A spell is a controlled manifestation of magic that that affects the world in a supernatural fashion, such as levitating objects, conjuring fire or water, or stunning an individual. Generally cast by a witch or a wizard, spells are often produced with an incantation, and may appear as jets of light. Because of this spells can usually miss, be dodged, or blocked, either with an object or another spell. The action of performing a spell is referred to as casting or spellwork.


"Now, don't forget that nice wrist movement we've been practising! The swish and flick! And saying the magic words properly is very important, too — never forget Wizard Baruffio, who said 's' instead of 'f' and found himself on the floor with a buffalo on his chest."
Professor Flitwick in Charms Class[src]
Normally, spells require four main factors to be properly accounted for in order to succeed: wand movement, incantation, concentration and intention. If one does not move their wand in the correct way, does not speak the incantation properly and/or cannot retain their concentration and/or desired outcome in their imagination during casting then the spell will fail or backfire.

It should be noted that spells can be performed with or without speech and wands, though non-verbal and wandless spells are much more difficult and hence are usually not taught to practitioners until they reach a more advanced level, such as the sixth year of study at Hogwarts. Notable practitioners of non-verbal spells include Albus Dumbledore, Lord Voldemort, and Severus Snape, who have also been known to perform wandless spells.

Most incantations derive from the Latin language (such as Accio) but there are also some English incantations (such as Obliviate or Stupefy). It could be that, in other countries and wizarding territories, that spells with an English incantation or another incantation other than Latin-based, could be used in other languages, as long as wizards use the same wand movement, concentration and intention.

A simplified analogy for the differentiation between Transfiguration and Charms is the difference between form and function or matter and energy; one is concerned with what the object is (its form - Transfigurations) whilst the other is concerned with what the object is doing (its function - Charms).


When performed, spells usually manifest as light, sparks, lightning, or fiery energy like of various colours from the wand they are cast with, such as the tell-tale red of Stupefy or green of Avada Kedavra. However, some spells, such as Accio and Silencio, produce no visible intermediate effect. Some spells also make loud noises when cast, although Harry Potter noted that "bangs and smoke were more often the marks of ineptitude than experience."[1]


Typically, spells brought about through magic have a certain time limit placed upon them. This means that effects and after-effects magically induced by them are not meant to last, since spells like Expelliarmus only operate brief and swift, while spells like Stupefy and Petrificus Totalus wear off eventually. Counter-curses can also end a designated spell's effect. Likewise, a spell whose effect has yet to diminish would disappear at the moment of the caster's death. However, it was mentioned that ancient Egyptian wizards could place curses on their tombs for anyone who might open them, and the curses are still active today even though the casters are presumed dead. It could be that the Egyptian wizards used curses that could grow stronger over time or at least retain their power after the casters' deaths, as that is one known aspect of certain Dark magic. Memory Charms can be so strong that they completely remove a person's memory or even damage his or her mind permanently.


"There was a lot more to magic, as Harry quickly found out, than waving your wand and saying a few funny words."
—Harry Potter learning that magic is not as easy as he thought.[src]
New spells can be crafted by wizards and witches, though Spell creation is a highly difficult and dangerous practise, as exemplified by Pandora Lovegood, who was killed in a backfired attempt at spell-crafting.[2] Severus Snape is often attributed with the creation of spells such as Levicorpus and Sectumsempra during his time as a student at Hogwarts.[3][4]


Below is a list of all known categories that spells can be assigned to. It should be noted that when it comes to the classification of spell types, "the boundaries are flexible," and as such, types of spells may overlap, or have non-indicative effects.[5] It also seems likely that certain spell types belong to separate classification schemes to others. For example: Petrification is dark magic of the most advanced kind but it is also Transfiguration, Melofors is both a Jinx and a Conjuration, Fiendfyre could be considered a Charm as well as a curse and many healing spells could also be considered either charms or counter-spells. Hence, it appears that charm vs. transfiguration is one method of classification and differentiation, and that charm/counter-spell/healing spell vs. jinx/hex/curse is a different one.

Spell Type

Defining Feature




Alteration of the object's form or appearance.

Spells of this group may be separated into true transfiguration spells (where an existing object is altered) and conjurations, where the desired object is seemingly transfigured out of thin air.

Vera Verto - a true transfiguration spell that changes animals into water goblets.

Avis - a conjuration that produces a flock of birds.


Alteration of the objects inherent qualities i.e. its behaviour and capabilities.

When cast by an experienced practitioner, charms appear to usually have fairly long-lasting effects.

Expelliarmus - the Disarming Charm, so-called because it changes its object's (the opponent's) quality from armed to disarmed by separating them from their wand.


Minor dark magic; spells whose effects are irritating but amusing, almost playful and of minor inconvenience to the target.

Jinxes can only be maintained as long as the caster keeps eye contact.[6]

Impedimenta - the Impediment Jinx, which (appropriately) impedes the forward motion of an object.


Consistently affects the object in a negative manner; has a connotation of dark magic, but more so than a jinx. Major inconvenience to the target.

Anteoculatia - a hex that causes antlers to sprout from the object's head.


The worst kind of dark magic, intended to affect the target in a strongly negative manner.

Avada Kedavra - a.k.a. the Killing Curse, which kills the victim.


Inhibition of the effect of another spell.

Counter-spells are a mysterious spell type that is not elaborated on. There are six known types: Counter-jinxes, counter-curses, counter-charms, untransfigurations, anti-jinxes and undifferentiated counter-spells (it is unknown whether or not counter-hexes exist, though they presumably do). Whilst nomenclature is complex they all share the common trait of inhibiting another spell.

Finite Incantatem - a widely-employed counter-spell that terminates spell effects in general.

Healing spell

Improves the condition of the living object.

Episkey - heals minor injuries.

A simplified analogy for the differentiation between a transfiguration and a charm is the difference between form and function or matter and energy; one is concerned with what the object is (its form - transfigurations) whilst the other is concerned with what the object is doing (its function - charms).

Behind the scenes

  • J. K. Rowling defined a spell as "The generic term for a piece of magic."[7]
  • Many spells are portrayed as energy blasts, bolts or beams, sometimes in the shape of lightning, with various colours. Other times, spells can manifests as balls or bursts of sparks and fire of various colours, vibrational shockwaves, wave like wisps of smoke like energy, or flashes of light, but in many instances, these physical manifestations of spells can be used as projectiles.
  • Commonly, a spell can also contain great concussive force or even intense heat, especially when they hit something that is not the target of the spell, with it being enough to damage objects or surfaces. Also, many offensive spells are able to knock down or send a person flying through the air.

See also


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Notes and references

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