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"Since they could not sacrifice me in their final rite, the powers of darkness could revive only a mindless, raging Ganon. Your power, wisdom and courage were able to prevent Twinrova's planned resurrection of Ganon."

A mighty incantation calls for Eye of Newt, ox blood, the tail of a scorpion, the head of a hydra, and a Virgin Sacrifice. But will a Technical Virgin do instead? Can a Wholesome Crossdresser fill in for a ritual leader of the specified gender?note  And what happens if some meddler switches out the hydra head for a mere snake's?

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Ritual Magic can be a tricky thing, with lots of opportunities to go wrong. Maybe one or two ingredients are missing, or were replaced with inferior substitutes. Maybe the proper ritual master isn't available, or there aren't enough people to chant around the pentagram. Maybe the designated sacrificial knife rusted away centuries ago and the cult leader is using something they bought at a department store. Or maybe The Hero managed to sabotage the ritual by swapping out one component for another.

At any rate, the flawed ritual still goes through — and if it's an evil ritual, because You Can't Thwart Stage One. But, because the ingredients weren't just right, the summoned creature or whatever has some Weaksauce Weakness or Achilles' Heel to be exploited. If the heroes were the ones to cause the imperfection, this allows them a chance at victory even if the villains otherwise succeeded with their plans. In other cases, an imperfect ritual is just be a sign of the initiator's incompetence, or that they're dealing with powers they weren't supposed to.

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Compare and contrast Gone Horribly Wrong and Gone Horribly Right, for specific experiments with disastrous consequences. Compare Unfinished, Untested, Used Anyway as well. See also Semantic Superpower.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Fate/stay night: Rin Tohsaka, a mage girl of renowned pedigree and one of the three potential love interests of the Visual Novel, summons Archer as her heroic spirit, a Servant to fight alongside in the upcoming Holy Grail War. She's not too happy about that, since she was gunning for a better, Saber spirit, and for that purpose made sure each aspect of the ritual was perfect. And then she screwed up the time, forgetting her house clock being one hour off. It turns out to be Zig-Zagged. First, it's subverted in that it turns out that timing the ritual wrong didn't matter and summoning at the right time wouldn't have made a difference. Which is then Double Subverted because it turns out that this is because there was another imperfection in her summoning ritual (at least from the perspective of trying to summon a Saber) - Rin's largest mana gem was, unbeknownst to her, a catalyst for the Archer servant she did summon, and as such, so long as it was on her person or reasonably close to her, she never could have summoned any other Servant, no matter what she did. This is in turn subverted because even if Rin hadn't been carrying that mana gem, Archer also had the same gem and thus he had a catalyst tying him to Rin as a Master, thus ensuring that when Rin summoned a Servant, even if she had lost the gem, she would have summoned Archer no matter what she did.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • Played with. Father's plan to turn Amestris into a philosopher's stone requires five humans who'd performed human transmutation. Roy Mustang refuses to perform it to become the fifth, even under severe coercion, so Pride literally forces him to by puppeting his limbs. This doesn't make any difference in the ritual itself, but was kept as a last resort because Pride was significantly weakened by doing so.
    • Weaponized by Scar. A core alchemy concept is understanding-decomposition-reconstruction, or breaking matter down so you can rebuild it as you want; The tattoo on his right arm (which used to belong to his big brother) allows him to perform limited alchemy, up to decomposition, meaning he can destroy anything he touches. In the finale, he inscribes his left arm to perform reconstruction as well.
  • In the original Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Precia Testarossa needed all 21 Jewel Seeds to open a portal to Al-Hazard, but only ended up in possession of 9, "thanks" to the title character and the Bureau's efforts. In the end of the series, she decides to go through with the incomplete ritual and goes MIA. Her ultimate fate is still a major mystery of the series.
  • In Monster Rancher, Moo succeeds in using the Final Gate to remerge with his original body. However, the process wasn't done properly without a magic stone and as a result, he was vulnerable to all forms of light. This was rectified upon the Baddies stealing Holly's magic stone.
  • Naruto has a ritual involving all the eye bloodlines and all the tailed beasts in order to resurrect the most powerful Tailed Beast of all. Tobi couldn't capture the two strongest tailed beasts, so he just used small samples of their power. Aside from causing the Ten-Tails to resurrect in an imperfect form that needed time to fully mature (and with the said imperfect form being powerful enough to easily take on the heroes on its own anyways), it worked flawlessly, so it was ultimately just a way to reach the climax without having to kill off Naruto and Killer Bee.
  • In Pokémon: The Series episode "Hocus Pokemon", Ash and his friends meet Lily, a Pokemon magician who is trying to perform a spell to allow people to understand Pokémon Speak. After helping her gather the listed ingredients, Ash volunteers to let the spell be cast on him, with it ending up turning him into Pikachu. Lily then looks back over her spell book to discover there was another page of instructions to the spell, but it was so smudged that it couldn't be read.
  • In The Rising of the Shield Hero, the ritual used to summon the Legendary Heroes should not have been used to summon all four at once. Forcing all four to appear at once interferes with the ability of the Weapon's spirits to choose an ideal wielder. While the Shield gets a perfect match in Naofumi, the other three Weapons have to settle for lesser candidates.
  • In Rune Soldier Louie, the Big Bad Dardanel's plan revolves around the creation of a gigantic and unstoppable golem (created in an equally gigantic alchemical vat). Louie sabotages its creation when he finds the vat before the golem is done and pisses in it, causing it to crumble when it's released from the vat.

    Comic Books 
  • The French comic Dies Irae has a kid find a magic book with ingredients like vulture's blood and the hand of a mermaid. He uses Coke (vulture <=> Corrupt Corporate Executive) and a (mermaid) Barbie's hand... and it works.
  • Hellblazer 108 - "Day of Wine and Roses": John is hired to do some fertility magic to spice up an orgy. He fully intends to con his employer by doing a bogus ritual with the added bonus of gaining blackmail material on the rich participants. His secret "magical chant" is the list of ingredients off a packet of muesli. The ritual still manages to summon spirits called the Mendw that possess the participants and wreck havoc.
  • The Sandman (1989): Dream is trapped in an inescapable magic circle for seventy years before his captor's son (now in a wheelchair) accidentally runs over part of the circle, ending the spell.
  • In the Infinity War storyline, the Magus got his hands on the Infinity Gauntlet and all the Infinity Gems, becoming a dark god. Unfortunately for him, the Reality Gem was a forgery, making him beatable (though with much difficulty, of course.)
  • Spider-Man: During the Grim Hunt storyline, Sergei Kravinoff, aka Kraven the Hunter, who was Driven to Suicide in the storyline "Kraven's Last Hunt," is resurrected by his wife Sasha in a Blood Magic ritual using the blood of Spider-Man. Later, it's discovered that they actually killed and sacrificed Kaine, an Anti-Hero clone of Peter, and as a result, he has been granted a corrupted "unlife". It's compounded by the fact that Kraven didn't even want to come back from the dead in the first place.
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    Fan Works 
  • In A Brighter Dark, Nyx warns Corrin that dark magic can be extremely powerful, but always runs the risk of backfiring if the user is not extremely careful. Later, Odin performs a ritual intended to put a rebel army to sleep. However, he miscalculates the amount of ingredients he needed, resulting in the entire town being afflicted with a Mystical Plague that leaves the victims dying in agony.
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: As seen "Backfire - Part 2", a spell that uses both fuel and ritual preparation before hand, performed without the ritual preparation, results in a weaker result:
    It looked vastly less impressive than the Lesser Aspect she had defeated, probably due to the lack of ritual.
  • In Dream On You Crazy Princess, Malicious Star performs the ritual to summon a demon named Steve—but he draws the spell circle wrong, and only summons Steve's disembodied voice as a result. Steve gets angry enough at the mistake that he banishes Malicious Star someplace very unpleasant.
  • Invoked in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, as Dumbledore and Snape have been regularly dosing Tom Riddle Sr.'s grave with every ill potion they can think of to sabotage Voldemort's planned resurrection ritual. Unfortunately for them, it's no good — Voldemort planned for this possibility, and the "easily moved headstone" (as Snape puts it when Moody figures out this possibility months faster than Dumbledore did) no longer marks the true grave.
  • Invoked in Knowledge is Power, when Sirius and Remus swap out Voldemort's father's bones for a transfigured dead squirrel, causing the resurrection ritual to turn Voldemort into a rodent monstrosity.
  • In Past Sins, an evil cult attempts to resurrect Nightmare Moon, the villain from the pilot of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. However, they are interrupted by the arrival of Princess Celestia and her army, and the unfinished ritual results in the creation of the main character of the story — Nyx, a small filly that resembles Nightmare Moon, but is good-natured and remembers nothing of her time as Nightmare Moon.
  • RainbowDoubleDash's Lunaverse: The non-canon story Nightmares Yet to Come, starting off as it does as an homage to Past Sins, has an evil not-a-cult performing some ritual on Trixie and Twilight Sparkle, which from the description involves some Mind Rape, ending when a very angry Princess Luna crashes it, resulting in an alicorn filly some hours later (one who looks like a smaller version of another alicorn Trixie and Twilight had run into before - long story). Evidently this wasn't anywhere near what the not-a-cult had been planning, since they're as surprised as anyone when they learn what happened.
    • Later on in the story, a flashback shows the not-a-cult doing... something undefined but undeniably sinister to another pony, only to be interrupted when the one casting the spell starts Fighting from the Inside, allowing their would-be victim to escape.
  • The Rigel Black Chronicles: The ritual to transfer all of "Rigel's" magic to Voldemort backfires violently due to incorrect ingredients; Harry isn't closely related to Tonks, and isn't a Pureblood.
  • In Trust Doesn't Rust, as well as the obvious example of Low Shoulder sacrificing Jennifer when she wasn't a virgin, Sam later tells Needy that stabbing Jennifer in the heart wouldn't have killed the demon for good but just immobilized it at best.

    Film - Animation 
  • In Hercules, in order to kill Hercules so he won't be a Spanner in the Works for Hades' Evil Plan, Pain and Panic kidnap him and give him a potion that changes him into a mortal, with Pain mentioning he has to drink all the potion to complete the transformation. It's then that two people end up disrupting the duo before Hercules can drink the last drop. As a result, even though he's mortal, Hercules still has his Super Strength, as Pain and Panic find out when they try to kill him.
  • In My Little Pony: The Movie (1986), the witches create Smooze, a giant mass of sentient, evil slime. It is supposed to be unstoppable, but Draggle and Reeka didn't bring floom (blood/sap from a triffid expy — they were too afraid to go get it) and hide the fact from their mother, Hydia. This weakens the Smooze enough for the Rainbow of Light to fight it off the first time around, allowing the heroes enough time to go on their quest to find help.
  • In Tom and Jerry And The Magic Ring, Tom's sorcerer master finds out that his spell book specifically says no substitutions for a potion he's working on, the milk from a cow in Calcutta being substituted with milk from the market.

    Film - Live Action 
  • In Army of Darkness, Ash is sent to recover the Necronomicon and is reminded by the wizard to recite the words "Klaatu Barada Nikto" when taking possession of the book. Unfortunately, Ash recites the words wrong...leading to a whole army of undead rising and attacking the castle.
  • Invoked toward the end of Cabin In The Woods, in which a particular ritual must adhere to strict horror movie tropes, specifically that "the Virgin" must either survive or die last. The intended victim points out that she isn't a virgin, but is dismissed by the operators that she is "close enough."
    • Played straight with Marty, the designated Fool, actually surviving his supposed offscreen death, meaning that not only did the part of the ritual celebrating his death occur at the wrong time, he could actually outlive the Final Girl, completely bucking the already flimsy premise. The failure to adhere to the ritual causes the destruction of the earth.
  • Cast a Deadly Spell: the plans of a sorcerer to sacrifice his virgin daughter to summon Cthulhu go awry when she and a pretty-boy policeman (which had appeared on various scenes earlier on the background) have sex off-screen... the result being that the sorcerer is Eaten Alive by a ''pissed-off' Cthulhu.
  • Four Rooms: Played for Laughs in the "Missing Ingredient" segment. One of the hotel's guests, a coven of witches, performs ritual to reverse a spell cast on their Goddess. The ingredients necessary for this process are sea salt, spring water, ginger, raw meat, and semen. The only problem is, the witch that was supposed to bring the final ingredient accidentally swallowed it during fellatio; in a panic, the witches decide that the only way they can fix this is by screwing the bellhop, Ted (played by Tim Roth), and using his essence. Ted's reaction to discovering this (since, as the bellhop, he's not supposed to have sex with the clientele) is a sight to behold.
  • Fox Legend has a ritual to awaken the Sky Demon which involves the Wei family seal, and the heart of the last member of the Wei family. The heart is substituted, though.
  • In Hudson Hawk, Eddie is forced to assemble the crystal to power Da Vinci's gold machine by the Mayflowers. However, unknown to them, he palms one piece. The result is...explosive.
  • Another "sacrifice is not a virgin" example: in Jennifer's Body, the rockers sacrifice Jennifer thinking she's a virgin, but since she's not, a succubus takes over her body.
  • The Monster Squad: yet another example of a virgin being important to the spell (and her not only not being a virgin, but not understanding how losing virginity works and thus not mentioning that she did because nobody asked her until the crucial moment). As a twist, it's the good guys trying to use a spell (to banish all of the monsters to Limbo) and they need to race to find a substitute (and when the five-year-old sister of one of the characters is the only virgin around, they have to guide her through saying the incantation).
  • In the German comedy film Die Nacht der Lebenden Loser (Night of the Living Losers), a trio of wannabe satanists try to summon the power of some kind of evil spirit... Unfortunately, they lack the proper ingredients and have to make do with what's available to suburban teenagers: A slightly bloody band-aid instead of proper human blood, a full ashtray instead of a dead murderer's ashes, and a frozen chicken from the supermarket instead of a black rooster. The spell works anyway, although not as intended.
  • This is essentially what happens in the "black kryptonite" subplot in Superman III. Gus's computer analysis can't identify one of kryptonite's various components — so, inspired by the warnings on a pack of smokes, he substitutes cigarette "tar". Gus then cooks up a batch. The resulting chunk of not-quite-kryptonite seems to have no effect at first, but soon turns Superman against himself.
  • Immediately after the events of Weekend at Bernie's, some of the titular corpse's criminal allies realize that they killed him before actually learning the location of the money he embezzled at the beginning of the movie. In desperation, they contract a voodoo priestess to re-animate Bernie and locate the money. For some reason, she then mind-jobs two stupid crooks into traveling to New York to do so. Those two idiots then enact the trope, losing the chicken they hauled all the way from the Virgin Islands and substituting a locally-caught pigeon. As a result, the re-animated Bernie can only walk towards the treasure when there's music playing.
  • In the climax of Willow, Bavmorda botches her own ritual by foolishly slamming her fist on the altar in frustration, spilling her cauldron and receiving the fate she intended to inflict upon Elora Danan.

    Literature 
  • In Anansi Boys, a ritual to communicate with Spider/Anansi is performed twice, and both times the characters involved lack the proper ingredients for it and have to substitute whatever they have on hand (e.g. penguin-shaped candles instead of black ones). It still works both times, however, and Charlie theorizes that it's because the intent behind the ritual is more important than the physical ingredients.
  • The fifth Artemis Fowl book finds the protagonists in deep trouble on an island that is becoming Unstuck in Time and rapidly disintegrating. To save the island and everyone on it, they need to complete a ritual that was meant for seven demon warlocks. They pull it off, though not flawlessly, with two warlocks (an elderly master and a rookie), an elfin police officer, a non-warlock demon, and a human, Artemis himself — the latter two of whom managed to steal magic during a previous escapade.
  • In The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, it ends up taking three tries over three books for Blaine and his friends to pull off the ritual to re-bind the world's magic, due to not knowing all the steps needed. The first time, Blaine takes one of the amulets to try to do it himself and just sets off a small explosion. The second time, Blaine does it by himself again with a partial form of the ritual, resulting in becoming the only anchor for magic, a state that will kill him if left uncorrected. They do it properly on the third attempt, spreading the anchoring across himself and twelve of his allies.
  • In the Cthulhu Mythos, the stars basically determine whether an Eldritch Abomination is awake or sleeping, and actually would screw up any summoning ritual.
  • Discworld:
    • Subverted, as usual. Wizard magic is often done with an elaborate ritual, but most of that is just for looks. Mort provides the example of the Rite of Ashk'Ente, which only needs one wizard, three bits of wood, and a fresh egg. If you haven't got a fresh egg, a mouse will do. But wizards generally feel that if they don't have eight archmages chanting at the corners of an octagram filled with occult paraphernalia, you aren't doing it properly. Witches are more practical; they're not above doing something impressive for headological purposes, but when nobody's watching, they will take whatever shortcuts are available.
    • Inverted in Guards! Guards!: the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night are trying to summon a dragon, and the cult leader orders the brethren to find magical objects to sacrifice. They come up with really low-grade magical junk, like a still-fizzing letter from a bar and an amulet the Snake Oil Salesman swore was magical. It works, but the summoned dragon only lasts for a few seconds before vanishing.
  • Russ Martin's novel The Education of Jennifer Parrish. A coed is chosen to be the victim of a Satanic cult ritual in which her mind will be switched with the mind of one of the cult's leaders so the leader can gain a young body. The ritual proceeds, but ultimately fails because the coed isn't a virgin, causing the death of the cult leader.
  • Played for Laughs in Hilda and the Mad Scientist. Dr. Weinerstein decides to make a monster to scare Hilda out of the house. Unfortunately, while he's getting the monster-making machine, Hilda finds his secret lab. Mistaking the ingredients for spoiled food, she replaces all of them with the items she thinks they are. This results in the monster being made as a near-perfect replica of Hilda, which promptly takes up the caretaking job.
  • In The Misenchanted Sword, the eponymous sword was not made an Evil Weapon out of malice, but because the wizard was in a hurry and mistook a brass ring for gold.
  • In "Naturally" by Frederic Brown, a student whose entire college career hinges upon one geometry test realizes he'll never be able to pass it without summoning a demon to aid him. Too bad he doesn't know the difference between a pentagram and a hexagram.
  • Sword of Truth: The Box of Orden, according to the Book of Counted Shadows. Supposedly, one box can destroy the world, one can destroy the opener of the box, and one lets the user remake the world as they see fit. Two different wizards try to open the box using guidelines from the books. The first, after heavy research is sure he picked correctly, only to die. The second, after finding several false copies of the Book, opens the book according to the words of a Confessor, since all copies agree that only the Confessor can give the validity of the copy of the Book of Counted Shadows. However, she also dies. The Boxes of Orden predate Confessors, so this entire idea is nonsense, and there is no correct Book of Counted Shadows. It turns out that actually having a Seeker know how to use the negative and positive sides of his sword are actually the key to the boxes.
  • Invoked at the climax of When Darkness Falls. The Demons' ritual to free their god from imprisonment requires an unwilling human sacrifice. Idalia spoils it by casting a spell to have her change places with the sacrifice (her father) at the last second and dying willingly.

    Live Action TV 
  • Angel: In "Guise Will Be Guise", a man tries to sacrifice his virgin daughter to a demon on his 50th birthday in exchange for great power, but it turns out his daughter isn't a virgin, so the demon just leaves.
  • In Are You Afraid of the Dark? "The Tale of the Quicksilver", the opening of the episode features a girl trying to exorcise an evil spirit from her house by sealing it in a crystal. Unfortunately, the ritual she uses fails, leaving her trapped with the evil spirit and starting a fire in her room that kills her. She becomes a ghost (the titular Quicksilver) that tries to help the protagonist and his little brother who moved into her old house (since the evil spirit is still there and is now targeting the little brother) by showing them the ritual and warning them that she somehow messed it up. The ritual requires a piece of silver to keep the evil spirit powerless, and she tried to use silverware (a spoon). The protagonist tries the same thing in the climax, but realizes just in time that the spoon is made of steel (which is why the ritual failed) and substitutes it with his silver necklace. This time the ritual works and the spirit is sealed, which allows the ghost girl to pass on peacefully.
  • Babylon 5: in the episode "By Any Means Necessary", Londo buys the last rare G'Quan Eth plant for sale on Babylon 5 before G'Kar can. G'Kar needs it for an important religious ceremony that must be held annually when the Narn sun falls directly behind a certain mountain on the Narn homeworld. Londo eventually lets G'Kar have the plant (after using it for recreational drug purposes), supposedly too late for the ceremony — but Sinclair convinces G'Kar that since his home sun's light continues to travel through space, and Babylon 5 lay almost exactly 10 Narn light-years from Narn, that the light that hit the mountain in the proper position 10 years ago would be the same light that would just now be hitting Babylon 5, so the ceremony could still theoretically go on at the station.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "The Witch" has Willow using the eye of a frog dissected in science class in a potion that calls for eye of newt. Apparently "eye of amphibian" was good enough, because it works just fine.
  • In Doctor Who "The Armageddon Factor," the last serial in the "Key to Time" Story Arc, the Fourth Doctor and Romana I have five of the six pieces of the eponymous key and make a makeshift sixth piece since they know what its shape is. It works, but not well.
    • This decision comes back to bite the Doctor in the Key 2 Time audio trilogy. During these audios, the Fifth Doctor is called upon to reassemble the six segments of the Key, as they have begun to decay and damage reality around them. This is explained to the Doctor as the result of him using a fake sixth segment to assemble the key, with the result that the balance between the segments was disrupted, requiring him to bring the segments together so that the Key can be destroyed before the damage to reality becomes irreparable.
    • The official-ish book The Doctor: His Lives and Times takes it further, suggesting that even before reality started to fray, the imperfect ritual increased universal entropy, leading to the events of "Logopolis". The Fourth Doctor's shortcut is, indirectly, what killed him.
  • The Sabbath, the event which started the events of Kamen Rider Wizard by giving the titular character his powers and turning a large number of people into Phantoms, is eventually revealed to have been one of these. The ritual's actual intent was to harvest the mana from a large number of humans to charge the Philosopher's Stone, with the Phantoms being a side effect. The ritual's conductor figures out that he needs four other wizards to serve as anchors to stabilize it, with most of the show being his scheme to gather them.
  • Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode "The Youth Killer". Helen of Troy (yes, the one from Greek Mythology) has retained her youth down to the present day through the Human Sacrifice of perfect physical specimens to the goddess Hecate. Kolchak points out to Hecate that one of Helen's recent sacrifices had a glass eye, causing Hecate to curse her by being Taken for Granite.
  • In Monsters epsiode "The Demons", a chain of these occurs with a demon summoning ritual and a substituted ingredient. First, an alien wizard summons a demon and demands it give him a vast amount of gold, unaware he actually summoned an insurance salesman. Second, the salesman summons his own demon to get the required gold, unaware he actually summoned an insurance salesman from a different reality. Third, the second salesman summons a demon and imprisons it, unaware he actually summoned the alien wizard.
  • On Supernatural, spells and rituals usually require exact components and execution, and improvising can be dangerous. In one instance, a hunter followed instructions and repeatedly stabbed a rare monster with a special mystical dagger, but was wrong about how many times he had to stab it. The monster revived, but luckily Bobby discovered that putting it through a wood chipper negates the need for an elaborate killing ritual. In another instance, Sam and Dean are going against two powerful witches. They try to use a spell against the witches, but it requires chicken feet. All they can get on short notice are frozen chicken feet. In the end, it is left ambiguous whether the substitution broke the spell or whether the witches were just too powerful to be harmed by it.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • While modern religions emphasize orthodoxy ("right" "beliefs"), some, particularly Islam, Shinto, ancient Egyptian religion, and some branches of Neopaganism are an orthopraxy ("right" "action") meaning one can be very devoted and yet saying one word too fast or slow will cause things to fail outright, or even offend whatever deity or deities are involved.
  • Classical Mythology uses this to explain why Achilles has his, well, Achilles' Heel. Specifically, his mother was holding the infant Achilles by the heel during a ritual to make him invulnerable. Depending on the Writer, she was just about to expose his heel to the Applied Phlebotinum when her husband assumed she was trying to kill the baby and interrupted her. A similar mishap occurs in another myth when Demeter left Olympus and became a nanny (It Makes Sense in Context). She tries applying the same Phlebotinum to the kid she's taking care of, but the kid's mom stops her out of fear for the child's safety.
  • In Norse Mythology, this is why Thor wears a glove when wielding his hammer. Loki sabotaged the smithing process by briefly interrupting the dwarf who was working the bellows, so the finished product ended up with a shorter handle than the dwarves had planned. Given that the hammer is also a Bolt of Divine Retribution, Thor needs that glove because the handle is too short for him to place his hands at a safe distance from the head.
  • In the Bible Aaron's sons offered "unauthorized fire" resulting in their deaths.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Age of Aquarius, the game mechanics allow you to try this at your own risk, with a penalty called magic dysharmony. Some components of rituals are essential and can't be swapped, however.
  • DC Heroes. A character with the Occultist skill can perform Ritual Magic, which requires specific Necessary Components to be performed properly. If an Occultist tries to perform a ritual without all of the Necessary Components, the chance to succeed in the ritual is penalized for each missing component. If the Occultist makes their success roll, then the ritual works anyway.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • In D&D, improperly marking part of a summoning diagram allowed any creature summoned by that diagram to attack its summoner. An old piece of Dragon magazine art had a demon holding a magic-user in a Neck Lift over the diagram used to summon it. The demon is pointing to the diagram and saying "Missed a spot."
    • Dragon magazine #147 article "Variety, the Spice of Magic". This article explains what happens when a spellcaster uses an incorrect material component to cast a spell. Effects include halving the range, area of effect, or duration of the spell or increasing the target's saving throw (chance to reduce or negate the spell).
    • The 3.5th Edition Tome of Magic explains that the half-fiendish lich Acererak, the one who built the Tomb of Horrors, planned to use a ritual to merge with the Negative Energy Plane to attain godlike powers and the ability to control any undead on any plane. Unfortunately, Acererak's command of the dark arts attracted mortals who began to worship him, and then adventurers managed to disrupt his ritual at the last moment. Normally, Acererak's soul would have been consigned to the Abyss, but his followers' worship had given him some measure of divinity, and his soul had a stronger connection to the Negative Energy Plane, which isn't a proper afterlife. With nowhere for his soul to go, Acererak became a vestige, an entity beyond the normal definitions of life and death.
    • Another vestige from the Tome of Magic is Zagan, what remains of a lord from an ancient yuan-ti empire. He aspired for godhood, and with his servants came up with a ritual that would allow him to ascend. At the designated time, he gathered thousands of slaves and basked in their worship, feeling it empower him. Then he ordered his warriors to begin slaying those slaves, and felt things start to go wrong - each death weakened him. Before he could stop the slaughter, he was backstabbed by a cleric of the World Serpent, who had set up the whole ritual just to deny Zagan his ascension. Since he died somewhere between mortal and divinity, Zagan was left a vestige.
    • In the 5th edition adventure The Rise of Tiamat, the Cult of the Dragon is trying to summon Tiamat into the physical world. If their ritual goes off without a hitch, the players will find themselves facing an unstoppable monster of a foe that can probably wipe out the entire party in a single round. Fortunately, the players can sabotage the ritual in various ways, with each successful bit of sabotage cumulatively weakening Tiamat.
    • The lich Vecna devised a ritual by which he could reach godhood. In the middle of the ritual, however, his traitorous lieutenant Kas betrayed and attempted to murder him. The ritual still succeeded, with Vecna becoming a god, but he lost an eye and his left hand in the fighting, and because that happened during the ritual, he seems completely unable to regenerate them, even with his divine power.
  • The summoning of Fusion monsters in Yu-Gi-Oh! almost always requires sacrificing two or more Fusion Material monsters and a spell card to achieve the desired result. There are ways around this, such as Instant Fusion, but with major drawbacks — monsters summoned in this way are referred to as ghosts and cannot attack and are destroyed shortly after being summoned.

    Theater 

    Video Games 
  • In Castlevania, causing this is usually the goal of the resident Belmont, in order to prevent Dracula resurrecting at full power. Juste in particular pulled it off in Harmony of Dissonance, as he only fought a Dracula Wraith rather than the real deal.
  • In DC Universe Online, this is one of the possible outcomes of Circe and Giganta's ritual to swap the latter's mind with Wonder Girl. In the hero version of the instance, the ritual goes off without a hitch, resulting in Giganta obtaining Wonder Girl's body and Amazonian powers in addition to her own Sizeshifter powers. If you're playing as a villain, however, Giganta gets greedy and improperly modifies the ritual to give her even more power, resulting in it backfiring and Wonder Girl obtaining Giganta's powers instead.
  • Deponia has these too. One example is brewing a Gargle Blaster to wake Goal.
  • Devil May Cry 2: Subverted. Dante attempts to sabotage the ritual to summon the demon king Argosax by replacing the Arcana Medaglia with an ordinary coin, but the spell still creates a portal to the Demon World anyway.
  • In Destiny, it is mentioned that the Hive require very precise conditions for their rituals to succeed. In the Prison of Elders, a coven of wizards called the Worm Keepers tried to summon an ogre named Gulrot Unclean, but due to the summoning ritual being flawed, as it was summoned from outside of the Summoning Pits, the creature is covered in boils and constantly pukes bile in the prison.
  • In Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories, to summon "the strongest demon", Adell needs the fingernail of an Overlord. He asks Etna (who previously slaughtered him and his party in a Hopeless Boss Fight) for one of hers. She gives him a fake nail, because she's a demon and therefore a Jerkass. As a result, the ritual summons Etna herself, reduced to level 1.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • Morrowind: The end of the main quest has you do this intentionally in order to fool and defeat the Big Bad. Specifically, you bring three tools necessary to achieve godhood to the source of said godhood. Dagoth Ur, said Big Bad, taunts you with his power, believing that you will use the tools to achieve godhood. However, you do not perform that particular ritual, and instead strike the heart in a different fashion in order to unbind it, severing Dagoth Ur's ties to it and thus, his godhood.
    • Oblivion: In one questline, Umbacano, a collector of Ayleid artefacts, asks you to acquire an Ayleid Crown of Nenelata that is in the possession of a rival collector; the second collector refuses to sell, but suggests that an Ayleid Crown from Lindai might be similar enough to fool Umbacano. Whichever crown you give him, Umbacano reveals that he wants to use it as a component in a ritual. If he has the Nenelata crown, the ritual will turn him into a lich, but if he has the Lindai crown, the ritual will kill him.
    • In Skyrim, a mage at the College of Winterhold tries to duplicate the ritual that caused the Dwemer to collectively disappear, either by ascending to a higher plane of existence or being slain by the gods for their blasphemy, depending who you ask. Luckily for humanity, his substituting a modified soul gem for the Heart of Lorkhannote  means the ritual only makes him vanish. Afterwards you gain the ability to summon a ghostly, groaning version of the mage to fight for you.
  • In Final Fantasy Legend II, Apollo assembles the MAGI to become all-powerful, but doesn't realize that he is missing one of them. Because of this, his One-Winged Angel form is flawed and the heroes are able to defeat him.
  • Fire Emblem Awakening: The Big Bad needs the titular Fire Emblem for a resurrection ritual. In the game's climax, the Player Character manages to swap out some of the Fire Emblem's jewels with fakes, rendering it useless. Unfortunately, the Hierophant jumps in to use their power to complete the Awakening ritual anyway, Out-Gambitting the player avatar.
  • In Fire Emblem: Three Houses's "Cindered Shadows" expansion, Aelfric's attempt to resurrect Byleth's mother Sitri is interrupted before he can get enough blood from the Ashen Wolves, so he uses his own blood to finish the ritual. Unfortunately for him, this results in the Chalice of Beginnings consuming both him and Sitri's corpse and turning them into an Umbral Beast, which Byleth has to kill.
  • Heretic II: The cause of the entire mess. A ritual was done to transform an entire race into immortal physical gods (as opposed to practically immortal physical near-gods, which they already were). Unfortunately, the ritualmaster found out that one of the seven required Tomes of Power were missing (having been taken off-world by the protagonist of the game back in the first Heretic) and tried to substitute a duplicate, to... unfortunate result. The final boss, said ritualmaster driven insane by the flawed ritual, is defeated and the plague cured by doing the ritual properly.
  • The plot of Kirby Star Allies is kick-started by one of these. Hyness, leader of an Apocalypse Cult, is trying to resurrect his dark god, but the ritual is botched and spreads fragments of the Jamba Heart across the universe. When Kirby and his friends catch up to him, it turns out he still doesn't have enough fragments to complete the Heart, thus he decides to sacrifice himself and his Mage Generals to finally complete the ritual and unleash his god Void Termina onto the universe.
  • Lee Sin of League of Legends (pre-Continuity Reboot) was once a talented aspiring Summoner before an unspecified flaw in a summoning ritual went awry. The resultant backlash killed not only his intended summoning target, but the entire village surrounding it. The destruction was so catastrophic, he swore never to use magic again.
    • In the modern lore, the ancient Shurimans knew of a ritual that could cause mortals to Ascend into immortal, godlike beings with animal features. There are two known cases where the ritual was effective despite the circumstances being changed:
      • Renekton chose to carry his (by that point incredibly frail) brother Nasus up the dais for his Ascension. In doing so, both he and his brother Ascended.
      • Later, the Shuriman king Azir chose to attempt Ascension at the advice of his slave, adviser, and presumed friend Xerath, who at that point had given up hope that Azir would ever keep his promise to free him. Xerath, having seen from Renekton's case that the intended recipient of the ritual need not be the one to gain the Ascended's power, intended to push Azir aside and usurp the ritual. When Azir revealed at the dais that he intended from the beginning to consolidate power before abolishing slavery across the entire empire, acknowledging Xerath as his chosen brother after all that time, it was far too late for Xerath to change his plans—he indeed cast Azir aside and usurped the ritual, taking so much power from it that he became a full-fledged Energy Being. (Azir *did* eventually complete his Ascension millennia later, though, after his shade was revived by the blood of his distant descendant Sivir.)
    • Also from the modern lore (though it had antecedents in the old lore): a king named Viego sought out the healing waters of an island first to heal, then to resurrect his love Isolde after she took a poison meant for him. His attempt to bring her back (despite the protests of the local monks that the waters were not meant to bring back the dead) worked, but in rage at being called back from beyond the veil, Isolde stabbed him in the heart with his own blade. The result was the Ruination, corrupting the Blessed Isles into the undead Shadow Isles—and now Viego haunts the isles as their Ruined King.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Oracle Games: The witch sisters Twinrova are preparing a ritual that will resurrect Ganon, by sacrificing Princess Zelda, but Link interrupts the ritual. They are forced to sacrifice themselves in order to finish the ritual, which creates a mindless, raging Ganon that Link is able to defeat.
  • In each game in the Monkey Island series, Guybrush has to construct a Voodoo spell using items he finds that are similar to the ingredients listed for the spell. This may result in the spell having unfortunate side-effects or a limited range. Often, he has to do it again at the end of the game with yet another set of found items. Details:
    • The first game has the recipe for the map to the titular Monkey Island.
    • The second one has two instances of Voodoo doll manufacturing.
    • The third one has a hangover cure, twice.
    • The fourth one has the ultimate insult, twice.
    • Tales of Monkey Island opens with a spectacular failure due to a last-minute substitution and continues with a quest to empower a magical sponge. The latter is repeated, but inverted.
  • Oracle of Tao: Yazim Jianne, the party wizard, meets a mermaid(like) girl chanting random phrases in eldritch speak. Before she finishes, he just tells her why it won't work anyway.
  • Runescape: In the ritual for the god Zaros to regain physical form, you can choose to fuel it with Light divine energy that conflicts with his aspect of Darkness. He accepts it because he has no other choice, but it leaves a gaping chest wound in his new form, and both he and the game warn the player that weakening him could have long-term consequences for the world.
  • Sacred: Shaddar attempts to summon a sakkara demon and bring it under his control, but one of his minions messes up while drawing the pentagram on the floor. As a result, the ritual summons a sakkara which is obviously not under Shaddar's control, and rather annoyed at being removed from its natural habitat...
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne: At one point, you meet a Baphomet who is preparing a ritual to summon the demon Mara, and a pair of manekins who are pestering him to hurry up. If you side with the manekins, he'll do a quickened version of the summoning ritual, causing Mara to take the form of a Blob Monster instead of his true form.
  • Sonic and the Secret Rings: Erazor Djinn's ultimate plan to get control of the seven World Rings involved sacrificing Sonic, who he had coerced into collecting the rings using a life-draining curse, as he can't use their true power as long as their collector is alive. When Shahra takes the bullet for Sonic, Erazor decides to settle for Shahra's sacrifice instead. This bites him in the ass; not only does he become a deformed Eldritch Abomination without full mastery of the Rings, but a rip-roaringly pissed Sonic steals three of the Rings from him, using them to power up and rip Erazor a new one.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: Chapter 1 of the Sith Inquisitor story has the PC running around the galaxy collecting Sith artifacts needed for a Sith sorcery ritual their master Darth Zash wants to perform. The ritual turns out to be a Grand Theft Me aimed at the Inquisitor, but their companion Khem Val attacks Zash at the last minute, causing Zash to end up sharing his body instead.
  • The final boss of Super Robot Wars Z 3 intended to acquire all twelve Spheres to achieve godhood, but since four of them are used by the protagonists to power their giant robots, he has to use four of his immortal allies as substitutes. He was planning to get those allies out of the picture anyway, and the results appear to be roughly as good for smashing the heroes, but one of the substitutes is suicidal and Advent's new godly shell is essentially a wish-granting machine...
  • In Tomb Raider III: The Lost Artifact, it's revealed that the Big Bad's plan in Tomb Raider III was this. Dr. Willard used the four artifacts he duped Lara into collecting to turn himself into a spider-like creature, but there was a fifth artifact he didn't know about. If he had the titular Lost Artifact, he would have ascended to become a higher being.
  • In Ultima VII Part II: Serpent Isle, Batlin, the villain from Ultima VII: The Black Gate, is trying to use ancient Ophidian artifacts to ascend to godhood. Unfortunately he didn't bother to study the Ophidians' culture, which revolved around the opposed philosophies of Order and Chaos finding Balance - until Order defeated Chaos in a war and the civilization collapsed from the resulting Imbalance. So Batlin tries to use a magic staff devoted to Chaos to open a portal set up by the forces of Order, which ends poorly for him, and everyone else in Serpent Isle.
  • World of Warcraft: In the penultimate chapter of the Necrolord Covenant campaign in Shadowlands, the player disguises themself as a skeletal mage to sabotage Kel'Thuzad's plan to summon Mawsworn forces to Maldraxxus. The ritual is successfully disrupted, but the player's disguise ends up being removed and they're subsequently imprisoned.
  • Yes, Your Grace: This can happen during the ritual near the end of the game, due to anything from missing ingredients to incorrectly repeated chants. It results in two desired outcomes of the properly performed ritual becoming mutually exclusive, forcing the Player Character to choose between having a heir and having his wife live.

    Web Animation 
  • In Turnabout Storm, in order to help Rainbow Dash who has been accused of murder, Twilight tries to cast a spell to call upon the Greatest Defense Attorney In Equestria. Unfortunately, she left out the 'Equestria' part and ended up summoning the Greatest Defense Attorney... period.

    Web Comics 
  • In BIBLE, some evil cultists use an old summoning circle to summon the Great Sin Wrath. However, this circle was damaged, causing several cultists to be disintegrated by the ritual's power and later making it easy for Balthazar's angel troops to destroy the circle.
  • Exterminatus Now: Silas Morth is attempting to summon Kevin, a daemon of the Patterner, using a magical symbol. Virus sabotages the symbol, trying to prevent a daemon from being summoned, but screws up and causes Morth to summon a Cerberus (a daemon of the Hound) instead.
  • Full Frontal Nerdity: Lewis tries summoning a demon, using beef broth mixed with red food coloring instead of blood and spraypainted candles because he didn't have any black ones.
  • Nobody Scores!: After an unsuccessful Hallmark Holiday, Sara and Jane vow to purge this vale of tears with fire. Fortunately for the world, this trope applies.
  • In the B-plot of Those Destined, two of the setting's goddesses learn of the villains collecting the Plot Coupons, but are bound by an oath not to prevent mortals from performing the associated ritual. Realizing some of the plot coupons were hidden too well, they fear the villains may give up on finding them, but not on attempting the ritual... Faced with the possible results of an incomplete ritual, they decide to give the missing relics to the villains, a lesser evil than either breaking their oath (which could lead to other oaths being broken) or letting the ritual be done wrong.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventures of the Gummi Bears:
    • In the episode "Let Sleeping Giants Lie", Cubbi and Sunni are chosen to throw a traditional sack into a cave. On the way, they end up losing the sack in a crevice, so Sunni substitutes it for snow in a scarf. However, it turns out that the sacks contained a sleeping potion to keep a giant the ancient Gummis had defeated asleep every year, and without its annual dose, the giant awoke. Oops.
    • Throughout the series, the recipe for Gummi Berry juice has been shown to be very delicate, and the ingredients need to be precisely right in order for it to work correctly, otherwise the effects are completely random at best or the juice is explosively unstable at worst. Grammi tends to invoke this whenever Igthorn tries to get the recipe from her, such as one time when the juice caused him and his ogres to inflate like balloons.
      Igthron: (Floating off the ground) What's happening?!
      Grammi: What always happens when you leave out the purple berries!
  • In one episode of Aladdin: The Series, Mozenrath, with his body's time running out due to his gauntlet's magic, decided to swap bodies with Aladdin. However, Aladdin's friends arrived and disrupted the process, and as a result, Aladdin was stuck with Mozenrath's spirit inside his body.
  • The backstory for Count Duckula is that the ritual to revive him was done with ketchup instead of blood, making him a Vegetarian Vampire.
  • Darkwing Duck:
    • In "Night of the Living Spud", Bushroot tried to grow himself a plant bride, but unfotunately, his pet flytrap Spike accidentally broke the posy blossom and substituted it with potato starch, which resulted in Bushroot's bride being a vampiric potato.
    • In "You Sweat Your Life", John Goodbody, a villainous 122 year-old Immortality Seeker, was creating a Fountain of Youth elixir, with the final ingredient needed being the feather of a hero, with him deciding to get one of Darkwing's. Unfortunately, his henchmen, Flex and Slim, didn't know what Darkwing's civilian identity was and assumed it was Herb Muddlefootnote , leading them to take one of his feathers. Because of this, when Goodbody drunk his elixir after adding the feather, he ended up looking like Herb.
      Goodbody: Aah, I feel like...(Confused) I feel like bowling.
  • In one episode of Dexter's Laboratory, Dexter attempts to use a crystalized fossil in order to reanimate a dinosaur, only to discover it is missing two vital organs: the brain and the heart, so he uses DNA from the family dog in the process. This results in the dinosaur behaving like a dog.
  • In the five-part G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero story "Arise, Serpentor, Arise", Dr. Mindbender plans to replace the incompetent Cobra Commander by creating an ideal leader, the eponymous Serpentor, through gene splicing. To that end, he collects DNA from the tombs of some of the most notorious rulers and conquerors in history. However, when his plan to gain the DNA of Sun Tzu, an important part of the formula (the legendary general's strategic genius necessary to prevent having a leader who'd be worse than Cobra Commander) failed, he later tried to replace it with Sergeant Slaughter's DNA, but holding Slaughter hostage to do so enabled him to interrupt the experiment and destroy his own sample. When Serpentor awoke, he proved to be barely better than Cobra Commander was, and in many ways, far more careless and reckless.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures:
    • In the season 2 episode, "Armor of the Gods", Jade, whilst astrally projecting into a sleeping Uncle's dreams, is told the key to defeating the current demon is a tulip wrapped in "the hair of you", which Jade interprets as meaning some of her hair. When the spell doesn't work, a now awake Uncle explains that he meant "hair of ewe" (a female sheep). Fortunately, a thread from Uncle's sweater does the trick.
    • In "Shrink Rap", Jackie and Hak Foo get shrunk down to tiny size as a result of Jade attempting to make Hak Foo vanish with a disappearing spell. Unaware they had actually been shrunk, Uncle and the others keep casting spells to try to bring Jackie back unsuccessfully until he realizes that the spell book had two pages stuck together and Jade had inadverently used half of one spell and half of another.
    • In the first half of the Grand Finale Tohru whips up a potion to prevent Drago from absorbing the demon powers of his aunts and uncles, but the last ingredient must be a piece of Drago himself. Jade substitutes a piece of Drago's father Shendu instead. But we never get to see if it works, because Drago manages to go One-Winged Angel too quickly.
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998) with both examples played for drama and horror:
    • In "Twisted Sister", the girls perform an imperfect ritual when they try to create more Powerpuffs to lighten their workload. Instead of using sugar, spice, and everything nice, they use artificial sweetener, twigs, and random stuff that they like. The result is a giant-sized, mentally handicapped Powerpuff Girl Bunny, who later explodes because she's unstable.
    • In "Knock It Off", one-shot villain Professor Dick Harvey learns the formula used to make the girls and starts mass producing Powerpuff Girls in order to sell around the world. In order to increase his profit margin, he cuts down on the sugar used, resulting in the copies looking horribly disfigured and eventually falling apart. This didn't bother Dick, however, as it just meant his customers had to keep on buying.
  • The Real Ghostbusters: In the episode "Poultrygeist", Egon had become a werechicken after being bitten by said specter. While the moon was blocked by clouds, the Ghostbusters worked to make the potion needed to cure him. Unfortunately, the last ingredient required was chicken bane and there wasn't any in their kitchen. Unable to get a hold of any before the moon came back out, Egon was forced to take the potion without the chicken bane. As a result, only his head and mind stayed human while his body was still a chicken.
  • In one episode of The Smurfs, Gargamel planned to create a giant to destroy the Smurfs. However, one of the main ingredients needed for his spell, chum cherries, could not be found in the part of the world where Gargamel and the Smurfs live, so Gargamel uses smurf berries as a substitute. The spell works and he brings the giant to life. However, because of the smurf berries used in the ritual, the giant is kind and friendly and has a love for smurf berry pies.
  • In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) cartoon, Shredder is creating an incantation to access Dimension X using magic, as opposed to the usual dimensional transport tech that he and Krang have access to. However, the ritual has to be performed exactly as transcribed or there will be terrible, unmentioned consequences. Shredder manages to stay one step ahead of his foes, and almost completes the ritual; however, at the very last word of the ritual, Splinter bursts in and yells "STOP". This causes the magic portal to open to Dimension Stop as opposed to X, where an Eldritch Abomination resides. Said Eldritch Abomination tries to escape and kill everyone, good or bad, and chaos ensues.
  • In one episode of Timon & Pumbaa, when the duo are hired to rid a house of a ghost (originally a means for Timon to sleep in a nice, soft bed), Timon tries to use a spell to send the ghost to the Great Beyond. At first, it appears to have worked, until it's revealed that the owner of the house who placed the aid they answered was actually the ghost (having hired the pair so he could terrorize them and prove to himself that he was a scary ghost). When Timon wonders why his spell didn't work, the ghost informs him he should've made sure the dragon pimples he used in it were fresh.

    Real Life 
  • If you think of cooking as a 'ritual' where you put ingredients and perform specific tasks to complete it, stories abound where the aspiring chef had to substitute the ingredients. It runs the gamut from making it even better, little to no change, and absolutely inedible.
  • A Catholic priest inadvertently substituted "We" for "I" in thousands of baptisms for decades, rendering not only all of those baptisms invalid but every sacrament the incorrectly baptised parishioners received afterwards, presumably condemning thousands of people to Hell.


 
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Ashachu

When the spell intended to read a Pokemon's thoughts ends up turning Ash into a Pikachu, Lily looks back over her spell book, and finds there's another page to the spell...which has become illegible.

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