I’m happy to share our first guest post from my friend Catriona McDonald. Catriona practices Revival Druidry in central Massachusetts. She is a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, and is active with the Mystic River Grove. You can find her all the time over at the Druid’s Well.
People don’t like to write about failure—the false starts, detours, wrong turns. Admitting that something doesn’t work for you, or worse, that you were (gasp!) wrong about your spiritual course is not readily done in the Pagan blogosphere. We think our readers need infallible paragons to inspire them. But it isn’t our readers who want such perfection. It’s our egos.
There are any number of times I’ve buggered things up in my own practice. For example, when I was in Ár nDraíocht Féin, I didn’t complete the dedicant program. I stayed in a toxic grove dynamic that ended up burning me out for several years. I procrastinated telling a working group that it was time for me to leave, and I let things drag out for an uncomfortable amount of time. When I moved to Massachusetts, I ignored my altar for several months. I forced myself into a god-centered practice when that wasn’t what I needed. I’ve missed rituals. I’ve missed holy days. I’ve botched the stage directions for a ritual, and it was awkward and uncomfortable. And don’t even get me started on the number of spiritual paths I’ve tried on for size before arriving where I am now: Wicca, Pagan, Welsh Pagan, Hellenic Recon, ADF Druidry, Asatru, Anglo-Saxon Recon, Western Esoteric Tradition….See? There’s a whole bunch of failures right here. And really, that’s okay. Because guess what? There are going to be more. The important thing is not whether you fail, because you almost certainly will, but what you do with that failure. Have you, as J.C. Maxwell termed it, “failed forward?” Did you learn from your failures? Did you keep going? Did you ask for help? Could you have acted differently? Were matters out of your control? Have you let the failure define you? If so, how has it defined you? Do you want to change that perception of yourself?
As it happens, I did learn from all of these failures, though sometimes the lessons were years in coming. For instance, I can now identify problematic group dynamics much more easily. I’ve developed a daily spiritual routine that I can perform while my tea steeps and my altar sits right next to the stove where I can’t miss it. I’ve found my niche with spirits and wights rather than gods. I’ve learned I love experimenting with ritual, and a group with a codified liturgy is not going to suit me well in the long run. I’ve also learned to finish my ritual scripts a day ahead of time so I can proof them and make sure they’re clear and concise. I’ve settled into Revival Druidry as my spiritual home. Finally, I’ve literally been practicing how to fail. A series of small steady failures makes those big scary ones that much more manageable.
The interesting thing about the relationship between failure and practice is that if you’re determined to develop the latter, you will inevitably encounter the former. But here’s the other interesting thing: failure is actually the fastest way to grow your practice! Being paralyzed by a fear of failing is the only sure way to stunt whatever progress you’re trying to make. Try new chants, tweak your prayers, your visualizations, your rituals. Ask why things do or do not work for you. Work with failure. Make it your ally.