Saturday, June 6, 2009


Last month I set out to do another session in the incubation chamber. I've done a few now, mostly meditation but a couple of vision-seeking/journeywork sessions as well. I had high hopes when I set out, as I'd been wanting to work with some psilocybe and amanita muscaria I'd had on hand. 

I set up the space, invoked the spirits and deities, went through all the processes I go through to set the stage for the work, and waited. 

There was an immense sense of presence. It was so strong it woke my roommate, who had been sleeping in his room. I felt a sense of the room breathing around me. I waited more. I sang and prayed and watched.

Yet beyond that sense of presence and breath, "nothing" happened. 

I've worked with LSD  a couple of times before and had some very powerful experiences with it. One I would even describe as profound. I've had some very good success with smoking salvia divinorum, though that was an entirely different quality of experience than the LSD had been. After all the accounts I'd heard and read about different types of fungal entheogens, I'd been expecting something big and consuming.

Sometimes, things don't work. They flop for whatever reason. Maybe the dried fungi were too old. Perhaps they weren't going to work with my body chemistry. Maybe there was nothing the deities or spirits wanted me to do that day beyond spend four hours in meditation and ritual. Maybe I was expecting the wrong things and was too focused on what I'd been told rather than on being in the experience.

Yet our failures teach us just as our successes do. The lessons of failure can be very valuable if we are willing to accept them and work with them. When I posted about the issue in my LJ later that day, I got several responses from folks who were glad to hear that they were not alone in having rituals that didn't work out as planned. 

When ritual fails, you're not alone. It happens to all of us, from the veriest noob to the grizzled grey elder. I can't think of anyone who has never in their entire life had a ritual poop out on them at least once; some have even been spectacular in their fail. Failure, though, is a part of the human condition. We all experience it sometimes and how we deal with it is important.

In failure, we learn that the universe isn't all about us. The spirit world isn't a giant wish-granting machine where you put in your ritual and out pops the result you wanted. Life, the universe, and everything is a big place and we're just tiny motes within it. We have our roles to play, but that doesn't mean we're at center stage.

We learn a certain amount of humility in our failures. We may do everything right and still not get the result we wanted. Approaching spirit with humility and knowing that we're only a part of the greater whole is important. Pride may be a value of CR Paganism, but it should be properly placed pride and not hubris.

Failure encourages us to be resilient, to be creative, and to keep on trying. If we don't get it right the first time, perhaps something needs to be changed. Maybe we need to readjust our expectations. Maybe the conditions weren't right. Maybe we were using the wrong tools or the wrong symbol set. Maybe spirit or deity was busy elsewhere. Some things have to be worked for much harder than others and ritual is no exception to this general rule in life.

Patience comes with failure. Learning to bide our time until the next opportunity is an important lesson when dealing with not just the Otherworlds but this one as well. Planting a seed in midwinter is unlikely to be as successful as planting it in the spring, in its proper time and place. 

Failure also teaches gratitude. Success won't feel like much when it's your only experience. Its value tends to decline emotionally in proportion to how routine it is. Failing shows us that success is a possibility, not a guarantee, and encourages us to make the most of success when it comes along. 

When we examine the reasons for ritual failure we learn to think clearly and systematically about how we design ritual and how we understand its purposes. Taking things apart afterwards is a very helpful practice whether the ritual succeeded or not. Most of the folks I know who do public ritual have debriefings with the ritual team afterwards to discuss what went well, what didn't, and what could be improved. Examination, ideally, leads to growth.

In the wake of this particular experiment I've determined that I'd like to try again, but with fungi that are fresh rather than dried. This may have some effect on the outcome. I know I have more luck with salvia, so I'll be doing more in-depth work with that in some of its forms other than dried, unenhanced leaf to see if that will change the ritual results.

I'll pay more attention to what is happening than what I wish for, as well. There were currents I could have ridden in that ritual that I failed to because of my preconceived expectations. Rather than doing the work, I expected to be carried along.

The session was a failure in terms of what I had hoped for, yet it taught me a number of things about myself and the process of the work I'm doing, and for that I'm very grateful.