(Some examples of magic rituals are here)
On Ritual Working
The primary use of magic rituals is to invoke the inherent power of creation, the Tao, channel it through the five elements, which serve as intermediaries between the spiritual and the physical, and use this power to effect some change in the physical world.
The actual working of a ritual is highly symbolic, but basically comes to balancing all of the various ritual components as closely as possible except in one particular desired way. The desired imbalance will in some sense be filled by the effect the ritual generates preserving (some would say enforcing) the overall balance of the working.
Known working rituals are passed down from master to student, and these are the most common form of ritual work.
It is possible to create new rituals, though a rigorous process of testing and refinement, although this process is not without danger in the intermediate steps. However, when successful, the result should be a ritual that can be replicated with known results.
Finally, it is possible, although highly dangerous, to simply perform a spontaneous ritual, for a single urgent purpose. This requires deft mastery of ritual magic as without the rigorous testing of years, various hidden imbalances are very likely to creep into your spontaneous working. Still, it is an option in an emergency.
Invoke the Tao
You begin by invoking the Tao to set up the power that will fuel the ritual. It is traditionally invoked by separating it into its Yin and Yang aspects although more subtle workings are possible. Here is where you establish the main target of the ritual. As the Tao's energy comes from all things and returns to all things, it is important to invoke that aspect of it which will most closely serve your purpose.
When invoked, the ritual participants must make appropriate Yin and Yang rolls with their Magic Ritual skill to free the energy. The power of the ritual will be limited by the smallest of these rolls
A ritual that simply ends at this step is called a petit ritual. Indeed, this is what many martial arts practitioners are doing subconsciously when invoking shticks which spend Yin, Yang, or Chi, but this level can not be said to be true ritual magic.
Invoking the Elements
It is when the energy of the Tao is channeled through the elements that true magic is invoked and greater effects are possible. Here is where the art of the ritualist is practiced. Basically, you must invoke each of the five elements in turn (or not, to provide imbalance), while demonstrating each of the five actions (or not, to provide imbalance). The actions and elements must be invoked with sufficient power to contain all of the Tao energy evoked in the previous step, or it will escape the ritual and either be lost or disrupt the working.
The elements and actions may be invoked simultaneously or in some significant order depending upon the working.
The Tao energy will then be channeled into the unbalanced elements in an attempt to rebalance the world as encompassed in the ritual. For example, a ritual designed to freeze a large amount of water in the middle of the desert must demonstrate sufficient Creation, Destruction, Seeking, and Transformation, of Earth, Wood, Fire, and Metal that all of the Yin energy generated will be naturally channeled into Master of Water, and bring the water closer to stasis, freezing it.
Note that in the example above, the Yin energy was most appropriate to accomplish the goal, but the Yang energy must be disposed of somehow. A beautiful ritual will have an outlet for both of these energy forms, producing useful results with the yin and yang, but this is not necessarily needed. If one of the energy forms is not used, it will still manifest, occasionally with disturbing consequences. For instance in the water freezing ritual described, the yang energy may manifest by exploding the container the water was contained in. Or it may do something else.
One appropriate way to channel excess energy in a ritual is through the use of sacrifice. If the energy can be be made to harm the ritualist in some expected, although still maleficial way, it can be kept away from disturbing the important work of the ritual. A ritualist can usually choose to "soak the awryage" in some way instead of letting it run rampant.
Once the effect is achieved and any excess awryage is soaked, the ritual is complete. A ritual that ends at this point is technically a Major Ritual, but often this is what people mean when they simply say "ritual".
Grand Ritual Workings
Grand rituals further channel the energy invoking the spirits of the Cycle to achieve either extremely large, and far reaching effects, or to affect the most difficult ritual target of all, a living human. Humans are guarded by the cycle spirits and are inherently fusions of all five elements, so it is difficult to directly affect them without a Grand Ritual.
The Grand Ritual proceeds from the Major Ritual in step, by invoking each of the 12 spirits (or not, for imbalance) along with balanced invocations of the five Actions. As with Major Rituals, at the end, the channeled energy will produce an effect designed to rebalance the world of the ritual based upon what imbalances are built into it. So a grand ritual could be performed that left out sufficient invocations of Transformation and Fox, which might result in the ritual energy being used to change the appearance of a living man.
As usual, any unused energies will have to be soaked, and the great difficulty of grand rituals is the much larger number of possible imbalances for unintended consequences to occur. Spontaneous Grand Rituals would generally be considered madness for any but the most skilled collection of practitioners.
- Magic Ritual: The actual skill needed to actively participate in a magic ritual. (By participate, we mean roll dice and generate successes. Symbolic standing and sacrificial victims, for instance, don't need Magic ritual skill.) Magic Ritual skill is explicitly used to invoke the Tao; for other actions (like chopping down a tree for Destroy Wood), ritualists may use as much magic ritual skill as they have in other relevant skills.
- Earth Often simply symbolizes the physical earth. Changes that move Earth can affect landscape, buildings, or other more symbolic massive structures, such as battle lines.
- Water Symbolizes resilience and yielding, in addition to rain and rivers.
- Fire Symbolizes energy and power, ferocity in spirit, as well as the more mundane aspects of flame and heat.
- Wood Tends to symbolize the physical body, and bones as well as trees and boards.
- Metal Beyond obvious references to weapons and knives, metal often symbolizes more generically wealth, trade, and exchange.
- Mixes Sometimes, mixes are necessary to symbolize the effect the ritualist seeks. In such cases, for instance when using earth and wood to symbolize a great wall, a balanced set of other mixes must also be incorporated into the ritual.
- Creation Making something out of nothing, or the formation of of a combination where the result is greater than the parts.
- Destruction Elimination and ending of an element, but also transformation when the result is less than the beginning.
- Transformation Pure change, where the result is simply different from the original, yielding difficulty in deciding notions of better or worse, greater or lesser.
- Control Mastery, stability, and rigidity all fall under control.
- Seeking By examining, analyzing, or searching, the seeker finds the truth.
- In general the effect of a ritual is capped by its power, which is similar to the power of shticks. However, unlike shticks, rituals are not limited to power 10. Vast workings are possible with sufficiently powerful and skilled participants.
- For the moment, these rules will assume that one person is making the rolls. It is possible for ritual masters to work together, but their successes do not simply add linearly. Also, successes can always be purchased, at the cost of spending 1 Chi per success.
- It's rumored that there exist darker rituals where unwilling participants can be made to soak the awryage.