Main > Features > Spellcasting
piece originally appeared as the 01/11/02 installment of the Random Encounter column.
Due to its incredible popularity, it has been updated and now has its
he great astronomer Carl Sagan may have said it
best (even if he wasn't the first) when he said "Extraordinary
claims require extraordinary evidence."
than a few times, the claim has been made that both Harry
Potter and Dungeons & Dragons
books contain real spells that can really be cast. In fact, a
site called Demonbuster
has this to say about the Harry Potter series:
of the Christians who defend HP books claim that one could never learn
enough to truly practice magick or sorcery by reading them. That sort
of statement could only be made by someone who was comparatively
ignorant of sorcery. "
also tells us that we should never burn candles or wear cologne,
perfume or any clothing with a paisley print, so they must know what
they're talking about. Bold statements like those are never
made by crackpots, after all.
many claims have been made that Dungeons & Dragons
rulebooks contain real-world occult (pronounced AH-cult)
intense occult training through D&D prepared Debbie to accept
the invitation to enter a witches' coven." - Dark Dungeons,
Publications' anti-RPG pamphlet.
we now understand the D&D can readily be a form of mind-control
which also uses real occult techniques to foster possession by evil
spirits." - William Schnoebelen, Straight Talk
About Dungeons & Dragons
game contains a summary of the principles and an introduction to the
fundamentals of the occult. By repetition and recitation, D&D
enables children to rehearse occultic basics in a fun, easy-to-learn
fashion. Thus, D&D really is a catechism of occultism. " - Peter
Leithart & George Grant, A
Christian Response to Dungeons & Dragons
are extraordinary claims, and I don't think it is unreasonable to put
them to the test and see what sort of extraordinary evidence can be
found to support them.
that in mind, I am going to take my Harry Potter books
and my Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons Players
Handbook and attempt to cast the arcane
spells contained within, all in the name of science, and at great risk
to my body and soul.
right. These claims of authentic, functional
magical abilities will be put to the test before your very
eyes. Do these spells really work? Will your kids
be able to cast them after a casual read? Will I survive
unscathed? Stay tuned to find out.
spells that you see the characters casting in the Harry
Potter series consist primarily of a few pseudo-Latin words
spoken loudly while waving your magic wand or pointing it at your
target. This should be a piece of cake - if there's one thing
I can do, it's speak pseudo-Latin while waving a stick around!
we'll need a wand. According to the books, wands are usually
made of a magical wood, with some sort of powerful item inside - like a
unicorn hair or phoenix feather. I'm not sure where to find a
phoenix or unicorn - in fact, I suspect that neither of them really
exist. But I could be wrong. After all, according
to Demonbuster, any kid who reads these books will be able to start
throwing spells around like there's no tomorrow. So a wand
can't be that hard to make.
Potter books tell us nothing about how to construct a wand,
so I will have to improvise. We have a border collie (no
horn), a parakeet with a very bad temper, and a yard full of
transplanted Christmas trees (and there's GOT to be some kind of magic
in THOSE). So for the purposes of our experiments, I will be
using an evergreen twig with some dog hairs and a parakeet feather
taped to it.
part wasn't easy. The parakeet got a few good bites in, and
the dog won't get anywhere near me now, but that's okay.** Any wizard
worth his salt can cast spells with a bandaged hand, and the dog would
only get in the way anyway. Now we have one official Harry
Potter wand, capable of performing all kinds of nasty
magical effects. Let's pick up one of the books and look for
a spell to cast.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, page
335 (hardcover). Harry makes his wand shine like a flashlight:
" "Lumos!" he
The wandlight showed him
the trunk of a thick tree..." *
should come in handy the next time the power goes out.
Method: This should be simple; say the word and
wave the wand. What could be easier?
My results went something like this:
That's odd. I did everything the book told me to.
Maybe I need more dog hair. Or an easier spell.
Let's try the first book instead. I probably shouldn't have
tried something from the third volume, since Harry was a third year at
Hogwarts in that one.
Spell Name: Body-Bind
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,
"(Hermione) raised her
Totalus!" she cried, pointing it at Neville.
Neville's arms snapped
to his sides. His legs sprang together. His whole
body rigid, he swayed where he stood and then fell flat on his face,
stiff as a board." *
Method: This one seems a lot more powerful than the old
instant-flashlight trick. Still, Hermione is a first year
when she casts this, so it should be no problem whatsoever. I
can see where this spell would be very handy when the kids are getting
rowdy at the supermarket. Rather than risk one of them
getting hurt on the hard tile floor and possibly run over by a shopping
cart, I think I'll cast this one on Paula in the living room, where the
carpet will gently cushion her fall. We'll have a good laugh
over it afterwards, once I figure out how to undo the spell (hopefully,
they cover that in Goblet of Fire somewhere...)
didn't bind. In fact, she snatched my magic wand away and
told me to take the trash out.
really don't get it. I did everything that the characters in the book
did, as closely as I could - I waved my wand, said the magic words, and
nothing happened at all.
Oh, crap. This
must mean I'm a muggle. How embarrassing.
good old D&D... where ANYONE can be a
magic-user - muggle or not - as long as they meet the Intelligence
spells contained in the Player's Handbook consist
of a block of statistical information - the time it takes to cast the
spell, the duration of the spell's effect, and what components are
required to cast it. The components can be verbal, somatic,
and/or material, in any combination - but it is rarely supplied to the
reader what the exact "magic words" of the verbal component are, how
you should gesticulate to perform the somatic component, or in what way
the material components are used.
would suggest that this means that these spells aren't really meant to
be cast by real people, and that they're just make-believe.
But we know better, because we're not "comparatively ignorant of
sorcery" like most people, right?
this should be easy. Let's pick something simple, a nice
First Level spell...
Name: Hold Portal
Effect: Turning to page 214 of the Third Edition Handbook,
we find that Hold Portal will hold closed a door of up to 20 square
feet per level. Since I've been playing D&D
for 20 years now, I've got to be at least 20th level, right?
So I should be able to hold a door that is 400 square feet in size. Man,
oh man... the pranks I could pull with that kind of power...
the spell description says that "the magic holds the portal fast, just
as if it were securely closed and normally locked."* That
should easily keep my two daughters from running out of the playroom
every two minutes to bother me as I write this.
Method: The book tells me that the only thing we need to cast
this spell is a verbal component... but it doesn't tell me what that
magic word is. Still, a 20th level mage like myself should
know all of this by now. I'll just shout a few lock-related magical
power words at the playroom door.
Failure. The results went something like this:
"Daddy, can we have something to drink?"
"DADDY! Nolah's pulling my hair! Tell her to stop!"
Okay, I know what's
wrong. Aylish must know the counterspell!
Spell Name: Feather
Required: Verbal only
Effect: Feather Fall's purpose is to decrease the speed of a
falling object - very useful if you find yourself a sudden
victim of gravity.
Method: To test this, I will climb onto
the roof of our garage, leap off, and shout the verbal component -
which I suspect in this case may be "Mary Poppins." If the
spell works, I should float to the ground like the suggested feather.
Attempt failed. Children traumatized; oldest daughter
resorted to poking daddy with a stick to determine signs of
life. Driveway is very hard. Ow.
Name: Spider Climb
Required: Verbal, somatic, and material.
Effect: Spider Climb allows the
caster to climb walls and ceilings like... well... a spider.
Method: I will attempt to climb back onto the roof of the
garage, and possibly give Feather Fall another go
once I'm up there. As usual, no verbal component is supplied,
so we will be using the word "McFarlane" (and if you don't know why,
then you're not enough of a geek). The material components
are the hardest to swallow - literally. In order to
successfully cast this spell, I must eat a live spider and a drop of
bitumen (an asphalt). Ack. Oh well, it's all in the
name of science...
Driveway is still hard. Ow,
ow. And for the record, live spiders taste horrible... but
after the last two experiments, I've begun to acquire a taste for
Name: Burning Hands
Required: Verbal and Somatic
Subject: A stuffed dragon that is in no way connected with
the Disney Corporation.
Effect: The effect of a Burning Hands spell is a sheet of
flame that shoots forth from the fingertips in a fan-like spray.
Method: The spell description tells us that the somatic
component is performed by holding the hands outward, palms down,
fingers spread, with both thumbs touching. No word is given
on the verbal component, but in the Big Dragon Battle Scene of the Dungeons
& Dragons movie, Profion seems to shout "fire" as a
verbal component. This seems a little too obvious, so I will
be using the phrase "Disco Inferno" instead.
Nothing. Good thing, too... my kids love that dragon.
Name: Change Self
Required: Verbal, somatic
Subject: Self (as if this wasn't obvious)
Method: The Change Self spell allows the
caster to alter his appearance in any way he chooses. Using
this spell, I will be altering my appearance to resemble rakishly
handsome film and television star Bruce Campbell.
For the verbal and somatic components of the spell, I'll sing a verse
of "Karma Chameleon" while voguing. But you probably didn't
want that mental picture.
Name: Animate Rope
Required: Verbal and somatic
Effect: This spell causes any piece of rope to move about
under the wizard's control. Once cast, the rope can be used
to entangle, bind, or trip an opponent, creature, or annoying
neighbor's kid that keeps throwing dirt clods into your yard while
you're trying to concentrate on spell casting.
Subject: One length of rope.
Method: Cast spell, throw rope over the fence,
command rope to tie up the kid, then feed him some dirt
clods. Wait, the dirt-clod-feeding step isn't really part of
the spell. Scratch that.
No moving rope. Where did I leave the
receipt for this blasted book?
Name: Charm Person
Required: Verbal and somatic
Effect: A Charm Person spell convinces the subject that you
are a friend, no matter what your prior relationship may be.
Subject: Random passerby.
Method: Choosing a random passerby, I will ask a simple
question: "Would you like to be my friend?", while holding both arms
out for a hug. This will act as the verbal and somatic
components of the spell. A positive response should signify
that the spell is a success.
My target, a female, appeared to have a
counterspell of some sort, with a material component that looked like a
small red can. The resulting gas cloud was both painful and
blinding. My spell appears to have failed, but hers seems to
have been very successful. I wonder what level she is?
Spell Name: Mount
Required: Verbal, somatic, and material
Effect: The Mount spell summons a horse, complete with
saddle, bit, and bridle, that is friendly and willing to act as your
steed for two hours per level of the caster. That should give
me free rides for almost two whole days!
Subject: Self, I guess...
Method: The material component is a bit of horse hair, and
for a combination verbal/somatic component, I will be shouting "Hi Ho
Silver!" and making pretend horsey-riding motions.
Waited two and a half hours. No
horse. Police drove me home.
Name: Mage Armor
Required: Verbal, somatic, and focus (a material component
that is not consumed in the casting of the spell)
Effect: Mage Armor protects the subject
with a force field that is capable of improving the target's resistance
to incoming attacks.
Method: An assistant will attempt to hit me with a weapon (a
rusty old pipe wrench was chosen for both heft and visual
effect). If properly cast, the blow will be deflected by the
magical force field. The focus for this spell is a small
piece of cured leather - my battered wallet should do the trick - and
for the somatic and verbal, I will be clenching my fists and shouting
"Sticks and Stones!"
Failed. Ouch. And I can't find my wallet now.
Name: Cause Fear
Required: Verbal and somatic
Effect: Cause Fear does just that - incites fear in the
people and creatures around you.
Method: I never really got around to casting this spell
...the simple act of walking around wearing a wizard's cap and carrying
a tree branch with dog hair taped to it appears to have the same effect
as casting a Cause Fear spell. Therefore, my research into
this particular spell is inconclusive, since I never cast it in the
Harry Potter and Dungeons
& Dragons books paint vivid pictures of wizards and
witches throwing spells around in great doses of fantasy fun - but do
not supply enough information to show you how to do it yourself, any
more than reading Zane Grey can show you how to be the fastest gun in
who disagrees is welcome to jump off of the roof of my
garage. I'll leave the ladder out for you.
Information taken from the Dungeons & Dragons
Player's Handbook and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter
series is the property of the respective publishers and authors.
The author wishes it to be very clear that neither
of his beloved pets were harmed in the preparation of his official
Harry Potter wand. It was molting season for the parakeet,
and the dog needed a bit of a trim anyway.
|Extra special thanks to Henry Peel (photos), James
Peel (pipe wrench wielder & idea consultant), the whole Peel
family (for letting us borrow their wonderful home), and the neighbors
of the Peel family (for not calling the police).
fun doesn't stop here! Be sure to read The Magic
Mailbag, a collection of the best of the email responses to Spellcasting