In some religions, ritual is believed to be efficacious ‘from its own side’ ―that is, the words and actions that constitute the ritual are considered effective, independently of other causes and conditions, and even in situations in which causes and conditions are unfavorable.
In some, the careful pronunciation of mantras and the elaborate observance of certain practices (ritual exactitude) are believed to produce results. In others, rituals are operative if the forms are respected, independently of the purity of the performer. In still others, ‘accepting the Lord in the heart’ through the utterance of a formula is considered sufficient for salvation. Spells and incantations are often considered efficacious (à la Harry Potter) if the correct substances are employed and the directions are followed without deviation. And in yet others, if you can visualize it, declare it, and affirm it, it will happen…
Buddhist rituals have very little in common with these views. Mantras have no intrinsic power, nor are there inherently sacred objects or procedures. In Buddhism, ritual is merely a vehicle for intention. It is the mind of the practitioner that is transformed by ritual, and not the external world.
One thing is to use ritual properly as a skillful means to deepen and sustain intention, and quite another to believe in its independent efficacy, which is mere superstition and magical thinking.