An incantation, enchantment, or magic spell is a set of words, spoken or unspoken, which are considered by its user to invoke some magical effect. An incantation may take place during a ritual, either a hymn or prayer and may invoke or praise a deity. In magic, occultism, shamanism, and witchcraft it is used with the intention of casting a spell on an object or a person. The term derives from Latin “incantare” (tr.), meaning “to chant (a magical spell) upon,” from in- “into, upon” and cantare “to sing”.
In medieval literature, folklore, fairy tales, and modern fantasy fiction, enchantments (from the Old French “enhancements”) are charms or spells. The term was loaned into English since around AD 1300. The corresponding native English term being “galdr” “song, spell”. It has led to the terms “enchanter” and “enchantress”, for those who use enchantments.
The weakened sense of “delight” (compare the same development of “charm”) is modern, first attested in 1593 (OED).
Surviving written records of historical magic spells were largely obliterated in many cultures by the success of the major monotheistic religions, Hinduism Islam, Judaism,
and Christianity, which label some magical activity as immoral or associated with evil.
In folklore and fiction
In traditional fairy tales or fantasy fiction, an enchantment is a magical spell that is attached, on a relatively permanent basis, to a specific person, object or location, and alters its qualities, generally in a positive way. A widely known example is the spell that Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother uses to turn a pumpkin into a coach. An enchantment with negative characteristics is usually instead referred to as a curse.
Conversely, enchantments are also used to describe spells that cause no real effects but deceive people, either by directly affecting their thoughts or using some kind of illusions. Enchantresses are frequently depicted as able to seduce by such magic. Other forms include deceiving people into believing that they have suffered a magical transformation.
To be enchanted is to be under the influence of an enchantment, usually thought to be caused by charms or spells.
The Latin incantare, which means ‘to utter an incantation’, or cast a magic spell, form the basis of the word “enchant”, with deep linguistic roots going back to the Proto-Indo-European kan- prefix. So it can be said that an enchanter or enchantress casts magic spells, or utters incantations, similar to what is called Mantra in Sanskrit.
Mantra Japa is a practice of repetitively uttering the same mantra for an auspicious number of times, the most popular being 108, and sometimes just 5, 10, 28 or 1008. Japais found in personal prayer or meditative efforts of some Hindus, as well as during formal puja (group prayers). Japa is assisted by malas (bead necklaces) containing 108 beads and a head bead (sometimes referred to as the ‘Meru’, or ‘guru’ bead); the devotee using his/her fingers to count each bead as he/she repeats the chosen mantra. Having reached 108 repetitions, if he/she wishes to continue another cycle of mantras, the devotee turns the mala around without crossing the head bead and repeats the cycle. Japa-yajna is claimed to be most effective if the mantra is repeated silently in mind (Manasseh).
According to this school, any shloka from holy Hindu texts like the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutra, even the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Durga saptashati or Chandi is a mantra, thus can be part of the japa, repeated to achieve a luminous effect. The Dharmasāstra claims Gāyatri mantra derived from Rig Veda verse 3.62.10, and the Purușasūkta mantra from Rig Veda verse 10.90 are most auspicious mantras for japa at sunrise and sunset; it is claimed to purify the mind and spirit.
Notable Hindu mantras (Gayatri)
- The Gayatri mantra is considered one of the most universal of all Hindu mantras, invoking the universal Brahman as the principle of knowledge and the illumination of the primordial Sun. The mantra is extracted from the 10th verse of Hymn 62 in Book III of the Rig Veda.
- ॐ भूर्भुवस्व: | तत्सवितुर्वरेण्यम् | भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि | धियो यो न: प्रचोदयात्
- Oṁ Bhūrbhuvaswaha Tatsaviturvarenyam bhargo devasya dhīmahi dhiyo yo naḥa prachodayāt
- “Let us meditate on that excellent glory of the divine Light (Vivifier, Sun). May he stimulate our understandings (knowledge, intellectual illumination)
- Pavamana mantra
- असतोमा सद्गमय । तमसोमा ज्योतिर् गमय । मृत्योर्मामृतं गमय ॥ Asato mā sad gamaya, tamaso mā jyotir gamaya, mṛtyor māmṛtaṃ gamaya.
- (Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 1.3.28) ” From the unreal lead me to the real, from the dark lead me to the light, from death lead me to immortality.
- Shanti Mantra
- Oṁ Shāntiḥ, Shāntiḥ, Shāntiḥ.
- “Om! Let the Studies that we together undertake be effulgent “Let there be no Animosity amongst us;
- “Om! Peace, Peace, Peace. – Taittiriya Upanishad 2.2.2