Hexes, aka Curse, Jinx, Whammy, Bad Juju, Original Sin
Once upon a time, the word “hex” simply meant to practice magic or witchcraft, but those days are long gone. The strange and wonderful world of semantics has mutated the word into a darker form.
The art of the hex, as it is understood today, means putting the nasty on someone you hate. A hex is the supernatural equivalent of hitting someone over the head with a folding chair. There are different sorts of hexes, but they all basically boil down to making bad things happen to people you hate.
The basic curse is arguably the oldest form of magic, having been employed by God against three residents of Eden, Adam, Eve and the snake, for the inexcusable sin of seeking knowledge. Many religions feature variations on this Judeo-Christian-Muslim story of the first sin, which seeks to explain why life sucks so bad all the time.
God’s curse on mankind is the simplest form of hex, in which the hexer makes a formal pronouncement of bad things he or she wishes upon the hexee:
And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
The story of an original curse on humanity occurs in most cultures and religious traditions, since life pretty much sucks no matter where you live, and people wanted explanations, dammit! The spread of human-on-human cursing can pretty much be attributed to the scientific syndrome known as “monkey see, monkey do.”
Once in the hands of humankind, the art of the hex became more nasty and considerably more elaborate. There are as many ways to cast a hex as there are bitter, spiteful, and slightly irrational people in the world.
Hexes run from the very general to the very precise. The simplest hexes simply mess with the victim’s mojo and cause a streak of bad luck. More sophisticated hexes can target a victim’s wealth, health, even specific body parts.
The basic curse is a pretty straightforward concept. It is simply a verbalized exhortation to the fates, requesting that bad things happen to the victim. The minimum requirement for a hex involves speaking a brief description of what you want to happen to the victim, while invoking a magical name or word. For instance:
“May you wander over the face of the earth forever, never sleep twice in the same bed, never drink water twice from the same well, and never cross the same river twice in a year.”
The above is allegedly a traditional Gypsy curse. Gypsy curses are the most famous kind of curse, but the vast majority of such curses occur in a historical context that ranges in credibility from Stephen King to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to The Simpsons. Presumably there is some sort of historical basis for the notion, likely deriving from the cottage industry of gypsy fortune-telling, but that nugget of fact has been buried under a mountain of shit from which it may never emerge.
The problem with a simple verbalized curse is that it rarely works (unless you’re God or a Gypsy). That’s a good thing, of course, or else the average lifespan would be 42. You’d live just long enough to ground your teenage child, who would respond, “I hate you! I wish you would die!”
Faced with this failure, many people simply abandon the notion of cursing at an early age. But some people aren’t content to leave bad enough alone. Committed hexers were forced to develop ever more elaborate means to get the job done.
The exact means vary widely from culture to culture, but most of them are wildly entertaining. A quick trot around the globe finds techniques and beliefs that run from the pragmatic to the bizarre. The voodoo doll is a favorite of hexers and cursers everywhere. The hexer creates a small effigy of his or her victim, usually out of wax, and includes a small item connected to the victim, such as a lock of hair or fingernail clipping. The doll is then stuck with pins or otherwise tortured in order to produce a corresponding effect on the victim’s body.
In China, a curse can be delivered by leaving a few grains of rice and a few pennies on the victim’s door step, symbolizing a wish that the victim be stricken with poverty.
In 2004, a member of the Tanzanian parliament vowed to place an “Islamic death curse” on the members of Tanzania’s executive branch if they didn’t do a better job cleaning up corruption. There isn’t much in the way of supporting literature for this practice, but odds are someone somewhere believes it well enough.
Surprisingly, the Catholic church not only believes in the efficacy of curses but allows that there may be appropriate times to use them. Based on the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Vatican allows that believers may:
petition that calamity may be visited by God on persons or things in requital for wrongdoing. … [If] the imprecation be directed towards irrational creatures not on account of their relation to God, but simply as they are in themselves, the guilt is no greater than that which attaches to vain and idle words, except where grave scandal is given, or the evil wished to the irrational creature cannot be separated from serious loss to a rational creature, as would be the case were one to wish the death of another’s horse, or the destruction of his house by fire, for such wishes involved serious violation of charity.
In one U.S. case attributed to Santeria, a hexer adorned a victim’s front step with a cow’s tongue that had the names of several gods affixed to it using pins.
British witches allegedly cursed Adolf Hitler during World War II.
Aleister Crowley is reputed to have exchanged curses with MacGregor Mathers, a rival within the ranks of the occult secret society, Golden Dawn. By most accounts, Crowley was the decisive victor in this battle. Of course, most of the accounts were written by Crowley.
Aboriginal Australians believe that one can be hexed, or even killed, by pointing a kangaroo bone at them. Notable victims include non-aboriginal Australian Prime Minister John Howard (as punishment for cutting off an aboriginal self-governance program).
While the ancient Egyptians frequently used curses to protect grave sites, the legendary curse of young King Tutankhamun is apparently mythical. Various inscriptions have been reported in media and historical accounts of the tomb’s discovery. None of them are real. That didn’t keep six members of the archaeological team that discovered the tomb from early and unfortunate deaths, but it’s worth noting that the man most responsible for the opening of the tomb, archaeologist Howard Carter, died of old age.
Hardly a week goes by without a new report about someone, somewhere, collecting human body parts for use either in casting a curse or removing a curse. Reports come in regularly from across Africa, from South America, from everywhere in Europe and occasionally from North America (where practitioners restrain themselves mainly due to fear of becoming the latest New York Post headline).
The Romans inscribed the names of hex victims onto thin metal sheets, which were then rolled up and pierced by nails. The archaeological records suggest these curse were mostly issued over penny-ante debts, which detracts from the romantic adventure of the whole thing.
Rasputin is said to have cursed the Romanovs, Russia’s ruling monarchs, on his death bed. His angst may have had to do with the fact he had been shot, drowned and castrated by a Romanov prince. It was extraordinarily effective, as curses go. The entire family was dead within a year.
The infamous ancient Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times” is apparently neither Chinese nor ancient. Made popular when uttered by John F. Kennedy, the phrase doesn’t appear to have a pedigree going further back than the 20th century, although the exact origin of the phrase is still under debate. Once we cure cancer, end world hunger, solve global terrorism and figure out whether there’s a God, we’ll get back to you with a definitive answer on this.
Hindus and Buddhists believe in karma, the self-correcting law of the universe that sooner or later forces you to accept the consequences of your evil deeds. This would seem to make curses superfluous, however you wouldn’t know it on a tour of India’s occultish hotspots.
The so-called “hex signs” of the Pennsylvania Dutch have nothing to do with hexes. Let us never speak of this again.
The Algonquin tribe of Native Americans famously cursed its enemies, including a famous hex that the president holding office every 20 years after 1820 would die in office. The only president to dodge that bullet so far was Ronald Reagan, who literally had to dodge a bullet to escape. We don’t know if the curse keeps George W Bush up nights, but he’s sitting right in the Algonquin curse’s crosshairs at this hour.
With all this hexing and cursing going on, there is a booming worldwide industry in hex removal. Whether or not you actually believe in hexes, you must listen to the following statement and believe it with all your heart: ANYONE WHO IS CHARGING YOU MONEY TO REMOVE A HEX IS NOT YOUR FRIEND.
Outside of the West, you can at least rest easy in the notion you might only be gouged once in your lifetime. But Westerners, and particularly Americans, are extremely vulnerable to an ongoing scam in which you go to a psychic for a reading, the psychic tells you that you have been cursed, the psychic explains they can remove the curse for $500, you give the psychic the money, your life does not improve, the psychic explains the curse was more difficult that he or she thought, the psychic offers to remove the curse for $2,000, lather, rinse and repeat with ever-increasing dollar amounts.
If you are actually worried that you have somehow been cursed (excluding that original curse from God, which is non-revokable), the good news is that there are plenty of happy, good-hearted New Agers and witches out there who will attempt to help you for free.
The bad news is that these well-intentioned persons may not be much more effective than the scam artists. But the other good news is that, even if the Good Samaritans can’t help you, you will still only be cursed — as opposed to being cursed, broke and stupid.
Curse removal techniques can involve anything from burning sage incense, to keeping amber and hematite stones on your person, wearing a talisman, sprinkling yourself with holy water, or even engaging in a full-scale Exorcism. Or harvesting human body parts, but Rotten.com does not recommend this approach. (Not even if you take pictures.)
If you can’t find someone to help you for free, odds are that you’re an asshole who deserved to be cursed in the first place. You might as well ride it out, because your karma will catch up to you eventually. Think of it as a get out of Purgatory early card.