A curse is the effective action of some power, distinguished solely by
the quality of adversity that it
brings. A curse may also be said to result from a spell of a prayer, imprecation or execration, or other imposition
or witchcraft, asking that a god, natural force, or spirit bring misfortune to someone.
Belief in curses is found in many cultures and is mentioned in the scriptures
of many religions. However most established religions forbid such practices
outright, but others, citing the long history of scriptural curses, utilize them
only in defense against evil that struck at them first. All religions offer
forms of blessings of homes and objects and people, with the intent of removing
curses. Typically then a curse is only a category or type of something much
larger, namely the entirety of any given culture's religio-magical paradigm.
History of Curses:
The use of curse has been practiced by many cultures. The most universal
method of laying on a curse is by effigy, which is an image or representation of
the victim, or the person who is wished to be harmed. Waxed effigies were common
in ancient India, Persia, Egypt, Africa and Europe, and currently are still
used. Also, effigies can be made of clay, wood and stuffed cloth.
Often the effigy is marked or painted to look like the victim. It is thought
that the closer the effigy resembles the victim, the more the victim will suffer
when the effigy is harmed or destroyed. The theory behind the harming or
destroying an effigy to do harm to a victim is pure sympathetic magic. As the
effigy is harmed, so the victim is harmed. Likewise, when the effigy is
destroyed, so the victim dies.
The ancient Egyptians often used waxed figures of Apep, a monster who was
the enemy of the sun. The magician would write Apepís name in green ink on the
effigy, wrapped it in new papyrus and throw it into 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 waxed figures on
Like blessings, curses have universally been bought and sold throughout the
centuries. With the exclusion of the neo-Pagan Witches, witches and sorcerers
throughout history have performed both blessings and curses as a service to
others because both are calling upon supernatural powers to effect a change.
They have rendered these services to client for fees, or in carrying out
judicial sentences. Plato mentioned 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."
Waxed figures were popularly used during the Middle Ages and Renaissance in
Europe by numerous witches. King James I, of England, described such activities
in his book Daemonologie (1597):
To some others at these times he [the Devil] teacheth how to make pictures of
wax or clay. That by the roasting thereof, the persons that they beare the name
of, may be continually melted or die away by continually sickness.
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 stomake, that this
humour redicall continually sweating 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.
Alternatives to the melting of effigies have been to stick them with pins thorns
or knives. Animal and human hearts have been used for substitutes. Hearts,
animal corpses or objects which quickly decompose, such as eggs, are buried in
the ground 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 as the curse is recited. It has been frequently claimed that gems and
crystals possess the power to hold curses. . The Hope Diamond purchased by Louis
XVI from Tavernier in 1668, is thought to be cursed, because its owners have
suffered illness, misfortune, and death.
The alleged "mummy curse" is on the tomb of Tutankhamen. It was discovered
when the Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter excavated Tutankhamenís burial
chamber in 1922. Legend has it that in an antechamber they found an inscribed
clay tablet which read:
Death will slay with its wings whoever disturbs the peace of the
Six moths later Carnarvon died of an infected mosquito bite. Even though six
of the seven principle members of the excavation team experienced strange or
sudden deaths, thought to have been the result of the curse, the tablet was
never photographed and strangely disappeared from the artifacts. Bob Brier, an
American parapsychologist and Egyptologist, speculated the tablet never existed.
In Ancient Egyptian Magic (1980), Briar notes that it is not typically Egyptian
to write on clay tablets or to refer to death as having wings. Also, no other
reliable sources exist that cite the curse.
Various legends abound in the United Kingdom and Europe of curses laid upon
families, especially of the aristocracy. One of the most horrible curses was
that of childlessness or death to the heirs, to the family lineage died out.