The spell is a magical act intended to cause an effect on reality using supernatural means of liturgical or ritual nature. Spells are a substantial component of many Pagan religions and can also be found in some monotheistic religions. Others, like Islam and Christianity, explicitly forbid this practice. Medieval collections of spells were called grimoires.
Spells were probably developed during the Neolithic magical belief period and have been practiced since then both in accepted and clandestine environments. They were common in Pagan societies as part of massive official holidays promoted by authorities: this activity is well documented in a number of historical sources and has even survived in vodunist or shamanic religion areas. On the opposite, practitioners were harshly prosecuted in other places and ages, specially in areas whose state religion was Christianity. Nowadays practitioners are protected under the freedom of belief, a fundamental right regarded by most democratic countries.
Typically, a spell is a symbolic representation of the purported effect performed under the invocation of a deity. It can even be an unwilling instantaneous action with no specific shape. But in more developed Pagan beliefs, spells have the following general structure:
Preparation, when all needed products are disposed in the appropriate location and the involved individuals perform preliminary activities like fasting, praying, etc.
Overture to start the ritual or liturgical performance, create an appropriate, solemn "magical environment" and reinforce the communion effect among participants.
Invocation, when the cooperation of supernatural forces is requested to take the spell to reality.
Execution, where all ritualized magical acts belonging to the spell are precisely performed.
Closure, to solemnize the end of the act and dissolve the "magical environment" created during the overture.
It is noticeable the similarity between this structure and the liturgy of more modern monotheistic religions, from which these practices are derived. A neat example of such a parallelism is the Catholic Mass.
When the goal of the spell and the means used to achieved it are regarded as immoral, illegal or pernicious by a certain society, it is defined as black. If a society accepts both the goal and the means as innocuous, it is defined as white. While these terms are used by practitioners to convey to non-practitioners the difference between positive and negative magics, the terms 'black' and 'white' are not generally used amongst practitioners themselves, probably to avoid any racial connotations the terms could hold. Nowadays, a number of Neopagan religions like Wicca have recovered the usage of spells and vindicate it. Many people perform them privately for themselves, for others or for a price, usually following the instructions of occultist books or other sources, commonly seeking health, wealth and love although sometimes also for revenge or hate. It must be noted, however, that several branches of Neopaganism, such as Wicca, expressly forbid the use of magic if it harms others. Additionally, within the bounds of Wiccan ethics, if a spell is to be used on another human being, his or her consent must generally be obtained.