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...

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...