There are a good many books on the market today, promising power and telling you how to become a "Witch" or some similar nonsense. However, what most of these books fail to teach is at the heart of all magic using traditions, and also my subject today.
Note that I didn't say "symbolism", because symbolism by itself is nothing. ACTION is what makes magic. Every properly crafted spell (or for those of you into more high-falutin' magic, "working") may have a lot of introductory rituals and preparations, invocations and evocations, but at the very center of the entire process is ONE Symbolic Action which represents the goal of the entire working. At that point, the person performing the ritual DOES something, he manipulates some set of symbols, he makes something or breaks something or mixes two things together. Maybe he lights a candle. Maybe he sticks a knife into a doll. Maybe he draws a sigil on a piece of paper. What he's done is perform a Symbolic Action which, in essence, is the spell itself!
Let's examine an extremely complex ritual -- the Gnostic Mass. For those of you unfamiliar with this ritual, you may download it here --> Liber 15 - The Gnostic Mass.
The Magician starts out in the Tomb and the Priestess enters, veiled. Over the process of the "opening ceremonies" the Priestess is gradually unveiled as the Goddess and the Priest is raised from the Tomb and cloaked in the majesty of the God. These are merely preparatory rituals.
The "Cakes of Light" are then blessed by these people who are now (and always have been, else it would not work) the God and Goddess. They become the Body and Blood of God (and always have been, else it would not work). These also are merely preparatory rituals.
The veil is closed about the priestess-topped altar and the Priest and Deacon circumambulate the Temple to raise energy. The veil is reopened and the Priest invokes Pan. This also is merely a preparatory ritual.
The Priest and Priestess place a portion of a cake on the Wand and stick it into the Chalice of wine. THIS, and only this, is the Gnostic Mass.
Then of course everyone drinks the wine and eats the cakes and they all become God and Goddess too (and always have been, else it would not work). One might add, "Well then what's the point of this ritual?!" to which I would answer "Did you all KNOW you were God before you ate the cake and drank the wine?"
So through a simple analysis, we can see the point I'm making. At that one point in the Gnostic Mass, something was DONE with all the consecrated elements which was symbolic of the entire purpose of the ritual. This Symbolic Action must be chosen with care, as in the heightened state of consciousness attained during a ritual (especially such a ritual as the Gnostic Mass), a wrongly chosen or poorly executed Symbolic Action could be disastrous.
Ceremonial Magic depends largely on the enormous amount of energy raised through preparatory rituals and buildup, and flubbing the critical moment could not only nullify the ritual's effects altogether but I can testify wholeheartedly that it could make the situation much, much worse!
Many Traditional Witchcraft groups don't use as much buildup in their rituals, but depend largely upon group circumambulation ("Raising a Cone of Power") to fuel their greater workings, while the Priestess guides the release of that energy as she performs some Symbolic Action to control its manifestation. The effect is the same -- if you flub the play with two outs and bases loaded, you might as well have just stayed home.