Pagan Studies

Focusing on the Arte Magical as a practice and profession, we study various facets of magic through the lens of both classical and modern perspective. From ancient myth to urban legend to fiction and philosophy, all viewed through the eyes of a very practical magician.

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The Witch's Curse

Magicians don't curse people often enough anymore.

Now now, I know that's a controversial and possibly alarming opinion, but bear with me.

It is early in the morning on the day Samhain begins.  According to my tradition, the Hallows don't actually start until sunset today; from sunset on the 31st of October to morning on November 3rd, the Sabbat possesses the world.

During this time, we focus upon the powers of the unknown and the terrible- both inspiring and frightening at the same time.  Rather than focusing purely on the titillatingly gruesome or the "spooky" as if it were a fad, we focus on the dark emotions and deep mysteries of this time.  In the zombie, the ghost, the vampire, we see the eternal dead and the vast power of the underworld to confront us with our past and raise it up from the depths.  In the witch, the demon, the werewolf, we see the mystery of magic and its power to change the course of nature to strange and awe- or horror-inspiring ends.

Samhain is about the darkness, about immortal and eldritch powers existing beyond our perceptions and comprehension.  It's about the wild and dark power of the gods standing tall, the bright loud noise of Summer stepping aside so that we can see a different side of nature that we normally fear, ignore, or actively defy.  One of these aspects of the world is the curse.

Yesterday, I posted on my Facebook about this subject, and finished with a curse of my own for Samhain.  You can click the link and read it if you like.

In fact, I'll paraphrase my note a bit, so you can know my stance without having to go look at my Facebook.  This piece of information was my counsel to my students, on the proper casting of curses.

"...let's get a few things clear. Not all malevolent magic is a curse. And not all curses are mean-spirited or evil, either. Magic is a thing of mystery, of secrecy and of initiation. A curse is a spell which draws one down into the darkness, dragging one through the layers of Hell until all is laid bare, all is made clear, and all is stripped clean. It is the hook of Ereshkigal, the tomb of Osiris, the hounds of the Morrigan, and the flames of Hekate's torch.

"It is payment for folly.

"Also, in order for one to perform a curse, one must live as one with the forces which we wield. That which we cast, changes us first.

"Finally, curses cannot be simply "cast." They have to be accepted, taken up in some manner. This can be the result of trickery, but it is nonetheless something which must happen. Curses laid upon a foe can only be cast in one's own "blood"- what they have sown with your sorrow, they shall reap as woe."

Now, keep in mind that most of my Facebook notes are editorials for my students and friends and family- they're highly personal memoirs from my life.  This was such an article- highly personal, and often controversial.

I find that the subject of cursing is often such.

I'd like to break that today, by stating an opinion that may be unpopular: I am disappointed in the lack of willingness for people to learn to curse properly.  And no, I don't mean "learning about curses so we can break them and all live in happy harmony and joy forever tralala."  I'm talking about laying them, casting them upon those who have made mistakes and need to have proof in front of them.

Let's face it- none of us are always at our best all the time.  Some days, we just really can't be bothered.  And some days, we make serious mistakes in judgment, miscalculating and causing harm to others.

That in and of itself is forgivable, as it's part of the way things are.  But it does require we face our mistakes and own up to what we've done wrong.

Most days?  The people in my life- good solid people with kind hearts and true spirits, mind you- are highly unlikely to do this.  The ones who are apologizing are usually wrong to do so.  And the ones who need most to fix their mistakes are unwilling or even unable to see that they've done wrong.

This is what cursing is about.

I'll share one truth I've discovered about cursing with you now: the strongest and most fierce curses are the ones born of love.

The reason for this is simple, really.  Curses aren't controllable.  They're not something that only happens to people you don't care about.  They're naphtha- they spread and get into everything they touch, starting with the one casting them.

And this could be a bad thing... if one casts from a place of falsehood or cowardice.  If one isn't willing to give oneself to the magic one calls forth, one will be destroyed by it, eventually.  As a book of secrets once said to me: "If you would draw power from a source, you must first give yourself to it."

This is the secret of witchcraft- everything we do, is done to us first.  What others see as horror or pain, we learn to understand as sacrament to our true soul.  Others cannot harm us, for their harm makes us more powerful.

That's the message of Samhain- to step forth and visit the underworld; to see its true nature, and let it change you.  Remember, the realms of gods are not removed from the dead: those who do not go to a heaven, go to a hell instead.  And in the old vision, hell wasn't about torment.  It was about rest.

The same can be said about a curse- letting our blood speak.  Looking into a person's eyes, and letting them become outwardly the beast they've been acting like... or turning them to stone.  It is the ultimate expression of honor to oneself, one's foe, and also one's ancestors.

So, why eschew casting spells of this nature?

I find, in most cases, it's a matter of submitting to something which we as witches and magicians are intended to master, rather than allowing ourselves to be enslaved. 


Fear of censure.  Fear of wrecking our lives, or the lives of others.  Fear of the very force which we cry for salvation from.

In my opinion, this is a major mistake.  After all, how many times have we heard this saying: "If you can't handle me at my worst, you certainly don't deserve my best?"

If you can't look into the baleful gaze of the basilisk, then you sure shouldn't be treating it like a pet.

I challenge all of you, and encourage all of you, during this Hallows season: look into the dark.  Gaze into it, and open yourself to it.  After all, it's not as if you'll lose the light by doing so.  We witches carry a torch handy any time we go into the dark.  We carry our light with us.

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S. Rune Emerson has been practicing witchcraft and sorcery since the early 90's, and has been teaching since 2004. He is the founder of the Risting Tradition of American Witchcraft, which is a large title for a small local tradition based in Northern Nevada. He also heads a coven tradition called the Cabal of Nocturne, and works as a diviner at Pathways Spirit, a metaphysical shop in Reno. He likes to describe his life as "extraordinarily simple." He is fond of observing that magic as a profession is the somewhat honest alternative to those of the same mindset as criminals- smart, lazy, and prone towards thinking outside the box, often in areas of questionable morality. He believes in a strong standard of accountability in magical practice, and has very strict ethics. He's also very opinionated about nearly everything.


  • ursula
    ursula Friday, 01 November 2013

    Very well said and well written. I love the perspective as a whole and especially the analogy of Ereshkigal's hook.... this whole sentence, really: "It is the hook of Ereshkigal, the tomb of Osiris, the hounds of the Morrigan, and the flames of Hekate's torch." Perfect.

    Great article. Thank you.

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