A spell is a general term for an action performed through magical means. They are mainly composed of a somatic element such as hand gestures, but can also include tools such as wands, staves, animal products, powders, herbs, incantations, and other similar materials.
Different cultures use magic in different ways depending upon how the culture has viewed the craft. Examples of this are the sexually charged spells of one dimension, against the nature-based magic of another.
Alternatively, magic can also be called forth unconsciously, as noted when Reynard explains to his son, John Gaines, that he'd been using magic throughout his campaign to mentally coerce others to elect him as Senator. Another instance of this unconscious, instinctual use of magic manifests itself when John uses a magical blast to protect himself when he thought he was in danger during his confrontation with Julia, Kady, and Penny. Although this may be referred to as magic, it must not be confused with Wellspring Magic which is not what the gods use to perform feats of magic.
Introduction to Spellcasting
Spells are not wished to life, they are cast with action and purpose. Contrary to popular belief, most spells don't actually require the waving of a magical wand, but instead the magician's own hands and will. From simple snaps to complicated hand gestures, all movements of the hands are used to harness magical energy from the Wellspring and produce the desired magical effect(s).
But a spell needs something more than hand movements and the proper knowledge of its Circumstances. Along with the physical aspects of magic, the psychological aspects of magic are crucial to properly performing a spell.
Magic is based on something powerful within a magician, much like willpower. It is a focused intensity, a clear view, an unwavering sureness. For a spell to work, it has to be done from the heart. The magician has to have no doubt that the spell will work, and needs to intend to do that spell wholeheartedly. Therefore, a magician cannot simply be forced to do a spell. One must be able to master this before he or she can properly channel the Wellspring.
More complex works of magic such as those used for healing, curses or invocations require the use of external ingredients like herbs, candles, incantations, and symbols or tools to focus the intention of the magician, such as wands.
Just as a verb must agree with the subject, even the simplest spell has to be modified, adjusted and fine-tuned to agree with the time of day, the lunar phase, the intention, the purpose, etc. In other words, the exact circumstances surrounding the spell. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of different kinds of Circumstances. All (or nearly all) Circumstances are organized in endless tables, graphs and diagrams in huge books for magicians in training to study and practice.
Circumstances fall under four categories: Major, Minor, Tertiary, and Quaternary. All of which encompass elements such as location, weather, constellations, and seasons. A true Magician (Master Magician) is one who has reached a certain level of understanding of magic and its forces. He or she will be able to cast a spell whenever he wishes, without needing to mentally review the Circumstances surrounding it. A prime example of this is Mischa Mayakovsky
The Five Tertiary Circumstances
- Position of the Pleiades
- Phase of the Moon
- Nearest Body of Water
- Main article: List of Spells
Spells are collected in books and tomes available to most classically trained magicians, or accessed through private institutions of learning, such as Brakebills, or from the libraries of magical families. Usually spells are credited by the name of their inventor or a prominent user, such as Fergus' Spectral Armory, or its originator/creator Ugarte's Prismatic Spray.
Not all spells will succeed, and some, especially if the Magician is not properly trained, tend to backfire. Although it is preferable to fail a spell than to lose control of its casting, the magical community has a strict rule of conduct for spells poorly managed, especially when magic is used for illegal purposes or causes the death of a living being. The most severe punishment shown to be given to a Magician is to be deprived of their own memories of the magical world and all of their knowledge of magic's existence is stored in specialized enchanted boxes.
However, one of the more dramatic consequences of spellcraft is the instance in which the casting Magician loses complete control over the spell and is flooded with magic, shown to be because the spell is too powerful and the Magician cannot handle it. This causes the Magician to, quite literally, go up in a blue flame, as their system becomes overrun with magical energy, burning them from the inside out. This results in the Magician losing their humanity, in the form of their Shade and becoming a creature of pure magical energy: a Niffin. At this point, they are no longer human and are purely magical in nature.
- For the TV series, showrunners hired choreographers to teach the cast Finger-tutting to represent the complexity of casting spells.