Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Witching Hour

Midnight is often attributed with relations to the supernatural, being a notable moment in our day cycle where one day transitions into the next, simultaneously twelve (or twenty-four for the modern kids) and zero. It's situated in the middle of that strange and liminal period we call the night, during which we are not supposed to be awake, and which feels less touched by the civilisation and certainty of daytime. Nighttime is full of mysteries and unknowns, of dangers and strangeness. 

So, this fixation with midnight is not at all surprising. It is however not entirely correct, any witch will tell you. No magical ritual ever takes place at midnight. It simply seems that way. In fact, they take place during the time between exactly 00:00 on the machine clock, and exactly 00:00:00:00[...]:01. Any scientist will try to tell you this is impossible. Any wizard will try to tell himself this is impossible, but knows better. Any witch and possibly some park rangers take it for granted that between midnight and exactly after midnight, there is a timespace crammed into that picosecond called the Witching Hour.

How long the Witching Hour exactly is, is uncertain, because clocks are stuck on midnight in it. Most witches are not terribly concerned with precise measurements either, so it is called an Hour for the sake of convenience. Another question is how to actually experience it. After all, usually there is no trace of it, even when staying awake overnight. 

There are plenty of dream rituals, awake rituals, slightly drowsy rituals, and nervously caffeinated rituals to end up in the Witching Hour, but they all have to be performed, unsurprisingly, at Midnight. At the end of this post there are a few rituals you could do to enter the Hour. Sometimes, normal humans will wake up into the Witching Hour by accident. It's uncertain who easily ends up in the Hour, but it seems to favour the unhappy, the lonely, artists, children, and park rangers. Cursed people such as Lycanthropes, and supernatural creatures like vampires, devils, spirits etc. can always enter the Hour.

During the Witching Hour, also called the Thirteenth Hour or Witch-Time, the world is submerged in a liminal torpor- the feeling of a foreign gas station at night, or a broad avenue being empty and silent. Creatures, Faeries and Cryptids that normally conceal themselves come out of hiding. Devils, Familiars and other shapechangers must take their true form. Ghosts and spirits are visible. Some animals can talk. Some magical gates or portals only open during the Hour. There are entire locations and even swatches of land that solely exist in Witch-Time.

Nocturnal nature spirits thrive during the Witching Hour (art by Alexandra Dvornikova)
During the Witching Hour, witch magic is significantly more powerful. This is why it is such an important time of day for witches. If you are a witch, a druid, a shaman, or a similar type of caster, treat all your spells during Witching Hour as though they had an extra Magic Die spent on them. More scientific or high-fantasy casters like wizards, alchemists, or sorcerors rarely gain this benefit, and paladins or clerics certainly do not. (If your system does not use Magic Dice, come up with another buff for these casters). 

Rituals have a much higher chance to succeed if they happen during the hour. Any rolls made for activating a ritual or summons you can reroll and take the more favourable result. However, magical forces also become more wild and unpredictable. Any rolls made for aborting a ritual, containing or dispelling magic, or banishing a magically summoned creature, you must reroll and take the worse result. If you are affected by a curse, you cannot resist its effect during the Witching Hour. It may even become more powerful. However, this also applies to blessings of a witchy nature. Some items made by witchcraft work differently, or only work, during the Hour. Some plants or ingredients must be harvested during the Hour to be effective in potions. They may even only grow, blossom or exist during the Hour in the first place.

Candles and lights are important guides to enter the Witching Hour (art by Julia Nikitina)

D10 List of Witching Hour Entry Rituals

All of these rituals have Condition [C]: This demand must be met while you are in the Hour. Once it is broken, you fall asleep on the spot and awaken when the Hour has passed. 
  1. Fall asleep in a fairy ring to tambourine music after drinking a potion of inky herbs. You awaken in the Hour.
    [C]: You cannot hear music.
  2. Kiss someone while wearing a crown of the appropriate flowers and the pelt of an appropriate animal. Close your eyes while you do it. When you open them again you are both in the Hour.
    [C]: You cannot lose contact with the person you kissed.
  3. Cry in your bedroom while the moon shines through your window, after a bad day. After blinking the tears away you realise you are in the Hour. This has an [amount of friends you have]% chance of not working.
    [C]: you cannot laugh of mirth or at anything funny, only of sadness.
  4. Walk into the forest alone wearing no clothes on a quiet night. No one can notice you. Pass through a brook of water with your feet exactly on midnight. You have entered the Hour. If you follow an animal this will certainly be succesful.
    [C]: You cannot wear any clothes or touch a person wearing clothes.
  5. Drink a drop of Mandrake root sap and burn certain herbs. Inhale the fumes. Your dreamy hallucinations will suddenly clear.
    [C]: You must keep inhaling the fumes.
  6. Spend the evening listening to the strange susurrusses of your surroundings. Focus on this and be alone. After a while you will see strange humanoid shadows beckoning you. Follow them, but not too far. Stop exactly once you have lost sight of the spot where you were listening. You are now in the Hour.
    [C]: You cannot make eye contact with your listening spot.
  7. Meditate in a circle of pebbles, with both of your hands cut, and a pebble balanced on your head. At a point you will notice that the wounds on your hands have disappeared. You have entered the Hour.
    [C]: Your hands cannot be wounded to the point that they spill blood.
  8. Paint a painting of your full self, with ink made of certain herbs and oils, or take a polaroid photo. Leave the face blank or remove it.. Fall asleep in front of this painting. When you wake up, you notice the painting or photo now has your sleeping face. You have a smooth face. You are now in the Hour.
    [C]: You cannot see your own faceless face.
  9. Trap a luminescent insect like a firefly in a glass bottle or jar. Cover it and take it outside, find a place that is completely dark at midnight. Unveil the container so that the only light you can see is that of the insect. You have now entered the Hour.
    [C]: The insect must stay in its container.
  10. Dance around a cauldron filled with hot wax. Dip a wick made of your hair in it and let it cool down into a candle. Light the candle on midnight. You are now in the Hour.
    [C]: The candle must stay lit.
The Witching Hour empowers rituals (art by Alexandra Dvornikova)


  1. Well, this is good. I'm not sure if I want it in my game. I'm not sure I want to spend time focusing on one player's ritual preparation and then time away from everyone else,except in a duo game. Regardless, I do love this and might just alter it a bit to suit me.

    1. Perhaps I should add rituals you can do with multiple people, so that an entire party can enter the Hour together! That's what it's meant for after all, as a special adventuring location if nothing else!

  2. I love this. My setting basically has a witching week, a secret week of every year that can only be entered under special conditions. Definitely borrowing some of these ideas, especially how the world feels during that time, the boost to magic power and unpredictability, and the fact that certain herbs and whatnot might only be harvest-able during that time.

  3. *Gently runs this around my mouth and then chugs the whole bottle.*
    It's rituals. It's witches. It's darkness and sadness and beautiful transient sorrowful things. It's perfect. I'm stealing every word of this.