Photo by Marek Szturc on Unsplash
Instead of just posting the usual pros and cons of cursing, I figured something more in-depth and fact-based might be helpful. From a historical standpoint, cursing hasn’t always been viewed poorly even by ordinary people who were practicing the religions of the time. The image we have of a curse being an old evil witch cackling over a sacrifice at the behest of another person, usually a woman, for the sake of revenge is (as most negative portrayals of witchcraft) patriarchal propaganda meant to discourage women from seeking out one of the few resources they had access to in times of scarcity. Magic and religion were largely one and the same for many centuries, and cursing was considered a neutral tool which could be used to obtain a wide range of results.
It should be no surprise to you by this point that society has a history of separating women from sources of power, whether they be financial, educational, or physical. This idea can be stretched to anyone exhibiting what was perceived as feminine traits, or even wider to anything non-masculine. This is a topic that’s been written about extensively and well, so I’m not going to rehash all that here (although I definitely recommend reading up on it if you haven’t already).
The modern crusade against cursing (or curse-shaming, as it’s often called now) is often performed under the guise of morality, but as with most crusades of this type it’s based entirely on misrepresentations of what cursing is and what is is for. The less savoury types of curses are brought constantly to the forefront and shown as examples of why all cursing is “bad”, despite the fact that they constitute only one small portion of what cursing can be and has been.
Even Christianity uses cursing. If you’ve ever read Deuteronomy, this might sound familiar:
“However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you: You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.” (Deuteronomy 28:15-19)
Anyway, I think you get the idea. It goes on like this for quite a while (for another 49 lines actually, and further proves my point that the Abrahamic god is extra af… but I digress). In the 19th century, Adam and Eve’s fate was referred to as “the Curse” given down by the Abrahamic god themself, so the idea that cursing is the invocation of demons for the sake of inflicting harm is incorrect. In this context, the god did not want to harm Adam and Eve. The goal was to give a harsh lesson and for their actions to have consequences.
If we take a look at the history of the word “curse”, the most common meaning that has more or less remained relevant to this day is as follows: “to wish evil, to excommunicate”. The word “evil” is where most of the bad rep comes from, because evil is now understood as “extreme moral wickedness” and so for something evil to befall someone would be really horrible.
Once again, let’s look back at the meaning of evil as it was used in old times. In Old English, it was used to indicate disapproval or dislike. In Middle English, it was used similarly to how we would use “bad” or “harm” today, without the heavy connotation that it has now which came around sometime in the 18th century.
To curse someone and wish evil upon them sounds terrible now, but back in the day it was a means of punishing someone via causing an injury of either physical or psychological origin. The degree or level of that infliction could range immensely (think from papercut to severing a limb) and wasn’t always emotionally charged.
In Ancient Greece, Athenian meetings were often started with writing a curse. Curses were largely found to regard legal matters, rather than relationships or vengeful ones. Preventing someone from speaking out in court (or the opposite) were some of the most common. Cities would also use curses to protect citizens from crime and misfortune. It was also used to protect victims and prevent their attackers from causing further harm.
With the advent of science, witchcraft became increasingly construed as an irrational thing and more and more associated with women (or, I believe more accurately, anyone perceived as non-masculine). The witch trials largely targeted women, more often women of colour, and to a lesser but not insignificant extent gay men. Nowadays, the word “witch” is often associated with a woman despite being a gender neutral term, likewise the practice of cursing has shifted into something shameful and morally reprehensible. This is seen over and over again with anything that empowers women, gives them control over their lives and assets, or gives them any type of power over men. It has become “evil” in the modern sense, and once again power is taken away from women under the guise of it being necessary to be a good person.
I’m bored of women being mollified for the sake of a successful patriarchal system. I’m not going to say that cursing is a feminist imperative (although it is tempting…), but I will say that its misrepresentation in the media and even in pagan and occult circles is an attempt at creating this idea of what a woman “should” be, what she is permitted and not permitted to do to be deemed acceptable by society and even by other women.
If the occult community is going to encourage women to practice witchcraft as a way of empowering themselves, but then shame the use of curses in the same breath, it’s removing one of the most powerful tools in a witch’s handbook and saying “you can’t be trusted to use this wisely”. There is no such thing as a tool that can’t be used for bad things, so instead of shaming the use of the tool itself let’s start having open discussions on what the tool is being used for.