16.5.14

Justice or Karma?

The Wildwood Tarot - Minor Arcana card of
Injustice
The tarot card you see next to this text is the card of Injustice. I have wondered over and over again why the illustrator and author of the Wildwood tarot deck decided to call in "Injustice" when its iconography completely coincides with that of the iconography of Justice, or Iustitia as the Romans would have called her.

Being an art buff, this really intrigued me so I started digging around. Then I found many connections between the iconography of the Justice we know today and several Pagan cultures. So my stream of thoughts went on and I basically started asking myself where one could draw the line between justice and karma. And truly, when I pondered over this topic, I found that I didn't really see that big of a difference between the two. So in this post, I am going to share my thoughts on this subject with you. :) 

Etymologically speaking, the English word "justice" comes from the Latin noun iustitia (righteousness, equity) and adjective iustus meaning upright/just. In the 12th century, the word was used in a more legal context and referred to the exercise of authority by defending certain rights (usually by either rewarding or punishing), although the previous meanings were still relevant. The word was later used as a title for judicial officers. 

The goddess Ma'at
The iconography of justice that we are used to today goes back to medieval times and the Renaissance period. Justice seems to have always been depicted as a woman. This was probably the most logical option since the Latin noun iustitia is feminine. Her iconography has been traced back to ancient Babylon and Egypt. In fact, her "sister" can be found in the Egyptian goddess Ma'at. She governed over justice, law, morality and truth. She also controlled balance, which is why she presided over the Weighing of the Heart (and the scales of balance) in Egyptian mythology. In this process, the deceased person's heart was weighed against the feather of Ma'at on a pair of scales; only if the heart was lighter or of equal weight as the feather could the soul proceed to the afterlife. Then again, Ma'at had a male equivalent - Thoth, who basically had the same attributes. Of course, other male gods were also synonymous of justice, such as the Babylonian god Shamash, the Sumerian Utu and others. But let us stick to female deities just for the sake of this specific iconography.

Since we are on the subject, I have to mention the Greek Titan goddess Themis who governed over divine law and order, the Greek goddess of justice, fair judgment and law - Dike and also the Roman Iustitia. All of these goddesses have similar attributes; they are usually depicted holding the scales of justice and are often blindfolded. The iconography of the archangel Michael added to the iconography by incorporating the symbol of the sword (which he used to ward off Satan). This iconography has lived on to this day and you will find that Justice is nowadays always depicted as a blindfolded woman holding scales in one hand and a sword in the other. The scales are a symbol of Justice's weighing the two sides of a case/story (i.e. the support and opposition). The sword is always double-edged so it can equally divide the power of Reason and Justice resulting in objectivity. Her blindfold is one of the sources of the saying "Justice is blind". Since the blind usually wore blindfolds in the past, this was only logical. Although, this does not mean that she is generally blind, but rather that she is not prejudiced and is objective in her actions. If you feel like reading more on her iconography, I recommend a wonderful article entitled "Representing Justice: From Renaissance Iconography to Twenty-First-Century Courthouses". But let us move on to compare justice and karma.

Justice and/or Karma?

As far as I know, karma does not have an anthropomorphic shape and thus no strict iconography either. It is a concept which surpasses all visual representations. The most basic definition of karma can be seen in the proverb "As you sow, so shall you reap". Basically, you will get back as much as you give. The word "karma" can be directly translated as action. According to this, karma itself is simply the action of a certain person which is then reflected in an appropriate way (so good deeds will reflect good energy and bad deeds will reflect bad energy). Buddhism and Hinduism claim that karma (i.e. all the good and bad things that a person does in one life) affects future lives. Many Pagans see karma a bit differently as they believe that karma's influence can also be seen in this life as well as other incarnations. The notion of karma urges everyone to be careful of what they do because it can all come back to them at some point in time. That is to say, they can either be rewarded or punished for their past actions. Does this remind you of anything?

Well it definitely reminds me of the aforementioned definitions of justice. Justice is and was dispensed by either rewarding or punishing people for their actions (at least in courtrooms, but I would say people more often than not took the law/justice into their own hands and delivered street justice...wow...too many idioms). So basically, justice is also a sort of moral code. In this sense, it can refer to the fairness with which people are treated, or sometimes not treated (in which case we are talking about injustice rather than justice). Nevertheless, justice is usually seen from a positive perspective as being that which governs right and wrong, which ensures that the good will be rewarded with good and that the bad will be punished.

Then there is the phenomenon of interconnectedness which is relevant for karma. In order for karma to really work, everything has to be connected; all people, all actions... The notion of interconnectedness explains that all things/beings are linked in one way or another and thus affect one another. Starhawk explains this nicely in her book The Spiral Dance: "The felling of tropical forests disturbs our weather patterns and destroys the songbirds of the North. No less does the torture of a prisoner in El Salvador or the crying of a homeless child in downtown San Francisco disturb our well-being. So interconnection demands from us compassion, the ability to feel with others so strongly that our passion for justice is itself aroused". And we come to justice again. In my opinion, not only does justice play a role in karma but it can be equated with it in a sense. Interconnectedness can also be seen in justice; for instance when a criminal is not put in jail for a crime he has definitely committed (e.g. murder) then this may bring forth certain consequences for people not directly related to his case (e.g. he may murder a random person when he is set free and this, in turn, may cause tens more repercussions).

Another one of Starhawk's thoughts on the subject which I found interesting is the following one:
"Witches do not see justice as administered by some external authority, based on a written code or set of rules imposed from without. Instead, justice is an inner sense that each act brings about consequences that must be faced responsibly. The Craft does not foster guilt, the stern, admonishing, self-hating inner voice that cripples action. Instead, it demands responsibility. "What you send, returns three times over" is the saying-an amplified version of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." For example, a Witch does not steal, not because of an admonition in a sacred book, but because the threefold harm far outweighs any small material gain. Stealing diminishes the thief's self-respect and sense of honor; it is an admission that one is incapable of providing honestly for one's own needs and desires. Stealing creates a climate of suspicion and fear, in which even thieves have to live. And, because we are all linked in the same social fabric, those who steal also pay higher prices for groceries, insurance, taxes. Witchcraft strongly imbues the view that all things are interdependent and interrelated and therefore mutually responsible. An act that harms anyone harms us all."
The author seems to be comparing justice to personal ethics (as justice is an "inner sense") and also to karma ("we are all linked in the same social fabric", "all things are interrelated" etc.).


So what is the difference between justice and karma then? 
Honestly, I don't see that big a difference. The only possible differences could be that justice is commonly more related to courtrooms than personal doings and ethics, whereas karma is more global, more widespread and general. Each country has its own juridical system, but karma works the same in all parts of the world. Other than this, I find myself lacking in arguments.

It is my personal belief that karma and justice are practically the same thing but with minor differences that are just socially defined. Morally, they are the same thing. This is why I would like to hear your opinions on the subject. Do you perceive karma and justice as identical ideas but with different names? Or do you differentiate them?

I would love to hear what you have to say, so please leave a comment. :)
Until next time. Yours,
Witch's Cat

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