Generally speaking, a magical spell is a formula that may involve spoken, written, or chanted words; symbolic enactments; candle burning; ritual baths; burning of incense; sprinkling of powders, salts, or dusts; and/or the manufacture and deployment of charms, amulets, or talismans.
The purposes of spells are varied. They include "drawing" or wish-fulfillment in regard to love, money, and good fortune; apotropaic, "banishing" or "drive-away" spells for ridding oneself of unwanted influences; "jinxing," "crossing," or "cursing" spells to bring bad luck or harm to another, "binding" spells to keep someone’s magic from affecting you or others, and "summoning" spells to call up spirits, ghosts, or even demons.
"Hex" comes from the German word for witchery or sorcery, "Hexencraft." It is a regionally popular word in America’s Pennsylvania Dutch country, where it refers to a symbolic drawing (usually a six-sided figure in a circle, related to the Greek word "hex," or "six," as in "hexagon"). Hexes are made to protect farm animals to draw love, to symbolize and strengthen a marriage, or to break a curse. The term hexencraft (the making of hexes) has a different meaning in Pennsylvania Dutch than in German, where it refers to magical spells in general, and may also include medical herbology. One who makes hexes is a "hexmeister" (hex-master).
You may have been told or have read in a dictionary that the "hexes" of Pennsylvania Dutch folk-magic are evil or malign in intention. People say the same thing about African-American hoodoo and European witchcraft — they use the words hex and hoodoo and bewitch as verbs synonymous with "curse" or "magically harm," leaving off any mention of the love spells, prosperity spells, animal fertility spells, or home protection spells that are worked in these traditions. This is not done out of malice but because they are describing essentially alien cultures to their own and they have not bothered to research the subject thoroughly.
Luckily, vocabulary-ignorance only affects the people who are misusing a word — it doesn’t infect the actual culture in which the term originated. Thus, if you were to go to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, right now and ask for a hex, you would not be given a curse, you would be
given the Pennsylvaia Dutch version of a sigil, talisman, veve, or seal — a six-sided geometrical image to be used for magical purposes.
In some regions (e.g. in the Ozarks) hexencraft or Germanic-rooted peasant-style folk-magic is called "Pow-Wow magic" after the book "Pow-Wows or the Long Lost Friend" first published in 1820 in Pennsylvania (in German) and then in English in the 1840s. "Pow-Wow magic" — that is, Ozarks-style hexencraft — forms one of the bases for the Faerie (or Feri) Tradition of Neo-Paganism transmitted by Victor and Cora Anderson.
"Hoodoo," "conjure" (or "conjuration"), "rootwork," and "laying down tricks" are also regionally popular terms for spell-casting, either benevolent and malevolent. They come from the African-American culture and are common terms all over the United States in the black community.
Italian spell-craft is called stregharia. In Mexico the word is brujeria, usually translated as "witchcraft."
Authors Details: From the alt.spells newsgroup