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Ritual Magic

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One of the oldest conceptions of magic is Ritual Magic, a method of casting spells based on the performance of specific words, gestures, actions and offerings at specific places and times. This magic can be available only to people with innate magical abilities, but it's possible for it to not be a question of talent, spiritual enlightenment, or a power you're born with; it may be All-Accessible Magic instead.

The ritual usually requires one of the following to cast: a somatic (physical), verbal, or material component, as well as having restrictions on time and place. These may include a Magical Gesture or dancing a Magic Dance. Ritualists may need to speak in the Language of Magic or sing Magic Music. It might require material offerings like an Eye of Newt or a Virgin Sacrifice. The ritual might only work if done in a Place of Power, or need the ritualist to draw a figure of Geometric Magic (this is especially common when using a Summoning Ritual). The ritual might need to be performed during a Total Eclipse of the Plot or When the Clock Strikes Twelve.

If the rituals can be done by someone without innate magical abilities, it's All-Accessible Magic. Beware the Imperfect Ritual, where due to carelessness or sabotage, a flaw in the process leads to an undesired result.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Delicious in Dungeon: Most spells can be cast on a whim, but more powerful, rule breaking Blood Magic resurrection requires a very complex and sinister magic circle to be drawn, a large source of flesh and blood as well as reciting incantations in an odd tongue.
  • magico has a booming ritual magic economy. And the titular ritual of magico is also a prime example.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Alchemy is the discipline of transmuting any matter into another matter, as long as the mass remains the same. It normally requires inscribing a ritual circle which bounds that specific alchemical transmutation to it. Those who use alchemy in combat usually inscribe the relevant circles on items they carry around. Those who have seen the Gate, or are holding a Philosopher's Stone, can skip the ritual, basically because they're doing it in their own heads. Its application is so old by now that most people just consider it an advanced type of science and alchemists as combined scientists, researchers, and sometimes, spec-ops and military officers.

    Comic Books 
  • The Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw: Magic is very complex. Spells can be be combined and prepared, but it takes a great amount of training to be able to master even the simplest of spells. The most difficult spells involve a lot of gesturing, incantations, and components like crystals.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 2: Prior to DC Rebirth Barbara Ann Minerva had to undergo a dark ritual involving human sacrifice each time she wanted to become the Cheetah until Circe made the transformation permanent.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • Turning Red: The red panda spirit Mei and all of her female relatives above a certain age possess can be sealed into a talisman via ritual magic.

    Film—Live Action 
  • The Uncanny: In the "Quebec province 1975" segment, Lucy casts her spells via ritual magic.

  • The Bible occasionally has a section where God (or a prophet) instructs someone to do a specific action. Examples include Moses striking the rock for waternote , and Joash shooting arrows to strike the ground to ensure defeat of Syria. note  Probably the most famous example is how the walls of Jericho were knocked down by following God's instructions to perform a complex ritual that involved marching around the walls for seven days and then shouting.
  • Young Wizards operates on Ritual Magic; there is an entire fundamental language of the universe (with many dialects) that is used to precisely describe the intended effect. Interestingly, their personal power level also plays a part in determining the scope of what they can do. However, they can also "save" and section off a part of a spell resulting in some Vancian Magic. The ritual seems to be needed mostly because you have to coax the forces you are working with to work and need to be certain not to make any errors; certain ones can thus be saved for later.
  • Le Morte D Arthur: A certain priest "conjures on a book" to force a demon to reveal secrets about a certain deceased knight.
  • A common form of magic in the works of Katherine Kurtz, such as the Deryni series, in which it has a dual purpose: to foster the deep concentration needed to use the more demanding Deryni powers, and to draw the esoteric connections of Hermetic Magic. Most of the typical traits are present in Deryni arcana:
    • Magical Gestures can be as simple as snapping one's fingers to light a candle or torch. Other gestures facilitate the drawing of geometric or esoteric figures as focal points for summoning divine/angelic beings.
    • A polyglot Language of Magic sees much use. (See the examples above.) The short story "Healer's Song" features a sung prayer normally performed at the consecration of a Healer on completion of his training; Lord Rhys Thuryn sings it to welcome his newborn Healer son to the family.
    • Rituals intended to emphasize bonds between people, such as Naming and triggering the Haldane potential, involve token sacrifices, generally burning incense and shedding a few drops of blood.
    • Some rooms become places of power from repeated ritual use, notably chapels in larger churches or in private suites/homes. A specific Place of Power is a plot point in Deryni Rising.
    • Geometric Magic most often crops up in the protective circles invoked in Warding, both to protect mages from interference during a ritual and to protect outsiders from the energies unleashed in duels. When creating a Transfer Portal, the shape delineates the area to be enchanted.
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy: The entirety of magic is based on saying the right words and using the right symbols, and, although it is draining beyond the sheer physical act, anyone can do it. This is a fact the magicians are keen for people not to pick up on, and exaggerate the risks and difficulty as well as discouraging higher education among non-magicians to make it less apparent.
  • The Elric Saga: Magic is mostly ritualistic in nature. Essentially, doing a spell means summoning a supernatural creature with the desired power through a ritual, and having it perform the task for you.
  • Cthulhu Mythos: This is the most common form of magic, and is usually implied to be in fact highly sophisticated science unrecognizable to humans.
  • Conan the Barbarian: In "Beyond the Black River", Balthus and the other captive deduce they are to be Human Sacrifices as part of Zogar's ritual. A ritual is also used to resurrect Xaltotun in The Hour of the Dragon.
  • Angelology: The nuns of St. Rose use a ritual to summon an angel in their defense when attacked by Gibborim.
  • Codex Alera: The Canim Ritualists do this. The precise mechanics by which it works are never explored (the Ritualists are a secretive bunch who aren't about to share their secrets with just anyone), but the ritual shedding of blood (their own or someone else's) is essential, and sometimes they use incantations as well.
  • Jakub Wędrowycz: Jakub uses complex rituals to perform his exorcisms. He also knows some other ones, such as the ritual that opens a gate to Hell.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Two forms of ritual magic exist. The first is a version most spellcasters can operate. It's mechanically the same as regular spellcasting, but the "ritual" part focuses the caster's mind and has better magic controls in place, so they can achieve affects that they normally couldn't achieve on the fly. Harry uses it to summon entities, and cast subtle spells particularly at range.
    • The second kind of ritual magic is achievable basically by any person who knows the ritual, wizard or not, can perform this ritual and obtain the magical result. Harry likens it to a cosmic vending machine: put in an order, and magic effects are expended. Alas, the magical power behind such rituals always comes from something unpleasant, and a ritualistic caster becomes an Unwitting Pawn of it. What's interesting is that, according to Harry, the best way to disable a particular ritual is to disseminate it widely, since only a limited amount of power can be channeled into the world. If numerous people are trying a ritual only a very small amount of power can get through per person, and too many people drawing on the same source for the same ritual means it runs out of juice and nobody can get an effect.
    • In one of the side stories there appears an organization devoted to erasing the names of these supernatural beings, and thus cutting their connection to this world. This brings them into direct conflict with the White Council on occasion, since the latter's SOP is to publicize the shit out of the names of ritual-powering-beings (the Brothers Grimm kept the organization from cutting off the Fae). The side story featured a member of the organization (Thomas) trying to stop a coven from using Harry and the Council from spreading the name of the entities they wished to contact.
    • Ordinary spells can also be performed as a ritual, within limits. The main difference between a wizard and a muggle in this setting seems to be, aside from overall more power, that a wizard can develop a sense of where magical power is and how it's moving. Casting a spell without this sense is like a blind man building a house; difficult, but possible. In Dead Beat Butters is able to create a simple protective circle by following Harry's instructions, though he has to be told that it worked. As of Skin Game, he's used practical knowhow from Bob to become a kind of proxy-wizard, creating magical devices by ritual means.
  • The Witch Watch: There is a big difference between sorcery and wizardry. Wizardry seems to be a natural ability but sorcery depends mainly on laying out the correct magic circle with the right words and well-mapped spacing
  • The Changeover: The main character undergoes this sort of magic, combined with a Vision Quest, in order to facilitate her transformation, or changeover into a witch.
  • Dread Companion: Bartare's magic requires items, words, and rituals.
  • Daughter Of Darkness: Little Willie Connolly casts spells by adapting rituals and chants based on her readings in anthropology. She believes herself to be the type with innate magic who applies it through ritual; her uncle Jonathan, also an anthropologist, is likely an ordinary man who just uses rituals he's learned (to try to stop her, and he almost succeeds).
  • Zilpha Keatley Snyder:
    • The Changeling 1970: The little girls make up their rituals on the spot. Baby Josie, who may be a Child Mage, serves as their talisman and oracle. Ivy usually takes the lead in these ceremonies, but Martha finds that she has a knack for setting up the altar.
    • The Stanley Family: In The Headless Cupid, Amanda is teaching her step-siblings the basics of ritual magic. The Stanleys are the closest thing Snyder ever created to a sitcom family, and the way the children handle her "initiation rites" doesn't always meet her "mysterious and dignified" standards... meanwhile she's repeatedly freaked out by little Blair's actual psychic ability.
  • Pact: The hint about the existence of Ritual Magic is in the series' name. Practising any form of magic is doused in rituals, conventions, rules, regs and bargains — and not just if you start out as a human practitioner of the magic arts. The rules for Others may be highly different, but there are still rules and rituals to observe. Slip up badly enough... and, if you're lucky you just wind up dead or hit the Drains (effectively, Limbo). If unlucky, Fate Worse than Death and And I Must Scream are options, thanks to the karmic hit.
  • That Hoodoo Voodoo That You Do: Ritual magic is the subject of the anthology. Each tale generally has one of the casters using magic he doesn't quite fully understand the symbolism of and dealing the subsequent consequences either cosmic or horrific.
  • Cyber Joly Drim: A Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane example, where the Internet is ruled by leveyan satanists, who apparently do rituals.
  • Eddie LaCrosse: In The Sword-Edged Blonde, Queen Rhiannon's apparent infanticide is presumed to have been an example of this. In fact, there was no infanticide and no ritual — Eddie notes quite quickly that the "runes" which were used don't have the same characteristics of real ones he's seen, and suspects that any proper cultist would think they were gibberish.
  • Children of the Black Sun: Rituals are one of the ways mages can gather magic to themselves for later use (and the ability to use such rituals distinguishes "real" mages from mere Sensitives, who have magical ability but can't gather enough raw power to actually do things). Blood-Mages are a kind of ritual user who specialise in sourcing magic from pain, and one of them tried to enslave the protagonist (who can do that naturally) as a personal power supply.
  • Shaman Blues: Shamans have to perform rituals, complete with Geometric Magic, glyphs and candles, for some of their abilities to work, although Witkacy's teacher claims that it's just Magic Feather and, after practice, those trinkets aren't necessary.
  • Dennis Wheatley's horror thrillers are based around ritual magicians of both orientations; The Devil Rides Out is about magician versus magician, backed by their respective "Higher Intelligences", getting up to things from within occult circles and performing Rites.
  • The Divine Cities: Though the word magic is never used once in the trilogy, most miracles work like rituals of varying complexity. Shara is an expert at using divine miracles and also taught Sigrud a number of them.
  • The Magician's Nephew: Jadis says of Uncle Andrew "You are a little, peddling magician who works by rules and books" as opposed to someone like herself who has magic in her blood.
  • A Wizard of Earthsea: It appears to be mixed, with some people having natural ability, but still having to study and learn many names of things in true speak in order to be able to control them.
  • Discworld: Wizard magic is ritual magic, although wizards also have some innate power that enables them to harness it properly. In theory, some wizard spells could be cast by anyone, but this is not widely known, partly because wizards keep it quiet, and partly because people who attempt it without a true magic user's ability to see what they're doing tend to end up dead. The dragon-summoning spell in Guards! Guards!, for example, is a powerful magical working that can be done by a group of random people once they get ahold of the right materials and a leader who knows what he's doing. While witches generally shape magic into the required effect by feel, some folkloric rituals count as witch magic, and the reason they don't normally work for most people is simply that the folklore version misses details (like the apple peel spell in Wyrd Sisters).
  • Warrior Cats: In A Light in the Mist, Ashfur claims to his Dark Forest allies that in order to be able to take over a living cat's body, they need to perform a ritual where they pull out three of their whiskers and then close their eyes while he buries the whiskers at the barrier blocking StarClan and the Dark Forest. To their dismay, this isn't how possession actually works, and he'd only told them that for his own amusement.
  • Split Heirs: Hydrangean magic involves long complicated incantations and gestures, which by the time of the book has made it largely useless. Clootie however learns how to make effective spells along with Wulfrith for use against the Gorgarians.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In the Buffyverse, ideally magic is done by adepts, but we've seen on at least one occasion Mooks with no magical abilities just reading it out of a book, as if it were a recipe.
    • As with most cases, The 'Verse has Ritual Magic for other stuff, such as the gypsies who cursed Angel or Willow's incantations.
  • Charmed (1998) is more rooted in the Training the Gift of Magic trope, but still plays with this one with Witch Practitioners. While this aspect is more explored in the non-canonical novels, it's not contradicted in the show itself (in fact, it's strongly hinted to be the case). Witch Practitioner have an affinity for magic, but possess no internal source of power and have to rely on the Background Magic Field. They can access it in a Place of Power and have to use rituals to do so. Even magical Witches, with an inner source of magic, need complex rituals to perform certain feats, and the Charmed Ones themselves, when they are Brought Down to Normal by travelling to the past, need to perform rituals at an altar on All Hallow's Eve to access magic. However, this is averted in the case of outright muggles: you still have to possess magic or at least affinity in order for rituals and spells to work. When Phoebe's muggle friends cast a correct incantation with the right symbols and at the right time, it does not work; it only does when they play a recording of Phoebe saying the incantation.
  • Once Upon a Time: A ritual is used to invoke the curse that sends the inhabitants of the Fairy Tale World to ors.
  • American Horror Story: Coven: It's a staple of Marie Laveau's voodoo. The witches also use it though less often.
  • Lovecraft Country: All spells shown thus far in the series require at minimum magical incantations and drawing arcane symbols. Some also require sacrifices and possibly ritual garments as well.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • 3.5 Edition at least has Sorcerers, who are gifted with Puberty Superpowers, allegedly due to having highly diluted draconic blood, and Wizards, who memorize their spells from books. It should be noted, however, that Sorcerers and Wizards have access to the same spells, even those named for a specific person (and, you would expect, were discovered by that person at some point after the dawn of magic), and that Sorcerers learn new spells as they advance in power.
    • d20 Modern and the 3.5 version of Unearthed Arcana have Incantations, a magic variant that can be used by anyone regardless of spellcasting ability, and that involves complex and sometimes dangerous rituals.
    • D&D's 4th edition distinguishes between class-specific powers, which for the more magical classes are defined as spells and can be used quickly and particularly in combat, and rituals that anyone with the right feat and appropriate skill(s) can use as long as they can pay for the components and have the time. Wizards and clerics get the requisite feat for free right from the start, allowing them full access to both their particular flavors of 'instant' and to ritual magic, and other classes can obtain the feat provided they're trained in Aracana or Religion. Even non-magical fighters can perform rituals by using a scroll.
    • Some — but not all — spellcasting classes in 5E have the ritual casting ability, along with any character who takes the Ritual Caster feat. This allows them to cast spells with the ritual tag as rituals, which takes 10 minutes longer (ensuring no in-combat use) and can't use a higher spell slot but also doesn't consume a spell slot. Ritual spells are almost-exclusively utility spells, mostly Divination spells.
    • 3rd Edition's Binders get their powers entirely from rituals that involve drawing special symbols under the right conditions to summon entities called vestiges which the binder acts as a Willing Channeler for.
  • GURPS has a well-developed set of rules to distinguish between Rituals and Spells, and the supplement GURPS Thaumatology offers a whole range of optional rules to allow settings to feature ritual magic systems. In the GURPS Alchemical Baroque setting book, ritual magic is the local magic system, along with and closely linked to local forms of Alchemy.
  • Call of Cthulhu: The majority of spells are rituals. Being Call of Cthulhu; they are extremely costly and/or dangerous to do.
  • Exalted:
    • A number of Sorceries and Necromancies operate this way. For example, summoning a demon requires a sorcerer to cast from sundown to midnight, and higher levels of demons have addition time constraints, with the most powerful demons only summonable during the five days of the new year.
    • More close is the thaumaturgy available to most everybody with enough of an "Occult" score. Some thaumaturgy is so basic that it's not even necessary to specifically learn its Arts and rituals; all that is required is a single dot of Occult and you know how to use it. Thaumaturgy is also more frequent and consistent in its need for rituals and ingredients.
  • Fabula Ultima: Rituals are a special form of magic available to the core rulebook's five spellcasting classes. Unlike regular spells, rituals take more than one action to cast during combat, and their casting time, MP cost, and difficulty level are all proportional to their intended potency and area-of-effect. The possible effects of a ritual depend on the "disciplines" available to the caster: the Arcanist, Chimerist, Elementalist, Entropist, and Spiritist can each unlock a class-specific discipline by taking a skill, and there is a generic "Ritualism" discipline available to everyone but the Arcanist. Once a ritual has been initiated, any character can help advance it toward completion, and only once it is ready does the caster spend their MP and roll to see if the ritual was a success.
  • Ars Magica includes Ritual Magic as a more powerful method of spellcasting, able to bend or break some of the Hermetic system's spell limitations. However, ritual casting takes much more time, fatigues or injures the caster, and costs rare and valuable forms of Mana.
  • New World of Darkness: All over the place.
    • Several varieties of supernaturals have rituals that allow effects not quite in line with the rest of their power set. Mages can turn any single-action spell into a ritual to build up a lot of power behind it by getting multiple rolls to accumulate successes. Mortal characters who lack a supernatural template can learn Thaumaturgy rituals and thus cast minor magics.
    • Bonus round: Werewolves use ritual magic to create artefacts, and contacting major spirits usually involve convoluted magical/social rituals that must be pulled off perfectly. Ritual magic is one way in which Prometheans can be created (and the only way they can reproduce). The vampire rite to raise a new vampire is generally also presented as this.
  • Ritual Monsters in Yu-Gi-Oh! are monsters that are summon through the use of Ritual Spell cards.
  • Invisible Sun has the Order of the Vance, vislae (magic-uses) who rely on tried and true spells to accomplish what they need; so revered are the spells that some Vance believe the spells themselves to have sentience. In addition, any vislae can use on incantations for certain guaranteed effects, regardless of which Order they chose to follow.
  • Mage: The Ascension: This is pretty much what technology is, although only a few very wise and enlightened mages see it that way (most everyone buys into their own paradigm or goes from the technocratic paradigm they'd learned before becoming a mage) — it is possible to create light by using the somatic component of flicking a switch and the material components of a switch and a light bulb in the right places, but it works for everyone only because of the sheer success the Technocracy has had in pushing its broader paradigm to the masses (including the people the Traditions recruit), and that paradigm does not see it as magic. One of the Technocracy's goals is to push more and more such 'rituals' into becoming accepted as plausible by humanity in general, so that humanity in general can benefit from them.
  • Pathfinder: Most magic can only be accessed through a magical Character Class or an enchanted item. Rare "Occult Rituals" can be learned by anyone but take hours to perform, require multiple difficult skill checks to succeed, have nasty side effects from a Magic Misfire, and often exact a heavy cost on the ritualist.
  • Res Arcana: The illustration of the Flaming Pit suggests that it's used for magical rituals — it consists of a flaming hole surrounded by a pentagram, skulls and candles. Its power lets you pay Life essences to gain Death and Elan.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Compared to ordinary magic, Rituals are rare and powerful spells that require esoteric Eye of Newt components and unique prerequisites, substantially more time, and often more participants to cast; and that have uniquely dire consequences for a Magic Misfire. It's suggested that learning and performing a Ritual be a story arc in itself.

  • In The Devil to Pay, Dorothy L. Sayers' take on the Faust legend, Mephistopheles is conjured by rituals that Sayers found in actual Renaissance grimoires.

    Video Games 
  • Bendy and the Ink Machine: Joey Drew was up to some seriously occult business in his studio, and if his insistence on "sacrificial" items for the Ink Machine doesn't sell you, the coffins and satanic pentagram hidden under the studio will.
  • Demon summoning in Shin Megami Tensei games generally require some sort of ritual. The rituals themselves aren't seen very often, because an ordinary computer or smartphone with the Demon Summoning Program can emulate the rituals.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • While the temporary summoning of undead and lesser Daedra is easily accomplished using spell effects found under the School of Conjuration, in game comments and texts suggest that the permanent summoning of these creatures (as seen in-game by Necromancers and other practitioners of The Dark Arts) requires rituals that the Player Character is not privy to. Items involved in these rituals according to texts or found in-game include things like human hearts and filled soul gems.
    • The Black Sacrament is a ritual performed by those seeking to hire the Dark Brotherhood. It involves chanting a "plea" to the Night Mother by an effigy of the intended victim (made from actual human bodyparts) surrounded by candles. Finally, you must rub deadly Nightshade onto a dagger and then use it to stab the effigy. If the Night Mother accepts, she will send a representative to seal the contract.
    • The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall: The Daedric Princes can only be ritualistically summoned on certain days, sometimes under specific circumstances (such as during a thunderstorm). Later games would drop this mechanic, allowing you to summon them at their shrines or start their quests through their servants. A few still require you to possess certain items or meet certain criteria before they will answer, however. (Such as Sheogorath requiring an odd assortment of items or Namira requiring you to be "ugly" (ie, lower your Personality Attribute) in Oblivion).
  • Clive Barker's Undying: The aptly named Covenant siblings accidentally perform a ritual at the Standing Stones and unknowingly break the seal on a sleeping Eldritch Abomination, turning themselves into living seals. It doesn't end well for any of them.
  • Cultist Simulator uses ritual magic for all of the PC's spellcasting. Rites are learned from various Tome of Eldritch Lore items you acquire and study. The rite used determines what inputs are needed and what is sacrificed, while the occult Aspects of the inputs determine what the result of the ritual is.
  • Ultima IX: Ritual magic shows up in a couple of different forms as part of the game play.
    • In order to learn spells, the Avatar has to perform a ritual at a spell circle. First, he places a scroll with the desired spell in the circle, then he places the key ingredients for that spell. Next, he lights the candles surrounding the circle. Finally, he chants the invocation for that spell. If he does it correctly, he can now cast that spell at will.
    • The Avatar also has to perform a ritual to restore the destroyed shrines. He needs a rune, a sigil, and a mantra for each shrine. He places the rune and the sigil on the ruins of the shrine, then recites the mantra. This restores the shrine to its former glory (and raises one or more attributes).

    Web Original 
  • Metamor City: Ritual spells can be performed by anyone, as they draw mana from the environment while mages use their own inner reserves (though they do use rituals for more complex spells). Artax runs a shop called "Spells 4 U" that specializes in ritual kits, and very strongly advises his customers to follow the directions exactly.
  • SCP Foundation: Due to its nature, this is usually heavily averted (and even more discouraged while writing articles), since they are usually very resourceful in using technology and scientific experimentation to contain all types of anomalies ranging from just plain weird to downright terrifying and godlike, even if sometimes the lines between science and paranormal are blurred, by the time an article is written the containment procedures are clear, easily understood and clearly still scientific in nature. However, this hasn't stopped the trope from happening sometimes:
    • SCP-2317 requires a daily ritual, involving the sacrifice of a chicken, to contain. The ritual is actually pointless and is just here to keep the Foundation staff's morale up. The actual method of containment is a set of chains made from parts of an Eldritch Abomination, which are currently breaking, causing major disasters on Earth each time one chain breaks. The Foundation cannot obtain the materials to replace the chains, so the only thing they can do is convince people that they can contain the entity to keep them from crossing the Despair Event Horizon.
    • SCP-2848, known as "The Deer", a being so powerful and dangerous that it was downright a Physical God. Even after an alliance with the GOC where they were able to limit its activity to one place, they still had such difficulty with containment that they had to call external consultants, something they'd never ever had to before as they usually operate independently even from governments; said consultants helped them came up with a containment procedure with several steps (some of which are pretty Squick inducing), all of them without any apparent rhyme or reason and so complex that it's clearly meant to be a magical ritual; even if these words are never used in the article itself; when Foundation personnel were clearly dissatisfied with the amount of work and resources put into it,some thinking it was pretty ridiculous, the consultant had a lot to say, particularly about the "ridiculous" complain:
    Rituals do not work because of some underlying laws, such as those that science operates on. Rituals work because they are rituals. They work because an arbitrary set of criteria has been met with exacting care. Belief that meeting these arbitrary criteria achieves a certain end assigns power to the ritual. The actions that were once meaningless now have been assigned Meaning through their repetition and application.