What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

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eldin raigmore
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What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by eldin raigmore » Sat 01 Jul 2017, 03:57

(I'm positive this general question isn't original with me; but I don't know the answer.)
What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?
Is it illocutionary or perlocutionary or what?
Or is there perchance no difference?
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Re: What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by lsd » Sat 01 Jul 2017, 08:22

It is a difference of positioning:
The magician has a superior power to the supernatural forces that it constrains...
The religious is subject to the power of the supernatural forces which it begs ...
The two actions have an illocutionary function ...
The perlocutionary function depends on the response of the supernatural forces (and the belief of the audience (and yours to define it as such) ...)
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Re: What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by Salmoneus » Sat 01 Jul 2017, 11:19

eldin raigmore wrote:(I'm positive this general question isn't original with me; but I don't know the answer.)
What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?
Is it illocutionary or perlocutionary or what?
Or is there perchance no difference?
I'm not sure what similarity you see, so the difference is pretty much everything.

A prayer is an attempt to commune with a deity. A spell is an attempt to alter the world supernaturally.

Admittedly, you could possibly pray to a deity and ask them to alter the world supernaturally. You could also cast a spell that let you commune with a deity.

But that's like asking what the difference is between opening a door and eating a chocolate bar. Because if it's a cupboard door you might open the door in order to get to the chocolate bar inside. Or if it's a really heavy door and you're feeling tired you might eat a chocolate bar to give you the energy to open it. But otherwise the two things are entirely unrelated.
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Re: What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by Lambuzhao » Sat 01 Jul 2017, 14:09

although all sorts of theologians will talk about the 'power' of prayer,

but, as was said by others before,

prayer is asking for something, or else thanking for something.
The orant is essentially without the power to complete an sich the action/acquire the Mcguffin.

A spell is all about power.
Exerting control of some sort through ways and means that run counter to the normalcies of Nature.
The prestidigitator essentially either has the power within, or knows how to summon/command the power an sich to complete the action/acquire the McGuffin.

If both are the same, then it's because there's some kind of summoning of another power.
In either, there also may be some inter-realmic 'do ut des' involved as well.

But, other than that, it's as different as cookies from cupboards.
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Re: What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by eldin raigmore » Sat 01 Jul 2017, 20:56

Thanks, all responders so far!
Still looking forward to other responses as well.

-----------------------------------------

If one overhears a spell might it sound exactly like a prayer and/or vice-versa?
The difference in the spell-casters attitude towards the communication might not show up in the words s/he says.

-----------------------------------------

Prayers are sometimes accompanied by sacrifices; spells also are sometimes accompanied by sacrifices.
Are these not often quid-pro-quo transactional offerings?
Can a neutral observer tell whether such a sacrifice is part of a prayer versus part of a spell, unless s/he can divine the orant's (love that word!) attitude?


In the last verse of "La Virgen de la Macarena", the singer says (paraphrasing freely) "and if I get him/her I will make a novena to my dear Virgen de la Macarena".
Sounds like a bargain to me.
Is that part of a prayer, or part of a spell? Or can one tell?
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Re: What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by Salmoneus » Sun 02 Jul 2017, 00:28

eldin raigmore wrote: If one overhears a spell might it sound exactly like a prayer and/or vice-versa?
A prayer is a spiritual act, so you can't overhear it. Prayers can be accompanied by physical manifestations (often considered to aid the concentration) but these are not required for the prayer (prayer may be purely mental and internal, without external manifestation). Even when there are physical manifestations, these need not be audible- any physical action can do (consider the use of rosaries, or the adoption of prayer-postures). Many groups have believed in prayer through dance, for example. In Christianity, there's an old expression "to work is to pray", and many exhortations to make every action a prayer - some sects have even held that good works are the only legitimate form of prayer.
So inasmuch as a prayer is non-physical, it cannot be 'overheard'. Inasmuch as you might overhear physical concomitants to prayer, these may be almost anything imaginable, and so might sound like anything you'd like.

Likewise, a 'spell' is merely a ritual. It may have any physical content (or, again, none), so may of course sound like anything you'd like.
Prayers are sometimes accompanied by sacrifices; spells also are sometimes accompanied by sacrifices.
Meals are also sometimes accompanied by sacrifices. So are gladiatorial events, the erection of large buildings, daybreak, the landing of boats, weddings, and so forth. Humans love sacrifice.
Are these not often quid-pro-quo transactional offerings?
Can a neutral observer tell whether such a sacrifice is part of a prayer versus part of a spell, unless s/he can divine the orant's (love that word!) attitude?
If a neutral observer doesn't speak the language or understand the culture, then they can't tell anything for sure. If a neutral observer does speak the language and understand the culture, then "divination" should be quite easy. If nothing else, they can ask someone what's going on.
[what is a 'neutral observer', anyway?]
In the last verse of "La Virgen de la Macarena", the singer says (paraphrasing freely) "and if I get him/her I will make a novena to my dear Virgen de la Macarena".
Sounds like a bargain to me.
Is that part of a prayer, or part of a spell? Or can one tell?
It is neither a prayer nor a spell, it is a narration. If it were addressed to the Virgin, then it would obviously be a prayer (because anything you say to the Virgin is a prayer, because she's not a living person).

Again, biscuits, cupboards. Not sure why you're having difficulty with this.
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Re: What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by Lambuzhao » Sun 02 Jul 2017, 01:20

Prayers and spells could sound very similar indeed: focused, chanted aloud or quietly, with similar trappings (candles, vestments, sacred scrolls or books, symbols or icons, plants or animals).

And the language of both the orant and the prestidigitator could sound equally invocational; similar verbs, expected outcomes.

I think the main difference, though, is in the agency.

Prayer: Please, Oh Zeus, I invoke Thee to smite mine enemies for me (because I alone am incapable)
Spell: Please, Oh Zeus, I command that Thou givest me the power to smite mine enemies (because I did some combo of sacrifice&incantation that guarantees that I am capable).

Maybe it's two sides of the same coin (?) I still think in prayer, there's a humilty factor in that the orant cannot presume that the prayer will 'work', in the way that a properly conducted spell ought to 'work' every time. In this way, there is definitely an attitudinal difference in the two acts

A spell is the use of the power or energy or spirit or (even deity) instrumentally to achieve the will of the prestidigitator. As long as the spell is intoned correctly, and the accompanying rituals likewise acomplished, 99.9% efficacy should be guaranteed. The prestidigitator has the arcane knowledge to guarantee its success, some kind of celestial upper-hand that will make that force do exactly as intended by the prestidigitator. A spell is like boiling water; as long as the procedures are followed correctly, you will get boiling water every time.

A prayer is, among other things, asking a deity for help in a situation. If it is the will of the deity, than the orant's desired result will come to fruition. But only if the deity wills it. The will of the orant is no guarantee that the petition will be fulfilled. A prayer is like asking someone who doesn't speak your language to boil water for you. If you explain it with patience and are not too demanding (I'm generalizing overmuch, to be sure), that person may understand and do it for you right away. Or come to understand what you meant tomorrow morning, and have boiled water for you by lunch tomorrow. Or not, for any number of reasons.


As said in earlier post(s), prayers also can be for other purposes, such as pennance/contrition, thanksgiving, etc. No prestidigitator uses a spell in these ways, IMHO, but I could be wrong. For example, the incantations in The Book of the Dead used to persuade Anubis to judge your heart mercifully/fairly - are they prayers that depend on not only the will of Anubis but also of Maat, or are they spells guaranteed to work every time? It bears looking into... :wat:
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Re: What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by Lambuzhao » Sun 02 Jul 2017, 02:08

Salmoneus wrote:
eldin raigmore wrote: In the last verse of "La Virgen de la Macarena", the singer says (paraphrasing freely) "and if I get him/her I will make a novena to my dear Virgen de la Macarena".
Sounds like a bargain to me.
Is that part of a prayer, or part of a spell? Or can one tell?
It is neither a prayer nor a spell, it is a narration. If it were addressed to the Virgin, then it would obviously be a prayer (because anything you say to the Virgin is a prayer, because she's not a living person).
Well, in the very first line of the song, the narrator mentions praying each night that the Virgen of Macarena. The narrator is doing this nightly prayer so that the Virgen might turn the heart of a potential love conquest, who, depending on the version of the song , if by Juan Legido, it is a woman, or, if in the María Espinosa version, it is a male lover who has spurned her. {From humble poems and songs to voluminous religious tomes, variant versions often have those juicy hapax legomena or splendid solecisms that can make translating really interesting! [B)] }.
It seems like in both versions the narrator might be already making a Novena to the Virgen, which is a nine-day offering of prayers which have elements of petition, contrition and thanksgiving. Bu there is an unmistakable element of petition in the intent and wording of the Novena prayers.

«Y si lo consigo»
If I achieve/receive/obtain it (i.e. my petition)
*Recall the 3SG.M pronoun can also be used for the neuter gender, as well as the default masculine.

Furthermore, according to the Catholic Church, an orant of a Novena is expected to perform the Novena in anticipation of the petition, but also after when the desired effect would take place, to show piety and devotion.

In the Legido version, the narrator promises to light a candle in thanksgiving. In the Espinosa version, the narrator promises to say that second Novena of thanksgiving. But they are both gestures of thanksgiving.



Juan Legido Version (in Spanish)
Spoiler:
De noche cuando me acuesto
le rezo a la virgen de La Macarena
y alli solito en mi cuarto
a la virgencita le cuento mis penas.

Y de corazón le pido
que la hembra que yo quiera
mientras en el mundo viva
no me sea traicionera.

Y mi virgencita y mi virgencita
como es tan gitana
hara que me quiera, hara que me quiera
esa sevillana.

Estoy mirando a sus ojos
que son dos luceros clavaos en los mios
y ese traje por su hechura
y por su carita me quita el sentido.

Madrecita de mi alma
si yo tuviera la suerte
de que una hembra tan gitana
se decidiera a creerme.

Y si lo consigo, si lo consigo
le pondre una vela
a mi virgencita, a mi virgencita
de la Macarena.
María Espinosa version (Spanish)
Spoiler:
De noche cuando me acuesto
le rezo a la Virgen de la Macarena;
y ahí yo solita, con mi Virgencita,
le cuento mi pena.

Y de corazón le pido,
que al gitano que yo quiero,
mientras en el mundo viva
no me sea traicionero.

Y mi Virgencita de la Macarena
por ser tan gitana,
le da lo que pide, le da lo que pide
a esta sevillana.

Vas diciendo por la calle
que yo te camelo y que tú no me quieres
y sabes de sobra que es otra
mujer a la que ahora prefieres.

Más valía que te acordarás,
que llorando me decías,
que si de ti me olvidaba
tú de pena morirías.

Y a la Virgencita de la Macarena
por ser tan gitana
le pido que un día,
le pido que un día,
me ahogue la pena.

Desde aquí estoy mirando un moreno
que tiene sus ojos clavados en los niños.
Y es ese hombre que por su lechura
en cualquier hembra quita el sentío.

Madrecita de mi alma,
si me hicieras el milagro
de que ese hombre tan gitano
se decidiera a quererme.

Y si lo consigo,
y si lo consigo,
lo haré una novena,
a mi Virgencita,
a mi Virgencita de la Macarena.
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Re: What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by LinguistCat » Sun 02 Jul 2017, 08:07

I'd actually say they are indeed very similar, if not the same in some contexts. The main difference, I think, is that a prayer goes to a being one worships and is often address to a specific entity or set of entities, whereas a spell is more "whomever it concerns".

As someone who does some "spell work" as part of my spiritual path, I might for example do a spell for financial security. So I would take things that symbolize that idea to me, usually herbs and charms, and I would do actions that symbolize (again for example) drawing in money and keeping a balanced life style. I state my intent in some way, because the more "channels" you use, the more likely something will work. And then, after the spell, I put in physical effort like balancing my check book or writing and spreading a commission post, reminding my hubby that we don't need certain things. Even then, the spell might "work" in a way I wasn't expecting, or not at all. Or the work I put in physically could have done what I wanted and the spell was more of a placebo that got me to do the things I needed.

If I specifically PRAY for that, then I would address a deity who has that in their purview, and I would ask that they would help me in this way. Again, the answer might be no. Or just putting in extra work might be what helps me. Or I might find extra money the next time I walk and it's just enough to get through the month. I might get more commissions than I expect, to show that I have to be willing to work in order to earn my financial security, or at other times to remind me that I need to know when to stop.

(I am one of those odd people who has a spiritual path and believes certain things exist, or work certain ways. But I'm also agnostic in the sense that I know these things can't be proven, and that I very well could be bonkers for doing this.)
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Re: What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by Znex » Sun 02 Jul 2017, 12:01

I suppose the difference relies very much on which culture you're talking about.

I think this difference was definitely blurred in regards to Germanic paganism; The Heliand, an Old Saxon free translation of the Christian Gospels, certainly characterises The Lord's Prayer as being the incantation that Jesus gave his loyal followers, by which Saxon Christians could invoke God's name, though the prayer itself attributes more to the God invoked than the invoker themself.

The difference isn't necessarily in which form, since though for example Christian prayer is traditionally ritualised and still is to some extent, many Protestant congregations value free prayer. Similarly I suspect many modern pagan spells (eg. Wiccan maybe) are freeform, not just ritualised.

I can't say for sure other than that, except I don't think the difference is necessarily so clear-cut as we tend to draw it in modern culture.
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Re: What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by Lambuzhao » Sun 02 Jul 2017, 20:21

Oh yes, the sound effects.

Prayers are usually accompanied by angelic choruses or the Universal Nothingness quietly la-la-la-ing, and/ or tinkling bells.


Spells are usually accompanied by a thunderclap, or a fierce gust of wind, and/or maybe a *poof*.

[Joking]
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Re: What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by alynnidalar » Mon 03 Jul 2017, 03:38

As a religious person who prays, I would say that for me, according to my beliefs about prayer, the real question is "what's the difference between prayer and talking?" Because for me, praying is just talking... except you happen to be talking to God. Sometimes, yes, this does involve asking God for something (or being like, "here is a bad situation and I hope everything will work out according to Your will", even if I'm not explicitly asking for an outcome), but sometimes it involves praise/worship, sometimes confession about sin, sometimes just sorta... talking to Him. It's not about showing up with a list of demands and expecting the Great Cosmic Vending Machine will spit out the appropriate responses.

To put it another way, would you call it a spell when you ask your friend to hand you the saltshaker? You're asking them for something, likely using the ritualized words of "please" and "thank you", with the expectation that you're going to get what you want. But it's clear that to most people, this isn't a spell; you're asking someone for something, in hopes that they'll do it because they choose to.

That all being said, I agree that to some people and in some religions, the line can be less distinct. (a lot of people do seem to think that if you just put enough prayers/donations/church attendances into the Great Cosmic Vending Machine, He'll give them health/wealth/fame/etc.... :roll:)
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Re: What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by qwed117 » Mon 03 Jul 2017, 03:49

I don't really think there is much of a line other than "what ever the dominant religion believes"
Spoiler:
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Re: What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by eldin raigmore » Mon 03 Jul 2017, 04:23

Lambuzhao wrote:Oh yes, the sound effects.
Prayers are usually accompanied by angelic choruses or the Universal Nothingness quietly la-la-la-ing, and/ or tinkling bells.
Crickets?

Lambuzhao wrote:Spells are usually accompanied by a thunderclap, or a fierce gust of wind, and/or maybe a *poof*.
Farts?


Lambuzhao wrote:[Joking]
Spoiler:
Really? [O.o] [o.O] You're kidding! [;)] :mrgreen:
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Re: What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by horizont » Tue 04 Jul 2017, 10:18

The prayer is calling on a higher supernatural power to do something, and the spell is calling on your own supernatural power to do something.
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Re: What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by Lambuzhao » Tue 04 Jul 2017, 17:11

horizont wrote:The prayer is calling on a higher supernatural power to do something, and the spell is calling on your own supernatural power to do something.
QUite literally, yes indeed.

IMHO with a spell, the mage has the power over nature, i.e. supernatural power.
With a prayer, the orant calls upon the deity to use their power to bless/forgive/enact/intercede, etc.
The orant should exhibit no supernatural power of their own, in order for the prayer to really be heard.
The mage ought to exhibit supernatural power of their own, or else the spell will not really work.
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Re: What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by Lambuzhao » Tue 04 Jul 2017, 17:16

eldin raigmore wrote:
Lambuzhao wrote:Oh yes, the sound effects.
Prayers are usually accompanied by angelic choruses or the Universal Nothingness quietly la-la-la-ing, and/ or tinkling bells.
Crickets?
Hmmm.... if they are in chorus, then why not. :wat:

Lambuzhao wrote:Spells are usually accompanied by a thunderclap, or a fierce gust of wind, and/or maybe a *poof*.
Farts?
Is that rare jasmine I detect? Did someone light incense? Someone should!
A hirquitallient thonderdent might have clapped our ears. [xP]

Lambuzhao wrote:[Joking]
Spoiler:
Really? [O.o] [o.O] You're kidding! [;)] :mrgreen:
Maybe. [B)]
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Re: What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by Rheddie » Thu 24 Aug 2017, 22:37

To me most naturally it depends on the type of entity invoked. A lesser spirit or demon (or even mere impersonal force) is commanded via a spell, but a great god or God is addressed respectflly via prayer.
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Re: What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by OliveAnne » Mon 27 Nov 2017, 09:14

A spell is made by a witch or wizard and has immediately impact on the object/human that is cursed.
A prayer can be made by anyone to any God, it could never happen to be true, there is no impact at all.
Is it correct?
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Re: What's the difference between a prayer and a spell?

Post by eldin raigmore » Wed 29 Nov 2017, 18:48

OliveAnne wrote:
Mon 27 Nov 2017, 09:14
A spell is made by a witch or wizard and has immediately impact on the object/human that is cursed.
A prayer can be made by anyone to any God, it could never happen to be true, there is no impact at all.
Is it correct?
In fantasies, both prayers and spells can have an impact.
In real life, neither prayers nor spells ever have any impact.
Spoiler:
I'm still not able to clearly articulate a relevant difference between them, in fantasy.
I'm still not able to discern any clear difference between them in real-life either; except my religion prays,
while every other "religion" (if we can dignify those superstitions by that term) "casts spells".
In other words: It's all fantasy, it's just that if I happen to believe one of those fantasies, that makes it a prayer.
"Spell" is a pejorative term that applies to prayers by followers of any religion not my own.
Sorry if this breaks the "no cross no crown no green star" rule.
Edit: Sorry about this. I was in a mood. I had offered to donate blood for a friend's hospitalized sister and was told to pray instead.
Last edited by eldin raigmore on Thu 30 Nov 2017, 18:29, edited 1 time in total.
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