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Curses at the 6th International ESSWE Conference

February 6, 2017 // 0 Comments

Some of you may already be familiar with the ESSWE, aka the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism, as well as the thematic network that I am co-director of, the NSEA (Network for the Study of Esotericism in Antiquity). (If you aren’t familiar, do yourself a favour and get acquainted!) In June, the University of Erfurt will be hosting the Sixth International ESSWE Conference. This year’s theme is Western esotericism and deviance. As part of the conference, the NSEA is Read the full post...

New Roman Curse Tablets Found in Serbia

August 12, 2016 // 0 Comments

Photo from the Institute of Archaeology, Belgrade. Archaeologists working at Viminacium in Serbia recently discovered gold and silver curse tablets, written in both Greek and Latin, among some tombs at the location. The curses appear to use barbarous names of invocation and seek redress in a variety of personal matters. Archaeologist Miomir Korac notes that these curses are especially interesting because they invoke both Christian and Pagan deities. From NBC News: “The find is considered Read the full post...

Poppets, Pins, and Power: A Conference on Cursing

July 18, 2016 // 0 Comments

What: Poppets, Pins, and Powers Where: Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Cornwall England When: May 6, 2017 Website Readers of this blog may be interested in a conference taking place in 2017 at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, in Cornwall England. The conference is part of their exhibition on cursing, and they are seeking paper proposals at this time. The deadline to submit an abstract is October 1, 2016. From the organizers: In 2017, the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic’s exhibition will be Read the full post...

Another Sophoclean Curse: Oedipus Rex

June 27, 2016 // 0 Comments

Awhile back we looked at a confession curse found in Sophocles’ play Antigone. Such a curse likely drew off a common cursing culture which existed back when the play was written in the 5th century BCE. Antigone was not the only play in which Sophocles included curses, we also find one at the beginning of his play Oedipus Tyrannos (aka Oedipus Rex). Many of you are likely familiar with the story of Oedipus, but for those who aren’t, here’s what you need to know: Oedipus’ father Laius, Read the full post...

In the News: Third-Century Egyptian Curses Translated

May 27, 2016 // 0 Comments

Photo of a curse also translated by Maltomini, P.Oxy.LXV 4468. An Italian researcher at the University of Udine has translated a third-century Egyptian papyrus that appears to contain the templates for making curses. It is believed that this is a template because, although the curses are spelled out in full, space is left blank, presumably to fill in the name of the target. Live Science had this to say: The deciphered love spell invokes several gnostic gods. (Gnosticism was an ancient religion Read the full post...

Modern Maledictions: The Case of Cristiano Ronaldo

February 2, 2016 // 0 Comments

The February 2016 issue of GQ features a cover story on soccer mega-star Cristiano Ronaldo. The profile, while typical of a celebrity spread in many ways (The cars! The money! The private islands!), also suggests that sporting curses (which we talked about here and here) are very much alive in our modern world. According to the story, the Real Madrid forward was the subject of a curse a few years back. The curse in question, laid by a man named Pepe the Wizard, is thought to be responsible for Read the full post...

Ancient Curses Research Project: An Honourable Mention

December 28, 2015 // 0 Comments

Last year I undertook an independent research project on curses with Tony Burke at York University. While the course itself included curses from many different genres (Roman curse tablets? Yep. Biblical curses? Those too!), my major research project focused on Roman-era curse tablets, specifically those found in holy sites. This paper was submitted to the York University Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Sciences essay competition. The LAPS consists of 25,000 students, and recognizes Read the full post...

A Dramatic Example of a Confession Curse: Sophocles’ Antigone

March 6, 2015 // 1 Comment

Sophocles’ Antigone is one of the better known Greek dramas. It relates the tragic events that follow after a power struggle in ancient Thebes. The political dispute ultimately continues among family, when formerly warring factions find themselves under the same roof. The protagonist of the play, Antigone, is at odds with Kreon—the new Theban dictator who also happens to be her uncle and guardian. The issue at stake is whether or not the body of Polyneices (Antigone’s brother and Read the full post...

Similia Similibus: Sympathy in Magic and Cursing

February 2, 2015 // 0 Comments

Female curse figurine pierced by needles. Scholarship on curses often explores the significance of cursing rituals—how did performers of curses expect them to work? Did they believe that the malicious things they wished upon their target would come true? For example, a famous “voodoo doll” at the Louvre depicts a female figure with nails driven into various points on the body. Did the person who made this curse hope that the woman would literally suffer from being pierced, or was Read the full post...

Curse Words

January 1, 2015 // 2 Comments

  Cursing as a practice is looked at from several different angles by scholars. On the one hand, some look to the historical import of cursing to understand the societies that produced material objects such as curse tablets (someone like John Gager fits this bill). Others attempt to categorize curses by the language they use or the subject matter addressed (Christopher A. Faraone, who attempts to categorize cursing formulas fits well here). It seems fitting that we take a step back and a Read the full post...

Modern Maledictions: The Curse of the Billy Goat

December 9, 2014 // 1 Comment

No goats allowed. In a recent post we took a look at sports-related curses—i.e. curses which were employed by athletes and their fans to ensure victory against a competitor. While the ancients were busy “putting the fix in” for various sporting events, the tradition of sports-related curses is no less pertinent today. In 2012, during an NFL play-off, New England witches provided a bit of, uh, spiritual support for the New England Patriots by supernaturally boosting Tom Brady’s mojo. No Read the full post...

Make Him Powerless With the Horses: On Sports-Related Curse Tablets

November 11, 2014 // 1 Comment

Sports-related curses were extremely prevalent in the ancient world. In fact, it was assumed that those who competed in public contests regularly employed curses. Moreover, this was not just some literary fantasy—material evidence of lead curse tablets (defixiones or katadesmoi) bears this opinion out. To get specific, these curses were inscribed on lead tablets which were consigned to a strategic location, such as a water-well, a grave, or a victim’s main locus of operation. For example, a Read the full post...

Is Cursing a Magical Act?

October 27, 2014 // 0 Comments

Peter’s curse breaks the legs of Simon Magus. In a recent post, we talked about the categorical difficulties inherent in the term “magic.” I took the view that many of the distinguishing features which scholars use to define magical practices often apply to normative religious phenomena in antiquity. Thus, when talking about the ancient world, it is not so easy to separate magic from religion. Indeed, many of these constructions are contextual. What is considered to be magic is not so Read the full post...
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