A curse is a spell intended to bring misfortune, illness, harm or death to a victim. The most dreaded form of magic, curses are universal. They are “laid” or “thrown” primarily for revenge and power but also for protection, usually of homes, treasures, tombs and grave sites. A curse can take effect quickly or may be dormant for years. Curses have been laid upon families, plaguing them for generations.
Any person can lay a curse by expressing an intense desire that a particular person come to some kind of harm (see ill-wishing). However, the success of a curse depends upon the curser’s station and condition. Curses are believed to have more potency — and therefore more danger — when they are laid by persons in authority, such as priests, priestesses or royalty; persons of magical skill, such as witches, sorcerers and magicians; and persons who have no other recourse for justice, such as women, the poor and destitute and the dying. Deathbed curses are the most potent, for all the curser’s vital energy goes into the curse.
If a victim knows he has been cursed and believes he is doomed, the curse is all the more potent, for the victim helps to bring about his own demise, through sympathetic magic. However, curses work without such knowledge on the part of the victim. Some victims are not told a curse has been laid, lest they find another witch to undo the spell (see pellar).
Like a blessing, a curse is a calling upon supernatural powers to effect a change. Intent makes the difference between benefit and harm. Witches and sorcerers perform both blessings and curses as services to others, either to clients in exchange for fees, or in carrying out judicial sentences. As Plato noted in the Republic, “If anyone wishes to injure an enemy, for a small fee they [sorcerers] will bring harm on good or bad alike, binding the gods to serve their purposes by spells and curses.”
The most universal method of cursing is with a figure or effigy that represents the victim. Waxen effigies were common in ancient India, Persia, Egypt, Africa and Europe, and are still used in modern times. Effigies are also made of clay, wood and stuffed cloth (see poppet). They are painted or marked, or attached with something associated with the victim — a bit of hair, nail clippings (see hair and nails), excrement, clothing, even dust from his footprints — and melted over, or burned in, a fire. As the figure melts or burns, the victim suffers, and dies when the figure is destroyed. The Egyptians often used wax figures of Apep, a monster who was the enemy of the sun. The magician wrote Apep’s name in green ink on the effigy, wrapped it in new papyrus and threw it in a fire. As it burned, he kicked it with his left foot four times. The ashes of the effigy were mixed with excrement and thrown into another fire. The Egyptians also left wax figures in tombs.
Waxen images were popular during the witch hunts, and numerous witches were accused of cursing with them. James I of England, writing in his book, Daemonologie (1597), described how witches caused illness and death by roasting waxen images:
To some others at these times he [the Devil], teacheth how to make pictures of wax or clay. That by the roast- ing thereof, the persons that they beare the name of, may be continually melted or dried away by continual sicknesses.
They can bewitch and take the life of men or women, by roasting of the pictures, as I spake of before, which likewise is verie possible to their Maister to performe, for although, as I said before, that instrument of waxe has no vertue in that turne doing, yet may he not very well, even by the same measure that his conjured slaves, melts that waxe in fire, may he not, I say at these times, subtily, as a spirite, so weaken and scatter the spirites of life of the patient, as may make him on the one part, for faintnesses, so sweate out the humour of his bodie. And on the other parte, for the not concurrence of these spirites, which causes his digestion, so debilitate his stomacke, that this humour radicall continually sweat- ing out on the one part, and no new good sucks being put in the place thereof, for lacke of digestion on the other, he shall at last vanish away, even as his picture will die in the fire.
As an alternative to melting, effigies are stuck with pins, thorns or knives. Animal or human hearts may be substituted for effigies. Hearts, animal corpses or objects which quickly decompose, such as eggs, are buried with spells that the victim will die as the objects deteriorate.
In Ireland, “cursing stones” are stones that are stroked and turned to the left while a curse is recited. Gems and crystals are often said to have the power to hold curses; the Hope Diamond, purchased by Louis XVI from Tavernier in 1668, is deemed cursed because its owners have suffered illness, misfortune and death.
Curses in contemporary witchcraft.
It is against Wiccan ethics and laws of the Craft to lay curses (see Wiccan Rede). Witches believe that a curse will come back on the curser in some form (see Threefold Law of Return). Some, however, believe cursing is justified against one’s enemies. Some witches approve certain types of curses, such as binding spells to stop acts of violence. Witches from ethnic cultures believe curses are justified.
Amulets that have been made according to various formulas are said to repel curses, as is dragon’s blood, which is used in herbal mixes for protection. A cloth poppet stuffed with nettles, inscribed with the name of the curser (if known), then buried or burned, also breaks a curse. Nettles sprinkled about a room add protection. The OILS of roseMary and van-van, and various mixed Vodun oils, placed in baths or used to anoint the body, are other remedies. Burning a purple candle while reciting a spell is yet another method (see candles). Hindu sorcerers turn curses in the opposite direction, “upstream,” sending them back to slay their originators.
Traditionally, the most propitious time for both laying and breaking curses is during the waning moon. See hex.
- Ogden, Daniel. Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
- Randolph, Vance. Ozark Magic and Folklore. New York: Dover Publications, 1964. First published 1947.
- Russell, Jeffrey B. A History of Witchcraft. London: Thames and Hudson, 1980.
- Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.
A Spell or action to harm, often done by invoking the help of Demons, other spirits, and deities. In Christian tradition, a curse can cause Demonic problems, including Possession. The person who makes the curse ultimately suffers the effects of it. The term curse is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word cursein, the etymology of which is not known, which means “to invoke harm or evil upon.”
Cursing is common in magical practice and outside Christianity may be considered part of a system of justice in which powerful evil spirits are invoked. The Greeks and Romans used curses as a part of daily life, to gain advantage in business, politics, sports, and love. The Egyptians wrote curses on magical papyri, a practice adopted by Greeks and Romans. From about the fifth century B.C.E. to the fifth century C.E., curse tablets (tabellae defixonium) were especially popular in the Hellenistic world. Tabellae defixonium refers to tablets that fix or pin down, especially in the sense of delivering someone over to the powers of the underworld. The curse tablets were thin pieces of lead (and sometimes other materials) on which were inscribed the victim’s name, the curse, magical symbols, and names of various deities or the more generic DaimonES invoked to carry out the curse. The tablets were buried near a fresh tomb, a battlefield, or a place of execution, all of which were believed to be populated by spirits of the dead en route to the underworld. The curses gave the spirits the power to assault the victim. Curse tablets also were fixed with nails and were thrown into wells, springs, or rivers, also inhabited by spirits. Curses were made for all manner of purposes, including preventing rival athletes from winning competitions, as in this late Roman Empire curse for a chariot race found in Africa:
I conjure you, daemon, whoever you may be, to torture and kill, from this hour, this day, this moment, the horses of the Green and the White teams; kill and smash the charioteers Clarus, Felix, Primulus, Romanus; do not leave breath in them. I conjure you by him who has delivered you, at the time, the god of the sea and the air:
Iao, Iasdo . . . aeia.
Iao and Iasdo are variants of Yahweh, a Jewish name for God.
Curses in various forms are mentioned 230 times in the Bible. Jesus cursed a fig tree because it had no fruit and he was hungry; the next day the tree was found withered to its roots (Mark 11:12–14). However, Jesus condemned cursing and so did Paul, who urged people to bless those who cursed them.
Curses can affect generations. Families can be cursed by outsiders or become cursed through involvement in sinful activities. Participation in witchcraft or occult activities can curse a person or family, according to Christian tradition. Occult activities can include seeking communication with and knowledge from spirits instead of God and using magic or sorcery to control and manipulate others, including with objects that are cursed. Curses also can be made against others through ill wishing, negative judgments of others, negative thoughts about one’s self, and unhealthy relationships and sexual activities.
DELIVERANCE ministers and EXORCISTs who have the gift of discernment can determine whether or not a person has been cursed and is afflicted by a Demon. There are likely to be signs of mental or emotional breakdown, repeated and chronic illness, infertility and miscarriages, financial problems, a tendency to have accidents, and a family history of unnatural and untimely deaths, such as by violence or suicide.
In cases of possession and Exorcism performed by the Catholic Church, cursed objects are dangerous and must be destroyed. If a victim vomits up a cursed object, the exorcist should not touch it directly; an exorcist who does so should pray and wash his or her hands with holy water. The object should be burned.
In less extreme cases, the effects of a curse can be removed by prayer, attendance at church, reading the Bible, repentance, renunciation, placing crucifixes and religious objects in the home, and attending to a virtuous life.
Cursing Demons in Magic
In ceremonial magic, spirits or Demons who refuse to appear when evoked in ritual may be cursed to burn in fire by the magician. This threat is said to terrify the spirits into obedience. The grimoire Key of Solomon gives this curse:
We deprive ye of all office and dignity which ye may have enjoyed up till now; and by their virtue and power we relegate you unto a lake of sulphur and of flame, and unto the deepest depths of the Abyss, that ye may burn therein eternally for ever.
Another curse, called “Curse of the Chains” or “The General Curse” (also called “The Spirits Chains”), involves ritual cursing and a sealing of the disobedient Demon inside a box bound by IRON chains:
O spirit N., who art wicked and disobedient, because thou hast not obeyed my commands and the glorious and incomprehensible Names of the true God, the Creator of all things, now by the irresistible power of these Names I curse thee into the depths of the Bottomless Pit, there to remain in unquenchable fire and brimstone until the Day of Wrath unless thou shalt forthwith appear in this triangle before this circle to do my will. Come quickly and in peace by the Names Adonai, Zebaoth, Adonai, Amioram. Come, come, Adonai King of Kings commands thee.
The magician then writes the Demon’s name and SEAL on parchment which he places in a black wooden box that contains sulfur and other foul-smelling ingredients. He binds the box with iron chains, which imprison the Demon. The magician hangs the box on the point of his sword and holds it over a fire, saying: I conjure thee, Fire, by Him who made thee and all other creatures of this world to burn, torture and consume this spirit N. now and for evermore.
The magician warns the Demon that his name and seal will be burned in the box and then buried. If the spirit still does not appear, the magician works himself up into a greater fury of cursing, calling down the wrath of all the company of heaven, the Sun, the Moon, the stars, and the light of the hosts of heaven. As a final measure, he drops the box into the fire. The Demon will find this unbearable and will appear.
Any object can be ritually cursed to affect whoever owns it with misfortune, and even death. Sometimes objects are cursed by circumstances. For example, the “screaming skulls” of England are said to be haunted by restless ghosts of the dead. Some of the skulls belong to victims of religious persecution during the 16th-century Reformation initiated by King Henry VIII. Others are those of Oliver Cromwell’s supporters, called Roundheads, during the English Civil War in the mid-17th century. Still other skulls are from people who lost their heads in various violent episodes, such as murders. Other cursed objects may house Demons that unleash trouble upon the owners of the objects. (See possession.)
Protection against Curses
Numerous remedies against cursing exist. Amulets protect against or deflect curses, whether a person has specific knowledge about them or not. Semiprecious stones and jewels have been used since ancient times as amulets against curses and other forms of dark magic, illness, and misfortune. For example, the ancient Egyptians inscribed spells on lapis lazuli. The early Greeks and Romans wore certain carved semiprecious and precious gems as rings and necklaces to ward off curses.
It is assumed in many cultures that one will be cursed by one’s enemies for any reason. Spells, Charms, and petitions invoke the protection and intervention of benevolent spirits. An individual who has been cursed sometimes visits another witch or sorcerer to break the curse and to curse the curser.
– Brier, Bob. Ancient Egyptian Magic. New York: William Morrow, 1980.
– Butler, E. M. Ritual Magic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1949.
– Cavendish, Richard. The Black Arts. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1967.
– Fortea, Fr. José Antonio. Interview with an Exorcist: An Insider’s Look at the Devil, Diabolic Possession, and the Path to Deliverance. West Chester, Pa.: Ascension Press, 2006.
– MacNutt, Francis. Deliverance from Evil Spirits: A Practical Manual. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Chosen Books, 1995.
curse A malevolent Spell or intent to punish, harm, or kill. Curses are part of all practices of Magic and Sorcery since antiquity. Catholic priests are empowered to curse. The term curse comes from the Anglo-Saxon word cursein, the etymology of which is not known but which means “to invoke harm or evil upon.”
How Curses Are Made
Curses are made or “thrown” by a variety of methods, some of them by magic and some by spontaneous act. In the broadest sense, wishing anyone ill is a form of cursing, for it projects a Thoughtform made of WILL and IMAGINATION upon a victim. Most ill wishing is transitory and has little or no effect (see WISH). The more concentrated the emotions and projection, the more powerful the curse. Most powerful of all is a deathbed curse, for the dying are believed to project the most intensity. Cursing survivors, successive generations, or even places may last for centuries, just as the curse made by a witch named Old Chattox (see below).
Curses are both spoken and written; an example of a formal written curse is an anathema proclaimed by the pope, which excommunicates a person from the church. The Evil Eye is a curse both involuntary and deliberate, causing a victim to suffer misfortune and perhaps even death. point ing with a fi nger or a bone, especially while uttering a malediction, is a universal method in witchcraft and sorcery. Magical objects such as dolls or poppet s—a substitution for the victim—can be ritually cursed, burned, stabbed, or otherwise marked. A photograph of the victim works equally well, as do nail clippings, bits of hair, and personal belongings. Ordinary objects can become cursed through tragedy and misfortune and can affect the persons who own them.
The Egyptians wrote curses on magical papyri, a practice adopted by Greeks and Romans. From about the fifth century b.c.e. to the fifth century c.e., curse tablets (tabellae defixonium) were especially popular in the Hellenistic world. Tabellae defixonium refers to tablets that fix or pin down, especially in the sense of delivering someone over to the powers of the underworld. The curse tablets were thin pieces of lead (and sometimes other materials) on which were inscribed the victim’s name, the curse, magical symbol s and names of various deities, or the more generic DaimonES invoked to carry out the curse. The tablets were buried near a fresh tomb, a battlefield, or a place of execution, all of which were believed to be populated by spirits of the dead en route to the underworld. The curses gave the spirits the power to assault the victim. Curse tablets also were fi xed with nails and were thrown into wel l s, springs, or rivers that were also said to be inhabited by spirits. Curses were made for all manner of purposes, including preventing rival athletes from winning competitions, as in this late Roman Empire curse for a chariot race found in Africa:
I conjure you, daemon, whoever you may be, to torture and kill, from this hour, this day, this moment, the horses of the Green and the White teams; kill and smash the charioteers Clarus, Felix, Primulus, Romanus; do not leave breath in them. I conjure you by him who has delivered you, at the time, the god of the sea and the air: Iao, Iasdo . . . aeia. Iao and Iasdo are variants of Yahweh, a Jewish name for God.
Curses in Witchcraft
During the witchcraft trials in Europe and Britain, witches were often accused of cursing victims and of causing blight, misfortune, illness, and even death. In 1612–13, about 20 persons were suspected of witchcraft in the Pendle Forest area in Lancashire, England; 11 were tried. Sixty-year-old Anne Whittle, known as “Old Chattox,” confessed to having a Pact with the devil and to practicing malefi c magic. When a farmer ordered her off his land, she urinated on it (see Urine) and said that the land was now cursed and that cattle would never be able to graze there. For centuries cattle died and could not thrive there. In the 1950s, a poisonous weed was found that was believed to be the cause. Though the weed seemed a natural reason for the problem, local residents noted that it was unusual that the weed grew in that particular field only and not in the surrounding area.
In numerous other witch trials, witches were accused of cursing people by sticking pins into poppets, by blasting, and by casting various spells. Curses often are written or publicly proclaimed to maximize their effectiveness upon the victim. Many curses, however, are done in secret magical rituals. A widespread method of cursing is to pray against a victim, even to death. (See death prayer; hex.)
Curses among Magicians
In the Western magical tradition, cursing is done frequently among occultists and is not considered to be immoral. Arguments and disputes can result in cursing warfare. Famous cursing battles took place among members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, involving the sending of vampiric entities. Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, and Aleister Crowley engaged in such mutual attacks. The magician WILLIAM G. GRAY was known to send powerful curses against most of his students.
Cursing is still done in magical lodges and circles in modern times, though practitioners often are secretive about it due to beliefs by younger generations that cursing is immoral and will backfire on the sender. In Wicca, Paganism, and many modern magical traditions, there is a belief that magic of any sort will return to the sender, sometimes threefold; hence a curse will be revisited on the sender with three times the effect. More acceptable to many practitioners is the “binding spell,” which is intended to prevent another person from interfering or doing harm.
This moralistic view against cursing is not found in most magical and sorcery practices outside the modern West.
Any object can be ritually cursed to affect whoever owns it with bad luck, misfortune, and even death. Sometimes objects are cursed by circumstances. For example, the “screaming skulls” of England are said to be haunted by restless ghosts of the dead. Some skulls belong to victims of religious persecution during the 16th-century Reformation initiated by King Henry VIII. Others are from Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads during the English Civil War in the mid-17th century. Still other skulls are from people who lost their heads in various violent episodes, such as murders.
The victims often gave the same deathbed curse: If their remains were not buried within the walls of their house, their spirits would not rest in peace. The skulls reportedly act up whenever someone tries to remove them from their houses. The skulls are said to reappear mysteriously and then take revenge by causing bad luck or death. Violent storms or fires may destroy the property, or crops may fail and cattle dry up or die.
Protection against Curses
Numerous remedies against cursing exist universally. Amulets protect against or defl ect curses, whether a person has specific knowledge about them or not. Semiprecious stones and jewels have been used since ancient times as amulets against curses and other forms of dark magic, illness, and misfortune. For example, the ancient Egyptians inscribed spells on lapis lazuli. The early Greeks and Romans wore certain carved semiprecious and precious gems as RINGS and necklaces to ward off curses.
It is assumed in many cultures that one will be cursed by one’s enemies for any reason. Spells, charms, and petitions invoke the protection and intervention of benevolent spirits. An individual who has been cursed sometimes visits another witch or sorcerer to break the curse, and to curse the curser back.
The “Curse” of Tutankamen
Ancient Egyptians sought to protect their tombs by cursing anyone who broke into them. Such curses were written on the walls and sarcophagi in the tombs. The Egyptians believed that tomb desecration would render the spirit of the dead homeless.
The most famous story of an Egyptian tomb curse was that of the lavish burial place of the pharaoh Tutankamen, discovered in 1922 by Lord Carnavon and Howard Carter. According to lore, the Englishmen found a clay tablet inside the tomb with a curse written upon it: “Death will slay with his wings whoever disturbs the pharaoh’s peace.”
However, the existence of this tablet has never been proved. It was not photographed and supposedly disappeared from the collection of artifacts. According to Egyptologist Bob Brier, it is doubtful that the tablet existed. There are no reliable references to such a curse. Furthermore, it was not typical Egyptian custom to write on clay tablets or to describe death as coming on wings.
Nonetheless, mysterious deaths affected some of the people involved in the tomb’s opening and excavation. Carnavon, 56, died two months later. He cut his face shaving, and the cut became infected. He fell into a severe fever and delirium and repeated, “A bird is scratching my face.” When he died, all the lights were said to go out in Cairo.
Others associated with the tomb also died. George JayGould, American entrepreneur, visited the tomb and died soon thereafter. British industrialist Joel Woolf visited the tomb and on the way home to England via boat fell into a fever and died.
By 1929, 22 people associated with tomb had died, seemingly prematurely. Thirteen of them had been present at the opening of the tomb. In 1966 and 1972, two Egyptian directors of antiquities who were involved in exhibitions of the Tutankamen treasures died: One was killed when he was hit by a car, and the other fell dead when the Tutankamen gold mummy mask left Cairo for exhibition in England.
Howard Carter died of natural causes in 1939. He had maintained a strong skepticism of the power of curses throughout his life, thus lending support to the idea that belief in curses initiates self-fulfillment of them.
- Brier, Bob. Ancient Egyptian Magic. New York: William Morrow, 1980.
- Butler, E. M. Ritual Magic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1949.
- Cavendish, Richard. The Black Arts. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1967.
- Gordon, Stuart. The Book of Curses: True Tales of Voodoo, Hoodoo and Hex. London: Brockhampton Press, 1994.
- Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. 2d ed. New York: Facts On File Inc., 1999.
- Luck, Georg. Arcana Mundi: Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985.
- Robins, Joyce. The World’s Greatest Mysteries. London: Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd., 1989.
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