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.
   Cursed Objects
   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.

Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology. . 2009.

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