What to Do When the Spell/Ritual Flops
Author: The Redneck Pagan
Picture this: a quite, beautiful full moon night in September. The air is warm and the leaves are changing and you can hear them rattle against each other as you step outside into the night. You have your list in hand, your supplies have been gathered and you have learned the ritual inside and out. You go to a spot in the yard, and set up your altar and prepare yourself. You cast your circle; you follow the script to perfection, not omitting a single word. You then close your circle, leave your libation and pick up your tools. As you walk back to the bright lights of the house you frown because you have a nagging little thought in the back of your head… “Did the dang thing work?”
Sound familiar yet? It probably does, but do not feel bad if this reads like a ritual you have done because it has happened to me as well! In all honesty, I would wager that this has happened to everybody at least once in their witchy careers, and probably more than once! And if someone says that it has never happened to him or her, then I call BS because we are all human. Being human means we are going to make mistakes, have off days. Sometimes our rituals and/or spells will flop and we will feel… nothing.
So, why do our rituals flop? Well, there can be a lot of reasons; I have yet to go through them all myself. Let’s start with the scenario I gave, the full moon solo ritual. There are a lot of reasons that ritual or spell could have failed. A major one is the mental state. Did your day at work suck and all you can think about is the crappy day? Do you have a huge project to do that is looming over you? Did you just have a fight with a loved one? Did you just loose someone you love? Are bills piling up and have you worried out of your skull? Are the kids being brats today? Do you have a high stakes meeting the next day at work? In my humble experience, fatigue and mental stress are the biggest ways to tank your ritual.
In a ritual or a spell, it is our intention that determines the outcome, and if you are worrying about something else, then you are not focusing your intent. Instead you are gnawing at the problem like a dog with a bone. I can personally think of a handful of rituals and spells I did that failed because I was too distracted to perform them! This doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you; it just means you need to either sort the problem out in your head before a ritual or find a way to set it aside before the ritual. If I have a problem that is going to last a while, I take a piece of paper, write it down and put it somewhere outside of my ritual space. I tell myself that I am putting this down and will pick it up after the ritual. I then find I can shift my focus to the ritual.
The next thing you want to look at is your medical health. Did you have a headache before the ritual? Were you really hungry? Did you get enough sleep this week? Are you getting over a cold or flu? Did you eat something that made you feel off? Are you taking any prescription medication? Did you take an over the counter medication? Are you feeling healthy and well or run down and blah? Working a ritual does take up our energy, and if you are sick then your body is pulling that energy to heal itself and might not be able to spare any for a ritual. I once tried to do a Samhain ritual right after having the flu; it was a terrible idea. I spent the whole ritual feeling too hot, too cold, my head was pounding and I felt queasy. Halfway through the ritual I apologized to the gods and shut the circle down. I lit a candle, said a prayer to the dead, left an offering outside and went to bed.
Any kind of medication is going to play havoc with your system and can even play with your mind. When I take cough syrup I often will feel dizzy and sleepy, and cold tabs make me feel rather stoned. I am not functioning at 100% on those medications and will avoid rituals when I am taking them (and as I take them when I am sick I know from experience working when sick is not always wise) . Prescription medications are a touchy subject, and one I do not have enough expertise to fully address. I would advise that if it is a short-term medication, such as an antibiotic, wait until you are finished the medication. You are taking it to get well again and you want to conserve your energies for that purpose. Long-term medications are a different story, you might be on them for weeks, months or even years and I am not a medical expert. I would advise that you seek out an elder or a very long time practitioner for their expertise and assistance. They would be able to help you learn your own boundaries with how your body and mind interact with the medications and ritual workings. I would also advise you use good judgment. If a ritual is making you feel terrible and out of whack while you are on medications, stop the ritual and ground yourself immediately.
Okay, so your mental health and intentions were set, but the ritual still flopped. Is it possible you missed something? Maybe you forgot a part in the ritual, or didn’t have your correspondences fine-tuned, maybe you mixed up something. It could be that the time of the day was wrong for the intention of the ritual, or perhaps you selected a Deity that didn’t quite match up with what you were doing. There are a lot of ways that we can make a mistake in our ritual planning and execution. Maybe it was a ritual you read in a book that looked cool, but didn’t mean much to you so you weren’t able to get the right frame of mind. There are lots of things that can throw a ritual off or throw a monkey wrench into a spell.
So what do we do? Well, step one is going to have to be not to panic! The first time I felt nothing in one of my rituals I freaked out and tried to redo it three or four times. Guess what, that didn’t work. I felt less and less power each time and more and more fear and panic. Finally, I got bright and wrote down what happened and walked away from it. A few weeks later I was able to look back and figure out what went wrong. In that case, I was getting over a bad flu and my body was not really ready for the ritual.
First, calm down the panicked recital of “Oh my Goddess, it didn’t work. I’m going to lose my broom! I’m not a witch because it didn’t work”. Take a moment, sit down and write out everything you can. Write what you ate that day, what the weather is like, moon phase, what did you do over the last day or two, what your health is like and for women where in your cycle you are. Then walk away from it for a few days. No, really. Walk away from it for a few days; forget it ever happened.
A few days distance gives you a clearer perspective and can let you see if there were any mistakes made, if your health was off or if your mind wasn’t in the right place. It also gives you some time to watch your life unfold and perhaps see your ritual or spell working. Maybe you cast a spell for abundance and a few days later you got a raise at work, or a friend gave you an old table she didn’t need, or you got an unexpected cheque in the mail. These are results that take some time and you won’t see them right after the ritual/spell.
When I was a very new witch, I would perform a ritual and then sit back and wonder if it did work or not! I was a solitary for years and had nobody to ask if it worked or not. I eventually came across a book that a friend lent me (and I wish I could remember who wrote it so I could credit the author!) and in the book the author spoke about rituals and spells. The author explained that there is no Hollywood effects, no lightening in the sky, no booming voices, or sudden windstorms. The author explained that it would be far subtler. You might feel calmer, more relaxed after ritual. Other people might feel pumped up, full of energy and happy. Others might get chills and tingles across the body while another person might feel a sense of accomplishment at the end.
So, your ritual might not have flopped at all, but you just haven’t learned how your body and mind reacts to the ritual. After I read that, I jotted it down on a sticky note and left it on the front of the notebook I was using as a book of shadows. The next full moon, I went along and performed my ritual. I recorded everything as I have recommended above, and included how I was feeling. I did this for a few months for rituals and spells alike. I discovered that after a successful ritual, I often feel really relaxed, peaceful and a bit tingly inside. After a spell however, I feel pumped up, like I could run to the nearest town (25kms away) and a sense of accomplishment. After I learned this about myself, I was able to gauge when a spell or ritual worked or failed.
So when your ritual or spell goes flop, do not panic, but rather treat it as a great chance to learn something new and to grow. You might discover that you need a certain type of ritual to set the mood or that you are just no good at working a spell when your workload is stressing you out. You might discover that certain Deities don’t work out well with you or that a certain format makes your work tank every time. Either way, it will only lead you to self-discovery and a better understanding of the path you are walking on!
The Redneck Pagan