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Monday, November 14, 2011

Magical Rituals In a Variety of Magical Systems With Rayne Hall

I am thrilled to welcome Rayne Hall to my blog this week for a two part lesson on Magical Rituals. She has has more than twenty books published under several pen names, in several genres. She holds  a degree in publishing management, and a masters in creative writing.

Currently, she lives on the south coast of England where she writes horror and fantasy fiction, as well as puts three decades of editorial experience to the test by publishing themed anthologies. 

Rayne's teaches online classes on a variety of subjects, which include copious feedback and support. Her simple, easy to understand primers on the nuances of magic are a fascinating look at various aspects of the art across a variety of magical systems. Whether you a writer, a reader, or a dabbler you'll find this two part series on Magical Rituals and Power Raising (coming 11/17) fascinating.

All magicians use a ritual for casting spells. Although the details vary, most follow this structure. Everything I write in this article applies to males as well as females, but in this article I'll use 'she' throughout.

1. Preparation

The magician reads the instructions, locks the door, dons her robe, gets her tools ready, assembles the ingredients and so on.

2. Casting the Circle

The magician creates a circle, either physically (e.g. by drawing it with chalk on the ground) or mentally (e.g. by visualising a circle of white light around her). The circle serves to contain the power she raises, and also to protect her from harm. Dangerous spirits may be drawn by magic ritual, and the magician may be vulnerable to attack. The circle keeps her safe.

3. Invocation

The magician calls on assistance from the spirit world. This may be a prayer to her god or goddess with a request that they lend a helping hand, an invitation to ancestral spirits to join her, or a summoning of a demon. In religious magic, this may be a prayer, or a long and complex rite. In other systems, it may be short or even left out. In high magic, the spirits are usually 'summoned';  in Wiccan witchcraft, they are 'invoked' and 'invited'.  Sometimes, this phase also includes an offering to the gods or spirits, for example, a libation of wine or milk poured at the base of a tree, or - in the case of darker magic - a bowl of blood to welcome the demon.

You can deal with the invocation part in just a few words, for example, >After a brief prayer to Hekate, she...< or  >She cast the circle, invoked the spirit of Saint Whatshisname, and...<

4. Altering the State of Consciousness

The magician changes how her brain functions, to make it receptive to magic. Often, this involves going into a trance.  Chanting, dancing or drumming work well for this. Some magicians use deep meditation, others take mind-altering drugs as a short-cut.

5. Raising Power

Magic needs energy, and the magician taps into an energy source or creates energy.  This is an important phase of the ritual; without it, magic will not work.  More about this in the next blog post this Thursday, November 17. 

6. Speaking the Spell

The magician speaks or chants the words of the spell. In some magic systems (such as ancient Egyptian magic), it's essential to get the words, pronunciations and intonations exactly right. In others (such as Wiccan witchcraft) the words are merely a vehicle by which the spell travels, and what matters is the intent, i.e. the magician needs to concentrate fully on the purpose of the spell.

The spells are usually short and rhythmical, repeating important words. Readers love it if you include a line or two from the spell. Just resist the  temptation to insert a three-hundred-line poem.

In Shamanism, this is the stage during which the shaman travels to the spirit world, and in Necromancy, this is when the necromancer asks questions of the deceased person.

7. Dismissing the Spirits

Once the spell is cast, the magician thanks the spirits for their assistance (if she invited them) or dismisses them (if she summoned them), or says another prayer to her goddess or god.

8. Closing the circle

The magician dismantles the physical circle or visualises the imaginary circle as fading.

9. Grounding

The magician needs to come back to reality, especially if the ritual involved journeying to the spirit world. The quickest and easiest is to drink some water and eat a little bread.

10. Keeping Records

Like a scientist conducting experiments, the magician records what exactly she did during the ritual, with which ingredients, what the purpose was, how it felt, and so on. This allows her to keep track of the efficacy of the magic, and learn for future rituals. An alchemist's record-keeping is probably factual and analytical, while a Wiccan witch's entry into her 'Book of Shadows' is more about emotions and perceptions.

11.  Resting

Magic is mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting.  After working major magic, your character needs a rest. If the plot permits, allow her a nap.  If you're a devious writer, you can make things difficult for her, and let her worst enemy attack just at this moment when she's weak and vulnerable.


The details of the ritual vary, depending on the system of magic, the magician's skill level, on her personal preference, and on how much time she has available. You need not follow this model exactly, but can tweak it so it suits your novel's plot.

Stages 2, 3, 4 and 5 are sometimes carried out in a different order or combined. For example, by drumming and dancing, the shaman can change her consciousness and raise power at the same time.

The ritual can take as little as two seconds or as long as a two days. A public ritual is likely to take longer than a private one, because the magician wants to please the audience.

An experienced magician may use a shorter ritual than an inexperienced one. Ritual helps the magic, and a novice needs all the help she can get. An inexperienced magician gets best results if she adheres to the ritual precisely and takes a lot of time. A veteran mage can do something in minutes or seconds because she has the experience. That's as with other things: knitting your first pair of socks is going to take a long time, but by the time you've completed your hundredth pair, you can produce them really fast.


* What if  a magician  normally uses an elaborate ritual, but an emergency happens and she does not have enough time?

* What if a  magician needs certain ingredients to cast her spell, but she can't obtain them?

* What if a magician goes into trance for a magic ritual, and something terrible happens which would recquire her full alert consciousness?

* What if a magician desperately needs to work magic, but she can't concentrate enough to make it work because of scary distractions?

* What if the magician is physically and mentally exhausted after a ritual, and the evil enemy chooses this time to attack her?

In 'Storm Dancer', the magician Merida is a stickler for correct procedure. She doesn't believe it's possible to work magic in any other way. But then she has to do just that - in increasingly difficult circumstances. I've had fun making things difficult for her. 

Several times in the story, she exhausts herself working magic - and the villain takes advantage of her weak state when she cannot defend herself.

For Discussion

Have you read any works of fiction which showed some or all of the ritual?

Are you currently working on a story about magic? Will you include a magic ritual?  What is your magician aiming to achieve with the spell?

If you have questions about magic rituals, or about any aspect of writing about magic, ask. I will be around for a week, and enjoy answering questions. 

On Thursday, we'll move on to to how a magician raises power to fuel a magical spell.

Rayne's recent release, Storm Dancer, features Merida, a magician who dances for rain in the parched desert world in which she finds herself imprisoned. The novel is epic in scope and explores the concept of a djinn that possesses Dahoud,  a former warrior, compelling him to commit terrible crimes against women. 

He and Merida find themselves thrown together by circumstances beyond their control. Will he  able to defeat his djinn, and will she be able to forgive his transgressions to accomplish the impossible and save the town entrusted to their care? 

Mysterious, dark, full of political intrigue and meticulously researched, Rayne brings this Bronze Age world to life right before the reader's eyes with unique, fascinating characters, vivid detail, and a complex, compelling plot. She puts her expertise on writing fantasy, magical systems, and fight scenes to the test, leaving readers unable to resist turning the page.

If you'd like a chance to win a free electronic copy of Storm Dancer, ask a question, make a comment, or simply ask to be entered in the random drawing, and give Rayne a way to contact you.

Rayne Hall teaches an online workshop 'Writing about Magic and Magicians'. Create believable magicians (good and evil), fictional spells which work, and plot complications when the magic goes wrong. Learn about high and low magic, witches and wizards, circle-casting and power-raising, initiation and training, tools and costumes, conflicts and secrecy, love spells and sex magic, and apply them to your novel. This is a 4-week class with 12 lessons and practical assignments. If you wish, you may submit a scene for critique at the end of the workshop.

The next dates for this workshop:

Rayne's other workshops include 'Writing Fight Scenes', 'Writing Scary Scenes' and 'The Low Word Diet'. Click here for an updated listed of upcoming workshops.


  1. This is one of my favorite posts of the series because it gives us all the steps and needs for a ritual.

    Excellent post!!!

  2. Thanks, Diane.
    Do you find you can use these steps exactly as I described them, or are you changing them to suit your story?

  3. Hi Rayne,
    I've been keeping them pretty close to how you described them - though I wonder for the sex magic are the steps the same?

  4. Hi Diane,

    Yes, the steps would be more or less the same. 'Changing consciousness' and 'Raising power' would probably be merged into a single step (a very interesting one).

    The invocation may be very short or even non-existent; on the other hand it could be very interesting, especially when a fertility goddess or sex-specific spirit is invoked.


  5. Given the guidelines/rules about magic, if a good magician uses his skills for bad, out of choice, is it plausible that the rules are then changed - eg. the magician brings a harvest to the town, but changes his mind, and causes famine instead, would the magician still be subject to being depleted of his energy? The magic discussed here is of the good kind, right, and used only that way, right?

    In other words, would bad magicians be subject to different guidelines, say, by virtue of their mis-using the bad, therefore, creating a whole new set of "boundaries"?

    Am I making sense?

  6. Hi greenbabble,

    The steps of the typical ritual are the same, whether the magician uses the magic for good or for bad.

    A magician causing a famine would be as exhausted as one who brings a good harvest.

    For plot purposes, you may want to consider karmic law. Many magicians believe that any harm caused through magic will return to them (some believe it will return threefold, or nine-fold, or whatever-fold). This means the magician who caused a famine will herself suffer starvation.

    This karmic retaliation can create interesting plot developments in a full-length work of fiction. Even the fear of karmic retaliation can heighten the tension and create inner conflict: The magician will think twice before she causes a famine.


  7. By the way, Diane, greenbabble, do you want to enter your names in the prize draw for 'Storm Dancer'? (I'm adding only the names of people who say they want it)

  8. Nice Post Rayne ... very simple easy to follow steps, that can take a lifetime to master.

    I would add that it is imperative to make sure you are 'back' in this physical reality before you venture out into your everyday world. Not just because buses don't care if you're in a slightly altered state of reality, but because the world is full of energy flows, rivers of energy, that can sweep the unwary away.

    One last thing. Unless you are an experienced practitioner, don't experiment with these energies by yourself. Getting back into your body is a real skill, and requires strength of will.

    Travelling between the worlds is not for the faint of heart, and getting stuck there without help, or the resources to un-stick your Self makes you a danger to those who choose to come after you.
    As with anything, a large dose of common-sense just makes sense.

    Who am I to say these things? Well, that's the mystery isn't it!

  9. I WANT IT!!!!
    Please add me ;)
    Thank you

  10. I agree with everything you say, widdershins. Fortunately, readers of this blog will be using the suggested structure only to write about magic, not to practice magic. At least I hope so.

    (Note to anyone who wants to practice magic: please take your time to learn how to do it, preferably with proper guidance and training :-) )

    Like you, I consider what comes after the ritual to be important, the closing, the grounding, the return to physical reality. Most people who who practice magic realise that they're vulnerable immediately after a magic ritual, and if they have any sense, they'll ground properly and take measures to protect themselves.

    Alas, most fantasy authors seem unaware of this. In most novels, magicians perform amazing magic feats, and afterwards carry on as if nothing was changed. This reveals the author's ignorance. At the very least, a magician would feel tired, , perhaps exhausted, disoriented, unable to concentrate, dizzy or nauseous.

    Even a brief mention of the magician's tiredness, and of a simple grounding action such as taking a drink of water, would help make the scene plausible.

    For plot purposes, authors could actually use the magician character's vulnerable state after a ritual, for example by having the magician's enemy launch a vicious attack just when the magician returns to reality, or when he's exhausted.

    It's surprising that not many authors do this. I guess it's because most authors really have no clue about magic.

    One aspect about which I disagree with you (well, not exactly disagree, just want to differentiate): The picture you paint refers to magic in which the magician leaves the physical reality and the body. This would apply to, say, Shamanism, and a few other forms of magic, and it does indeed leave the magician's mind quite wobbly and vulnerable on return until he succeeds in grounding himself in reality again.
    Most magic rituals aren't as involved and dangerous as that. Indeed, many are quite simple and don't require leaving the physical reality at all.

    Fortunately, this kind of spirit travelling is only in the realm of fairly experienced magicians, and most of those have acquired a healthy dose of caution and common sense about their craft.


  11. Great, Diane. You're the first to enter the prize draw, then. I've written your name on a slip of paper and put it into my cauldron. (Actually, I put it into a pretty painted glass bowl).

  12. LOL - cool (rubbing hands together excitedly) hmmm wonder if I can hurriedly write a spell to give me good luck to win!!

  13. You can try. Practice your spell-writing skills. :-)

    I'm giving away two copies of the e-book. You can enter twice (today's blog, and the next part which will be posted on 17 November)

  14. Great post. Thanks and please enter me in the drawing.


  15. Hi Rayne! I would just like to comment that I highly recommend anyone that loves magic to take your class! I thoroughly enjoyed myself and learned so much! I will definitely be signing up for more of your classes in the future. Of course, please enter me in the drawing! Thanks again Rayne! Your encouragement along with all the participation and feedback you give to your students in the class was wonderful! Patty Koontz

  16. Well things are going full tilt here, I see. I would just like to add that I am currently studying the tenets of Santeria for research, but in order to do that in a respectful and meaningful way, I have consulted a santera about a physical malady to experience what is involved in the healing process.

    She has been very insightful and helpful and cautioned me to follow her instructions very carefully (which I have done). Friends of mine who are practitioners have also cautioned me to not over extend myself and purchase any supplies, jewelry, or other implements unless it is on the advice of a santera that I trust. It got me to thinking about how easy it might be to unleash energy you have no idea how to control.

    But on the writing side, I have taken the post-magical hangover warnings into account and made them a significant part of the major scenes in Boulevard of Bad Spells and Broken Dreams. Thank you for that advice, Rayne and Widdershins (and I know who you are, Widder. Glad you stopped by).

  17. It seems there are some folks who can not post. If you are having difficulty, please email me carole AT caroleannmoleti DOT com and I will post for you.

    On behalf of Tara:

    I was once thinking aloud about a problem facing one of my characters, and the person with me said, "Well, since it's fantasy, you can just do anything. It's magic!"

    I was pretty frustrated trying to explain that "magic" in fantasy means a "system of laws and rules" not "anything goes."

    Tara Maya
    The Unfinished Song: Initiate (Book 1)
    The Unfinished Song: Taboo (Book 2)
    The Unfinished Song: Sacrifice (Book 3)

  18. Callene and Patty, I've entered your names in the prize draw. :-)

  19. Hi Carole,
    I think it's great that you went to experience Santeria from a client's perspective. First hand research is always useful for a writer; by experiencing it you learn so much more than by merely reading a book or looking it up on the internet. Now you can write about it in a way which oozes authenticity.
    And who knows, it may even help heal your physical malady.

    Most of the time, magical artefacts are harmless and won't be activated accidentally. Or even if they are activated, they only serve the minor benevolent purpose for which they are created (for example, to strengthen the user's immune system against infection).

    But yes, sometimes a clueless person unintentionally unleashes magical energy without. If you were in a state of intense emotional arousal (perhaps in the grip of tormenting jealousy, or some such), and your mind was focused on an intense desire (such as wanting that bastard to get his deserts), and you had magically charged items around, and those items aren't programmed for a specific purpose, it might unleash powerful magic with devastating consequences. So it's best to be cautious.

    Another reason for not over-extending yourself and buying magical jewellery, ingredients and tools is money. Many magicians and suppliers make good money from selling stuff to non-magicians. That's often where most of their income stems from. They're happy to suggest all sorts of things which are would not only be useless to you, but often of doubtful authenticity.
    (The businesses which supply genuine magicians make most of their money from supplying non-magicians with impressive-looking cool-sounding fake stuff)


  20. Tara writes: >I was once thinking aloud about a problem facing one of my characters, and the person with me said, "Well, since it's fantasy, you can just do anything. It's magic!"
    I was pretty frustrated trying to explain that "magic" in fantasy means a "system of laws and rules" not "anything goes."<

    I agree absolutely, on two levels.
    First: If a magician can do anything, anytime, there is no story. Even if the writer invents a system, there need to be limitations, obstacles, rules, dilemmas and problems, otherwise it's boring.

    Second: As writers, we want our readers to suspend their disbelief in magic while they read our book. This means we need to make the magic believable.

    I've heard people say 'Magic doesn't exist, therefore we don't need to make it real.'

    But to most people in the world, in the history of humankind, magic has been real. Almost every culture practices magic in some form. It's rather arrogant of the modern westerner to claim that because s/he has never seen magic, magic doesn't exist.

    That's as if someone living in a jungle at the equator said 'I've never seen snow, therefore snow doesn't exist. Therefore I can write a story in which snow is pink and hot to the touch.' The resulting story would not be believable.

    As writers - whether we believe in magic or not - we need to write about magic as if we believed in it. We expect our readers to suspend their disbelief; therefore we need to suspend our own.

    The best way to make the magic in our fiction believable is to model it on existing magic systems. Magic systems which have been developed, practiced and refined for centuries, make sense. A writer, whether s/he believes in magic or not, can write believably about magic by using those systems (and, depending on the genre, modify them with imagination).

    Anyone thinking that magic isn't real, and stories aren't real, and therefore writers need not care about plausibility, simply has no idea how fiction works.


  21. Rayne,
    I used most of the ritual in my book WITCHES in 1993 and again in 2011. Great post, Rayne. Fellow writer Kathryn Meyer Griffith 2012 EPIC EBOOK AWARDS FINALIST nominee for her The Last Vampire-Revised Author's Edition

  22. LOVED this post; thanks for sharing!

    My last book SPELL-KISSED has a witch who needs certain ingredients to perform a very special spell and she ends up ---comically --having to steal what she needs. The hero --- a very sexy cop---catches her.

    I love reading stories with magic in them! Thanks, Rayne for all the new info.

    hugs, Kari Thomas,

  23. Kari and Kathryn,
    Do you want to enter the prize draw? Let me know, and I'll put your names in the cauldron. (I'm including only people who want the book, rather than anyone who posts the comment and may not be interested. I just don't want you to miss out if you want to enter)

  24. Hi Kari,

    A witch having to steal the ingredients she needs for a special spell is an intriguing scenario. I love the idea. I'll have to take a peek at your book. :-)

    When you say you love reading stories with magic in them, do you have favourite authors, or favourite books?


  25. Hi Kathryn,
    Are you planning any more books with magic in them?

  26. A definite YES on wanting to be included in the Contest! THANKS Rayne!

    hugs, Kari Thomas

  27. Ive read alot of Raven Silvermoon's books, but all the others are random. Do you have a favorite author in this?

    hugs, Kari

  28. Hi Kari,
    I've added a slip of paper with your name to the cauldron. You can enter again when I post the second part of this article. I'll draw two winners. (Or rather, I'll get someone to draw two winners... I haven't decided yet who'll do it. My neighbour's black cat would be appropriate for a magic prize draw. Alas, he's so lethargic, he'll just blink and yawn and not move a paw.)

  29. Hi Kari,

    I haven't heard of Raven Silvermoon, and couldn't find the name at Amazon. What does she write - novels or non-fiction?

    For my own favourites, I'm such a voracious reader (several hundred books every year) that the list would be long.

    Among novels about magic, I enjoyed Mage Heart by Jane Routley, Krabat by Otfried Preussler (a famous YA book which won literature prizes in Germany, and has, I think, been published by a couple of English-language houses, albeit under sensational names - 'The Satanic Mill' or some such). Wizard of the Pigeons by Megan Lindholm (I think that's the author's name - not sure. It impressed me because it's one of the very few books which acknowledge that working magic can drain the magician and make him tired). More recently, By Darkness Revealed by Kevin McLaughlin.

    I'm less impressed with the Harry Potter series. Much as I admire JK Rowling's storytelling and charcterisation, her magic isn't believable to me. Those magicians simply point a wand and say a word, and magic happens. No invocation, no power-raising, nothing. That's not how magic works. On the plus side, at least those magicians train and practice, which gives the whole setup a touch of realism.

    Among the non-fiction authors, I like to read anything about magic, even books by non-believers and books with spurious credibility.
    Two authors I like (both practising Wiccan witches) are Scott Cunningham and Rae Beth.

    Of course, I have many more favourites; these are just ones which come to mind immediately.


  30. Hi Rayne,
    As always, the comments, questions, and answers are just as informative as the original information you put out. Thanks a bunch!

  31. Hi Julie,
    Do you have any questions I may help with? I love answering questions, so throw some at me.
    Would you like to enter the prize draw?

  32. Hi back, Rayne. Try this link:; She is Wiccan and an author. I think you might like her books.

    hugs, Kari

  33. The winners for the prize draw are Kari and Diane. Each gets a copy of 'Storm Dancer'.

    The sites will be in competition with one another, and the ones who win are the ones who manage to have more stories than the others.

    Kari and Diane, I'll try to get in touch with you, and give you an URL and voucher code for a site where you can download the book for free.

  34. A BIG THANKS, Rayne!!!!!!!!

    hugs, Kari