In the mundane aspects of our lives, it isn’t always so surprising when things don’t work out as planned. But when you’ve dedicated lots of time to work the roots, pray intensely, and invoke spirits, it can feel even more like a failure when your goals aren’t realized through all that effort. It takes time, energy, and resources to invest in a working, spell, ritual, or ceremony… so when it feels like the main goals weren’t achieved, it can be more than disappointing. It can feel like the spirits or your own abilities and energies have failed you.
In certain forms of Western traditions of magic and witchcraft such as ceremonial magick and chaos magick, it is common to put a strong emphasis on obtaining results from the efforts of one’s spellwork or rituals. I’ve seen some practitioners argue that this is the case for all traditional paths including Africana and Afro-Latine traditions. Of course, it is true that our ancestors were motivated both during and after slavery to preserve these traditions to see very immediate results for the sake of survival. However, looking at this from a Eurocentric perspective and boiling it down to results as the top priority misses out on the bigger picture.
Though there are many indigenous African religions that are all distinct and unique, they also share many commonalities with each other. A traditional part of the Afrocentric worldview shared across cultures is the concept of interconnections between different energies, spirits, and forms of life. For example, you can connect with forces and spirits of nature through roots and herbs, or you can tap into your connection with your ancestors through your own DNA and memories to work with them – and potentially also the many groups of spirits that they are connected to. To grow one’s abilities, one must grow and develop networks of spirits and energies so that they can draw influence and power from the links and bonds between circles of people and spirits.
Within this context of spiritual networks and communities, it becomes clear from the Afrocentric perspective that one cannot fail all on their own. To accomplish something with the help of nature, ancestors, or the divine, one must have agreement and permission from those spirits or forces. It’s always possible that no matter how hard one prays or asks for help, the answer is still “no.” Some spirits or forces within the universe simply may not have the power to help you with what you asked. Sometimes, they may have much greater knowledge than you about what it is you wanted and won’t give it to you for what are extremely good reasons from their perspective. Alternatively, your working or ritual could have manifested something, but the spirit decided it was better to give it to you in a form that you didn’t recognize or didn’t like. What feels like “failure,” can be the result of many different ripples across these spiritual networks and it isn’t necessarily because you did anything wrong.
Looking at it from this Afrocentric perspective, the notion that these traditions are about “obtaining results” is not entirely wrong, but it’s definitely an oversimplification. Personally, I would describe the purpose of workings, rituals, and ceremonies in Africana traditions as ways of connecting with and receiving guidance from the forces and spirits of the universe. These connections and guidance can help manifest things or outcomes that one needs in life when the spirits or forces at play are both willing and able to help. They can also stop or prevent things from occurring when the spirits wish to do so for your own protection or development. Once you recognize the bigger picture, you can begin to see how something not working out as you planned may not actually be a “failure” at all.
What to Do
When these things happen, it’s often hard to accept no matter what perspective you try to take on it. What feels like “failure” can be a serious test of faith or confidence in oneself and one’s practice. It can make you wonder if your ancestors are listening because otherwise how could they not choose to help you? It can be easy to feel like you are the problem and wonder where you went wrong.
During times like these, I’ve sometimes really struggled with acceptance and understanding of the situation so that I can move on and move forward with my practice. There is no one right way to deal with it, but here are a few steps I take that help me to process what happened and regain confidence again.
1) Ask why. One of the great things about our connections with spirits and forces of nature when working with them through these traditions is that there is a way to communicate. There are traditional divination methods and ways of communicating with spirits to be found in every Africana tradition and religion. So, the reasons why things didn’t turn out as expected don’t have to remain a mystery or an unanswered question stirring in your mind.
As long as you do so respectfully, it can be okay to follow up with the spirits and ask what happened or why something went the way that it did. I don’t recommend doing this if you are feeling resentful towards those spirits, but if you are able to ask respectfully, the answers might have a lesson or insight to teach you – or at least provide some closure about the situation.
For example, perhaps your ancestors knew something about the person you wanted to sweeten towards you as for why they would be a very incompatible romantic partner. Maybe the spirits decided to hold off on giving you something because a different and more needed blessing is already on its way to you.
2) Experience gratitude for the positive aspects of whatever came out of your prayer, spell, or ritual. It can be challenging to look at things as a glass half full when you needed that full glass to do something extremely important or meaningful. But sometimes there’s only so much that spirits can do or that they feel it’s wise to do for a certain situation – and appreciating what you did receive helps ensure that you’ll continue to receive those blessings in the future.
If you prayed to get somewhere on time but you were still delayed, at least you can still appreciate the blessings of arriving there safely in one piece. Maybe you didn’t get as much money in this last check as you had hoped to manifest to pay your rent, but some cash still came. Perhaps that was all your ancestors were able to help bring in for you this time.
3) Choose to let go of what happened. Ultimately, whatever the reason, what’s happened has already passed, and it helps to accept and let go of the outcomes. It’s more than okay to give yourself plenty of time and be patient with yourself if you’re still feeling angry, confused, upset, or disappointed.
Sometimes acceptance of the loss – especially when it’s something you needed very urgently – can feel almost impossible. At the end of the day, it’s up to you when you’re ready to move forward and continue with your practice. Remember that taking a break isn’t a “failure” either, and it can be a very needed form of self-care, reflection, and rejuvenation.