Alice casting a spell during a lecture

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, animal products, powders, 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.

Some creatures are also able to call forth magic quicker than others, as seen when the Trickster God Reynard effortlessly threw his prey without touching them. Whilst his child was still in the womb of Julia Wicker, it was able to defend itself by telepathically forcing the abortionist to kill herself.

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.

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 and produce magical effects.

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.

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 declined to agree to 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) one who has reached a certain level of understanding of magic and its forces, will be able to cast a spell whenever he wishes, without needing to mentally review the Circumstances surrounding it. An example of this is Mischa Mayakovsky

The Five Tertiary Circumstances

  • Altitude
  • Age
  • Position of the Pleiades
  • Phase of the Moon
  • Nearest Body of Water

Known spells

Main article: List of spells

Spells are collected in books and tomes available to most 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 [citation needed].

Spellcasting Consequences

"We all sign this wavier - hope you read yours - it says "spell work is not unlikely to murder you. If so, oh well..'"
Eliot to Quentin on spellcasting consequences[src]

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.


"Niffin-ing out"

However, one of the more dramatic consequences of spellcraft is the instance in which the casting Magician's system is flooded with magic, shown to be because the spell is too powerful and requires more energy than the Magician can put out. This causes the Magician to, quite literally, go up in a puff of smoke, 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, becoming a creature of pure magical energy: a Niffin. At this point, they are no longer human and are purely magical in nature, which was demonstrated when Friar Joseph disappeared after magic was shut off by the Plumbers, employees of the Old Gods


  • The finger gestures used in the TV show for casting spells is known as Finger Tutting [1], and some of the moves seem to be derived from Mudra.


  1. Behind the scenes with Paul Becker, the choreographer of The Magicians, and the main cast (playlist)