So you want to lay a curse on your enemies? I’m not going to judge—I’m sure they deserve it. But if you want to hex, jinx, bedevil, imprecate, and otherwise lay down powerful gris-gris on your foes, you better do it right. So follow our no-nonsense guide to practical cursing using two of history’s most famous methods of malediction.
A history of cursing
The specifics have been lost to history, but the first curse was probably delivered by the second person who ever lived. Maybe it was something like, “Og want rock fall on you.”
Uttering solemn words or performing rituals intended to invoke supernatural harm or punishment to others is present in so many different cultures and in so many different ways, I can’t present them all. So rather than paralyzing you with options, I’m going to provide step-by-step instructions for how to curse people in the controlled, ritualistic style of the Ancient Greeks (if you like a project), and in the more free-flowing, performative cursing style of the Irish in the 19th century, my pick for mankind’s G.O.A.T cursers.
A word of caution before you begin
A real, honest-to-god curse is more than yelling “eff you.” It’s a commitment to causing serious harm to another person through supernatural means, and even though there’s no such thing as supernatural means, curses can actually work. In a way.
Some practitioners of Wicca and other magical schools maintain that you shouldn’t use magic to do harm to others, lest greater harm come to you, but that’s silly. Curses can be effective, though, due to something like the nocebo effect in medicine—if someone legitimately believes they have been cursed, they essentially curse themselves psychologically by living as if they are cursed. In extreme cases, subjects of curses can even experience “voodoo death,” a psychosomatic death caused by an overwhelming emotional response. It’s powerful magic that isn’t actually magic.
Quietly cursing someone can be effective too, at least to you, in that you can ascribe any random negative event that befalls your enemy to your curse, so when they crash their car, you can smugly say “got ‘em!” to yourself. Empowering!
How to curse your enemies like an ancient Greek
We like to think of ancient Greece as the birthplace of logic, but magical practices were pretty common back then too, and the Greeks were forward-thinking enough to practice hexation rituals using permanent materials, so we know a lot about how they did it. Here’s how to cast your own Greek curse.
What you’ll need
- Lead sheets you can fold into a box
- An inscription tool
- A kolossoi (i.e., an effigy or doll that represents your enemy)
- Nails or pins
- An open grave
Step-by-step Greek curse instructions
“Cast your hate upon Phanagora and Demetrios and their tavern and their property and their possessions. I will bind my enemy Demetrios, and Phanagora, in blood and in ashes, with all the dead…I will bind you in such a bind, Demetrios, as strong as is possible, and I will smite down a kynotos on [your] tongue.”
A “kynotos” is the lowest possible die roll in ancient Greek gambling. If you play D&D, this is basically saying, “may you always roll a 1.”
- Because your curse is going to be sent to the underworld, make sure you invoke the power of suitable gods. If you’re a traditionalist, you can address your plea to Ancient Greek chthonic gods like Hades, Persephone, Demeter, and Hecate, although Greeks often invoked the gods of other cultures, so feel free to get creative and invoke Hel, the Norse God of Death; Anubis, Egyptian God of the Underworld; Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec God of Death; or just make up your own gods. It doesn’t matter because they’re all make-believe anyway.
- Carve your words of recrimination upon the lead. The Greeks inscribed their curses in a variety of languages, so feel free to use whatever tongue you’re most comfortable with.
- Now it’s time to stick your kolossoi with pins. There’s no specific instructions on where or how to impale your doll, although one kolossoi unearthed in Antinopolis was pierced with 13 pins: one in the top of the head, one in the mouth, one in each eye, ear, hand, and foot, plus pins in the solar plexus, vagina and anus. So just stick a lot pins in ‘em. This is the fun part!
- Wrap the inscribed lead around your kolossoi and bury it. But you can’t just bury it anywhere: You need a place that acts as a conduit to the underworld, so you’ll want to find a grave or a well. A grave is probably your best bet here because it’s the most witchy and scary option (besides, who has a well?). Conveniently, you can use literally anyone’s grave—they don’t have to be connected to you or the person being cursed. So hang around your local cemetery and try to look inconspicuous at a random funeral, then toss your lead-wrapped kolossoi in a stranger’s open grave. Easy!
- Wait for results.
How to curse your enemies like a 19th-century Irish person
If throwing a doll in a lead box into an open grave seems like too much work or too likely to lead to arrest, don’t despair. You can still visit supernatural ruin upon all who oppose you by following the Irish tradition.
From jocular “Ah, ta hell with ye!” style curses hurled at friends to serious public invocations that were remembered for generations, cursing has been part of Irish culture basically forever, and even the official disapproval of the Catholic Church beginning in 1643 didn’t stamp out the practice. Irish priests weren’t above calling out curses from the pulpit.
Step-by-step Irish curse instructions
There is way less specificity and ritual in Irish cursing than Greek, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to prepare. Irish cursing is performative, so you have to be ready to put on a show. Here’s a step-by-step guide to how to curse like an Irishman in the 1800s.
- Write and memorize a poetic diatribe against your enemy. Really dig into it—the idea is to come up with a string of words so biting and horrific that your enemy will be unable to respond with anything but an open-mouthed stare (like a battle rap). Make sure to invoke God, the Saints, Jesus, and Mary. In Ireland back then, curses were believed to only be effective against those who truly deserved them—they were more about justice than wielding magical power—so God should help you out, as long as your enemy really deserves it. Below are a couple examples of 19th-century Irish curses to give you some ideas. The first was found in 1902’s Traces of the Eder Faiths of Ireland; the second is an excerpt from a letter sent to an Irish landlord from County Limerick in 1886.
May you never prosper. The first drop of water to quench your thirst — may it boil in your bowels. May the flesh rot off your bones, and fall away putrid before your eyes. May your limbs wither and the stench of your rotten carcass be too horrible for hungry dogs. May you fade into nothing, like snow in summer. May you be accursed in the sight of God, and hated by your fellow man. May you die without a priest. May the Almighty’s curse rest on your children. This, I pray.
May you wither up by the fire of hell soon and sudden, may the flesh rot off your bones, and fall away putrid before your eyes, and may the consolation of eternal flames come to be your consolation in your last illness, and the hearthstone of hell be your pillow for ever.
- Once you’ve memorized your blistering curse words, it’s showtime, baby. Unlike the secret curses of some cultures, Irish curses are meant to be heard, preferably by the person being cursed, but just an audience of randos is enough—word will get back to the right person if you do it right.
- Pick somewhere crowded—a mall, perhaps. Accounts of memorable curses include the invoker falling to their knees in a crowded marketplace before delivering their stinging rebuke, slamming their fists on the ground, or looking to the sky and beseeching God and all the saints. You could try standing on jagged rocks by the sea and screaming your maledictions to the violent waves below. Do some snarling and screaming—whatever it takes to draw attention to yourself.
- Consider your hair. Accounts of curses from Irish women of the period usually included the detail of long hair blowing in the wind. In contrast to the modest head scarves they usually wore, angry Irish women literally let their hair down when delivering a good curse, suggesting a wildness and primal fury. It’s a powerful image and good theater.
- When you finish your curse, look at your enemy. They almost definitely won’t have an answer prepared, if they were even brave enough to hear you out. This is another way curses work, and maybe the most potent: They diminish the subject in the eyes of the community. Even if a witness has no idea what is behind your curse, they’ll probably conclude the person being cursed was pretty bad to deserve recrimination on this level. Ideally, your enemy will be shunned and move out of town out of sheer embarrassment. Curse successful!
(Please do not put a curse on me in our comment section.)
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