It'sa sandbox. *sagenod*
A Treatise on the Continuing Usefulness of Gestures in the Casting of Magical Spells
The beginnings of magic were both silent and still, spells cast through the application of sheer will. However, this oft-termed "wild magic" often ran counter to the caster's desire and target. The marks can still be seen today in certain parts of the world where the most egregious miscarriages of wild magic took their toll on the caster's surroundings. This led to much research among the magical community in an attempt to provide focus to their spells rather than allow them to be subject to the whim of the mind's momentary wanderings.
The end result of this research were a number of different tools and methods for the controlling and channeling of various magics. From the simple chanting of a magical formula to the inscription of a magic circle to the complex runic designs traced in the air by the channeler mages of the Aonic worlds, there are such a multitude of choices that wild magic nowadays is practiced only by the foolhardy or by purists who believe that magic should not be controlled. To them I can only caution that the next great difficulty could well claim more than just a single lone island.
In more recent times, however, there has been a frankly alarming trend among the most influential members of the magical community. These mages eschew the usage of hand-gestures in any and all spells they cast, even those that have traditionally made use of such gestures almost exclusively. In addition, they advise their colleagues and, perhaps most worryingly of all, their own students against making use of such gestures. The most common claim I have heard when speaking with such mages is that such gestures are frivolous, damage the appearance and reputation of those who use them, and do not contribute to the efficacy of spells cast using them. Further, in the case of more complex gestures, a slight mistake can severely alter the spell's intent Thus, they argue, the usage of gestures should be supplanted by other, more dignified and controlled means, rather than what they term "irrelevant foppery and arm-flailing".
To hold such a position is, to my own eyes, incomprehensible. It is true that snapping one's fingers creates no greater a flame than the same person exerting the same effort to paint an ancestral symbol for fire on the air1 with a special brush, but there is still value to be found in either. Even if the effect is due to the same principles as the saccharum tinctures developed recently by the alchemists for use in treating maladies of the mind, there is still a great deal of difference between a caster who employs gestures and a wild mage; and indeed I might venture to argue that the magic circles, exotic runes, and even the memorized chants of rituals likewise owe their effect purely to saccharum.
To put things plainly, the act of casting a gesture requires conscious thought. It focuses the mind onto the effect that the caster desires, and forces him to visualize his spell's effect on the world before the least bit of mana2 is spent. This act of visualizing is the very reason that every method of focus was developed, and even the simplest will protect a caster from the dangers of unfocused spellcasting, particularly those young and unpracticed in the methods of magic. In addition, as foolish as some may find them (I have personally never seen anything wrong with them, and find a number far more beautiful and, if I may engage in wordplay, spellbinding than the most eloquent refrain), they are an important part of our history as a magical culture. Alongside the chanted refrain, gestures were the first method developed to constrain magic, and have seen the longest and most varied history of any method that we of the cloak have ever used.
It shall be my endeavor here to enumerate some of the best-known magical gestures, in hopes that I may show the use and importance of the gesture even in modern spellcasting, and that students to come may have a brief reference to guide them in their own understanding.
One of the simplest forms of gesture, and likely the first to be developed by those wishing to avoid the fate awaiting the Unbound. Once all other preparations are made for the spell, one simply points their forefinger at the target they wish to ensorcel. The act of pointing, even if one does not actually look at the target, helps to fix in one's mind what they wish their magic to affect. Put simply, one cannot point to an object without envisioning what they are pointing to. Have a care, however, not to point in another direction entirely, or the magic will go off course. Some among the ranks of evocation mages prefer instead to snap their finger in the direction of the target; this tends to fix a mental image of what they envision the spell to do, complete with the target of their magical wrath in the middle. This is an equally valid method, and one I have found rather stylish. There's nothing quite like snapping one's fingers and causing the general area around someone you don't like to explode.
A gesture developed in the early 1300s, initially favored by the diviners and torturers of the Holy Inquisition. While not common nowadays, certain among the priestly order or who believe their spells to be derived from divine sources have preserved it. The gesture consists simply of tracing a single vertical line in the air with the tip of one's finger, followed by a quick horizontal strike approximately one-fifth the length below the vertical. Unlike the previous mention, the focus is on the spell itself, not the target. Drawing the sign in the air engenders a feeling of empowerment and moral righteousness (whether this is justified is of course unrelated). This makes the gesture particularly suited to avoiding harm to the caster and those around him, allowing the mage to focus solely on envisioning the effects and thereby achieving great precision when preparing the spell.
Almost an entire class of gestures in and of themselves, this method is similar to the prior entry; however, the results are somewhat different. In this case, the spellcaster will trace one of a number of signs in the air before releasing the spell. The simplest and most common of these is the pentagram or hexagram, although there is a wide variety that are often drawn from language. This likewise inspires high precision, but instead of focusing the effect of the spell, this group of gestures set the form of the spell with extreme precision. An Inquisitor using the Cross to torture would achieve his intended effect, but quite possibly reach that effect in a different manner than desired; burning a finger with frost rather than flame, for example. The caster who uses sigils, however, has a strong mental connection from the sigil to a particular mental image, such as that of gusting winds or of wounds being reknit. Thus these gestures allow for the caster to be absolutely certain what form they will marshall their magic into, while allowing for some possible variation in the potency.
Introduced by wizards with perhaps more of a flair for the dramatic than is strictly necessary, a certain class of spells revolve around enhancement of ordinary combat techniques. While some of the "gestures" are simply part of the action itself, one does not need to throw a punch to launch a gout of flame, or stomp to create a shockwave. As with sigils, the motion of the body focuses the mind of the caster into the intended effect of the magic. It is also a very natural motion that allows for fluid techniques; this is most particularly seen among the African mages of Brazil, who meld their magic into their dance-like martial arts3. However, the methods require demanding motions of the body and are often only useful for mages that engage frequently in melee combat. Regardless, those with the physical fortitude to perform them may find such techniques useful in a pinch, if nothing else.
Perhaps the closest form of magic that we have to a standardized system is that practiced by a certain class of witches and wizards utilizing wands. For such mages, every spell is born from a specific magical formula, a recital of certain words and a motion of the wand, which serves as an added focus. Because these spells are such specific formulas, learned by rote memorization, the gesture and words hold equal importance in ensuring the spell. By a combination of aural and muscle memory, performing the formula instantly triggers a conditioned response in the mind, much like the recent discoveries of Pavlov but on a far more complex level, causing a near-identical spell each time. Even those that are able to cast silently and without wand movement, I argue, must be making a mental equivalent to this movement. Thus the movement of a wizard's wand is an essential part of their spells, and without them our first and most successful method of standardizing magical spells is crippled.
The last technique we will examine is the rarest and most intricate. Believed to originate in the Arabic nations, this gesture is used in lengthy rituals. The caster will undergo a lengthy, fluid series of motions that collectively form a dance, often taking a minute or longer to fully perform. Unlike the other gestures we have discussed, these dances are evocative of strong emotion in the caster rather than a purely mental focus. Such an effect is difficult to quantify and unpredictable, but it is one of the most beautiful and dignified manners of preparing a lengthy spell I have yet seen. While admittedly useless for spells that must be cast quickly, this form of spellcasting is a form of art all of its own, and some of the most enduring and wide-ranging effects have been born from the desert dancers.
I close with the conclusion that mages from all stripes incorporate gestures into their spells, and that while certainly there are mages from any group you could care to name out of those I have named here who practice magic without moving a muscle, some of whom pride themselves on their ability, the fact that there are those in so many fields who do use them shows just how widespread and important gestures should be regarded as among the magical community. I therefore implore those among you who read this not to forget our roots, or the many, many spellcasters over the years who have given rise to so many different forms of resisting the influence of the Unbound, through something as simple as a wave of one's hand or as complex as a dance.
The Book of Eleven Hours, Volume VIII
Note: While Master Cumulus is a respected mage who has contributed much to our understanding of elemental evocation, his theories on this particular subject remain wholly unsubstantiated. There is nothing so far in our studies to show that these gestures have the effects that he claims, and while a poetic and sentimental image, we counter that the ridiculous public view of "wizards" as seen in the stories of the nonmagical community is in large part due to these frivolous gestures. We therefore include this piece in deference to his work thus far, but caution those reading it that they are largely the fanciful theories of a man in the twilight of his life.
-Marigold Perkins, addendum to the above