Lesson 4) Words And Their Power

Before we begin, we want to take a moment to thank all of the students for their kind words and support! We do our job to give you the best experience we know, and you do your job making us want to deliver better and better lessons! We've done our best to address comments and concerns in class, and we hope no one has been disappointed by an answer. As always, if you have a question, comment or concern, please let me know via Owl Post.

If one thing could be credited for the rise of coordinated human thought, it is the development of language. Language involves the system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and ideas to one another. While spoken language can be a faster form of communication, it is written language that manages to survive and allows us to understand what civilizations thousands of years old once thought.

Scripts (written systems of symbols) typically take two forms. The first, single complex symbols which represent words, such as cuneiform and hieroglyphs, require learning the sophisticated methods used to create them and thousands of unique symbols can exist in the language. The other involves an alphabet, a relatively small set of symbols organized into groupings called 'words,' with each word having a different meaning. This is the script that we predominantly see today.


The earliest known alphabet is known as the Phoenician Alphabet. This alphabet, dating back to at least 1050 B.C.E., contains ancient forms of most of the letters that we use today. The alphabet didn't have representations for the vowels, which were usually left to the reader to supply themselves.

Later iterations, such as the Greek, Latin, and later English alphabets, contain specific symbols for the vowels. Figure 1 shows an example of the Latin language. Note that there are many instances of the letter 'V' while no instances of 'U.' In early Latin text the letter 'V' was used as both a consonant and a vowel, while 'U' was only adopted much later to represent the unique 'U' sound.

The important thing to understand is that we still use the same alphabet developed three millennia ago with relatively minimal changes. Sure the shapes of the letters and their exact pronunciations may have changed, but most Phoenician letters can still be directly linked to their modern-day counterparts. Given how often the meaning of specific words can change, let alone the number of Latin-based languages that developed, it's amazing that the sounds and representation is even vaguely recognizable.


It's important to understand the origin of written language to understand how an incantation exerts its power. Incantations are almost always one or two words long. Most incantations we will cover have Latin origins and originate within Europe. Of course different magical practices exist in many other countries as well, but we only have enough class time (this year at least) to study European magic and we must focus on one specific tradition. Latin is one of the oldest known languages that we have a fairly comprehensive grasp of. Most European languages descend from Latin in some form, and even many English words have Latin roots, though there are some exceptions.

Consider the incantation for the Hover Charm, Levioso. As you'll recall, this spell allows the caster to lift things that they are touching off the ground effortlessly. The Latin root for the incantation, the word "levis", literally means "light of weight." It's also important to understand why an incantation requires precise pronunciation to be effective. Let's take a simple word, like "butter" for example. If we were to say "Please pass the better," people may understand what you mean but they will more than likely be confused as well. There isn't much harm in saying "better" instead of "butter," but consider cases when being slightly off matters a great deal.

If I were to say "I'd like to buy a dead cat" rather than "I'd like to buy a red hat," you would most likely find yourself regretting your choice of words. I'm sure you can find many examples where being even slightly off in your wording can have a profound impact upon your meaning. The same is true for an incantation; get a syllable out of place and you can completely change the way you are shaping the magic.

Sometimes mispronunciations result in nothing happening, sometimes there's only a minor mishap such as a small bang or backfire, but there are times when being even slightly off can result in completely unintended consequences such as explosions. This is why it is essential that you look up the pronunciation for any incantation you are unfamiliar with or listen very carefully when your professors talk about one in class. It's not worth risking your eyebrows, your hair, or your life because you were too careless to double-check the pronunciation of a spell!

The Fire-Making Charm

Today we will be looking at two spells that both have strong Latin roots. The first one, the Fire-Making Charm, has an incantation that comes directly from a Latin word. The incantation for the Fire-Making Charm is Incendio. The word "incendio" in Latin literally means "fire," and several other languages derived from Latin also use the word without modification. Even in English we have the word "incendiary" to describe something meant to cause a fire. If you haven’t guessed already, the purpose of this spell is to make fire!

Incantation: Incendio (‘in-SEN-dee-oh’)
Wand Movement: Curved flick up and down (as a flame)
Willpower: Low to very high depending on the distance of the target and the difficulty of igniting the target.
Concentration: Less needed for a simple light, more needed for a continuous stream of fire. On the target to be ignited.

I caution you strongly, as no doubt your Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor will, that this spell is NOT to be taken lightly. You should practice it only within a well-ventilated area and not around anything you do not want to catch fire. This is the first of many charms you will learn that can cause damage even when successfully cast! A backfire with this spell could literally set your clothes on fire, so be careful! I would recommend only practicing this spell with a jug of water nearby or in my classroom during off hours when I am present until you know how to put fire out magically. You have been warned.

Having said that, the Fire-Making Charm is also a spell that will mature as you continue in your studies and develop your focus. It is a good way to test how your magic is changing, which is why we teach it in your first year despite the potential dangers. You'll probably only be able to conjure a puff of smoke when you begin trying this spell but by the end of the year, will likely be able to light a candle from a few inches away, though exceptional students may be able to do a bit more. With more experience and practice, the user can typically make a small stream of fire flow from the tip of their wand, like a flamethrower.

The Fire-Making Charm is one of the oldest-known spells, its incantation and wand movement both simple and elegant. One challenge to casting the Fire-Making Charm is that it requires a fair bit of willpower and experience in addition to just the wand movement and the words.

A fully-experienced witch or wizard is able to target a distant object or location for the ignition and avoid excessive use of magic to achieve their goals. It's still difficult to target someone or something on the move, and as the counter for this charm is easy and takes but a moment, it has fallen out of favor in combat in recent memory.

The Locomotion Charm

The second spell we'll be looking at is the Locomotion Charm. This charm, which can be slightly confusing, is not actually a "flight" charm. While the object it affects appears to "fly," in reality it is simply hovering a few inches above the ground. Unlike all other types of "flight" charms, the Locomotion Charm allows a minimal amount of vertical movement, just enough for its target to clear the ground.

The true purpose of the Locomotion Charm, as its name suggests, is to move the target from one place to another. Unlike the Levitation Charm, which requires constant attention and concentration to maintain effectively, it's possible to cast the Locomotion Charm on an object and then direct that object toward a particular spot while casting another spell.

Incantation: Locomotor (‘LOH-koh-moh-tor’)
Wand Movement: Full circle with an upward flick toward the target at the end, then pointed where the object should go.
Willpower: Moderate to very high, depending on the distance and weight of the object.
Concentration: Minimal concentration should be maintained on the target object.

The Locomotion Charm has very interesting linguistic roots. It is the combination of two words from ancient Latin. "Loco" means place or location, while "motor" means to move. Taken together it means "move to a place," which is exactly what the charm does.

It is usually useful to specify the target of the spell verbally as well. If you want to target a nearby trunk, as most students do when moving theirs around, you can say Locomotor Trunk to make the target clearer. Some students find that the spell does not work for them, but this is mostly due to the fact that they do not focus enough on their target and end up moving dust or something else around that they do not intend to.

You'll find as First Year students that attempting to maintain a Locomotion Charm while also casting another spell will most likely cause the first charm to fail. The reason for this is that you have to keep some small measure of attention on the Locomotion Charm. Even the attention necessary to cast another spell is usually too much for the beginner, though I promise it will become easier as you continue your studies. It's important to note that the Locomotion Charm does not work on living things, only objects. You will be learning about a spell capable of moving living things in Third Year.

That wraps things up for today! Please look below for your assignments. Remember, your Midterm will be next week, so this week your assignment will be light. Next week you will have additional Charms work to complete.

Also, don't forget to keep up on your Journal Entries. Entries covering Lesson Four and Lesson Five will be due for Lesson Five!

Image credit: Dreamstime, HP Wiki

Year One of Charms presents an overview of the basics of spellcasting. Beginning with essential wizarding laws and touching briefly upon wandlore, we then discuss the components that are present within spells. Along the way you’ll learn of and practice the basic spells that all beginning witches and wizards should know. We’ll explore how such basic spells as the Severing Charm, the Levitation Charm and the Sunlight Charm demonstrate these fundamental aspects of spellcasting.
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