Any physical activity required for magic, ranging from simply pointing at the target up to day-long ritual dances.
At its simplest, this is just a way of showing the wizard is actually doing stuff. They will point at the target, wave their hand around to move it, and close their fist to crush it. Compare with the Pstandard Psychic Pstance. Moving up a step, some types of spell require precise gestures to work, leading to wizards with very nimble fingers as well as an excuse for them not to wear armor involving the restriction of mobility. The precise gestures have to be memorized as part of the spell.
The more time intensive forms of Ritual Magic also often require magical gestures: stir the cauldron nine times widdershins, point the sword at each compass point in turn.
If the action isn't simply a gesture, but a heavily physical action then it's Full-Contact Magic. Set it to rhythm and you have Magic Dance.
A common gesture for this trope is the Badass Finger-Snap.
Contrast Geometric Magic, Language of Magic.
Anime and Manga
- Naruto has hand seals.
- Sent up by the "Karate Island" episode of SpongeBob, of all things. Looked at frame by frame, Sandy uses actual mudras rather than made up symbols.
- In Inuyasha (among many others I'm sure) Kikyo, Kaede, and Miroku use what I belive is a mudra (Kapittaka? Pran? First two fingers straight out, next two curled, with the thumb touching the top of the third finger) when focusing their spiritual powers.
- In Harukanaru Toki no Naka de, Tenma, Inori, Shimon and Tomomasa use specific mudras for performing attacks; for the first three characters these are single gestures taken from kuji-kiri ("pyou", "tou" and "sha", respectively). In the anime series, Yasuaki performs a full-blown kuji-kiri sequence along with the required mantras.
- As shown in the page image, Doctor Strange must use particular positions of his hands to cast spells. He often holds one or both hands up with the middle and ring fingers folded inward (c.f. the "I Love You" gesture or the "Metal Horns").
- The Scarlet Witch has a similar gesture to activate her probability-altering powers. In fact, in the early days, if she accidentally made the gesture, random misfortune would happen to whoever was in its general direction without her intending.
- In Harry Potter, spells requires precise gestures with the wand.
- In the Half-Blood Prince (the sixth book), the making of a potion requires to be stirred clockwise. But the notes of the Half-Blood Prince say it's faster if you stir 1 time counterclockwise for each 7 clockwise.
- This is explained in the first book as well, when Hermione describes the proper method for Wingardium Leviosa.
- Nerissa from Disney's Enchanted tended to wave her arms and then throw them up or outward as part of her incantation process.
- The Genie from Disney's Aladdin makes all sorts of gestures. Sometimes they appear explicitly necessary for the magic he's casting, but other times it appears to be just plain showmanship.
- Using The Force in Star Wars. As with many examples, it's not absolutely necessary, but it helps with focus.
- Parodied by Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, where Gideon uses hand gestures that are suspiciously similar to Naruto to power up into his "ultimate form".
- In The Luck Of Relian Kru, all the sorcerers need double jointed fingers to perform the gestures.
- Interesting example in the later Wheel of Time books. Aes Sedai have during many handing-downs of techniques been including gestures to the casting to make them easier to cast. The result is that many younger Aes Sedai cannot cast the techniques without them.
- Played with even further. Some people claim to be able to tell which Aes Sedai a channeler learned techniques from, simply by the motions. While the Aiel Wise Ones, as well as the Sea Folk Windfinders, can do the techniques without the motions. As such, they are much more efficient and much quicker.
- Hand gestures are often used by sorcerers in The Belgariad, especially when using telekinesis. They aren't strictly necessary, they just help the user focus their will in the right direction. Ditto for most spellcasters in Eddings' other works.
- Spellcasting, at least as done by Styrics and by extension the Church Knights in the Elenium is mentioned as requiring highly specific (though undescribed) gestures as a key component. It is not mentioned if the magic of the followers of other gods requires anything similar.
- Magic in the world of The Witcher is usually harnessed through gestures and incantations, but the latter part can be skipped, and the former can be performed with, say, leg.
- In The Dresden Files, most magic can be handled without waving one's hands or doing other hocus-pocus, but there are common gestures, especially when performing evocations, which typically take on the form of gesturing or pointing at the target.
- It's also explicitly stated that a sufficiently talented wizard could do most magic without the motions, the circles, the drawings, etc. But they do anyway, because it helps aid the concentration during the spell. It's also a needlessly complicated extra step to achieve the same results.
- In The Magicians, complex gestures are essential to performing magic; in fact, when Penny has his hands bitten off by Martin Chatwin, he's rendered incapable of magic.
- The sequel reveals that Penny eventually found a way around this by utilizing a form of magic based on subtle muscle movements.
- Spellcasting in the Heralds of Valdemar books typically requires some physical gesturing, though more experienced mages go for subtle movements, leaving the grand sweeping gestures for beginners and showoffs.
- The Sartan from The Death Gate Cycle have to trace runes with their hands in midair for many of their spells (and trace other runes on the ground with their feet for some of the more powerful ones, lending a spellcasting Sartan the look of someone engaging in a bizarre interpretive dance routine). Their rivals the Patryn do this a little, but not as much (their runes are tattooed directly onto their bodies).
- Averted in Mistborn- Kelsier explicitly points out to his apprentice Vin that Mistborn don't need to gesture at a piece of metal to telekinetically manipulate it. They sometimes do, but it's just for show.
- While Jakub Wedrowycz usually uses Ritual Magic to do his exorcisms, he knows more than a few magical gestures as well, and taught some to his grandson. They can do things like allowing you to throw something at the annoying news anchor on TV, or bringing sexual impotence upon someone.
- In The Old Kingdom, Charter Magic is done by drawing the signs on the air, with hands or with sword-tip. A diamond of protection (a must-have when exploring Death) is drawn with one's sword. And, of course, using the magical bells requires gestures (different ways of ringing will produce different effects), so this all crosses over into Ritual Magic.
Live Action TV
- In Bewitched, Samantha Stevens has her famous nose wiggle.
- In I Dream of Jeannie, Jeannie crosses her arms and nods her head, then blinks.
- Star Trek Reality Warper Q sometimes gestures or snaps his fingers (finger-snapping became more and more common as time went on) but it's purely for drama's sake.
- In the 1998 Merlin series, magical gestures are said to be used by intermediate wizards, called Hand Wizards. Stronger wizards could use magic without gestures, while weaker ones had to rely on words and incantations. Merlin himself is an intermediate wizard.
- In Hinduism and Buddhism, mudras are precise hand positions, believed to have spiritual effects.
- Kuji-Kiri  are a part of some Japanese martial arts traditions (including Ninjitsu) and religious traditions.
- Traditional rain dances.
- The Christian sign of the cross, originally made to ward off evil.
- There's also the Pontifical Benediction hand shape often seen in older paintings of bishops.
- Prepare to have your mind blown.
The Emotiv guy used his hands to try and cue himself to think the same way every time, performing what looked suspiciously like something out of Star Wars to get things to float or vanish. But they said that wasn't really necessary. In fact, they are playing around with a game mode that would punish any physical movements you make while trying to perform the mental magic.
- Mage: The Awakening has mudras for rotes (codified spells as opposed to improvised ones). Rotes do require the mudras (which can be hand gestures, facial gestures, body postures, breath control or tattoos) because they act as a mnemonic for remembering the complex imago (imaginary image of a spell's effects and mechanics) of a codified spell.
- Changeling: The Dreaming's bunks. A changeling can do just about any kind of magical effect (stats permitting) as long as they can do a bunk that makes it "possible".
- In Dungeons & Dragons, any edition that specifies the need or lack of need for these calls them "somatic components". Generally, somatic components for arcane spells need to be so precise that armor, or at least too much armor, will get in the way, while for divine spells as long as you can move at all you're good to go.
- Then there are feats and prestige classes that allow an arcane caster to bypass many of these limitations.
- In standard GURPS magic, the better you know a spell, the less moving around and speaking you have to do to cast it. (Casting time is also affected: a bad spellcaster takes double the listed time, and has to dance around and shout to get the spell to work.)
- One old RPG (The Fantasy Trip: In The Labyrinth) has specific rules governing Magical Gestures. Basically, the smarter a wizard is, the less he has to move to cast a given spell. (This particular game also enforces Squishy Wizards by ruling that ferrous metals interfere with magic, meaning no steel armor or weapons.)
- In the Whateley Universe, Fey has done some hand movements so magical that it hurts other people to look at them.
- In Fire Emblem (the first one released for the US), all spell casters have hand motions before casting their spells. They only become more complicated-looking if the spellcaster becomes promoted.
- Various entries in the Tales (series) involve spellcasters that require gestures before they can launch their spells. Interrupting this gesture will often cancel out the spell.
- In Mass Effect, this is justified by saying that biotics (telekinetics,) use "a technique called 'physical mnemonics'; the biotic uses a physical gesture to cause the right neurons and eezo nodules to fire and create the desired effect."
- Mages in Aetolia can craft enchanted items, but doing so requires specific rituals involving magical gestures such as ringing a bell, waving one's arms, flipping a coin, lighting a candle, spinning around, and "squaring the circle."
- Elder Scrolls Oblivion featured three main gestures, open palms pushed forward for touch based spells, a throw gesture for ranged spells and a closed fist held high for on-self spells. Oddly there was not discernible difference to spell effect if this was done one handed, two handed or carrying a weapon.
- In Final Fantasy VII, magic is commonplace, so most characters just throw up their hands when they cast a spell. Cid, on the other hand, goes into a full-on onmyoji routine during his incantations.
- For an RPG character in an SNES game, Magus from Chrono Trigger pulls off some fairly elaborate hand gestures during his magic attacks.
- Amaterasu, the sun goddess in wolf form in Okami, uses her Celestial Brush with what appear to be precise movements of her tail.
- Arguably in Magicka, it is the player's own nimble fingers and hands that cast the spell, as each keystroke corresponds to a spell element. Quick and precise finger movements can result in complex spells.
- Nox features this when using magic. The player character automatically does them when you select which spell to cast, but each spell has a specific set of pictures of hand gestures pop up on the screen, and each even has it's own on-syllable spoken line, resulting in the character chanting as well as gesturing.