Permission to Fail or Daring to Try?

Permission to fail. Quite a few years back, I was always amused by this phrase. Who needed to have permission to fail? Failure just happens. Thus, I would look at the phrase as an amusement rather than a particular way of rephrasing one’s everyday approach to life.

I am more than half Germanic. Germans are known for their precise approach to things, according to popular misconception. Not that I believe my DNA pushes me in that direction. But I do have that tendency. A need for a precise approach to things. And when things don’t work, my frustration will set in very quickly. What I am about to set forth here is a manner of how I learned to deal with my frustration over things not working the way I expected. None of this happened over a short period of time. More like years. Quite a few.

When I first encountered Wicca, I had no idea what I was reading about. I brought all my questions to my much older girlfriend of the time, a Wiccan High Priestess. We would sit and talk about what I read, and she would provide a warmer narrative from her own experiences. When I finally decided to ask to be accepted into my Rainbow year of learning, I had a concept of what I was about to expect. Lots of talking, an occasional ritual, and some formalized classes in the living room of whoever was handling the lesson. The talking and the lessons went exactly as I expected. The rituals, on the other hand, were confusing and jarring to my senses. Frankly, I was not really prepared to be naked in front of others. Later, it was relayed to me that I had not been told about the nudity because they were sure I would have issues with it. They were right. But not in the way that they thought. For me, it was a moment where everything that I had expected was wrong. My state of mind did not like the unexpected failure of what I had prepared myself for.

The first time I tried to work a spell, I followed a formulaic aspect that I found in one of Donald Michael Kraig’s books. I gave the spell nearly a month to work. When I didn’t get results of any kind, I sought out a ceremonial magician friend and asked why. She could not tell me exactly why but noted that the formulaic process could always be altered in ways that were more personal to me. This only made me even more frustrated. How was I supposed to learn the basic process when I needed to find ways to improvise to make things work properly?

These are only two examples of how processes within my Pagan practice had “failed” me. Many, many times over, I would find myself not doing things “correctly” and become increasingly frustrated with my approach to Paganism. There were times that I sat down and thought that the Christians had it so much easier. All they had to do was show up at church on Wednesdays and Sundays, sign some songs from a book that was provided, and just listen to the admonishes of some intercessory that stood at the front of the congregation.

At this point, I had found myself handling my own approach to my Spirituality. I was in Germany, stationed there by the United States Air Force. Most of the Pagans I knew there, which admittedly was an extremely small number, followed various aspects of Wicca, Heathenry, or something else that I didn’t follow. I would gather with them to talk and discuss Paganism from a generic perspective. At one point, I met with members of a small coven to perform a ritual on Kapaun Air Station, the first such religious accommodation made for a Pagan group by the United States military anywhere in the world. But I was a guest, not a member of the group (though their leader had counted me as a member to inflate his membership numbers to the Ramstein Chaplain that had sponsored his group). Much of my Spiritual practice was spent wandering the wooded areas around the Kaiserslautern area. During my wandering in those woods, I would think about my own Spirituality, and began forming my own personal approach to Paganism. I often wondered if I was doing any of this correctly.

Upon my separation from the United States military, and my subsequent return to the United States, I found myself more alone than I was in Germany. The Witch Wars in Dallas had occurred while I was gone. Dovetailing with that was the back half of the Satanic Panic that had gripped much of the United States from the fanatical Evangelical corner. Many Pagans had gone to ground. Finding ways to hide in plain sight. I had very few people that I could contact to find out if I was doing things right or wrong. So, I continued doing things my own way. Right or wrong, my focus was on doing things in a way that felt “correct” for me. During this time, much of how I handle my own Spirituality came to be.

I wish I could impress on you how many failures I ran into in this period. It was a lot. I would lay out an idea of how to approach an aspect of my Spirituality, only to be frustrated over how it did not work the way I had expected. Or to have it completely backfire in my face. The first few years was quite humbling. However, at some point I realized that each failure was an experience that I could build on. When I found something that did work, I was ecstatic. Slowly I built my own approach to Paganism. Granted, its not a pretty one. There are plenty of scars upon it. There are mismatched pieces within it. But it works for me. That’s what counts most.

Over time, I came across the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD). I looked through their information, even looked deeper into their ritual framework. What I found was much closer to what I had been doing in my own Spirituality – trying to find connection, reveling in experience. The ritual framework is not necessarily to my liking (and still is not), but it was a perspective I could live with in groups and gatherings. I don’t use it in my own personal rituals.

At some point, I had decided to give myself permission to fail. I just didn’t see it in those words. I saw it as an aspect of trying. But in trying, I had to prepare myself for the possibility that things wouldn’t work. From that, I learned the value of improvising, finding non-traditional techniques to try and make things work. However, I cannot give my work in my Spirituality the credit for that. Rather, I learned the value of improvising in my work within the military.

In Germany, I was attached to a multi-national NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) unit. Funding for all areas of this unit were sparse. You learned to make do with what you had on hand, or the mission did not get accomplished. That was not an option. I learned not to worry about what something was designed to do and see it for what it could be made to do. Somewhere, that started to translate into my own Spirituality. Did the Gods really give a shit if I called a Guardian at the four quarters? Did I really need to create a circle boundary between my ritual space and the rest of the world? Granted, for some workings – these aspects were necessary for a variety of reasons. But did that mean it had to happen all the time? Through this, I learned my most valuable lesson – question it. That was the only way that you could break things down to the necessary components and remove everything that wasn’t necessary. Or everything that you thought wasn’t necessary. Trial and error. Try it. If it didn’t work or didn’t feel right – add back a component you removed and try again. If that didn’t work, keep adding back and retrying until you find the combination that does.

I know there will be many folks who will find this to be sacrilege. However, I would point to the “fun” little rituals that are out there, such as the Rite of Chocolate, and ask why that could be accepted but little changes to ritual formatting cannot? Believe me, I am not saying that all this works for every single individual or that every Pagan must utilize this concept of alteration as holy writ. That’s not the point. All I am trying to say is that we need to be accepting of the idea that we can fail. And that in failing, we learn. In failing, we can find humor in what occurred. In failing, we can step forward to try again.

Failing, in my opinion, is a part of living. It is a part of growing. It is a part of feeling. In my opinion, our approach to the Gods is not a strict, unbending Path of ritual. Our approach to the Gods, our approach to our own Spirituality is a growing, changing, living relationship. If we place ourselves in a place where we cannot fail, we will wind up frustrated when we do. And our frustration can drive us away from our Spirituality.

I cannot count the number of times I have fucked up, the number of times I have failed. Numerous times, I have sat down and just cried over my frustrations at those failures. I am glad that I picked myself up each time, wiped the tears from my eyes, and resolved to move forward. If I had not, I do not believe that I would be the Pagan I am today. In fact, I know I wouldn’t. Without those experiences, those failures…

–T /|\

Photo by Eva Elijas on

If The Other Guy Had Showed Up

I was reading a recent article with Mark Hamill, and he was relating an aspect of his role as Luke Skywalker that raised an eyebrow for me. It was actually rolled up into using the backdrop of Star Wars – starting with Episode IV with the years of “modern” society played up against. The quote that caught my eye was:

It is tragic. I’m not a method actor, but one of the techniques a method actor will use is to try and use real-life experiences to relate to whatever fictional scenario he’s involved in. The only thing I could think of, given the screenplay that I read, was that I was of the Beatles generation – ‘All You Need Is Love’, ‘peace and love’.

I thought at that time, when I was a teenager: ‘By the time we get in power, there will be no more war, there will be no racial discrimination, and pot will be legal.’ So I’m one for three. When you think about it, [my generation is] a failure. The world is unquestionably worse now than it was then.

I literally sat there speechless, it was an angle to this last Star Wars I had not really contemplated. And one that will likely completely change my perspective on the movie img_9688the next time I sit down to watch it, this coming weekend. But the quote also had me replaying what life was like for me when I graduated high school back in 1984. My generation was wide-eyed and bushy-tailed – ready and willing to take on the challenges of finding peace in the world, finding equality for all, and yes – the acceptance of marijuana – just not as big a point as the first two.

We all came out of high school, full of hopes and dreams – and fattened by the broad-spending to keep up with or better our neighbors in the amount of crap we had. We took that mantra, and stepped eagerly towards debt, changing jobs every few years, moving from apartment to apartment every six months. And we expected no different from our various government entities. After all, we were raised under that mantra…why shouldn’t the government practice it as well?

Racism? Equality? We saw enough of that on TV. With JJ Evans hollering “Dyno-mite!” every episode, the Jeffersons were moving on up to that deluxe apartment in the sky, and Roots was there to remind us of the terrible tragedies that the blacks had gone through. ‘Blacks’ – what a terrible racial naming concept. Except we do the opposite of using the term ‘whites’ as well. But we weren’t running off to hang someone over the color of their skin. Nor were we burning down their homes either. We were on the way to achieving equality. Except that we stopped with finding monetary equality in the corporate job environment. Promotions were harder to find for minorities, and women as well. And there really wasn’t much of a push to make things better. Once we spent ourselves into debt, we literally fought tooth and nail to make a living – essentially becoming a statistic. And eventually moving home in the mid-1990s with our parents…that literal mid-aged lifeboat. We were focused on saving our own skins…not enough time and energy to push for corporate change.

When the 1990s came to a close, the next generation was a larger force in the workplace. Just not in numbers. They learned technologies much quicker, after all they had a longer exposure to technology when they were younger. And that particular notation has continued with each new generation – more technology savvy, quicker with technological concepts. So, once again, my generation found itself focused on competing in the work-force with younger workers who didn’t come with all the burdens we had – family, kids, medical needs, debt. They worked cheaper and were willing to work longer for those lower wages. No push for change coming there.

So now, we are where we are. A political environment that is so divided that the hatred between both sides is thick enough to squeeze out an 8oz glass of vitriol and have enough left over to freeze as ice cubes. The newest generation entering the work-force is having to deal with an aging work-force ahead of them – mostly my generation working for lower-paying positions to just get by. As a rough example, I make a little over 40k a year at my job. Not great pay for a technology-sector worker with two Masters degrees and a Bachelors. Luckily, I work at a job where I believe in its overall mission, and this amount of money is just enough to get me by with a little left over each month. I know many others with the same degree credentials that I have, including my thirty-four years in Information Technology, who make far less than I do, and some work two or even three jobs to get by. All of that clogs the work-force for the younger workers just coming in, which becomes part of the problem.

Now, I am not laying all the blame at the feet of my generation. There are a lot of contributing factors that I am leaving out. But Hamill is correct. My generation failed. And the resulting mess is what we are looking at. There is a lot of clean-up that is going to have to be done, starting with the move towards complete equality. And Gods, I have no idea how we get there. Just looking at my country, America, which likes to style itself as the leader in everything around the world (it is not – and that arrogance is also part of the problem) – we have issues that stem from political issues, from learned hatred of those that are different from us (pick one), from lack of equality, from a lot of things…and people are completely fed up. They are ready to tear shit up over all of this and have in a few instances. We have police officers that abuse their powers of protection. We have politicians that enact laws that are harmful to others over some perceived issue that masks what is essentially racial prejudice. We have laws that are twisted to suit one demographic of people and no court system willing to put the law back into its neutral position. How in the fuck do we fix all of that? Well, let me rephrase this a bit…

How do the younger generations fix all of this? No, this is not “kicking the can down the road” – though it does sound like it. This is a touch of realism. The younger generations are driving the war-cry for change, for an overhaul of the system, for complete equality. Sure, there are those in my generation that have picked up a protest sign and joined the front-line. However, their words are the loudest. Except at the ballot box. The younger generations have a strong mistrust of the system. They are not wrong to have it either. The system is literally set to provide for the “haves” and ignore the “have-nots”. But the ballot box is an area where honor and correctness continues.

Yes, there is voter fraud that happens at the ballot box. Not in the numbers that conservative firebrands at Fox News claim, but it is there. There is also increasing apathy from the block of individuals that are eligible to be registered to vote and are currently registered to vote. The system seems to not really change. Democrats and Republicans (and even many of the third-party candidates) are essentially the same types of politician. They will canvas for the votes of the people, and then swear complete fealty to the political party. Essentially, they are beholden to their donors rather than to the registered voters.

How do you change that? You find candidates to vote for that reject that kind of thinking. They hold their fealty to the people rather than the party. Except that to get on the ballot, you NEED the party’s assistance in all states and territories. And to get that assistance, you need to show that you are in their boat – ready to do their bidding on the various governmental floors when the time comes. And nearly every point that gets made has a counter-point to place it in check. And the outcry of the system being rigged becomes louder.

::sigh:: Hamill is right. We failed. But all is not completely lost. Yes, the storm clouds look dark, and the wind is starting to whip the rain like watery, steel nails into your flesh. But failure is not the same thing as complete loss. If you watch the last Star Wars movie, the individuals playing at being “rebels” are the children. These younger generations are the hope. Yes, we are only going to be around for some of the clean-up of the mess we have created. But we can provide the example of what didn’t work. What needed to be formatted differently to achieve the change that was necessary.

I already hear the words:  “What about Trump?” flying through my Email box. What about him? He represents the last gasps of what needs to be changed. Yes, it certainly is an uphill battle. But I would like to remind you – Clinton won the popular vote 48% to 46%. And that was with only 56% of the total voting populace turning out. Essentially, that means that every other voter did not come out to the polls for that election. It makes me wonder what might have happened if that other guy HAD showed up?