A spell is a verbal charm to be spoken or chanted, sometimes a single magic word such as AbracadabraMagic word that has been in use since at least the second century BCE, when it appears on a Greek amulet as a ba ga da. or the Renervate encountered in the fictional Harry Potter series of books. Spells frequently employ repetition, alliteration and rhythmic word forms, and are intended to influence real world events such as the success or failure of harvests, the arrival of rain or curing the sick. Often they are framed in unfamiliar or strange language to confound the uninitiated.
The word spell is derived from the Anglo-Saxon spel, meaning “speech, discourse or idle talk”, but such incantations have been recorded almost since the invention of writing. Spells remain popular today, and books of spells – known as grimoires – covering areas such as love, exams, money and many more are readily available.
Spells may be categorised into the following types:
Orisons are direct pleas or prayers to a diety which conceal their true nature behind a Christian exterior, often by reference to Jesus, Mary or the disciples.
Blessings and curses
Blessings are used to bestow good fortune on an individual, just as curses are intended to blight.
Conjurations are used to summon supernatural beings whose assistance is required to perform some action, or to banish a malevolent entity considered to be responsible for some misfortune or other. Historians have made a distinction between sorcerers, or ceremonial magicians, and witches in that the former used spells to invoke a demon which they in some sense remained in control of, whereas witches had entered into a pact with the Devil.
Relation to witchcraft
Witches were widely believed to be in possession of spells that could cause harm – maleficiumAct of sorcery, historically usually performed by a witch, intended to cause harm or injury. – or cure or otherwise give them supernatural powers. Isobel GowdieScottish woman accused of witchcraft in 1662 and probably executed, whose detailed testimony provides one of the most comprehensive insights into European witchcraft folklore at the end of the era of witch-hunts. , a convicted 17th-century Scottish witch, confessed to using a spell allowing her to take on the form of a hare:
I shall go into a hare,
With sorrow, sych and meickle care;
And I shall go in the Devil’s name,
Ay while I come home again.[a]sych: sighs meickle: great
She had a corresponding spell that allowed her to change back into her human form, but neglected to explain how she was able to repeat it as a hare.