"Do not call up that which you cannot put down."
As all witches
know, summoning creatures from another plane of existence requires a bit of ceremony. Sacrifices
and exotic materials
may be required along with elaborate ceremonies
, but a simple geometric figure
and a few candles will often be enough. Of course, there may be a whole other price to pay
if the ritual succeeds. Keeping the trickster demons
and other unworldly apparitions can take a great deal of concentration or chanting; if the protective pentagram should be disturbed...
If we're talking about demons, the road to summoning is not easy. You need to learn the magic circles, the true names
of various demons, every conceivable precaution against the demon once summoned (as it's a rare demon who likes doing a wizard's dirty work). All told, it takes years of serious study... and heaven help you if you decide you're ready for a real
demon midway through your training. Remember, Evil Is Not a Toy
A good rule of thumb is never to call up what you cannot put down, or summon anything larger than your head. Most people seem to make the grade with just a random mortal from another plane
at any rate. Mind you, even if everything goes right, you might end up summoning someone out of the shower
The classical name for a scene in which some chthonic being is summoned up is a nekyia
), which is to be distinguished from a catabasis
} or descent into the underworld.
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Screwing up summoning
Anime and Manga
- In Fate/stay night and Fate/Zero mages can summon up and form contracts with legendary spirits using a summoning circle, invocation, and an artifact related to said hero's legend. Of course a lot can, and inevitably does, go wrong. Messing up (or deliberately screwing with) the invocation might make your hero comes back wrong. Summon a shining knight under the wrong class and you might end up with a dark, twisted, aspect of their legend. And even if you do manage to get everything right, it doesn't necessarily make the resulting spirit either heroic or even loyal.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, Human Transmutation (i.e. resurrecting the dead) resembles a summoning ritual. The results are rarely pretty. It also never works. Turns out that the dead can't be brought back to life. Ever. No amount of sacrifice can overcome that basic law.
- Fushigi Yuugi. Depending on how strong the Miko's will is, it can be successful or disastrous.
- In Hetalia, England gets mad at America for some ill-defined reason and decides to summon a "twisted creature of monstrous size and strength ... with the power to crush America" as revenge. What he gets is not exactly what he was hoping for.
- In The Sandman volume 1, they were fishing for Death and caught Dream.
- At least two demon summoners in Belgariad, sequels and prequels were stupid enough to draw pentagrams on water.
- This is partly a means of showing off: "Yeah, I can draw letters of glowing energy on water!" It even works if the water in question is standing still. Drawing your pentagram on a river, on the other hand... that's getting into Idiot Ball territory.
- One of the ones who drew it on still water still didn't think it through - she drew it on the sea, and got punished soundly for forgetting about waves.
- Even without this fault, demon summoning is certain to go awry if the magician loses his concentration for even a moment. Which the captive demon will do its absolute best to make happen. Magicians have short lifespans.
- In Creator/Dianard nneJones's Dark Lord of Derkholm, the wizard Derk has to summon a demon to fulfill his titular role. Unfortunately he drops a syllable and accidentally calls up a much more powerful one than he can control.
- In one of the first stories ever set in the Dragonlance world, Tasslehoff Burrfoot is brought to a wizard's tower by a teleporting ring. There, he interrupts the wizard's summoning of Demogorgon, allowing the Demon Prince to break free of its bindings and carry the wizard off. Turns out Demogorgon had created the ring eons ago, specifically to free it if it ever became subject to a mortal's control. Given how strong Demogorgon is, this was one of the few documented times that a kender actually felt scared.
- The Drizzt novels have featured this a few times. One was an apprentice who screwed up the pentagram and let out a balor. Cadderly also summons up demons and kills them, which inconveniences them... somehow.
- Pasting demons on the material plane sends them home, and prevents them from coming back on their own for 100 years. Summoning them, of course, breaks this prohibition.
- Discworld used to have some fun with the Askh Ente rite, the ritual that can be used to summon Death. Originally it involved eight senior wizards, a large amount of drippy candles and thuribles, and a floor covered in runes (and various other equipment). Then it turned out that you could actually complete it with only a handful of people with three small sticks and 4 cc of mouse blood. Or two small sticks and an egg. The egg has to be fresh though. (Why? It will probably make the mouse feel better. Oh, you mean the egg? Who knows how an egg feels? Duh.)
- A high ranking wizard once tried to perform the rite backwards and disappeared, it actually reversed the spell and transported him to Death instead.
- If anyone wonders why the wizard decided to perform the rite backwards, the idea was that it would reverse the effect so that instead of summoning Death it'd keep Death away. As noted in the above spoiler, the actual reversal was that it summoned the caster to the Death instead. It worked out anyway, since the wizard got a job as Death's manservant.
- In James Blisch's The Day After Judgment, the summoning goes horribly wrong, even tho the initial intent was for the demons to cause some chaos. Two evil protagonists contract with the most powerful evil wizard around to set loose some nasty demons, just for kicks. Trouble is, Theron Ware, the black wizard, does his job too well, and actually removes all the pre-existing restrictions on the demon's actions, literally setting loose all the hordes of hell on the mortal world, undoing the balance of heaven and hell, and directly causing the apocalypse. Which Heaven loses, as God never shows up. Oops.
- In A Wizard Of Earthsea, Ged decides to show off by summoning the spirit of Queen Elfarran from the dead. He succeeds, but also inadvertently calls a "Shadow", which promptly tries to kill him, then stalks him for the next several years trying to finish him off. On the bright side, it gives him the taking down a couple pegs he badly needed; on the downside, it leaves him badly scarred.
- A large part of several The Dresden Files books. Don't summon something you can't hold (like the Erlking almost was), or something when your enemies hear (like the demon from the first book), or repeatedly in obvious places, because Harry will sic it back on you.
- Harry summons a bunch of entities for information over the course of the series but, unfortunately, knowledge correlates with power. Be careful.
- In Tales of Kolmar, demons live in their own world within the normal world. Demon summoners call them up out of it with complicated rituals, often sacrificing something to bring a demon into the circle, sacrificing more to bind it and get it to do things. Demons will quite happily escape the summoning circle and kill the summoner, then go on a rampage, if the summoner is careless. The demons can encourage this by making the summoners feel overconfident and more likely to skip steps. In The Lesser Kindred Berys decides to summon something he doesn't know how to dismiss, reasoning that he can bind it indefinitely while alive and doesn't care what happens to the world after he's dead.
- In The Double Shadow by Clark Ashton Smith, the wizard Avyctes is an expert at summoning every kind of spirit and demon. So when he discovers a summoning spell from a hitherto-unknown precursor race, he casts it the first chance he gets. This despite the fact that the spell (a) doesn't say what it summons, and (b) doesn't come with a matching rite of exorcism to make whatever it summons go away again. It doesn't end well.
- In Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions, Mother Gerd tells Holger she summoned up a sprite to question. Given that she warns him against praying or crossing himself, and recites the Lord's Prayer backwards, it's clearly a devil.
- In Mercedes Lackey's Oathbound, a young and incompetent mage accidentally speaks the name of a major demon rather than the imp he was trying to summon. The demon seduces him into dropping what protections he does have, and then kills him slowly and painfully.
Live Action Television
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the second episode Anya is in has Anya tricking Willow into trying to summon her power source from when she was a Vengeance Demon. Instead, they get the Vampire Willow from the alternate universe they were trying to get the necklace from. The BDSM loving, all leather wearing, overtly bisexual, insane Vampire Willow.
- Another episode had Giles and his group of friends screwing up summoning the demon Eghyon during Giles' teen years. The summoning was used to produce a drug-like high, but someone screwed up and Eghyon killed him, then spent the next few decades hunting down the rest of the group, jumping into various sleeping and dead human bodies.
- The spiritual barrier for a demon summoning collapsed in the third strip of Hellbound when the old guy's new apprentice distracted him. That ensured the death of the old guy (who never even got a name) and set off the events of the rest of the comic.
- In this strip of Tales of Pylea, a witchkin had summoned a demon to answer a master vampire's question as relayed by some minions. One of the minions accidentally knocks over one of the candles, and Hilarity Ensues.
- In Sluggy Freelance a botched summoning on Bun-Bun's part gets him stuck with a really, really annoying Living Shadow. When he tries to get Gwynn to summon the shadow off of him, she summons a bunch of evil, clothes-eating moths instead.
- On account of being drunk.
- One of these seems to set off the plot of The Roaming Thicket.
- Whateley Universe example: when Bloodworm tries to sacrifice Sara Waite for a dark boon, he gets the wrong hell, calls up the wrong demon, and ends up getting knocked into that hell dimension for a literal fate worse than death.
- The Back Story for Count Duckula is that during his Summoning Ritual they used tomato ketchup instead of blood, resulting in a vegetarian vampire duck.
- Robot Chicken parodies this. Linus seems to have grown tired of waiting for the Great Pumpkin and him not showing up. So, he decides to preform a satanic blood ritual to summon him to the pumpkin patch. Of course he didn't count on the Great Pumpkin being a hideous, blood-thirsty demon.
Anime and Manga
- The silent movie classic The Golem has the Rabbi successfully summon the demon Astaroth.
- In the first novel of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, the apprentice summons the title djinn correctly but makes the serious mistake of letting him find out his name. Luckily for him, like Aahz, Bartimaeus' bark is worse than his bite.
- Except it's not. Bartimaeus would kill Nathaniel in a heartbeat given the chance.
- Although the thing is, the one time he could've let Nathaniel die, he convinces someone to save him anyway...
- Larry Niven's short story "Convergent Series" is based on the idea that people have forgotten how to properly summon demons over the years. Then a college student rediscovers how almost by accident, and scrambles to find a way to not be damned.
- In Thomas Gray's The Descent of Odin (imitated from the Völuspa, the "Song of the Wise-woman" in the Poetic Edda), the eponymous god summons up the spirit of a giant-prophetess for information on the coming Ragnarök.
- In the "Discworld" novel Making Money The
necromancer Professor of Post-Living Communications performs rites with all the dribbly candles, pentagrams and such partly because of tradition and partly because people called from beyond the grave expect ceremony and want to see that you've put the effort in.
- Another "Discworld" parody of the Summoning Ritual is the Rite of AshkEnte, used to summon Death. Much is made about how the more traditional wizards want pentagrams and dribbly candles and mystical mumblings, when it could actually be done with three bits of wood and four cc of mouse blood, or two bits of wood and a fresh boiled egg. This is definitely done for the summoner's benefit, as Death is really quite a practical person and wouldn't be bothered by a lack of ceremony. What bothers him is that they're always summoning him when he's right in the middle of something.
- Also inverted with the character of Albert, who performed the ritual in reverse hoping it would keep Death away from him. It didn't work; as might reasonably be expected, it sent him to Death.
- * In the Adventure Game Discworld II: Missing Presumed...!?, the Death summoning ritual requires three small sticks (of equal length), 4 cc of mouse blood, dribbly candles, a vile stench, glitter, and a performance of Day-O (The Banana Boat Song). Death appears dressed in a cork hat, apparently having been on vacation.
- A parody of this was the ritual that the witches used to summon that poor demon in Wyrd Sisters. No pentagrams or candles, to Magrat's dismay, but Granny and Nanny generally thumb their noses at that stuff. They just used the sharp and terrible copper stick, the rather old washing soda and some extremely hard soap flakes, the balding scrubbing brush of Art, and the washboard of Protection to summon a demon in a boiler. Irked Granny a bit that they went through all that trouble instead of just flat out calling the demon since she felt they were pandering to it and making it feel important.
- And then the demon was disappointed when they didn't bother to properly banish it once they were done asking their questions, instead merely telling it to go away.
- Magrat was glad to oblige with the proper sequence of dramatic phrases. Note that the witches threatened said demon with a kitchen roller when it refused to answer in a simple manner.
- Harry Dresden of The Dresden Files should really know better than to do this; he rather lucked out in his second book, Fool Moon, when the demon he summoned got a bit overeager about Harry's eternal damnation.
- The summoning up of the demon Mephistopheles is one of the traditional features of the Faust legend, in all its various literary and dramatic treatments.
- In "The Tale of Sir Lancelot" in Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur a hermit conjures up a fiend to tell him if a certain knight has been saved or damned.
- A subversion: Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures series begins with the mentor wizard of the protagonist being killed in the middle of the standard demon-summoning ritual. His death messes up the diagram just as the demon arrives, meaning the demon is free. Fortunately for the protagonist (Skeeve), the demon (Aahz) is actually quite a decent fellow. His species just has a very bad rep, deliberately cultivated for the most part. They form an alliance to get back at the guy who killed Skeeve's mentor — and Aahz's friend. The whole ritual was completely unnecessary to bring Aahz from his home dimension, and had been set up just to impress the mentor's gullible new apprentice.
- In The Odyssey this is combined with a descent into the Underworld, as the eponymous hero must go to its entrance to summon up the spirit of the prophet Teiresias and learn from him how he can return home.
- Subverted in Day Watch. A series of sinister events lead most of the characters to believe that Zavulon, the head of the Moscow Day Watch is willing to resurrect a powerful deceased dark mage/dragon Fafnir. It turns out, however, that he had a different plan and simply masked its stages as preaprations for the summoning ritual.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The Phoenix on the Sword", Thoth-amon's Ring of Power can do this, with blood and incantations.
- Aya Nishitani's Digital Devil Story, the origin of the famous Shin Megami Tensei franchise, came to be when the protagonist and genius programmer Akemi Nakajima realized that a summoning ritual —with all its standardized rules, incantations, and rigid procedures— could be automated and written as executable code on a computer. He then proceeds to do exactly that, creating the very first Demon Summoning Program. After successfully summoning the demon Cerberus as a guardian beast, he tries to go for broke and summon a Demon King, Loki himself, who only plays by Nakajima's rules for as long as it's convenient to him.
- The titular Mortal Instruments are required to summon the angel Raziel, a ritual that can only be done once every millennium. Once they have all three, Raziel will come to them and will grant any single wish the summoner wants.
Live Action TV
- Special mention goes to Angel. A particularly unusual one would be the demon Sajhan using a ritual to release the completely human Holtz. And getting bored and looking at his watch because it wasn't happening fast enough.
- Similarly to Buffy the Vampire Slayer which had so many summoning rituals through its run that it would be insane to list them all.
- Subverted in Reaper: You can summon the Devil by calling him on his cell. (The area code is Phoenix.)
- Used memorably in the episode "And The Children Shall lead" of Star Trek: The Original Series, in which the child survivors of a colony massacre pump their fists and chant to summon Melvin Belli, an evil entity which calls itself Gorgon the Friendly Angel in order to win the kids' help taking over the galaxy.
- In Dungeons & Dragons, while divine spellcasters can cast the risk-free planar ally summoning spells, arcane spellcasters must resort to the decidedly more dangerous planar binding spells, which, among other things, involve bargaining with the summoned creature and require several other spells to stop it from escaping.
- Arguably subverted by the literal Summon Monster line of spells which take only one combat round (six seconds) to cast and bring in a creature to fight for you with no applicable saving throw, spell resistance, or back-talk. (Granted, the short duration and often limited power of these spells makes them useful primarily for combat.)
- Fourth Edition took away general summoning spells for all caster classes, but has a few classes with the mojo, such as the invoker (a divine class that summons agents of their god), shaman (a spirit summoner), and a new build for the wizard that allows the summoning of animate spells.
- There's also some non-core summoning rituals, such as Adjure, Summon Elemental, Summon Demon, etc, which can summon a powerful creature to fight for you. Adjure is particularly risky; if you fail the skill challenge, you have to serve the creature instead!
- Mage: The Awakening has several summoner builds, mainly involving an understanding of the Death (ghosts and zombies) and Spirit (elemental forces and primal concepts) Arcana. There's also a set of systems for summoning beings from the Supernal Realms; unlike standard summoning magic, however, this merely serves as the means for a pact that gives the summoner a number of slight benefits as long as it holds to the terms of a bargain.
- Its predecessor Mage: The Ascension also had access to a number of summoning rituals, mostly revolving around some aspect of the Spirit Sphere (with occasional forages into the Correspondence Sphere). Furthermore, unawakened Sorcerous Paths provided access to slightly more specific examples, with rituals existing for the summoning of angels, demons, spirits and all manner of other beings.
- Summoning monsters in Yu-Gi-Oh! is usually done just by playing them or tributing other monsters for them. However, there are some monsters called Ritual monsters that have to go through a specific ritual (i.e. playing a particular spell card) in order to get them out.
- There's also an entire Archetype based around Ritual Summoning, the Gishki/Ritua Tribe from the Duel Terminal series, to the point that in-story when they revive the first Big Bad when end up joining the Verz.
- Half of all Call of Cthulhu plots involve a cult conducting a horrible ritual to summon an Eldritch Abomination to Earth and the players have to stop them.
- Exalted has a whole suite of summoning spells, for elementals, ghosts and demons of varying ranks, all of which require a ritual of some kind. Necromancers have an easier time summoning ghosts than sorcerers, who in turn are better with demons and elementals (in fact, Necromacy can't call elementals at all), and thaumaturges can summon a lot of different spirits, but can't control them. Oh, and Summon Elemental takes the form of a letter to the elemental in question, who can send a subordinate in their stead if said underling is up to the task. And then there's Pattern Weaving, whose spells are tailored to the spirits of Autochthonia, and is the only branch that can reliably summon minor gods.
- In Grim Grimoire, demon summoning is just a class taught to students in the Wizarding School. You basically call low-level demons up with a rune inscribed with a pentagram.
- Special mention goes to Lilet's final plan, which is Summoning the Big Bad Demon Lord before he escapes his prison, letting him kill the other villain trying to summon him, and then tricking him into a Fate Worse than Death.
- Shin Megami Tensei is a long-running series - which has guested a huge variety of consoles, and also includes the Persona sub-series - is based entirely around summoning demons —or, rather daemon, entities that can be good, evil, or completely beyond human morality. A demon summoner can thus call upon Goetian demons alongside holy angels and even legendary heroes whose fame (or infamy) has given them a cult and a following. And like in its Digital Devil Story origins, most of the summoning is done by combining it with the latest technology and Demon Summoning Programs. In fact, the ceremony of summoning is so central to the games, the franchise has consistently used Seals of Solomon and pentagrams as brand logos.
- Warlocks in World of Warcraft can summon a variety of demons to do their bidding, and can even use a summoning ritual to summon other players to their location (with help).
- In Dishonored, Sokolov tries a lot of bizarre and disgusting rituals in the hopes of summoning The Outsider to him. The Outsider is not impressed by these efforts and finds them vaguely insulting.
- 8-Bit Theater has a different take on the summoning ritual:
Garland: I should be upset, but I can't help taking this as a huge compliment. You can't summon something as powerful as hell lords without sacrificing what's most important to you in the world! This is probably the nicest thing Drizz'l has ever done for us.
Drizz'l's note: 1. Lead morons into basement. / 2. Kill them. / 3. Summon nothing because it was a lie.
- In Sinfest, Lil' E aims for a hellhound.
- In the Sluggy Freelance story "Demon Summoning Week" Torg and Riff do one of these on a lark.
- In The Gamers Alliance, the Clergy of Artemicia summons a magic crystal from the earth during the Day of the Damned festival in the city of Reign and release the being inside it which they hope to enslave and use in the war against the Grand Alliance. The plan doesn't exactly worked out as intended because instead of releasing the Destroyer as the clergy had hoped, an amnesiac Yamatian girl appears instead although it quickly becomes apparent that the girl in fact has Laverna, the Goddess of Thieves, trapped within her body. The clergy then decides to go for Plan B and just take the girl by force and sway the goddess to side with them, but the sudden arrival of several thieves guilds and Shakkan, the God of Beasts, ends up complicating matters as they all have different plans in mind for Laverna. Ironically the Destroyer does end up being summoned after all but in a different city. It turns out that the Dwarven Triad, one of the thieves guilds, deliberately manipulated events with their moles to make the clergy believe that they were summoning the Destroyer instead of the goddess, the Triad's objective, who they ended up with.