative karma has been accumulated over time.

Learning from past mistakes and recognizing that karma is merely an impulse to which we feel attached is crucial. The wise individual is the one who has learned to intervene on karma by achieving detachment, thinking before speaking or acting, and meditating before thinking.

Controlling Karma through emotional mastery

To control karma, it is essential to learn to control emotions and let go of attachments. This can be achieved through various practices, such as:

  1. Breathing: Focusing on deep, conscious breathing helps calm the mind and cultivate self-awareness.
  2. Meditation: Regular meditation allows individuals to observe their thoughts and emotions without judgment, leading to greater clarity and emotional balance.
  3. Contemplation: Reflecting on the consequences of actions and decisions helps develop a deeper understanding of their impact on karma.
  4. Reflection: Taking time to reflect on one’s experiences and choices fosters self-awareness and encourages conscious decision-making.

Softening Karma through compassion and empathy

Another effective technique to mitigate the effects of karma is to develop intense concern for others. Practicing empathy, helping those in need, and offering support with compassion shift the focus from personal desires and needs, ultimately freeing us from the pressures of our own karma.

Debates and Interpretations

The concept of karma is often misunderstood as fatalistic, suggesting that an unchangeable destiny binds individuals. However, this philosophy does not negate the existence of free will.

While humans can make choices, the consequences of their actions are inevitable. Every action triggers a chain of reactions, and karma determines how individuals navigate these consequences.

The belief in karma is not fatalistic but rather emphasizes the responsibility and accountability for one’s actions. It is not about making every mistake possible but rather understanding that once actions are performed, their consequences must be faced.

Just as a criminal cannot escape the penalties of their actions, individuals cannot be immune to the effects of their own deeds.

Common questions

What is the difference between karma and fate?

Karma is the result of our actions, while fate implies living along a predetermined path.

Can karma be scientifically proven?

While karma involves non-quantifiable factors like consciousness and free will, it operates within the laws of nature. Although not yet fully explained by classical physics, the concept of karma aligns with the scientific principle that interactions have consequences.

Is karma solely based on actions, or does it involve thoughts and intentions as well?

Karma encompasses actions, thoughts, and intentions, as they are interconnected.

How long does it take for karma to manifest?

The manifestation of karma varies depending on numerous factors, ranging from moments to years.

Can karma be transferred between individuals?

Yes, karma can be transferred between individuals, and it may also accumulate or change over time.

Can one accumulate positive karma to overcome negative karma?

Absolutely. Accumulating positive karma through virtuous actions, thoughts, and intentions can help overcome the effects of negative karma.

In conclusion, the concept of karma transcends cultural boundaries and offers a framework for understanding the consequences of our actions. By cultivating positive karma and practicing emotional mastery, individuals can shape their present and future experiences, leading to a more fulfilling and purposeful life.

About Morningbird (Witchipedia's Founder)

I am a homesteading hearth witch who grew up along the shores of the Hudson River and has lived among the Great Lakes for the past 20 years. Together with my musical husband and youngest child, I steward a one-acre mini homestead with herb, vegetable and flower gardens, chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits, and areas reserved for native plants and wildlife. 

I have three children; two are grown, and I have been practicing magick alone and with family and friends for over 30 years.

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