A curse is the effective action of some power, distinguished solely by the quality of adversity that it brings. A curse may also be said to result from a spell or prayer, imprecation or execration, or other imposition by magic or witchcraft, asking that a god, natural force, or spirit bring misfortune to someone.
The forms of curses found in various cultures comprise a significant proportion of the study of both folk religion and folklore.
Folk useThe deliberate levying of curses is often part of the practice of magic, taking place at the boundary between organized religion and folkloric customs. The curse makes effective part in the Hindu culture (The Fakir has the bless and curse power).
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.
- 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 Shrap in Hindi and Marathi
Ancient Greek and Roman cursesGreek 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 some place 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, along with the reason therefore, such as theft or loss of respect.
The Romans, Etruscans, 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 cursesIn 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 BibleThe 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).
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 literatureA 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 placesCertain landmarks or locales are said to be cursed. Various lakes, rivers and mountains have been called cursed, as has the Sargasso Sea. 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 Gur in Limerick, Ireland every seven years but the lake is not considered "cursed" by the locals. The alleged Bermuda Triangle effect is believed by some to be some form of curse (and by others to be some unexplained natural phenomena).
Babinda's Boulders, Babinda township, near Cairns, Queensland 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 &em; yet an Aboriginal legend exists giving it the context of a historic curse.
Curse to the United States presidencyTecumseh'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.
Sports-related cursesA number of curses are used to explain the failures or misfortunes of specific sports teams, players, or even cities. For example:
- The Curse of the Billy Goat is used to explain the failures of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, who have not won a World Series championship since 1908, and a National League pennant since 1945.
- There was the Curse of the Bambino, on the Boston Red Sox major league baseball team, who had not won a World Series since 1918 until the 2004 World Series, when the Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals, 4 games to 0.
- The "Krukow Kurse" is used to explain the San Francisco Giants' failure to ever win the World Series. It is attributed to Mike Krukow (a former pitcher for the Giants and a current broadcaster for the team) based upon his yearly pre-season predictions that the Giants "have a chance" to win the World Series. Once Krukow stops making such predictions- says the legend- the Giants will, in fact, win the World Series.
- Players who appear on the covers of either the Sports Illustrated magazine or the Madden NFL video game have tended to, coincidentally, suffer setbacks or injuries, immediately after appearing on either cover.
- Some think that the NHL's St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Los Angeles Kings are cursed. Each team has not won a Stanley Cup championship, since 1967. For the Blues and Kings, 1967 was the season that each team joined the NHL, also implying that each team has never won the Stanley Cup.
- There was the Curse of 1940, which was placed on the New York Rangers for 54 years. But that curse was broken in the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, with a 4 games to 3 victory against the Vancouver Canucks.
- There was an alleged curse placed on the Los Angeles Lakers, whenever they played the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, especially at the old Boston Garden. Los Angeles lost to Boston 6 times in the Finals in the 1960s ('62, '63, '65, '66, '68, '69), and in the 1984 NBA Finals. In several matchups, infamous incidents have seemed to have favored the Celtics, and in series-clinching wins for Boston, legendary coach Red Auerbach was said to have pulled his famous "victory cigar," and puffed it in front of the Lakers' bench. But the "leprechaun jinx" ended, with the Lakers' 4 games to 2 victory over the Celtics, in the 1985 NBA Finals. The Lakers' celebration was at Boston Garden, which would be the only time in the garden's history that a team other than the Celtics won the NBA championship in that building.
- There are alleged curses on the cities of Buffalo, Cleveland, Houston, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Seattle; which are believed to have a major league sports championship curse, meaning that any major league franchise that settles in that city are unable to win a sports championship, even if they have powerful and talented teams, thus causing much heartbreak to their fans, and much joy to rivals. Houston did however managed to win back to back championships in the NBA in 1994 and 1995, thus the curse for Houston may have been broken.
The Curse of 27The 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 objectsCursed 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. The idea has broad pop-culture appeal, from eponymous object in the 1902 horror short story "The Monkey's Paw", to the ancient Greek story of Pandora's Box to the "Lament Configuration" puzzle box in the modern Hellraiser movie series. The television show Friday the 13th: The Series dealt with a hoard of cursed antiques sold by an evil man that gave their owners various powers in return for killing. Once cursed, the objects were indestructible and had to be stored in a special vault. This is an example of placing a new curse onto an otherwise neutral object which was then used as a cursed object to purportedly bring a curse to a person or place. This is similar to the practice of recording a spoken curse onto a media such as a cassette tape (sometimes then known as "witch's tape") or recordable CD which is then left at the area to be cursed.
Egyptian curses and mummiesThere 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) Alpine 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.
- 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
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