The demand for ever-increasing density of information storage and speed of manipulation has triggered an intense search for ways to control the magnetization of a medium by means other than magnetic fields. Recent experiments on laser-induced demagnetization and spin reorientation use ultrafast lasers as a means to manipulate magnetization, accessing timescales of a picosecond or less. However, in all these cases the observed magnetic excitation is the result of optical absorption followed by a rapid temperature increase. This thermal origin of spin excitation considerably limits potential applications because the repetition frequency is limited by the cooling time. Here we demonstrate that circularly polarized femtosecond laser pulses can be used to non-thermally excite and coherently control the spin dynamics in magnets by way of the inverse Faraday effect. Such a photomagnetic interaction is instantaneous and is limited in time by the pulse width (approximately 200 fs in our experiment). Our finding thus reveals an alternative mechanism of ultrafast coherent spin control, and offers prospects for applications of ultrafast lasers in magnetic devices.