“Casting the Curse” by Charles Wain
“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them…” (William Shakespeare)
I have read and heard many times within todays magical folk how it is most definitely NOT condoned to curse, that it should never be done under any circumstances and that those who are known to have done so or thought to be of that ilk, are not wanted and shunned. This view appears to arise from the wiccan rede which states“Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfil, An it harm none do what ye will.” This is often interpreted to mean taking a course of action that minimises harm to all and any parties; ergo, no cursing or any acts that would cause harm. Very noble I’m sure and like the Christian ethos of turning the other cheek, a lovely ethic to live by in an ideal world. But we do not live in an ideal world and the people who inhabit this world are far from ideal. So is it ever admissible to curse?
Throughout the history of British witchcraft, cursing has been an ever present feature. One of the earliest accounts of cursing by image magic comes from Scotland and dates from the 10th century. A woman who was regarded to be a witch and her daughter who worked at the royal court, tried to murder King Duffus. The daughter, for reasons unknown, changed her mind and confessed the plot to the kings guards who seized the mother as she was in the process of melting a wax image of the king. Up to this point, the king had indeed been suffering from a fever that caused sweating and pains in his limbs but as soon as the plot was foiled, he made a thorough recovery. The witch and her daughter were both executed.
In fact, if you are not prepared to curse, you should not be so permissive as to bestow the epithet of “Witch” to yourself. Historically, those who only ever did good (or were perceived to) were called “Cunning” folk, those that did harm (or were thought to) were called “Witches”; the line, in the minds of the common people and the judiciary, was very clear and once a Cunning person had been found to have done harm, they were re-designated to the category of “Witch” and there they stayed; a bad person to fear and be suspicious of for evermore and for the witch, a lifelong fear for their safety. In reality, even the cunning were prepared to cause harm but more often than not, it was for reasons that they believed would ultimately bring about good or at least, a respite from pain and suffering, not harm for harms sake as in the cases of the witches.
Within our family tradition, it is acknowledged that under certain circumstances it is acceptable to curse and some of our members have in fact done just that. In this, we are following the ever meandering and evolving stream of our tradition that has flowed throughout this landscape and its history.
An example is that of one family member who found themselves living opposite a family in which the “man” of the house was known to cause a lot of trouble for the neighbours and had done so for many years. This family had lived in the house for a long time and over the years the said man had smashed the windows and terrorised the inhabitants of one house because they were two lesbian women. He had physically fought with other men living in the road to prove he was the “boss” and nothing happened in this road that wasn’t his business. He allowed his children to bully other children and even encouraged it; laughing and proudly puffing out his chest when his children got the better of another child. He was also a profound drunk and when he was inebriated his behaviour got even worse and he became the fear of everyone living in the road. The police knew of him and he had in fact been visited by them on occasions but there was never enough proof for the most serious of crimes he committed and when his fights and threatening behaviour had been witnessed, he was visited, given a “word in the ear” and it was left at that. On rare occasions, he did find himself in court but nothing more than a fine and a slap on the wrists was ever delivered and so his reign of terror continued. He seemed invincible.
Our family member heard all the stories about his antics over the years and then began to see for herself what he was capable of as she witnessed him terrorising people and the neighbourhood. She watched for a few years, in which time she stayed well out of his way and tried not to attract his attention. But that all changed one day. By now her children were old enough to play outside of the garden and this they did; all the children in the road would meet up and head off into the fields and woods to build dens and have a fabulous time in the great outdoors, heading back home in time for tea and then playing outside in the square at the front of the houses until time to come in for the night. But one evening she saw the dreaded neighbour shouting at her son who was crying and trying to walk away. She went out and tried to ask what the problem was but the neighbour drunkenly rounded on her and started shouting obscenities and declaring knowledge of the type of family she came from, saying “I wont have any baby boilers in this road! I’ll get you out!” “Baby boiler” being a nasty euphemism for a witch taken from the horror stories of the supposed acts committed at the sabbat. He then threatened violence towards her and the bystanders turned and walked away for fear of the consequences if they intervened. Thankfully she was quick enough to get out of the way and get herself and her son safely indoors but from then on their life was made miserable by this man. The neighbours who used to talk to her, stopped talking. The children who used to play with her children stopped calling; all feared the reprisal of this man and his family. So with no hope of moving at this time and no hope of the police doing anything useful, she decided to use the weapons she had; cursing.
Now some might ask why she had not acted sooner on behalf of her neighbours but cursing should never be done lightly, never on the evidence of others alone, never on hearsay and certainly not without a very sound knowledge of what is going on accumulated and verified by oneself. Also, she had never been asked. With this shift in events and now that it was personal, she could safely say all she’d been told was true and what she had witnessed for herself was the progression of this mans tyranny until it terminated at her door. And terminate here it would; she would ensure that.
She cursed him and hung sigils to enforce the curse in the windows of her house that he had to walk past to get to his house. It also meant they were always facing him, as they faced his house.
Within a week the neighbour was taken away by an ambulance. She didn’t know what had happened or even if it was him or a member of his family but she was soon to find out. The next morning the neighbours wife knocked on the door and launched straight into begging for whatever had been done to her husband to be stopped. Apparently he was very ill and it was touch and go whether he would survive but he believed it was all down to a curse that our family had put on him and that if it was lifted he’d recover; so he sent his wife to apologise on his behalf and beg forgiveness. The wife was told that if he truly meant the apology and truly meant to fix his ways then maybe the “powers that be” might be benevolent and give him another chance but never was it admitted that a curse had been laid. Well, he did recover and home he came. From that day on he never drank again and the whole neighbourhood benefited from it; he helped his neighbours, was congenial when he met them in the road and even his own family enjoyed a life they’d never known. He took them on outings as now he was sober, he could drive again, he worked and he spent his money on the home, his wife and his children. And our family member and her children were left in peace by this man; he even offered to help in any way he could if she needed it at any time and thanked her for giving him a life he could be proud of. Of course, she denied all knowledge of what he was talking about and said that instead he should thank whoever or whatever he believed in, as it was they that would have stepped in to act on his behalf. He didn’t believe that and maintained it was all down to what she had done.
That was 11 years ago and he is still sober and his family are still happy as are the residents of the road. Our family member has since moved but she is still in touch with an old neighbour from there and so she knows that all is still well.
She has no qualms about having done this, even though the target faced death; the outcome benefited so many and even helped the target and his family to a better life through the experience.
I could relate a few more examples that I have personal knowledge of but that would be too boring for the reader, so what I would like to convey here is that in ALL instances, the target of the curse might very well have undergone a dreadful experience; either facing death, the breakdown of life as they knew it or the loss of something they held precious but in the end not one, I repeat not one, suffered any long-term pain or suffering or death; each was reborn through difficulty into something or someone better than they were/had before. This is not defined by my expectations or understanding of “better” but by themselves and/or their families when they have been heard to say how much more they are enjoying life and they thank (who or whatever they believe in) for a second chance at a life infinitely better than the one they had before.
This is the art of cursing and the art of the cunning person and so I do believe it has a place within our tradition; why suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, when you can take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them?
However, I would never advocate the art of cursing for everyone or anyone. Be aware that cursing for trivial matters or for the sake of ego or without the true knowledge that is behind it is dangerous; without true knowledge you can easily find yourself bound to the target that has been cursed and suffer a fate akin to theirs or suffer the intended fate of the target yourself instead of them.