Posts Tagged 'Magic Spells'

Yo, Melanthios, I ain’t sure this dead-eyed witch sellin’ phallus curses is on the level

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

The quote above is from the three witches, the Weird Sisters, in MacBeth. It reflects a genuine belief in folklore and tradition that magic sometimes required the use of obscene, gruesome ingredients. We have accounts of this from second hand sources, and also from sources written or even used by magic practitioners. However, there’s one particular page of papyrus written in Greek, dating from the 4th century AD that sort of pulls the pants down on this whole notion.

In a column on the left it lists assorted strange or gruesome spell components supposedly used in witchcraft and magic. In a column on the right it lists what each one actually represents. You see, according to the anonymous authors, their local magicians were filthy liars.

It was theatrics. If you made things seem more weird and gruesome and mystical, more people were likely to think you were legit. Given that many magicians in the ancient world were in it to make a buck, bullshitting of this nature was a valuable talent. It also meant your rivals weren’t sure what sort of stuff you were using, and if you did use weird and exotic ingredients, it meant you had some more mundane stuff to fall back on when supplies were low.

Here’s the twin lists, translated from Greek* (the headers are mine): Continue reading ‘Yo, Melanthios, I ain’t sure this dead-eyed witch sellin’ phallus curses is on the level’

MAGIC, PART XLII: The Priest and the Magician

Calming a Storm - Wiliam Hole

If I were to tell you, devoid of any other context, about a man who could command demons, cast curses that caused living things to wither and die, or control the weather, then you might be reasonably forgiven for thinking I was talking about a wizard. Of course, these are all actually miracles of Jesus. The line between magic and divine power is a concept you see a lot in fiction—the powers of the gods and the powers of a human sorcerer do not spring from the same source. This distinction has not always been present in human beliefs, and is in many ways somewhat rare.

Continue reading ‘MAGIC, PART XLII: The Priest and the Magician’

SUPERNATURAL DEFENSES: You’re Gonna Need a Red Shirt and a Cage Full of Birds

The magic circle, by John William Waterhouse

If you’re writing a story about supernatural dangers, you don’t want things ending in the first few pages, so the characters may need some reliable ways to defend themselves. Folklore and legend are chock full of various ways to do this, so per a reader request, I’ve spent the last week digging up some good ones for your use.

These remedies and protections can be played in a lot of different ways in a story. Sure, you could use them as described, but you could also just make them a point of cultural interest, or use their symbolism in a story otherwise devoid of magic. You could undermine them as well, foreshadowing the one crucial defense against a monster, only for the hero to find out it’s all a lot of hot air at the worst possible time. Plus, if you want to create some original otherwordly threat for your story, these might be a good jumping off point for creating your own defenses against it.

Continue reading ‘SUPERNATURAL DEFENSES: You’re Gonna Need a Red Shirt and a Cage Full of Birds’



Let’s face it, magic can be hard to write. It offers limitless possibilities to a writer, but once we touch the keyboard or put pen to paper our options can seem much more restrained. After all, if your wizard protagonist (or antagonist) can do anything with magic, what stops them from using it to get what they want immediately and ending the story right there?

So you create rules and restrictions, outlining what magic can and can’t do in particular circumstances, and a bit of the wonder is lost. Some intangible quality that was there before is there no longer. The question is, how do you get it back?

Human beings have believed in magic for thousands of years, and when you go back to the old stories and beliefs of people who accepted it as a reality, you find some interesting things. They viewed magic as an incredible force in the world, but it also had limits. Yet in these stories and beliefs, the strangeness, the weirdness, the impossibility of magic can endure despite that. The old-style flavor is sometimes the best.

So, in the interest of helping you to make use of that, I’ve gone through quite a number of my books, collecting examples of spells. They are split into two lists. The first is from ancient myths and legends, reflecting what the people who wrote them might have once thought magic was capable of in their own distant past. These spells tend to be more fantastical, but a bit vague about how the magic was done. The second list is lifted from books of history and anthropology, and consists of spells people actually thought they or their neighbors could cast. These spells tend to be smaller scale, but provide us with more information on how our ancestors thought magic worked and was performed.

Feel free to make use of any of these spells in your writing, either wholesale or as an inspirational jumping off point.

  Continue reading ‘MAGIC, PART WHATEVER: The Spell List’

MAGIC, PART ∞: Illusions

Magic can be hard to write. Done well it seems weird, enigmatic and powerful. Done poorly it seems like a cheap plot device used to move the story forward with no explanation or buildup. That’s why this running series will be all about how cultures of the past viewed magic, wizards, and superstitions. I find that when your magic seems too mechanical, turning to the past can help you nail down the right tone, as well as figure out the logic a little easier.

This week I’m going to talk about magical illusions.

Continue reading ‘MAGIC, PART ∞: Illusions’