A spell is a spoken or written formula that, in an act of Magic, is intended to cause or influence a course of events. Belief in and use of spells have been universal since ancient times and have been an integral part of religious practices. methods vary according to culture, but all spell work is based on Ritual.

Spells are closely related to prayer, which is a ritual consisting of a petition to a deity or deities for a desired outcome, and which involves visualization of the goal, statement of desire for the goal and ritualized movements or body positions (e.g., bowing of head, folding or clasping of hands, closing of eyes). Spells are also closely related to various methods of mind power such as “creative visualization,” “positive thinking” and “positive imaging,” all of which emphasize mental images, identification with mental images, a clear goal, repetition of one’s intent to achieve this goal, projection of will and invocation of the aid of spirits, deities or the Divine Force.

Spells may be beneficial or harmful, and they may be worked on people, animals and nature. The purposes are limitless and include healing, love, money, success, fertility, longevity, protection from disaster, ill fortune and evil, exorcism of ghosts and spirits (see Spirit Exorcism), victory in battle, truth in Divination, weather control and accomplishment of supernatural feats. When directed against enemies, spells are used to cause illness, destruction, loss of love, impotence, barrenness, failure and even death. One may cast a spell for oneself, or one may direct a spell against another person. A positive spell is a blessing. Archaic terms for spells include bewitchment and enchantment; negative spells generally are called hexes or curses. A binding spell is one intended to prevent harm or disaster, or to stop someone from performing particular act: for example, stopping murder or rape, as in the case of serial criminals, or even stopping the spread of gossip.

Witches, sorcerers (see sorcery), witch doctors, and other magically empowered persons cast both beneficial and harmful spells, according to need. In contemporary Paganism and Witchcraft, ethics prohibit Curses. Pagans and Witches are divided as to the acceptability of binding spells (see Wiccan Rede).

Anatomy of a spell.

An act of magic requires a practitioner; a Ritual; and a spell. The spell consists of words or incantations (sometimes called a Charm or rune); the ritual is a set of actions done while the words are being spoken. The ancient Egyptians believed words were so powerful that speaking them would bring about the desired goal. Words and nAmes oF power were vital to Egyptian magic and had to be pronounced correctly and with the proper intonation. In Western magic, the ultimate name of power is the Tetragrammaton, YHWH (Yahweh), the sacred name of God.

A spell-casting ritual raises power through a combination of visualization, meditation, identification, body movement, incantation (statement of goal), petition to deities and projection of will. The success of a spell rests on the power and will raised and the skill with which they are focused and projected. Words, chants, songs, movements and use of objects such as ritual tools, effigies, poppets, cords, Candles, or Hair and Nails facilitate spell casting.

In ancient India, many spells were sung. Ancient Jain wizards had numerous spells named after various animals and fowl; presumably by uttering a spell, a Wizard could change a person into that animal or bird. The Indians of South America use powerful chants in virtually every magical ritual; certain spells are believed to assume human shape and carry out orders.

In contemporary Witchcraft, spell casting is done within a Magic circle. many covens work spells as part of their regular meetings, and each coven is likely to have its own techniques. The goal of the spell is stated; some Witches write it down. The act of writing down a desired goal, which is emphasized in positive-thinking techniques, helps to bolster the will to achieve the goal. Preparations are made for the ritual, such as the lighting of colored candles or the mixing of magical oIls. In a healing or love ritual, an herb-filled poppet, or cloth doll, may be used. The doll is identified with the person who is the object of the spell so that it becomes the person during the ritual. To aid the identification, the doll may be marked with the person’s name or astrological sign or have attached to it hair clippings from the person. Photographs also are used. If there is no object, a thought-form, or mental image, is created. If the spell is cast by a group, all must agree upon the image and hold it firmly in their minds.

Power is raised in various ways, including Chanting, dancing, tying knots in cords or hand clapping. Drums and rattles may be used. Witches invite higher forces to work with them in implementing the spell, usually an aspect of the Goddess or Horned God, and the forces of the elements. An aspect of the deity is chosen that best fits the nature of the spell. For example, a spell for money might be addressed to math, god of wealth and increase.

Spells and charms are contained in many books on Witchcraft, folk magic and magic. While they may be effective, most Witches feel that words composed from the heart are best. The recitation of a chant or charm alone will not successfully cast a spell.

While performing the ritual, the Witch focuses intense concentration and will in achieving the goal, visualizing it and believing it is already accomplished. When the psychic power is at its peak, it is released and directed toward the goal. The spell work ends with a psychic cleanup ritual to banish remnants of psychic energy. The Witch thanks the deity and forces of the elements. See Cone oF power.


  • Buckland, Raymond. Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1986.
  • Farrar, Janet, and Stewart Farrar. A Witches Bible Compleat. New York: magickal Childe, 1984.
  • Luhrmann, T. M. Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989.


The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca – written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 1989, 1999, 2008 by Visionary Living, Inc.