Doing It Wrong: Ritual Mistakes

So you’re ready. You have your ritual planned out. The time is nearing. You’re in your magical robe. Your altar is set. Candles are lit. It’s go time.

And then you realize you traced the air hexagram in the south.

Crap. Now what?

We’ve all done it, haven’t we? Screw up a ritual? And just what do you do?

Personally, I think it depends on the kind of ritual you’re doing, and what system you’re using. Some are more forgiving than others.

I’ve never really encountered any texts that adequately explain the process for correcting a ritual mistake, and so like many others, I’ve had to wing it. So what follows are my observations from trials of errors.

In improvisation rituals, just flow with it. If you are working on the fly and from the heart, and something other than what you were planning comes out, run with it. If it deviates from where you were going, try to tie it back in somehow. For example, if you’re invoking the spirit of earth, and you actually say “powers of the air and wind,” you might try adding a bit like “-who show us the need for the grounding earth that gives us stability.” Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch, but it can be done, and it’s a lot more eloquent and potentially powerful than “-oops, I mean Earth.” If anything, in groups workings it may get a chuckle that glosses over the mistake and keeps the energy flowing.

In straight devotional work, own the mistake, apologize, and go on. I’ve called to Mercury while leaving an offering to Mars. I simply continued the offering to Mercury, and added another one for Mars, apologizing to him for not calling to him first. They understand, especially when they get payment. Some gods are more forgiving than others, but I haven’t had a problem.

Ceremonial magic is trickier, because ritual success is more closely tied to proper performance. Again, I haven’t seen an “official” means of correcting an error in ritual (although there may be such a protocol and I just don’t know — if any of my Golden Dawn-type readers know, please advise!) so I’ve had to come up with my own solution. I have discovered that simply plowing through and completing the ritual works, although the ritual is nowhere near as potent as if performed correctly. I’ve had more success by simply performing and then repeating the correct action, sort of like spelling a word wrong and just writing the correct letters over it. On a few occasions (with the Lesser banishing Ritual of the Pentagram) I just stopped and started over. That did not work well and left me disoriented. The best results I had were to complete the ritual with the mistake, and then perform it again properly.

Unfortunately, that does not help mistakes made in large or longer rituals. Other than practice, I’m not too sure myself how to fix such errors, especially when performing such acts as evocations. My method of repeating the proper action seems like it might work, but I don’t know how it will impact the efficacy of the ritual.

The biggest thing that I’ve gotten from my ritual work is that mistakes do happen, and that you will survive. Even one poorly done ritual is more effective than not doing any ritual work at all. Biggest thing is to not stress, and prepare a little better next time.

As always, I’d love any comments on similar experiences, especially with regard to ceremonial magicians who have some more insight into more complex ritual work.

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2 responses to “Doing It Wrong: Ritual Mistakes

  1. The ancient Romans had a protocol where minor errors in a ritual were acknowledged and corrected with a piaculum, a little extra sacrifice. In ceremonial magic, I tend toward the “erasure” model for things I catch at the time. I saw Chic Cicero do this literally once: traced a wrong pentagram, realized it immediately; so he “scribbled it out” and did it right.

    Fr. Osiris (OTA) started to call the angels in the wrong order in the LBRP; he caught it quickly enough that he just smoothly said “… on my right hand, *how about behind me*, Gabriel …”

    If I make a minor fumble in one of the opening parts, I usually soldier on unless I find myself, as you say, disoriented. If I screw up the ending, I’m more likely to just do it again. In between, I correct the specific mistake as smoothly as I can. I’ve done some pretty awful things without feeling that they completely vitiated the work.

  2. I’m with you guys. When I’ve made mistakes in my rituals, if I catch them, I just quickly correct them. Once, I forgot the name of one of the angels I was supposed to invoke, so I just thought about the angel’s nature, and said, “HIM!” If I don’t catch it, but remember after the fact, it’s a clue as to why a ritual may not have produced the results I expected. The most important thing for me is not to get too stressed about it during the ritual.

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