“Expelliarmus”. “Wingardium leviosa”. “Protego”. “Lumos”. These are spells from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe. Of course, the use of spells is not unique to Rowling’s universe. Most fantasy worlds have spells in some shape or form. Some are cast with wands, some with words, some only with the mind. A loose definition of a spell, courtesy of Wikipedia, is, “a set of words, spoken or unspoken, which are considered by its user to invoke some magical effect.” Which makes me wonder, are rituals nothing more than spells we cast upon ourselves?
A ritual’s purpose is to allow us to attain a desired state of mind. Athlete’s have pre-game rituals. Creatives have sequences they walk through before they practise their art. Religions and philosophies have ceremonies—some overt, some implicit—that are used to frame perception and influence belief. I myself have a few rituals—I do certain things in a certain order in the morning, in the evening, and before I sit down to write. Previously, I hadn’t attached much significance to them. They were just practises that helped me a little. But now I’m thinking that they are more important, and perhaps that I can expand their use in my life. Perhaps feeling grateful helps me in some way. Why not develop a ritual that enables me to feel gratitude? Perhaps temporarily banishing physical and intellectual fatigue is useful? Why not develop a ritual that enables me to do just that?
In the Harry Potter universe, spells are a consequence of intention. Barring excessive physiological or psychological drain, a person can use magic and cast spells indefinitely. In other fantasy worlds and systems of magic, there are more rigid rules. For example, in Dungeons and Dragons, magic wielding characters have a limited array of spells, with the more powerful spells having severe limits on frequency of use. For example, a character may five “spell” slots, three which can be used once a day, and two which can be used as many times as they like—”cantrips” in D&D terminology.
This is only a minor observation, a tiny brick in the wall of how we think about ritualisation and states of mind. But, for me, thinking of rituals as spells works. Because the human mind is more influenced by narrative than reality, by story instead of fact, it is possible for me to fool myself into a higher realm of performance. All I need to do is gather my will, focus my intent, and cast a spell upon myself.