Sometimes, rituals fail. They can be grandiose failures, involving a balefire that gets out of control and takes out a neighborhood block. They can be quiet failures: a deity not responding. They can be comedic: the chalice full of wine predictably falling on the pastel carpet, the closed chimney damper filling the room with smoke.
When you encounter a ritual failure, it’s important to do a post-mortem — not only to dissect your mistakes, but to keep yourself from feeling like an utter failure as a priestess.
Failures can be caused by a number of factors. First and foremost: a lack of planning. To avoid these types of failures, it’s helpful to keep a checklist of your ritual accouterments, so you don’t find yourself lacking a necessary object at the appropriate part of the rite. You need to know your site thoroughly: Does everyone have directions? What happens if it rains? Where is the bathroom?
If you’re using fire, you need to keep safety considerations in mind. Is there a dish under the censer to keep it from scorching the altar top? Will the candle wax drip on the carpet? Can we safely hold a bonfire in this clearing — or is there a drought that would make it unwise? Has the tinder been kept dry? Is there water nearby to douse any wayward flames?
You also need to keep in mind the number of people expected, and whether your ritual structure can accommodate that number. A trance-journey, for example, may be appropriate in a small group. In a larger one, people on the edges may not hear the journey, and small children may fidget and complain. A talking stick works well in a group of 10 — and not so well in a group of 75.
Research, too, must be a part of ritual. You should know better than to call the Morrigan for a love rite, or to offer her Twizzlers. You need to know what you are doing and why — backward and forward. A bad experience from my younger days: even though it’s winter and the bloom is off the rose, it’s not okay to substitute rose thorns in a love spell.
Sometimes, however, you can have your ritual down to a science and still have it go awry. In the case of my Mean Geimridh ritual, I didn’t know the chimney damper was closed — or really what it was, since I’m a city girl and previous hearth fires went well without my touching the thing. I’ve knocked a glass of wine on the carpet during a ritual several years ago — which can also be attributed to a lack of planning, I suppose, although it’s something that can occur in secular time as well.
Sometimes the Gods just laugh at you.
This could mean that it’s simply the wrong time or place for a ritual. You can’t always tell beforehand and, even if you can, can’t always reschedule, especially when your guests are already on your doorstep. The Gods could be asking for an offering or ritual act that you haven’t provided — in which case it’s good to find out afterward what they do want and to supply it.
Or they could just be telling you to get over yourself. Not every rite needs to be a deep well of gravity and pomp. Sometimes, it’s fun to poke the Martha Stewart of priestesses. It’s seldom mean-hearted, and always a lesson.
And part of the lesson: No matter your mistake, forgive yourself. It’s not the end of the world. Offended Kindreds can be given offerings and won over through sincerity and generosity. The lessons you learn from failures are just as important as those garnered from shining success.
Such as: mind the chimney damper.