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A curse (also called execration) is any expressed wish that some form of adversity or unhappiness will befall another person or persons. In particular, a wish that harm or hurt will be inflicted by any supernatural power, such as a spell, a prayer, an imprecation, an execration, magic, witchcraft, a god, a natural force, or a spirit. In many belief systems, the curse itself (or accompanying ritual) is considered to have some causative force in the result.

The word "curse" may also refer to the resulting adversity, e.g., "the curse of Eve" (menstruation).

The study of the forms of curses comprise a significant proportion of the study of both folk religion and folklore. The deliberate attempt to levy curses is often part of the practice of magic. In Hindu culture the Fakir is believed to have the power to bless and curse .

Special names for specific types of curses can be found in various cultures:
  • African American voodoo presents us with the jinx/haitians and crossed conditions, as well as a form of foot track magic, whereby cursed objects are laid in the paths of victims and activated when walked over.
  • Middle Eastern and Mediterranean culture is the source of the belief in the evil eye, which may be the result of envy but, more rarely, is said to be the result of a deliberate curse. In order to be protected from the evil eye, a protection item is made from dark blue circular glass, with a circle of white around the black dot it the middle, which is reminiscent of a human eye. The size of the protective eye item may vary.
  • German people, including the Pennsylvania Dutch speak in terms of hexing (from the German word for witchcraft), and a common hex in days past was that laid by a stable-witch who caused milk cows to go dry and horses to go lame.
  • Indian people use the word Shaap in Hindi and Marathi, shapam in Malayalam, and Sabam in Tamil.

Ancient Greek and Roman curses

Greek and Roman curses were somewhat formal and official. Called katadesmoi by the Greeks and tabulae defixiones by the Romans, they were written on lead tablets or other materials, generally invoked the aid of a spirit (a deity, a demon, or one of the dead) to accomplish their aim, and were placed in a location considered effective for their activation, such as in a tomb, cemetery, or sacred spring or well. In the text of katadesmoi and defixiones, the petitioner uttered a prayer or formula that the enemy would suffer injury in some specific way, such as theft or loss of respect, along with the reason for the curse. The Romans, Etruscansmarker, and Greeks in Italy all practiced this custom. They buried the curses so well that today we have a body of curse inscriptions to tell us how they did it.

Celtic curses

In the Celtic world there were also many different forms of curses. Some of the most well known from Ireland are Curse stones, Egg curses, New Year curses and Milk curses.

Curse stones generally involved particle stones with the power to curse. One example involved turning a stone three times and saying the name of the person you wanted to curse.

Egg curses are a fertility curse. If you buried/hid eggs on someone else's land it was believed you could steal their land's fertility and therefore their luck. There are also some well documented methods believed to break these curses.

New year curses are like egg curses. If you took something from someone on the new year you took their luck for the year. People used to not clean their house or throw out water for this reason. In Munster you can see a similar form in the may bush and the stealing of may bushes. Stealing back the item or bush is believed to return the luck.

Milk curses were curses put on a household where the milk from others cows went to yours.

Curses in the Bible

The first curse in the Bible is put on the serpent by God, "You are cursed more than all cattle", (Genesis 3:14). As a result of Adam and Eve disobeying God, the ground is also cursed: "Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life." (3:17). Cain is cursed from the earth, "So now you are cursed from the earth", (4:11). (See also: Curse and mark of Cain.)

In the New Testament Paul sees curses as central to the meaning of Jesus's crucifixion. In Galatians 3:13 he says: "Christ redeems us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us...". He refers to Deuteronomy: " anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse." (21:23 RAEDM)

Some passages in the Tanakh treat curses as being effective techniques; they see a curse as an objective reality with real power. However, most sections of the Bible conceive a curse to be merely a wish, to be fulfilled by God only when just and deserved.

According to the Book of Proverbs, an undeserved curse has no effect (Proverbs 26:2), but may fall back upon the head of him who utters it (Genesis 12:3; Sirach 21:27), or may be turned by God into a blessing, as in the case of Balaam (Deuteronomy 23:5).

The declaration of punishments (Gen. 3:14, 17; 4:11), the utterance of threats (Jeremiah 11:3, 17:5; Malachi i. 14), and the proclamation of laws (Deut. 11:26-28, 27:15 et seq.) received added solemnity and force when conditioned by a curse.

In the Bible, cursing is generally characteristic of the godless (Ps. 10:7), but may serve as a weapon in the mouth of the wronged, the oppressed, and those who are zealous for God and righteousness (Judges 9:57; Prov. 11:26, 30:10).

A righteous curse, especially when uttered by persons in authority, was believed to be unfailing in its effect (Gen. 9:25, 27:12; II Kings 2:24; Ecclus. Sirach 3:11). One who had received exemplary punishment at the hands of God was frequently held up, in cursing, as a terrifying object-lesson (Jer. 23: 22), and such a person was said to be, or to have become, a curse (II Kings 22:19; Jer. 24:9, 25: 18; Zechariah 8:13). An elaborate trial by ordeal for a woman suspected by her husband of adultery is set forth in Numbers 5:11-30; this involved drinking a "bitter water that brings a curse"; if the woman were guilty, she would suffer miscarriage and infertility.

It is especially forbidden to curse God (Exodus 22:28), parents (Ex. 21:17; Leviticus 20:9; Prov. 20:20, 30: 11), the authorities (Ex. 22:28; Eccl. 10:20), and the helpless deaf (Lev. 19:14).

Curses in Rabbinic literature

A number of sections of the Talmud show a belief in the power of curses (Berachot 19a, 56a.) In some cases, a curse is described as related to the nature of a prayer (Ta'an. 23b); an undeserved curse is described as ineffective (Makkot 11a) and falls back upon the head of him who utters it (Sanhedrin 49a).

Not only is a curse uttered by a scholar unfailing in its effect, even if undeserved (Mak. 11a), but one should not regard lightly even the curse uttered by an ignorant man (Meg. 15a).

The Biblical prohibitions of cursing are legally elaborated, and extended to self-cursing (Shebu. 35a). A woman that curses her husband's parents in his presence is divorced and loses her dowry (Ket. 72a).

Cursing may be permissible when prompted by religious motives. For instance, a curse is uttered against those who mislead the people by calculating, on the basis of Biblical passages, when the Messiah will come (Sanhedrin 97b). Cursed are those who are guilty of actions which, though not forbidden, are considered reprehensible.

According to legend, some rabbinic scholars cursed sometimes not only with their mouths, but also with an angry, fixed look. The consequence of such a look was either immediate death or poverty (Sotah 46b, and parallel passages). (See Evil eye)

Cursed places

Certain landmarks or locales are said to be cursed. Various lakes, rivers and mountains have been called cursed, as has the Sargasso Seamarker. However even when there is a tradition of a place "taking someone" every number of years it is not always considered cursed. For example, someone is said to drown in Lough Gurmarker in Limerick, Irelandmarker every seven years but the lake is not considered "cursed" by the locals. The alleged Bermuda Trianglemarker effect is believed by some to be some form of curse (and by others to be some unexplained natural phenomena).

Babinda's Boulders, Babindamarker township, near Cairnsmarker, Queenslandmarker on Australia's mid-north coast, is a place known for the Devil's Pool, a group of waterholes known to be dangerous to young male travellers, but never claiming the lives of locals or females. There is some dispute about the dangers, that the geography of the place is naturally risky with the rocks and fast moving currents – yet an Aboriginal legend exists giving it the context of a historic curse.

Curse to the United States presidency

Tecumseh's curse was reputed to cause the deaths in office of Presidents of the United States elected in years divisible by 20, beginning in 1840. This alleged curse appears to have fallen dormant, since Ronald Reagan, (elected in 1980) survived an assassination attempt and George W. Bush (elected in 2000) survived his eight-year presidency.

Sports-related curses

A number of curses are used to explain the failures or misfortunes of specific sports teams, players, or even cities. For example:

The Curse of 27

The Curse of 27 is the belief that 27 is an unlucky number due to the number of famous musicians and entertainers who have died at the age. Robert Johnson, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, Janis Joplin, Jonathan Brandis and Kurt Cobain are all believed to have been affected by the curse of 27. This is also known as the 27 Club.

Cursed objects

Cursed objects are generally supposed to have been stolen from their rightful owners or looted from a sanctuary. The Hope Diamond is supposed to bear such a curse, and bring misfortune to its owner. The stories behind why these items are cursed vary, but they usually are said to bring bad luck or to manifest unusual phenomena related to their presence.

Egyptian curses and mummies

There is a broad popular belief in curses being associated with the violation of the tombs of mummified corpses, or of the mummies themselves. The idea became so widespread as to become a pop-culture mainstay, especially in horror films (though originally the curse was invisible, a series of mysterious deaths, rather than the walking-dead mummies of later fiction). The "Curse of the Pharaohs" is supposed to have haunted the archaeologists who excavated the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, whereby an imprecation was supposedly pronounced from the grave by the ancient Egyptian priests, on anyone who violated its precincts. Similar dubious suspicions have surrounded the excavation and examination of the (natural, not embalmed) Alpinemarker mummy, "Ötzi the Iceman". While such curses are generally considered to have been popularized and sensationalized by British journalists of the 19th century, ancient Egyptians were in fact known to place curse inscriptions on markers protecting temple or tomb goods or property.

Curses in Hawaii

In old Hawaii, some curses were in the form of praying people to death. The one that had the power to do this was the kahuna 'ana 'ana. However, their ability do perform this curse depended on several factors. First, the targeted person needed to believe in the power of magic and curses. Second, the kahuna needed a part of that person, like finger nails, hair, and so on.Sometimes curses were given in a pu'olo, or a bundle of death. It was to bring sickness, pain, and death to the person who received it and sometimes relatives would be cursed as well.There were also prayers to reverse a death prayer.

See also


  1. Dictionary of Sexual Terms curse of Eve, the
  2. 'Australian Broadcasting Corporation television broadcast transcript' [1]

  • The Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2009.
  • Curse tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World by John G. Gager ISBN 0-19-506226-4
  • Maledicta: The International Journal of Verbal Aggression ISSN US 0363-3659
  • Supernatural Hawaii by Margaret Stone. Copyright 1979 by Aloha Graphics and Sales. ISBN 0-941351-03-3
  • The Secret Obake Casebook Tales from the Darkside of the Cabinet by Glen Grant. Copyright 1997 by Glen Grant. ISBN 1-56647-183-4

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