Pagan Mistakes

(I have been to a lot of Pagan gatherings and have listened to a large and diverse number of Pagan voices, but the funniest of those voices has undoubtedly been that of Angus McMahan. His annual “Pagan Humor” presentations at the PantheaCon festival are always a highlight, and not just for me, but for hundreds more. In addition to being the funniest Pagan I know, I’m also a big fan of Angus-Land, his always hilarious blog. It’s an honor to have him as my first “guest contributor” at Raise the Horns.)

Pagans make a lot of mistakes, and no, we’re not talking about the bundles of Joy that arrive every year at Imbolc because of throwing caution to the wind at the previous Beltane. (What? You thought all those Aquarian people were PLANNED?)

Today we’re going to illustrate two of the common mistakes that Pagans make and discuss the ramifications:

1) Ruining the public ritual.

This includes brain-farting your lines, knocking over and/or breaking altar items, leading a spiral dance into the vortex of doom, and gesticulating a lit candle across the room and into the drapes that eventually burns down the hall that you rented. Well, maybe not the last, but you get the point. Eris rules. Mistakes were made. S*!t happens. And what is the Universal response to: “Way if you Still – Blow if you Must”?

Laughter. And here’s what I really want you to think about: You’ve blown it in your ritual. You’ve “D’oh-ed” your lines. You burned a hole in that altar cloth you borrowed. But did that ruin the ritual? No! And how often did it make the ritual BETTER? Even deeper – and juicier? And why is that? Because it relieved the stress, grounded everybody, put everyone on the same level and brought us all back to Earth. Which is where Folk Magickians operate.

This is true of every kind or ritual. Take your average wedding – if you can stay awake through it. Weddings always start out dull because they are put on by people who seldom, if ever, do anything in a ritualistic way. A wedding ceremony is absolutely nerve-wracking to the cast because they have little-to-no experience at Ceremony – and only one chance to get it perfect, or else these two people’s marriage is forever DOOMED before it even gets started!


Spilling your ritual beverage is always preferable to your High Priestess catching her hair on fire.

Well, guess what? Someone in the wedding party is going to screw something up. The groom will stand on the wrong side of the minister. The Father of the Bride will knock over one of the flower arrangements. The Bride will tell the Groom “I donut” instead of “I do”. Something is going to go wrong, guaranteed. Wait for it – watch for it, and then watch for the transformation.

The whole Wedding party has been behaving like they have sniper rifles trained on them, until someone screws up, and then the entire cast suddenly relaxes. A few giggles, shoulders drop, genuine smiles suddenly appear, blood pressures drop back to normal levels.

After that release of tension the wedding then becomes something beautiful, moving, and sometimes even fun. Any public event can play host to this transmogrification. Once you’ve given up a basehit and are no longer pitching a perfect game you can shrug, laugh at yourself and get on with the business at hand.

One of our problems is that rituals are always perfect – on paper, and we sometimes look at those written rituals as holier than thou exaltations to Lord and Lady. Writing, for all of its power and glory, is still the newest form of communication we thumb monkeys have invented. Think about that.

Picture the entire time scale of human evolution and place it over the course of one year. If you chart the duration of the forms of communication that we humans have used, sign-language, dance, and song each clock in at several months. Language is about the length of this blogpost, and writing that language is a moment, a blip, an emoticon at the very end of the scale.

Personally, I think that Writing is still hanging out in Deity’s inbox.

What the Goddess and God are listening to is not your petition, but your intention. And that is all important. That is why you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, that you get what you need.*

Laughing at ourselves in public is cathartic to everyone involved; from ritual leader to celebrant. Laughter is the most human of characteristics, and what makes us human is what the Gods are interested in, because WE are THEIR experiment in linear time and a 3 dimensional existence.

So go ahead and giggle when you make a mistake. Just make sure that you are laughing WITH the Goddess, and not AT her. Quick word of warning – don’t ever, EVER, mock the fey. I mean the Gods know who you are, but the faeries know where you LIVE.

2) Dealing with the Mundanes.

But perhaps the worst mistake a Pagan can make is outside of Sacred Space. The owner of a local Witchy store told me this true story as an example or Interfaith gone horribly wrong:

She was out cauldron shopping one day at a hardware store, wearing a clingy black dress and a pentacle. The guy with the crucifix on behind the counter asked her how large she wanted the pot. Without thinking she said “Baby sized…..”and the guy took her seriously and was horrified.

This from the guy who carries an effigy of a mutilated corpse around his neck. (And WE’RE the cult!) Of course, we’re not allowed to point that out because it would be construed as mockery, and that mockery has sometimes resulted in our kind being tied to a chair and dunked in the river for awhile. (I kid, mostly.)

We have to put on a good face for the Muggles, and being on your best behavior sometimes means NO FUN. Unfortunately there’s not much you can do about that, but when we’re in ritual space, we can take a good lesson from our uptight brethren and their their white-knuckle weddings. When the Public Ceremony gets screwed up, and it will, sure as shootin’ – relax, laugh, and get on with it. You just provided grounding to the entire circle and brought all of us a little closer together.

**From the Gospel of St. Mick, verse 3.

(Angus McMahan is a Santa Cruz Pagan who can usually be found playing strange drums strangely at various rituals in California’s Bay Area. He is a lego sculptor, a cross-country marcher, a crop circle inspiration, a breathtakingly slow triathlete, and a professional tarot card reader. He’s lucky enough to be married to Admiral Karen. Remember to visit Angus-Land, and you can follow the kilted comedian here on twitter.)

About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    “Don’t ever, EVER, mock the fey. I mean the Gods know who you are, but the faeries know where you LIVE.”
    Epic! XD

    “What the Goddess and God are listening to is not your petition, but your
    intention. And that is all important. That is why you can’t always get
    what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, that you
    get what you need.”
    I agree with this, but it is a fairly contentious concept at the moment, what with the orthopraxy/orthodoxy debate ongoing.

  • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

    Excellent post. I’m reminded of one of my initiations. It was either a part of a Samhain ritual or near thereto one year and it was chilly out so the priestess wore her heavier, warmer robe. You know the kind with the nice cape and train? Anyway, she was moving clockwise around our fire and, sure enough, she totally caught the edge of it on fire. Luckily, we put it out without injury, but it was still both a moment that raised and lowered blood pressures.

    Same group, different time, and we were still playing with fire. We had a mix we called cauldron water. Honestly, I’m not sure if others use such a thing, too, of this was something that the priestess came up with. As a tincture of high proof rubbing alcohol, vodka and, in this case, cinnamon it’s both a way to burn clean indoors and a somewhat pleasing scent when the fire poofs out. But, I digress.

    The cauldron water was a-burning but there was some left and someone wanted to try and extinguish it because we were leaving the ritual room for our feasting. Unfortunately, she blew on it. Burning liquids don’t tend to go out that way. Instead, they just move around and splash burning all over the place. Luckily (again), it stayed in the cauldron and we restrained the other party and suffocated the flames with a lid.

    Hail, Eris! And she likes the laughter, too.

  • Moonwater Silverclaw

    Love it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/katra520 Katra Camaka Nari

    Thank you for posting this. I ran a workshop for 5 years & some of my newby teachers would freak out if they did anything wrong at a ritual. I would tell them that the whole point of a work shop is to practice & work it out – even for the teachers. The biggest thing is like you said – laugh. Don’t hold too tightly to the type A piece of your personality & go with the flow. Namaste


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