It was the most basic form of employing Magic by any individual, but was especially prominent to the likes of Witches, Warlocks, Wizards etc., who possessed the power and knowledge to cast spells of great power with little preparation. Spells allowed individuals to alter reality on certain levels, such as affecting the physical properties of objects and people, giving the caster access to supernatural powers and changing the very mechanics of reality itself.
- “Every time you do a spell, you're manipulating energy, right? You're pulling energy from all around you and you're compressing it, pressing it so tight that eventually it explodes.”
Spells often consisted of the verbal recitation of text; an incantation, but some spells had other requirements; such as special objects, ingredients and physical actions (such as meditating on the floor, for example). Spells also tended to involve the summoning of a Higher Being with the user pleading for them to do their bidding. Instructions for casting certain spells were recorded in books allowing other practitioners to learn how to perform them (such as the Writings of Dramius, Books of Ascension and Bynum's History of Witchcraft) while some practitioners recorded their own spells in their personal spell books.
When casting a spell, the caster did not only channel energy from a source and into their desired effect, they were also channeling that energy through themselves which partially remained in them. This gave consistent practitioners the potential to being detected by others, a trait shared by other supernatural beings such as Slayers and demons. Powerful practitioners could redirect this energy back into the Earth through months of meditation and hard labor. This method was also used by Werewolves to control their lupine cycles.
The content of incantations could vary between spell. Some included a single word or phrase (such as the Liberation spell), while others required entire sentences and even rhyming couplets (like the Dissolution Spell and My Will Be Safe).
Specific languages were known to be used when chanting incantations. These usually included Latin-based phrases or words, though English, Romanian, German, ancient Sumerian, Babylonian, Tibetan and the demonic language of Pylean were also used in spells. The caster did not have to know the language for the spell to be successful, but pronouncing the words correctly was imperative. A powerful caster was capable of overcoming the limitations of language-based incantations, as shown with Willow Rosenberg who initially spoke the Latin incantations of a Portal Spell before changing to English when she decided to take charge and command the higher forces to open a portal, admitting to "suck at Latin".
- “And tell him you don't need to cast spells in dead languages anymore”
- ―Willow Rosenberg[src]
Particularly powerful spells needed the caster to have a considerably high level of experience and power to cast them successfully, as well as the right tools. This could be due to the type of magic it involved or the deity it invoked. For example, the Sacrifice to Osiris could not be performed without his urn, calling upon the goddess Thespia could only be done by practitioners of a high level, and in the portal spell Willow needed to drain some of Anya Jenkins' and Kennedy's life force in order to power it. Additionally, Rupert Giles couldn't perform a paralyzing spell despite being fluent in Sumerian, because he was not powerful or experienced enough to recite the spell, while Willow was a powerful witch, but was in no way as knowledgeable as Giles.
Since magical energy factored in the casting of spells, spells that used a lot of dark energy were known to block the casting of lesser spells.
RitualsRituals were spells that involved a combination of incantations, ingredients, objects and actions performed in an orderly fashion. Magical rituals had to be performed undisturbed for the spell to be successful. For example, when casting a spell, Willow was adamant that Anya not speak as any "non-ritual word" could have catastrophic results, which proved to be true when their erupting argument led to the conjuring of a troll. In another instance, Willow and Anya botched their attempt at creating a temporal fold because the visions caused by the spell made Willow shake so much that the sand that was meant be poured over the image of Anya's necklace, so that it could be extracted from an alternate reality, instead poured on Willow's leg, causing her counterpart in that reality to be summoned into theirs.
Rituals could include the additional presence of two or more individuals to aid in the casting of the spell, usually by reciting a particular verse to compliment a verse recited by another participant. Sometimes rituals required all participants to be actively involved (such as the Enjoining spell) while others had one participant in charge of executing the spell with the other participants merely assisting them by doing simple tasks like chanting short incantations, waving burning sage or holding candles (for example, the Ritual of Restoration and the Sacrifice to Osiris). Some rituals needed the participants to be positioned a certain way, usually in a circle with the components placed in the center. Symbols may also have to be used during rituals, such as pentagram drawn on the floor (used in the Dedication, the Demon Corporification Spell and in disfigurement spells). Rituals were also known to have sartorial requirements, particularly robes. Xander was also once required to wear special markings on his bare chest while holding a candle to cast a Love spell.
Unintentional spell casting
Spells may not even have to be cast with intent as Xander Harris, who had no prior experience performing magic, accidentally set fire to a book after nonchalantly reading out an incantation from it, even though Willow claimed that spells needed the caster to have concentration and being "attuned with the forces of the universe". In a larger example, Willow unknowingly caused herself to be invisible to her friends and vice versa as she worried about how they would perceive her.
When it came to identifying spells, one could determine the spell based on the components used to cast it. There were other ways to find out if a spell was cast and what it did.
- Giles: "All spells leave some trace signature, they're just not perceptible to the human eye. In this case, it could be the image of a hand choking your mother."
- Anya: "A cloud of mist around her..."
- Willow: "Or maybe the shape of the demon who's performing the spell?"
- — Rupert Giles, Anya Jenkins and Willow Rosenberg[src]
All spells left a trace signature after they were cast which was not perceptible to the human eye unless the ritual Tirer La Couverture was performed. This made the user enter a trance which showed them a before-and-after of the world affected by the spell that they intended to identify. Buffy Summers used this to find out the cause of her mother's illness, only to discover the existence of a ritual that made the world believe she had a sister.
Identifying the caster
- Giles: “Ah! Yes. This should work. You'll need some of her hair, a little quicksilver and aqua fortis.”
- Willow: “That's just mercury and nitric acid, we can get it in the science lab.”
- Giles: “Heat ingredients and apply to witch, if a spell has been cast in previous forty-eight hours witch's skin will turn blue." Oh, and you'll need some eye of newt.”
- — Rupert Giles explains how spells could be used identify the caster. [src]
Witches could also be identified if they cast a spell in the last 48 hours by combining some quicksliver (mercury), aqua fortis (nitric acid) and the witch's hair, heating it and applying it to the witch's skin, whereby on the second contact is made the witch's skin turns blue. This was used to identify Amy Madison as a witch (though at the time she switched bodies with her mother, implying that spells left an impression on the user's body rather than spirit). It's unknown if this worked on witches only or any type of practitioner.
Creating and modifying spells
The majority of existing spells used today were products of ancient societies (hence the common use of dead languages), though new spells could be created by using existing spells as a template and tweaking the effects of those spells to best suit the caster. For example, Tara Maclay taught Willow how to create a "little tinkerbell light", only for Willow to have "tinkered with the Tinkerbell" which allowed her to create enough light to uncover a dark hallway. Willow then attempted to modify this spell even further by trying to create a Simulated Sunlight spell, but was never successful in doing so. Willow also previously tried to make an anti-love spell using the same ingredients for a normal love spell, but instead using raven feathers in place of canary feathers (because they bred more discontent). Like with her sunlight spell, her anti-love spell was presumably never completed.
In another example, the Enochian protection runes could be utilized for a concealment spell that rendered the user unable to being detected by psychics and higher beings during the time it was created, but in modern times, the spell's effects were transposed for modern surveillance, such as security cameras. Also, when rebuilding his karaoke bar, Lorne organized a new Sanctorium Spell to prevent violence from both humans and demons occurring on the premise because in the original bar, the spell only prevented demon violence.
Countering and undoing spells
- “Let the healing power begin. Let my will be safe again. As these words of peace are spoken, let this harmful spell… be broken.”
- ―Willow reverses her own spell.[src]
The effects of a spell can be undone by various means:
- Using a Reversal spell which tended to act as the exact anti-thesis of the original spell.
- Recalling the deity that was originally summoned in order to the cast first spell and asking them to undo it in the second.
- Destroying tools that were essential in the continence of the spell.
- Absorbing the caster's magical energy and decoding it into whatever the other person wanted it to do.
- Destroying the caster's power source can reverse some or all of their spells (for instance Count Kurskov's power center and Vengeance Demon pendants).
- According to Rupert Giles, cutting off a witch's head would reverse the effects of all the spells she cast.
- It was shown that some spells needed to be continually fueled by magical energy in order for it to keep working. For example, following the loss of all magic in world, Dawn Summers started to revert back into the Key as the spell responsible for making her human did not have access to any magical energy.
- Certain spells were cast specifically so they could be broken by the victim (or a third party) if they performed a certain action. The Time Loop Spell could be modified so that those affected by it would repeat a task over and over until they completed it successfully, the Transformation Curse could only be broken if the victim learned their lesson and the True Love spell put the victim in a permanent state of sleep until they were kissed by their true love as even a powerful witch like Willow admitted that she couldn't undo the spell herself (Serious magic is kinda like improve, Dawn. You can't stop it cold; you gotta adapt.)
- Exploiting a spell's flaws could be used to undo the effects. For example, the Ritual of Restoration, the spell to restore a vampire's soul, was made with a flaw, not an intended countermeasure, whereupon the ensouled vampire could lose their soul if they experienced "perfect happiness". Simulating that experience through a powerful psychotropic drug or an illusion was also successful (though the former only worked for a limited time).
Even though it may seem that the better a spell is cast, the harder to undo it; Willow Rosenberg stated that undoing magic of any kind took a lot of time, especially in the case of sloppy magic (in reference to Amy's spell that hid Twilight's secret headquarters 3 seconds in the future).
A curse was a type of spell that caused long-term negative or debilitating effects for the victim. It's effects were more pronounced than that of a hex. Anya Jenkins claimed that diamonds were excellent at performing curses.
Examples of curses
- The Ritual of Restoration was a curse that restored a vampire's soul, making the vampire endure the guilt caused by the people they hurt or killed. It could be reversed if the vampire experienced perfect happiness.
- Sid was cursed by the Brotherhood of Seven to live forever in the body of ventriloquist's doll.
- The Curse of Cadria.
- The Transformation Curse.
- Vengeance demons cursed their victims via wish-granting.
- The demon Tezcatcatl made an agreement with a shaman who cursed him to come back from the dead every 50 years until he could find his talisman.
Thaumogenesis was the process wherein the casting of a powerful spell resulted in the unwanted creation of being (usually a demon) to act as a side-effect or universal price for having the caster's will done. Anya Jenkins compared the process to a "gift with purchase".