From Academic Kids

An incantation is the words spoken during a ritual. such as those in praise of a god, in witchcraft or when casting a spell. It comes from the Latin incantare, meaning 'to utter an incantation', which would be done by an enchanter. Another name for an incantation is mantra.

Examples are "Abracadabra" as might be said by a magician during a trick, or the Stunning Spell in the Harry Potter books.


Incantations display several of the features of oral literature, including repetition, a strong reliance on performative language and formulaic composition. The earliest incantations in English are probably the Old English metrical charms. Written in Anglo-Saxon these charms are difficult to differentiate from the riddles and other short poems of the corpus of Old English poetry. However, they do rely strongly on metaphor, a relatively rare device of Anglo-Saxon poetry (except, of course, in the form of kenning), and one that may be universal to the genre of incantation. Furthermore, these charms invoke divine aid, especially in the form of the Virgin Mary, angels, and Christ.

A cursory examination of a cross-cultural selection of incantations reveals a few similarities.

  • Most incantations are metrical in one of several poetic forms of the language in which they are written. Some use an unusual verse form. Prose incantations are somewhat rare.
  • Almost all incantations invoke the aid of a divine or semidivine being, or some other spiritual entity.
  • Information packing in incantations is extremely tight. Sometimes, metaphors are difficult to understand, either because they are deliberately meaningless, or, more likely, because the author intended the metaphor to carry more semantic weight than usual.
  • Many incantations contain nonsense words. These words may be mantras, "barbarous words" (in Greek incantations, often badly transliterated Hebrew), or strings of vowels or other non-linguistic sounds.
  • Most incantations seem to require some sort of physical action by the reciter in order for the performative act of the incantation (i.e., the act of magic) to work. These actions may be described as part of the charm. In some instances, it is difficult to tell if the description of the actions is also to be incanted as part of the charm.

Almost no formal study has been done on the literary qualities of incantation, despite abundant theory in related areas.

Some collections of charms

Incantation was also a South American instrumental band and an american death metal band.


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