Summoning Ritual

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Do not call up that which you cannot put down.
H.P. Lovecraft, "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward"
Do not call up that which you cannot put on hold.

As all witches and warlocks know, summoning creatures from another plane of existence requires a bit of ceremony. Sacrifices and exotic materials may be required along with elaborate ceremonies, but a simple geometric figure and a few candles will often be enough. Of course, there may be a whole other price to pay if the ritual succeeds. Keeping the Trickster demons and other unworldly apparitions can take a great deal of concentration or chanting; if the protective pentagram should be disturbed...

If we're talking about demons, the road to summoning is not easy. You need to learn the magic circles, the true names of various demons, every conceivable precaution against the demon once summoned (as it's a rare demon who likes doing a wizard's dirty work). All told, it takes years of serious study... and heaven help you if you decide you're ready for a real demon midway through your training. Remember, Evil Is Not a Toy!

A good rule of thumb is never to call up what you cannot put down, or summon anything larger than your head. Most people seem to make the grade with just a random mortal from another plane at any rate. Mind you, even if everything goes right, you might end up summoning someone out of the shower!

The classical name for a scene in which some chthonic being is summoned up is a nekyia (νέκυια), which is to be distinguished from a catabasis {κατάβασις} or descent into the underworld.

Examples of Summoning Ritual include:

Screwing up summoning

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • In The Sandman volume 1, they were fishing for Death and caught Dream.


  • At least two demon summoners in Belgariad, sequels and prequels were stupid enough to draw pentagrams on water.
    • This is partly a means of showing off: "Yeah, I can draw letters of glowing energy on water!" It even works if the water in question is standing still. Drawing your pentagram on a river, on the other hand... that's getting into Idiot Ball territory.
    • One of the ones who drew it on still water still didn't think it through - she drew it on the sea, and got punished soundly for forgetting about waves.
  • In Diana Wynne Jones's Dark Lord of Derkholm, the wizard Derk has to summon a demon to fulfill his titular role. Unfortunately he drops a syllable and accidentally calls up a much more powerful one than he can control.
  • In one of the first stories ever set in the Dragonlance world, Tasslehoff Burrfoot is brought to a wizard's tower by a teleporting ring. There, he interrupts the wizard's summoning of Demogorgon, allowing the Demon Prince to break free of its bindings and carry the wizard off. Turns out Demogorgon had created the ring eons ago, specifically to free it if it ever became subject to a mortal's control. Given how strong Demogorgon is, this was one of the few documented times that a kender actually felt scared.
  • The Drizzt novels have featured this a few times. One was an apprentice who screwed up the pentagram and let out a balor. Cadderly also summons up demons and kills them, which inconveniences them...somehow.
    • Pasting demons on the material plane sends them home, and prevents them from coming back on their own for 100 years. Summoning them, of course, breaks this prohibition.
  • Discworld used to have some fun with the Askh Ente rite, the ritual that can be used to summon Death. Originally it involved eight senior wizards, a large amount of drippy candles and thuribles, and a floor covered in runes (and various other equipment). Then it turned out that you could actually complete it with only a handful of people with three small sticks and 4 cc of mouse blood. Or two small sticks and an egg. The egg has to be fresh though. (Why? It will probably make the mouse feel better. Oh, you mean the egg? Who knows how an egg feels? Duh.)
    • A high ranking wizard once tried to perform the rite backwards and disappeared, it actually reversed the spell and transported him to Death instead.
  • In James Blisch's The Day After Judgment, the summoning goes horribly wrong, even tho the initial intent was for the demons to cause some chaos. Two evil protagonists contract with the most powerful evil wizard around to set loose some nasty demons, just for kicks. Trouble is, Theron Ware, the black wizard, does his job too well, and actually removes all the pre-existing restrictions on the demon's actions, literally setting loose all the hordes of hell on the mortal world, undoing the balance of heaven and hell, and directly causing the apocalypse. Which Heaven loses, as God never shows up. Oops.
  • In A Wizard of Earthsea, Ged decides to show off by summoning the spirit of Queen Elfarran from the dead. He succeeds, but also inadvertently calls a "Shadow", which promptly tries to kill him, then stalks him for the next several years trying to finish him off. On the bright side, it gives him the taking down a couple pegs he badly needed; on the downside, it leaves him badly scarred.
  • A large part of several Dresden Files books. Don't summon something you can't hold (like the Erlking almost was), or something when your enemies hear (like the demon from the first book), or repeatedly in obvious places, because Harry will sic it back on you.
    • Harry summons a bunch of entities for information over the course of the series but, unfortunately, knowledge correlates with power. Be careful.

Live-Action TV

  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the second episode Anya is in has Anya tricking Willow into trying to summon her power source from when she was a Vengeance Demon. Instead, they get the Vampire Willow from the alternate universe they were trying to get the necklace from. The BDSM loving, all leather wearing, insane Vampire Willow.
    • Another episode had Giles and his group of friends screwing up summoning the demon Eghyon during Giles' teen years. The summoning was used to produce a drug-like high, but someone screwed up and Eghyon killed him, then spent the next few decades hunting down the rest of the group, jumping into various sleeping and dead human bodies.

Video Games

  • The backstory of Yoriko and Mike in Arcana Heart. Yoriko tried to summon a minor demon, but thanks to Lilica, her half-demon friend, playing a prank on her by tweaking the magic circle, Yoriko got the Demon King Michelangelo instead. Then, thanks to Yoriko screwing up the incantation and Kamui having secretly been ordered to seal Mike, the Demon King got summoned in the form of a kitty-staff. Now they're stuck together until they could figure out how to get rid of their strange curse.
  • Magus of Chrono Trigger attempted to summon the Eldritch Abomination Lavos in order to defeat it. In order to get the resources to do so, he convinced a race of Imps that he was really doing it to Take Over the World. The heroes hear this, and engage him in battle right at the point of summoning. Fortunately this didn't release Lavos, but it did scatter the combatants through space and time.
    • It also went considerably better than the timeline in which the Big Damn Heroes didn't interfere.
  • The Envoy of Shadows in City of Heroes is said to have been summoned this way, but the Player Character only arrives in time to see the aftermath. (Oh, the aftermath...)
  • Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories starts with one of these, with the hero and his family attempting to summon Overlord Zenon, only to get his daughter Rozalin. While it looks like a failure at first near the end of the game it turns out Rozalin is the real Overlord.
  • A quest in Fable II involves two guys who have summoned the legions of the undead with a book called "the Norminomicon", or "The Book of the Extremely Dead". Naturally, you must kill said legions and recover the book.
    • They don't learn their lesson. If you do that quest, you get a later one where they've summoned a banshee into Bloodstone. This time, you take them home to their mother, who takes the book. Then Fable III happens...
  • The freeware GBA RPG, Horrible Demon 2, starts with the hero and his sister, a witch, attempting to summon a demon in order to defeat it and get half the kingdom. The demon can be defeated by throwing a rock at him. Unfortunately the main character doesn't have a rock. The demon proceeds to burn down their house and kidnap the girl.
  • In the text-adventure The Lurking Horror, the evil professor of Alchemy traps you inside the summoning circle (which apparently acts as a force field for humans as well, as summoning a demon requires a sacrifice to be on hand when it arrives. To escape, you must use a knife in your pocket to scratch away enough of the circle to break it and then you are free to flee the room at the last second before the summoner notices. The demon arrives and devours the summoner instead before leaving.
  • Recipe for fun times in Neverwinter Nights:

Step 1: Go to a heavily populated area.
Step 2: Cast the "Gate" spell without first casting "Protection From Evil."

  • The plot of Eternal Darkness consists of a massive Summoning Ritual to bring an Eldritch Abomination to Earth. The main characters also gain the ability to summon their own demons.
  • In Quest for Glory IV the cultists who lived in Mordavia were trying to perform a ritual to summon the Dark One into the world, and almost succeeded before the beginning of the game.
  • The Mara summoning in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, which would certainly not have gotten past the ESRB (or maybe it would have) if it had gone right. It was borderline anyway—imagine getting attacked by a giant green blob who happens to have a glans for a ...head (to be fair, this is easy to miss if you don't know what SMT Mara is supposed to look like).
  • An odd, possibly unintentional example in Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn: A drow elf wizard near the very end of the game uses that game's version of the Gate spell to summon a Pit Fiend to fight for him. The fiends summoned by the spell will attack anyone who does not have the spell effect "protection from evil" cast on them. The wizard of course casts this on himself before doing the summoning, and a good way to beat him is to dispel it to set the devil on him. The odd thing is that sometimes, only sometimes, the Pit Fiend itself will use one of its spell-like abilities to dispel the effect. You'd think that if they were allowed to do that, they'd always do it and never get summoned.
    • This reflects a larger AI flaw with wizards in the game. While they always cast Protection from Evil, thus making whatever demon they summon unable to attack them, it still registers as an enemy. Many an fight sees a wizard summon a demon and instead of trusting it to attack their enemies and get on with blasting them itself, the wizard instead spends all their energy fighting the demon they just summoned.
  • In Dragon Quest VI, a king is desperate to protect his kingdom from attacking Dread Fiends, so he calls on the bigger, badder demon Nokturnus to take care of them. No points for guessing what happens next. But Nokturnus is a Bonus Boss; and if you track him down in his lair and prove yourself stronger then he is, then he'll do your bidding and take out the Big Bad for you.


  • The spiritual barrier for a demon summoning collapsed in the third strip of Hellbound when the old guy's new apprentice distracted him. That ensured the death of the old guy (who never even got a name) and set off the events of the rest of the comic.
  • In this strip of Tales of Pylea, a witchkin had summoned a demon to answer a master vampire's question as relayed by some minions. One of the minions accidentally knocks over one of the candles, and Hilarity Ensues.
  • In Sluggy Freelance a botched summoning on Bun-Bun's part gets him stuck with a really, really annoying Living Shadow. When he tries to get Gwynn to summon the shadow off of him, she summons a bunch of evil, clothes-eating moths instead.
    • On account of being drunk.
  • One of these seems to set off the plot of The Roaming Thicket.

Web Original

  • Whateley Universe example: when Bloodworm tries to sacrifice Sara Waite for a dark boon, he gets the wrong hell, calls up the wrong demon, and ends up getting knocked into that hell dimension for a literal fate worse than death.

Western Animation

  • The Backstory for Count Duckula is that during his Summoning Ritual they used catsup instead of blood, resulting in a vegetarian vampire duck.
  • Robot Chicken parodies this. Linus seems to have grown tired of waiting for the Great Pumpkin and him not showing up. So, he decides to preform a satanic blood ritual to summon him to the pumpkin patch. Of course he didn't count on the Great Pumpkin being a hideous, blood-thirsty demon.

Other examples

Anime and Manga

  • This is done in Mahou Sensei Negima to bring forth the Sealed Evil in a Can using Konoka's power. Unlike most summoning rituals, which bring pain to the sacrifice/vessel, this ritual felt good, according to Konoka.
  • Not really summoning per se, but Third Impact in End of Evangelion might count. If one can watch it without immediately being reduced into a whimpering wreck, that is (since it's the perfect Mind Screw in a few-minute package). First, the MP Evas fly up into orbit, align themselves into a Kabbalistic Tree of Life and use the resulting anti-AT field to lift the entire geofront into space. In the meantime, Gendo stucks his right hand-fused-with-Adam into Rei. Next, Rei absorbs the arm and flies up to Lilith who absorbs her into it's chest. Finally, Lilith falls down from it's cross, morphs into Rei and starts growing. The MP Evas change formation to resonate their AT-fields with that of Lilith. The result is REALLY FUCKING HUGE. If that's not a big enough Mind Screw yet, the ugly bastards stab Unit 01's S2 organ with the Lance of Longinus, transforming it into the real Tree of Life then orgasmically stab themselves one-by-one, unleashing Lilith's power and reducing humanity into a Hive Mind before the Tree and Lilith merge.
  • In Baccano!!, a group of alchemists, having been unsuccessful with the more accepted methods of seeking Immortality, perform an elaborate incantation (with magic circle) to summon a demon and ask it to grant them eternal life. The demon answers, and promptly chides them for wasting its time with such bibble-babble when it can read all their minds and just willing it to appear would have been sufficient.

Demon: "The words you use to summon me are mere trinkets.... The very thought of my being brings me instantly to your midst."

  • Rituals and sacrifices are part of the Duel Monsters card game in Yu-Gi-Oh!; stronger monsters can be summoned only by sacrificing weaker ones.
  • In Naruto, some shinobi make contracts in blood with animal spirits, which require a small blood and chakra sacrifice to summon. Special mention goes to:
  • The Summoning Ritual in Fate Stay Night and Fate/Zero. It requires a magic circle made of blood, a long incantation, and a catalyst for the Servant that they want to summon—something closely connected that Servant.
  • Caro in Nanoha Striker S is a dragon summonner. She has two of them, Fried, who continually accompanies her, and the gigantic Voltaire.


  • The silent movie classic The Golem has the Rabbi successfully summon the demon Astaroth.


  • In the first novel of the Bartimaeus Trilogy, the apprentice summons the title djinn correctly but makes the serious mistake of letting him find out his name. Luckily for him, like Aahz, Bartimaeus' bark is worse than his bite.
    • Except it's not. Bartimaeus would kill Nathaniel in a heartbeat given the chance.
      • Although the thing is, the one time he could've let Nathaniel die, he convinces someone to save him anyway...
  • Larry Niven's short story "Convergent Series" is based on the idea that people have forgotten how to properly summon demons over the years. Then a college student rediscovers how almost by accident, and scrambles to find a way to not be damned.
  • In Thomas Gray's The Descent of Odin (imitated from the Völuspá, the "Song of the Wise-woman" in the Elder Edda), the eponymous god summons up the spirit of a giant-prophetess for information on the coming Ragnarök.
  • In the "Discworld" novel Making Money The necromancer Professor of Post-Living Communications performs rites with all the dribbly candles, pentagrams and such partly because of tradition and partly because people called from beyond the grave expect ceremony and want to see that you've put the effort in.
  • Another "Discworld" parody of the Summoning Ritual is the Rite of AshkEnte, used to summon Death. Much is made about how the more traditional wizards want pentagrams and dribbly candles and mystical mumblings, when it could actually be done with three bits of wood and four cc of mouse blood, or two bits of wood and a fresh boiled egg. This is definitely done for the summoner's benefit, as Death is really quite a practical person and wouldn't be bothered by a lack of ceremony. What bothers him is that they're always summoning him when he's right in the middle of something.
    • Also inverted with the character of Albert, who performed the ritual in reverse hoping it would keep Death away from him. It didn't work; as might reasonably be expected, it sent him to Death.
    • * In the Adventure Game Discworld II: Missing Presumed...!?, the Death summoning ritual requires three small sticks (of equal length), 4 cc of mouse blood, dribbly candles, a vile stench, glitter, and a performance of Day-O (The Banana Boat Song). Death appears dressed in a cork hat, apparently having been on vacation.
  • A parody of this was the ritual that the witches used to summon that poor demon in Wyrd Sisters. No pentagrams or candles, to Magrat's dismay, but Granny and Nanny generally thumb their noses at that stuff. They just used the sharp and terrible copper stick, the rather old washing soda and some extremely hard soap flakes, the balding scrubbing brush of Art, and the washboard of Protection to summon a demon in a boiler. Irked Granny a bit that they went through all that trouble instead of just flat out calling the demon since she felt they were pandering to it and making it feel important.
    • And then the demon was disappointed when they didn't bother to properly banish it once they were done asking their questions, instead merely telling it to go away.
  • Harry Dresden of The Dresden Files should really know better than to do this; he rather lucked out in his second book, Fool Moon, when the demon he summoned got a bit overeager about Harry's eternal damnation.
  • The summoning up of the demon Mephistopheles is one of the traditional features of the Faust legend, in all its various literary and dramatic treatments.
  • In "The Tale of Sir Lancelot" in Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur a hermit conjures up a fiend to tell him if a certain knight has been saved or damned.
  • A subversion: Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures series begins with the mentor wizard of the protagonist being killed in the middle of the standard demon-summoning ritual. His death messes up the diagram just as the demon arrives, meaning the demon is free. Fortunately for the protagonist (Skeeve), the demon (Aahz) is actually quite a decent fellow. His species just has a very bad rep, deliberately cultivated for the most part. They form an alliance to get back at the guy who killed Skeeve's mentor—and Aahz's friend. The whole ritual was completely unnecessary to bring Aahz from his home dimension, and had been set up just to impress the mentor's gullible new apprentice.
  • In The Odyssey this is combined with a descent into the Underworld, as the eponymous hero must go to its entrance to summon up the spirit of the prophet Teiresias and learn from him how he can return home.
  • Subverted in Day Watch. A series of sinister events lead most of the characters to believe that Zavulon, the head of the Moscow Day Watch is willing to resurrect a powerful deceased dark mage/dragon Fafnir. It turns out, however, that he had a different plan and simply masked its stages as preaprations for the summoning ritual.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The Phoenix on the Sword", Thoth-amon's Ring of Power can do this, with blood and incantations.
  • Aya Nishitani's Digital Devil Story, the origin of the famous Shin Megami Tensei franchise, came to be when the protagonist and genius programmer Akemi Nakajima realized that a summoning ritual—with all its standardized rules, incantations, and rigid procedures—could be automated and written as executable code on a computer. He then proceeds to do exactly that, creating the very first Demon Summoning Program. After successfully summoning the demon Cerberus as a guardian beast, he tries to go for broke and summon a Demon King, Loki himself, who only plays by Nakajima's rules for as long as it's convenient to him.

Live Action TV

  • Special mention goes to Angel. A particularly unusual one would be the demon Sajhan using a ritual to release the completely human Holtz. And getting bored and looking at his watch because it wasn't happening fast enough.
  • Similarly to Buffy the Vampire Slayer which had so many summoning rituals through its run that it would be insane to list them all.
  • Subverted in Reaper: You can summon the Devil by calling him on his cell. (The area code is Phoenix.)
  • Used memorably in the episode And The Children Shall lead of Star Trek: The Original Series, in which the child survivors of a colony massacre pump their fists and chant to summon Melvin Belli, an evil entity which calls itself Gorgon the Friendly Angel in order to win the kids' help taking over the galaxy.

Music Videos

Tabletop Games

  • In Dungeons & Dragons, while divine spellcasters can cast the risk-free planar ally summoning spells, arcane spellcasters must resort to the decidedly more dangerous planar binding spells, which, among other things, involve bargaining with the summoned creature and require several other spells to stop it from escaping.
    • Arguably subverted by the literal Summon Monster line of spells which take only one combat round (six seconds) to cast and bring in a creature to fight for you with no applicable saving throw, spell resistance, or back-talk. (Granted, the short duration and often limited power of these spells makes them useful primarily for combat.)
    • Fourth Edition took away general summoning spells for all caster classes, but has a few classes with the mojo, such as the invoker (a divine class that summons agents of their god), shaman (a spirit summoner), and a new build for the wizard that allows the summoning of animate spells.
  • Mage: The Awakening has several summoner builds, mainly involving an understanding of the Death (ghosts and zombies) and Spirit (elemental forces and primal concepts) Arcana. There's also a set of systems for summoning beings from the Supernal Realms; unlike standard summoning magic, however, this merely serves as the means for a pact that gives the summoner a number of slight benefits as long as it holds to the terms of a bargain.
    • Its predecessor Mage: The Ascension also had access to a number of summoning rituals, mostly revolving around some aspect of the Spirit Sphere (with occasional forages into the Correspondence Sphere). Furthermore, unawakened Sorcerous Paths provided access to slightly more specific examples, with rituals existing for the summoning of angels, demons, spirits and all manner of other beings.
  • Summoning monsters in Yu-Gi-Oh! is usually done just by playing them or tributing other monsters for them. However, there are some monsters called Ritual monsters that have to go through a specific ritual (i.e. playing a particular spell card) in order to get them out.
    • There's also an entire Archetype based around Ritual Summoning, the Gishki/Ritua Tribe from the Duel Terminal series, to the point that in-story when they revive the first Big Bad when end up joining the Verz.
  • Half of all Call of Cthulhu (tabletop game) plots involve a cult conducting a horrible ritual to summon an Eldritch Abomination to Earth and the players have to stop them.
  • Exalted has a whole suite of summoning spells, for elementals, ghosts and demons of varying ranks, all of which require a ritual of some kind. Necromancers have an easier time summoning ghosts than sorcerers, who in turn are better with demons and elementals (in fact, Necromacy can't call elementals at all), and thaumaturges can summon a lot of different spirits, but can't control them. Oh, and Summon Elemental takes the form of a letter to the elemental in question, who can send a subordinate in their stead if said underling is up to the task. And then there's Pattern Weaving, whose spells are tailored to the spirits of Autochthonia, and is the only branch that can reliably summon minor gods.

Video Games

  • Then there's Grim Grimoire, where demon summoning is just a class taught to students in the Wizarding School. You basically call low-level demons up with a rune inscribed with a pentagram.
    • Special mention goes to Lilet's final plan, which is Summoning the Big Bad Demon Lord before he escapes his prison, letting him kill the other villain trying to summon him, and then tricking him into a Fate Worse Than Death.
  • Shin Megami Tensei is a long-running series - which has guested a huge variety of consoles, and also includes the Persona sub-series - is based entirely around summoning demons—or, rather daemon, entities that can be good, evil, or completely beyond human morality. A demon summoner can thus call upon Goetian demons alongside holy angels and even legendary heroes whose fame (or infamy) has given them a cult and a following. And like in its Digital Devil Story origins, most of the summoning is done by combining it with the latest technology and Demon Summoning Programs. In fact, the ceremony of summoning is so central to the games, the franchise has consistently used Seals of Solomon and pentagrams as brand logos.
  • Warlocks in World of Warcraft can summon a variety of demons to do their bidding, and can even use a summoning ritual to summon other players to their location (with help).
  • The backstory of Bible Black revolves around a summoning ritual performed twelve years prior to the game. The Human Sacrifice ended up gaining its benefits when she survived long enough to kill the person running the ritual and make a pact with the demon that showed up herself.



Garland: I should be upset, but I can't help taking this as a huge compliment. You can't summon something as powerful as hell lords without sacrificing what's most important to you in the world. This is probably the nicest thing Drizz'l has ever done for us.
Drizz'l's note: 1. Lead morons into basement. / 2. Kill them. / 3. Summon nothing because it was a lie.