Think of the word "spell" and the chances are that the image that comes to mind is that of an old crone, like one of the witches in Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' bubbling, hubbling, toiling and troubling over a cauldron, concocting a malevolent plan to wreak revenge on her enemies. Or Carbosse (also known as Maleficent) the wicked witch in 'Sleeping Beauty' who dooms Princess Aurora to die when she pricks her finger on a spindle, perhaps? Or the Wicked Witch of the West who will stop at nothing to get her evil hands on Dorothy's red shoes in the 'Wizard of Oz'.
But the Lilac Fairy thwarts Carbosse's ploy and Glenda, the Good Witch of the North helps Dorothy to return to Kansas safely. In most storybooks, for every bad witch, there's good one; for every wicked witch a kind-hearted one. For every piece of black magic, there is a more potent piece of white.
Away from the world of fairy tales and wicked witches, magic and its spells have their roots in Celtic times - 700BC-AD 100. The deeply spiritual Celts were artistic and musical; they were fine farmers and brave warriors, who were feared by their adversaries. As pantheists, they honoured the 'Divine Creator of all Nature' and worshipped the 'One Creative Life Source' in all its many aspects. They believed that after they died they went to 'Summerland' where they rested and awaited rebirth. Celtic rites and rituals, the names of which will be familiar to those who study witchcrafy today, were supervised by the Druids - the word translates from the Celtic phrase for 'knowing the oak tree'.
It is believed that it took 20 years of hard study to become a Druid. They were regarded not just as Priests: they were judges, teachers, astrologers, healers, bards and ambassadors. Passing from one warring tribe to another to settle disputes. Nature and the passing seasons governed the Celts' religious year. At the end of summer, they celebrate Samhain - the final harvest of the year, which marked their New Year. This was the time when they honoured their ancestors, their loved ones who were resting in Summerland. Many of the customs that we now follow as Halloween have come to us from the Celts Samhain rites and rituals.
Samhain was followed by the Winter Solstice, the annual rebirth of the Sun, which the Celts' celebrated as jovially as we celebrate Christmas today, and in some respects in a not dissimilar fashion! The time when Spring is just aroud the corner and when domestic animals are about to drop their young was called Imbolc and was followed shortly afterwards by the Spring Equinox, Ostara and Beltane - the latter two being regarded as fertility festivals. Lughnassad, the Summer Solstice, was followed by another harvest festival that celebrated the Sun's glory and the power of nature. It was now that the sacred mistletoe used by Celtic priests was harvested, cut down with a golden sickle from the oak trees on which it grew and caught in a white cloth so it would never fall to the ground. The Autumn Equinox, or Mabon, was the final harvest festival of the year.
These religious beliefs and practices later became known as 'Paganism' - a word that derives from the Latin for 'Country-dweller'. As the wheels of the years went round, pagan beliefs and Druid rituals blended with the ways of others and such practices as concocting lotions and potions, performing works of magic and casting spells developed. It was quite natural that a word should evolve to cover this collective development; and that word was 'witchcraft'.
So what are spells? Spells have been used to help us in our daily lives. We cannot fly on broomstick, but we can protect loved one, heal, bring love into our lives, even curse another. How is this done, you might ask? As we go through life, there is unseen energy around us, this energy is neither good nor evil, it is neutral. Witches charge objects with this energy, giving it a good (positive) or bad (negative) charge to aid us in our time of need. This is the basic of a spell. Tools, herbs, candles, and many other objects can and have been used in conjuring a spell, yet no matter how little or how many ingredients are used in a spell, a spell will only be successful if the caster focuses on the task, and charges with energy. Without focus and energy, a spell will not work. Remember, you get what you put into it.
However, there are limitations to magic. Magic is energy, energy cannot change a persons DNA or go against nature. Transformation, time travel, teleportation, flying, bringing a person back to life, and invisibility are just a few of the things magic cannot change. What can spells do? luck, wealth, protection, binding, curses, health, love, job and many others involving effecting ones life good or bad.