Rituals: Spell or Prayer?

Rituals: Spell or Prayer? January 7, 2018

I have always thought of pujas and other rituals as being more about intention than about exact details. I figure the Gods understand if I don’t get every detail right, just as Sri Krishna said that he accepts any offering made with devotion even if it is just a drop of water or a leaf. I also see the purpose of rituals to be more about refining my inner Self than supplicating to a “higher being.”

But many of the rituals do have very specific instructions right down to what way to turn, touching things with a certain finger, and touching your head at specific points, etc.


I realized recently that these instructions remind me a lot of how witchcraft, spells, and Wicca are presented in movies and TV. (I don’t know a whole lot about real Wicca. Like many American teenagers I went through a phase of interest in it but that was a long time ago). The idea is that if you follow the instructions of the ritual or spell perfectly with all the right materials, you will get the promised result. (That’s enormously appealing.)

So what do you think?

Are Hindu pujas a way to almost guarantee a result if you perform it exactly perfectly with all the correct materials? Or is the intention and devotion behind the puja the more important part? Or something else?




New to this blog? Check out these posts:

What Makes Me A Hindu?

Did I Start Out Christian?

Why Am I Called “The White Hindu”?

New to Hinduism? Learn more here:

Hinduism 101: What Do Hindus Believe?

Can I Convert To Hinduism?

Your First Visit To A Hindu Temple

Super Simple Daily Puja


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Miriam Grimm

    I personally favour the bhakti-oriented “devotion and intention are what matters” approach, though both kinds of ritual exist in Hinduism.
    Traditional “brahminical” Hinduism is definitely very OCD about rituals and does sort of invoke the idea of “magic”, controlling the universe by influencing certain forces within it via certain ritualistic actions. That shifted later in the development of the religion though and nowadays all kinds of ritualistic behaviour can be found side by side, and might even be practised by the very same person at different times. That’s the beauty of our faith imho – its diversity. In ritual as well as in all other aspects.

    Hinduism is really what you make of it – there’s a way of practising it for everyone, and since people are all different, so is their spiritual practice.

    • Tailless Langoor

      The true rituals in all religions are the spiritual practices conducted within.The external ones merely are crude symbols of these.

      Unless,one learns Sandhya Bhasha( the twilight /esoteric language) the true meaning of words and rituals isn’t known.This is never taught at any university and since it arises spontaneously within a realized person( all of us have that potential) we need to either know such a person( today there are only freaks,cheats,molesters and rapists) or develop that focused mind.
      Once we know the S.B.,we give up ALL rituals and sacraments.

  • Hello! Your blog post came across my Twitter timeline, so I thought I’d stop in.

    I will start by saying I know nothing about Hinduism and would not presume to tell you how to define or understand your rituals. But you brought up Wicca, which is something I happen to know a little something about, so I thought I’d offer a few thoughts from that perspective that you may or may not find helpful.

    First, I always find it interesting that “prayer” and “spells” are considered distinct things. It seems that many people either forget or never learned that theurgy — the process of connecting and communing with the Divine — is also a form of magic and that often theurgy and thaumaturgy (of which what most people consider “spellwork” is a part) are intertwined.

    I’ll also note that in my practice at least (and from what I’ve seen, it seems to be fairly universal) a huge part of ritual is psychological. I can cast a circle and call donw my goddess with nothing more than my mind and body. However, having a properly (for my particular practice, that is) laid out altar and working with the various tools creates an atmosphere that first and foremost speaks to my mind. It helps focus me and set me more firmly on the path to do the Work at hand. It serves as guideposts for my soul, reminding me just what it is I’m trying to do. And that, while not strictly necessary, is extremely helpful.

    Best wishes,

    • Zakariya Ali Sher

      Very good point. The concept of Theurgia is an essential one when talking about the interplay between “magick” and “religion.” Of course, from an outside perspective, there isn’t really much difference between a “prayer” and a “magical ritual.” Most religions do involve ritual steps to some degree. Often it simply boils down to what is proscribed and what is forbidden. One culture’s priest is another’s magician, one culture’s shaman or medicine man another’s witch or sorcerer. Sometimes a figure can be both even within their own culture!

  • Joseph Quinn

    There is a small, but slightly increasing percentage, of people from the West falling for the apparently different seductions of the East. A depressing trend. Given the increasing demise of Abraham’s gangs it isn’t all that surprising. However, extraordinary claims still require extraordinary evidence regardless of geographical provenance. If one is susceptible to revelation, the allure of the supernatural, then it seems the merest reference to mysticism, ‘holy’ books, ancient tradition, ‘moral’ rectitude, the spiritual way of life and a preference for all things saffron, can render one awestruck by the magical, soulful, contemplative wisdom of this nonetheless hackneyed hucksterism. Granted, the offerings in this version of religion can appear novel when contrasted with the desert offerings of those enamoured of, and adherent to, the goat-herders guide to the galaxy, but are they so distinct? Nothing in any religion demonstrates the jump from deism to theism required to establish the latter position. The existence of the supernatural, and any intervening faculty, is no more than an unevidenced utterance. The monolithic nature of Hinduism when studied is just as nebulous and splintered as the desert trilogy are, and just as accomplished in casuistry, sophism and flat-out nonsense. It does have at least one mitigating factor; namely, the lack of a proselytising tradition. That is not to say some efforts haven’t been made. The occasional comedic episode with the happy-clappers is proselytism of a sort.. Arya Samaj had a far more concerted go at converting Muslims and Christians via the Shuddhi movement. The prevalence of Christian missionaries and the growing Muslim population in India is necessitating a real re-examination on proselytism. This is an ongoing conversation among the four academic schools of Hinduism. Prime Minister Modi’s ultra-ring wing nationalism, with India for Hindus as its raison d’être has brought Hindu theocracy to the forefront of Indian politics in an unashamed play on sectarian, ethnic and religious lines that has civil war written all over it. One can wax lyrical about rituals and morals and existential claims from ancient texts, the hidden Hindu history that claims everything modern owes its origins to the ancient learned forefathers, but one cannot ignore the same old man-made stench, the convenient unfalsifiable assertions, the crooked mystics and their cheap chicanery, the inevitable need to control the elements of one’s life that is universal in religion and the enduring inability to prove the claims made. The constant whine that secularists and communists have rewritten Indian history have some merit, but, the willingness to demonstrate intellectual integrity by arguing against interest seems missing when one wants to talk about atrocities committed by Hindus. Suddenly one sees that this religion behaves like all other religions do when the need for apologetics and selective memory are utilised. Hypocrisy comes in all colours. Hey, not to worry, if the allure is overwhelming, then grab your symbols, don all things saffron, revel in the charms of a peanut eating God, a blue God and witness the millions of bovine deities excreting in your ‘fresh’ water supply, whilst contemplating your new dietary prohibitions. It appears the digestive function of some Gods are more predictable than mysterious. Make sure you have rehearsed your defence for suttee. Claiming it is obsolete is the reactionary reflex. Blame the caste system on the Portuguese and the infernal Britishers. A word of warning. If you do get in to a debate with someone who has taken the considerable effort to study this woo-woo, give them a wide berth. Appealing to the presence of the soul in everything is still only a claim and not an argument. Now, by all means leave your shoes and your mind at the door. I prefer reality and find far more evidence in the axiom that the sleep of reason brings forth monsters. Perhaps I was unduly parsimonious relating to mitigating factors. Apostasy doesn’t kill you in Hinduism, well not yet.

  • Nupur Dave

    I would say, bhakti behind your rituals.

  • Ram P

    Pooja has to be performed properly in correct manner so that there will not be any dosha or wrong doing which is not good as it may not give proper results but….still if you just ask God in the end of your pooja for forgiveness for any mistake done during pooja that is enough….your pooja is accepted..God is very kind and sweet in hinduism…not vengeful or mean….pooja rituals done to our Gods are not Wicca craft of any kind.if you pray for harm to anyone or any wrong thing…one thing I can guarantee you that wish will not be fulfilled and it will backfire on that person who prayed or did pooja for that wrong thing….
    Ancient india had lot of good just and kind people and lot of pure white Gods magic or power u can say due to the goodness that prevailed then…

    • Zakariya Ali Sher

      And, really, not all that different from corresponding traditions amongst the pre-Christian Greeks, Etruscans, Romans, Goths, Celts, Persians, Hittites and, even further afield, Egyptians, Assyrians, Polynesians, American Indians, Chinese, Khmer, Yoruba, etc.

  • Zakariya Ali Sher

    You know, its quite interesting but I’ve seen a fair amount of academic literature push the idea that the Atharvaveda is essentially just a collection of spells. While this is a rather Orientalist approach that grew out of the 19th century, its not entirely wrong either. I think one thing is that Western secular thinking has tended to downplay or ignore the supernatural elements in world religions, but the further back one goes the more one can see what we would call “magic” rituals going hand in hand with religion. Pray to God or the Gods for rain, fertility, luck in the hunt, protection from disease, good crops… religions have tended to be very holistic worldviews so this isn’t entirely surprising. Traces of it are still around today; how many times have we seen American Christians encouraging their children to pray for victory in football games (never mind that the opposing team is likely doing the same thing). It just becomes more apparent to those of us on the outside. And I don’t think anyone should be ashamed of this either. Even entirely secular people can believe in things like reincarnation, ghosts, psychic powers, extraterrestrial life or concepts as fickle as “luck.” We are funny as a species.

    It’s probably also worth exploring the fact that I’ve seen SOME Neo-Pagan religions exploring commonalities with Hinduism, most notably Slavic Rodnovery and Baltic Dievturība and Romuva. While many reconstructionist Neo-Pagan religions do shy away from “Magick,” especially as promoted by Wicca and the like, its rather obvious that we should expect some similarities between indigenous Indo-European religions in pre-Christian Europe and those of India, Iran and Kurdistan (Hinduism, of course, but also Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism, Yezidism, and so forth).

  • baxtus

    The rituals are done in a particular way to encourage focus and thought

    As the scriptures teach, it is easy to become distracted and engrossed in materialism, and our minds can be our own enemies

    By making the rituals so involved you are forced to remain focused and not distracted