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Spells and Charms: Their Real Purpose and How They Work

Updated on December 30, 2021
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Sylvia Sky, astrologer, Tarot reader, and gemstone enthusiast, is a widely published author of books and articles about spiritual matters.

"Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog"

Witches, painted by Johann Heinrich Fussli, 1783
Witches, painted by Johann Heinrich Fussli, 1783 | Source

Shakespeare's Three Charming Witches

"Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog,"

chant the witches in Shakespeare's play Macbeth. They continue:

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.

Are they casting a spell or using a charm? Harry Potter books say "spells work on people, and charms work on things." We don't blame anyone, including Shakespeare, for saying the witches are casting a spell, but that is wrong. Shakespeare's witches were reciting a charm. Charms are ancient recipes written like poems, with rhyme and rhythm, so they were easy to remember.

Shakespeare was fictionalizing, writing an exciting scene for a theater audience, trying to make them believe in evil witches brewing trouble. The fact is, real-life charms were not supernatural and had no power to do evil. They were recipes for herbal medical mixtures such as salves or powders, intended for healing and for other positive, practical uses.

Charms Were Medicinal

There have survived 12 genuine Anglo-Saxon charms from the age of Beowulf, 600 years before Shakespeare. One is a charm against bee stings, and another removes skin growths, called "wens."

The famous Anglo-Saxon "Nine Herbs Charm" is a recipe for a salve to cure infected wounds. It calls not for "eye of newt and toe of frog" but for a compound of ordinary herbs, apple juice, an egg and soap. Charms helped even the illiterate to remember recipes for nursing and healing. Literate healers might use a "Leechbook" containing charms against earache, "black ulcers," and elves, who were believed to be responsible for some illnesses.

Charms aren't necessarily pagan, either. Some old charms include Christian elements. The charm "against a stitch" (meaning "splinter"; iron and wood are mentioned) says to take the mixture to church before use. A mixture to make a barren field fertile required that a priest say Masses over it. Here's part of the Nine Herbs Charm, translated from Anglo-Saxon into plain English:

Chervil and Fennel, two of much might,
they were created by the wise Lord,
holy in heaven as He hung;
He set and sent them to the seven worlds,
to the wretched and the fortunate, as a help to all.

So if you hear a recipe in the form of a poem -- it's a charm. The result is meant to be positive and useful. Charms were an oral tradition, so all could make use of them.

The word "charm" originally meant "magic word" and has also come to mean an inanimate object significant to its wearer.

What Are Spells?

A "spell," in contrast to a charm, resembles a prayer. A spell, like a prayer, is words only, delivered with feeling. Like a prayer, a spell is "intercessory," which means it is intended to interfere with fate.

While our Mom undergoes risky surgery, we pray to higher powers to help Mom pull through. We pray for safety for our soldiers in combat. But unlike prayers that try to get divine help, spells try to influence reality or human behavior by focusing our personal psychic energy on some specific issue. Casting spells, we hope that our own powers will be enough to alter people and situations.

Books and TV shows and movies have popularized spellcasting, and one effect is the growth of online and app-based "spellcasters" that you buy spells from or pay to cast spells on your behalf. Of course the buyer must believe that the universe can be rearranged by a spellcaster's psychic energy.

A Witch in Moonlight Manifesting . . . What?

You might be a real witch if you can identify whether the moon in this picture is waxing or waning.
You might be a real witch if you can identify whether the moon in this picture is waxing or waning. | Source

Being Your Own Spellcaster

We all wish that by standing in moonlight and saying magical words we could make something or somebody change. Maturity teaches us that even with intense concentration and using magical words, we can't change or control anybody but ourselves.

But that's a good thing. Imagine the possibilities if you focused all your powers not on others but on increasing your own virtues and thriving.

You can do spells on yourself to increase confidence or patience, or decrease envy or sorrow. Spells do not and will not control other people. If you are tempted to pay an online stranger or use a spellcasting app "guaranteed to bring back a lost love," or cause bad things to happen to a rival, just know in advance that it will not work and might be a fraud. Most online spellcasters don't give refunds. If the spell doesn't work, they will say it is your fault for expecting too much.

Most online spellcasters call themselves witches or Wiccans. If they're selling vengeance they are not. The Wiccan religion's famous "Rule of Three" says harming or wishing harm on others brings back on you a punishment three times worse. That is why real Wiccans practicing "magick" won't take any amount of money to cast a "black magic" spell to torment your ex. That happens only in fiction and movies.

If you feel controlled or manipulated by somebody, it's not that some witch cast a spell on you. It's their lies or intimidation.

In most situations there's simply no need to cast a spell. If your child won't obey, don't cast a spell to make her more compliant; talk to her.

Sylvia Sky, experienced astrologer, writes about occult matters. Sylvia does not select or endorse the ads appearing on her pages.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Sylvia Sky


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