The word error derives from the Latin errorem and describes a meandering passage from here to yonder, a saunter not confined to a well-trod path, a ramble through bracken and hedges, through wild, unexplored regions. Perhaps you intended to stay on the path, but your feet led you astray. Or perhaps you intended, you wayward witchling, to wander without intent. Perhaps you were seeking to lose yourself or to lose sight of the spires and spindles of civilization.
Originally, errorem didn’t have the smack of sinny sin sin about it. It wasn’t Error with a capital E, a fall from grace that could lead you through the fiery gates of hell or, worse, place you squarely in the gaze of judgmental moralists.
However, the pearly gatekeepers were seeking any sign that a self-willed subject might stray from the dictates of the dictators. After all, child, if you avoid the highways, you must be a highway robber. If you prefer the wilderness, you must be plotting the downfall of princes.
The negative connotation of error, the denotation of error as anything other than simply wandering, wasn’t found in any of the ancient Indo-European languages. Neither the Greek plane, the Old Norse villa, the Lithuanian klaida, nor Bhrama of Sanskrit meant, strictly speaking, wrong-doing or wrong-headedness though, of course, meandering, veering off the beaten path, can always lead to suffering. A stray step could always bring you across the path of a wolf or to the creaking cottage door of a cantankerous crone.
Nevertheless, suffering is not all that going astray can lead to. Wanderers, after all, expand boundaries, discover unknown places, return with unimaginable tales. Deviants defy injustice, and malcontents make us question whether the True Path is necessarily the Best Path for Us All.
Error is absolutely necessary to the creation of the universe as it is; if Brahma, the Self-Born, had been fully awake when he first stirred from his cosmic slumber, rather than groggy and muddled, the universe would be contemptuous clockwork, without opportunity for adaption and change. It would be boring, at best, and a prison of prescriptions, at worst.
Brahma’s blurry thinking in the beginning, his blessed Errors in judgment, made room for human error. That is, the original Error made a wide wilderness for us all to meander through, happily, and sometimes unhappily, erring along the way. And human meanderings have led to both good and ill that would never have existed otherwise.
To quote the transdimensional lion Lucky Pierre, who learned the error of his ways in The Boots at the Center of the Universe:
What I hadn’t taken into consideration, owing to my naivety on the subject of slip-ups, is that there is no novelty, there is no new experience, without uncertainty, and uncertainty can only evolve in a chaotic universe, and chaos can only come by straying off the pre-determined path, i.e. going astray, making a mistake, screwing the pooch, a most horrible metaphor for Error. I wanted something fresh, but I hadn’t considered that horse shit is fresh and so are many corpses.
Much to my dismay, my first disconcerting discernment with regard to Error was the realization that being right about everything all the time has a distinct advantage over being wrong. Alas, the die is cast. I’m bound to this shapeshifting planet of sorceresses now, and I suppose I’ll have to play it by err.
Play it by err, witchlings. It’s the only way to get from here to yonder through the hedges.
xo Sheridan Goodluck
Artwork: Detail from Temptation of Eve by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope