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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...

Defining the Magical Practitioner in Antiquity

October 13, 2014 // 0 Comments

Medea rejuvenates an old ram by boiling it. When we think of curses, we think of a magician, or even a witch, who’s up to no good in the dark of the night. Ancient literature teems with this figure: the witch of Endor, Medea, even followers of Jesus figure into this portrait of the evil magical practitioner (Gordon 253). I want to set aside the specific question of cursing for a moment (we’ll talk about that in another post), and look at how we define the magical practitioner in antiquity. Read the full post...

Curses as Divine Authenticator: The Wrath of Moses in the Book of Numbers

October 6, 2014 // 0 Comments

Moses calls down hail from the sky on Pharaoh. Much of the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament) is devoted to Moses—who he was, his miraculous deeds, and stories which affirm his leadership in the Israelite community. The Book of Numbers, in particular, highlights this last dimension of Moses’ leadership skills. Time and again, Moses is depicted as having a special relationship with the Hebrew god, one that reaches an intimacy not afforded to other Israelites or other worshipers. I want to Read the full post...

Welcome to the Ancient Curses Blog!

September 14, 2014 // 0 Comments

I wanted to take a moment to welcome you to the blog which accompanies the Ancient Curses project. This blog will mostly cover curses and curse stories as I encounter them in my research and attempt to understand the role of curses in ancient society. The study of cursing in antiquity is fraught with methodological issues. How do we define curses? Who practiced them? Why are similar phenomena labelled differently depending on the context? These are just some of the questions which confront those who study this area.

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