A Look at Abrahamic Curses

Most people will not think of curses when they think about any “Abrahamic” magic system – be it biblical mysticism, miracles of saints or faith healings of Jesus. The idea of harming someone else with magic – which is what a curse is – seems to be the very opposite to the idea of Christianity or Judaism. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” is considered to be the highest commandment in either of those religions; which is why many faithful practitioners of magic will not resort to any curse. It seems contradictory to one’s faith.

In this post I will discuss where we can find instances of actual curses being cast against people in God’s name in the scriptures; as well as showcase how Abrahamic traditions of magic never stopped using curses either.

“King David playing the Harp” by Gerard van Honthorst

The Psalms

The Book of Psalms found in the Tanakh/Old Testament is a book full of prayers, all with their own usage – spells so to speak. In it we find many prayers for protection, guidance or healing; which are all very well known. But what about curses?

“Evil shall slay the wicked; and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.” Psalm 34:21

“For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride.
For the cursing and lies which they utter, consume them in wrath, consume them till they are no more,
that men may know that God rules over Jacob to the ends of the earth.”
Psalm 59:12-13

“Pour out thy anger on the nations that do not know thee, and on the kingdoms that do not call on thy name! Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of thy servants be known among the nations before our eyes!” Psalm 79:6,10

“He will bring back on them their iniquity and wipe them out for their wickedness; the Lord our God will wipe them out.” Psalm 94:23

“He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.” Psalm 110:6-9

The whole of Psalm 109 is pretty much a curse against whoever did the practitioner dirty:

“Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser bring him to trial.When he is tried, let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin! May his days be few; may another seize his goods! May his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow! May his children wander about and beg; may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit! May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil! Let there be none to extend kindness to him, nor any to pity his fatherless children! May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation! May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord, and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out! Let them be before the Lord continually;and may his memory be cut off from the earth! For he did not remember to show kindness, but pursued the poor and needy and the brokenhearted to their death. He loved to curse; let curses come on him! He did not like blessing; may it be far from him! He clothed himself with cursing as his coat, may it soak into his body like water, like oil into his bones!
May it be like a garment which he wraps round him, like a belt with which he daily girds himself!”
Psalm 109:6-19

We can see that the Book of Psalms gives the followers of the God of Israel quite an arsenal of curses. Some of them can be used against slander, while others can even be used for deadly curses against one’s enemies.

The Prophets

Most of the “curses” we see from the prophets of the Tanakh/Old Testament don’t curse in the literal sense of calling on God to harm someone; they prophesize. What does this mean? Well, for instance if you look at passages like Jeremiah 19, you will see that the prophet speaks for God, and just prophesizes whatever harm will come. They don’t curse people in the sense of “Oh Lord, I call unto you to wipe my enemies out” like the curses of the Psalms do; they literally speak God’s word.

A few examples of this:

“Therefore, behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter.” Jeremiah 19:6

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing upon this city and upon all its towns all the evil that I have pronounced against it, because they have stiffened their neck, refusing to hear my words.” Jeremiah 19:15

“I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod, and him that holds the scepter from Ash′kelon;
I will turn my hand against Ekron; and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, says the Lord God.”
Amos 1:8

“And Moses said, Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go forth in the midst of Egypt; and all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sits upon his throne, even to the first-born of the maidservant who is behind the mill; and all the first-born of the cattle. And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever shall be again.” Exodus 11:4-6

“Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth’s Vineyard” by Sir Frank Dicksee

This would count as prophecy of whatever was to come; not as a curse in the literal sense.

However, we do have an example of a prophet, who knew he had God’s power on his side and used that knowledge to his advantage several times – Elijah, the Tishbite. For instance the first words of Elijah we can read is almost like a binding spell against king Ahab:

“Now Eli′jah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.'” 1 Kings 17:1

In 1 Kings 21 Jezebel and Ahab slay an innocent man called Naboth for his vineyard. When Elijah finds Ahab, we get this interaction:

“Ahab said to Eli′jah, ‘Have you found me, O my enemy?’ He answered, ‘I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord. Behold, I will bring evil upon you; I will utterly sweep you away, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel'” 1 Kings 21:20-21

Note how Elijah doesn’t claim to speak for God when he says this; like we see in the examples of traditional prophecy. When Ahazia sends for Elijah, the prophet quite literally smites Ahazia’s men:

“Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty men with his fifty. He went up to Eli′jah, who was sitting on the top of a hill, and said to him, ‘O man of God, the king says, ‘Come down.’  But Eli′jah answered the captain of fifty, ‘If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.’ Then fire came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.” 2 Kings 1:9-10

And he did that two times in a row; not just once. Elijah’s successor Elisha also liked to curse people; in this following instance they were some boys getting on his nerve:

“He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!’ And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.” 2 Kings 2:23-24

The New Testament

Oddly enough and to the surprise of many, to the New Testament curses aren’t foreign at all. And even weirder, the one who curses a lot in the New Testament is Jesus himself:

“And he said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard it.” Mark 11:14

He really hated fig trees. On a serious note however, Jesus himself cursed people, as well as whole cities:

“Woe to you, Chora′zin! woe to you, Beth-sa′ida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Caper′na-um, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” Matthew 11:21-24

“But woe to you Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! for you love the best seat in the synagogues and salutations in the market places. Woe to you! for you are like graves which are not seen, and men walk over them without knowing it.” Luke 11:42-44

“From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechari′ah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it shall be required of this generation. Woe to you lawyers! for you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” Luke 11:51-52

“Paul before the High Priest” by Philipp Galle after Jan van der Street; Courtsey of National Gallery of Art, Washington

Even if we look outside of the gospels we will see instances of the apostles throwing curses:

“And the high priest Anani′as commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, ‘God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?'” Acts 23:2-3

“If any one has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!” 1 Corinthians 16:22

Paul even encouraged to curse false teachers:

“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:8-9

Which does seem to contradict his stance on how to deal with evil in the world in general:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Romans 12:14

Overall the context of whom Paul curses is important. He doesn’t really curse people who “only” persecute him for his faith or other Christians, he curses false teachers, hypocrites and in general blasphemers of God similar to the curses we see in the Tanakh/Old Testament:

“For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

Magical Texts

Now on to actual magical texts. For the sake of this post I’ll keep it at grimoires from the Renaissance, since that’s my expertise is. Grimoires, even those which are pretty much Christian, have a plethora of curses.

For instance the sixth pentacle of Saturn is described as:

“Around this pentacle is each name symbolized as it should be. The person against whom thou shalt pronounce it shall be obsessed by demons.” The Key of Solomon (MacGregorMathers edition)

And the author of The Key of Solomon also writes:

“Accursed be he who undertaketh our art without having the qualities requisite to thoroughly understand our Key, accursed be he who invoketh the name of God in vain, for such an one prepareth for himself the punishments which await the unbelievers, for God shall abandon them and relegate them unto the depths of Hell amongst the impure spirits.” The Key of Solomon, Book 1, Chapter XVIII (MacGregor Mathers edition)

The 6th and 7th Pentacles of Saturn from The Key of Solomon edited by MacGregor Mathers

In the Arbatel we read about a definition of an “evil” magician; which interestingly enough doesn’t have much do with cursing or not cursing, rather blasphemy against God:

“The true and divine Magician may use all the creatures of God, and offices of the Governours of the world, at his own will, for that the Governours of the world are obedient unto them, and come when they are called, and do execute their commands: but God is the Author thereof: as Joshua caused the Sun to stand still in heaven. They send some of their Spirits to the Mean Magicians, which do obey them onely in some determinate business: but they hear not the false Magicians, but expose them to the deceits of the devils, and cast them into divers dangers, by the Command of God; as the Prophet Jeremiah testifieth, in his eighth Chapter, concerning the Jews.” Aphorism 17

“An evil Magician is he, whom by the divine permission the evil Spirits do serve, to his temporal and eternal destruction and perdition to deceive men, and draw them away from God; such was Simon Magus, of whom mention is made in the Acts of the Apostles, and in Clemens; whom Saint Peter commanded to be thrown down upon the earth, when as he had commanded himself, as it were a God, to be raised up into the air by the unclean Spirits.” Aphorism 41

And finally, Agrippa in his De Occulta Philsophia curses the unfaithful trying to learn the occult arts and magic:

“But ye, envious, caluminators, sons of base ignorance, and foolish lewdnest, come not nigh our writings, for they are your enemies, and stand on a precipice, that ye may erre and fall head-long into misery: if any therefore through his incredulity or dulness of intellect, doth not obtain his desire, let him not impute the fault of his igorance to me, or say that I have erred, or purposely written falsly and lied, but let him accuse himself, who understandeth not our writings; for they are obscure, and covered with divers mysteries, by the which it will easily happen, that many my erre and lose their sense; therefore let no man be angry with me, if we have folded up the truth of this science with many Enigmaes, and dispersed it in divers places, for we have not hidden it from the wise, but from the wicked and ungodly, and have delivered it in such words which necessarily blind the foolish, and easily may admit the wise to the understanding of them.” Agrippa, De Occulta Philosophia, Book III, Chapter LXV.

Conclusion

Curses in general are certainly a topic a lot of Christian pracitioners shy away from because on the surface it seems incompatible with their faith. Overall in my opinion this is quite a nuanced topic; especially if we consider the factors of faith and morality. The issue is, we see Elijah, Jesus and Paul cursing people within a certain context (no, not you Elisha).

So for any practitioner who follows the commandments of God (10 commandments for Christians, 613 mitzvot for Jews); this topic should not be ignored. We can’t deny that people in the Bible, both the Tanakh/Old Testament and the New Testament, straight up cursed people. Sometimes for better or worse reasons (looking at you Elisha). We also can’t deny that some Psalms are curses. So the tools are there, and it is also pretty clear who to curse and who not to curse.

That doesn’t mean that cursing is mandatory in any way though. Just with any other thing, if you’re uncomfortable with it or cannot reconcile curses with your own morals, then don’t do it. If you have no idea how to lift a curse – with great power comes great responsibility – don’t do it!

That’s my opinion on the matter as someone who practices magic and follows the God of Israel.

Let me know what your opinion on the matter is! Thank you for reading!

Literature

  1. “The Bible” RSV.
  2. “The Key of Solomon” edited by S. L. MacGregor Mathers.
  3. “De Occulta Philosophia” by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa.
  4. “Arbatel De Magia Veterum” translated and edited by Joseph H. Peterson.

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