Several years ago I had the honor of interviewing Marie D. Jones on my Blog Talk Radio Show Authors Unplugged. Even before that I’d heard her speak on quite a few radio shows, and I was impressed with the depth and breadth of her knowledge about an amazing array of subjects. In the spirit of my favorite holiday, Halloween, I present to you Marie’s take on spells, curses, and the power of the mind. Welcome Marie!
Some people will believe anything. Even when it comes to things like spells and curses. Whether superstitious or not, if someone tells us they put a curse on us, some small part of our minds will feel that twinge of fear, even as all rational thinking tells us it’s nothing to worry about. Really. But do curses and spells ever have so much power they can actually kill, heal, or change our destinies?
Fetishism, the belief that a physical object can have supernatural powers, is as old as humanity itself. The use of blood, animal fur, claws, beads, coins, rings, feathers, stones, gems and crystals, and specific plants and animals by native and primitive peoples is no different from our use today of crucifixes, Buddha statuettes, Holy Water, Star of David necklaces, Rosary Beads, voodoo dolls, the Italian Horn to ward off evil eye, worry beads, prayer stones, and even four-leafed clovers and lucky charms.
The belief that symbols hold as much power and influence as what they are supposed to symbolize still makes up a part of everyday religious life. When a Christian takes the body and blood of Christ at Communion, they may not realize it, but they are practicing a type of fetishism, giving the wafer and wine a level of power which they do not have as physical objects, but rather as symbols of something far greater.
Yet, some may argue that the objects DO have power on their own. Perhaps we are somehow sending the object energy, which is then reflected back to us (or even absorbed into the substrate material itself,) based upon our motivation or use of the object. If we believe strongly enough that a lucky charm will make us, well, lucky, perhaps we may be raising the resonant frequency of the object to match the resonant frequency of our intention. We may be “instilling” a particular energy into the object, which then raises or lowers the object’s actual resonant frequency depending upon whether it will be used to charm, or to harm.
Generally, we think of the occult arts when we think of talismans, intricately designed charms worn about the neck or kept in a pocket, however, one only has to walk into a church, temple, or synagogue to see modern day talismans. Although the Catholic Church and Christian churches in general shun talismans and amulets as “witchcraft,” their own use of beads and crosses and statues of saints show that the idea of putting power into a physical object is not always the domain of evil-doers. In the Jewish tradition, amulets are abundant, many carrying holy names or phrases taken from holy texts. The Jewish tallis is a fringed prayer shawl with knotted tassels used in a similar fashion as Catholic Rosary Beads. The word “tallis” even sounds similar to “talisman,” although most linguistic experts believe the word “talisman” is of Greek origin, from the word “telsma” for “to initiate into the mysteries” (the word “amulet” comes from the Latin word amuletum for “an object that protects a person from trouble.”)
In the Muslim culture, individuals also wear amulets that bear chosen inscriptions from the Quran. Known as “Ta’wiz,” these medals are used in different situations to symbolize different things, just as one might wear a medal of a four-leafed clover to attract good, or the Khamsa pendant of Fatima’s Hand that supposedly wards off the evil eye.
The most obvious use of fetishes, talismans and amulets comes to us from the West African traditions and folk beliefs. West African Vodun or Voudou is a religion practiced throughout coastal West Africa. It is an animistic tradition, with a cosmology filled with a hierarchy of various vodun, or spirits and divine elements governing humans and the earth. Deities are called orishas, suggesting a pantheistic worldview, but there is One God, as in monotheism, with the orishas as God’s helpers (similar to the idea of the Christian God and his angels). Cuban Santeria, also practiced in some Southern American cities with large Cuban populations, is similar to Vodun, but has adopted many Christian symbols and rituals to create a syncretized and very much misunderstood religious practice.
What is most notable about these religions, which are far more organized than people might think, is that followers have a distinct relationship with nature, both the seen and unseen. Vodun practices often involve animal sacrifice and ancestral worship, even the “possession” of humans by deities during intense rituals. High on the list of beliefs is the power of fetishes and talismans to heal, or to harm. Mojo bags are magic charms wrapped in a cloth or animal skin bag, often red, tied with a drawstring. The bags can contain anything from magical rocks, animal feathers and claws, petitions to the deities and spirits, and even plant leaves. The Mojo inside the bag gives a person magical power.
Similar in intent, Gris-gris is an amulet to protect the wearer from evil, or attract luck and fortune. This small cloth bag is filled with herbs, stones, bones, hair and even grave dirt, emphasizing personal items of either the wearer, or the one intended to benefit from the contents. Gris-gris is often used for negative purposes as well, usually to conjure or cast a curse or hex on someone. Often it is left on the victim’s doorstep so that they see it and the reaction is often a slow death based upon the simple power of suggestion.
Thankfully, most Vodun followers use their religion for good, but there are sorcerers called Botono or Azetos who cast hexes and curses to bring harm to enemies (one might call that defensive black magick!). One of their favorite tools for bringing about such harm is the voodoo doll, a poppit constructed out of crude materials and colorful cloth to represent the spirit of a particular person. Voodoo dolls can be constructed with household items and are anywhere from elaborately decorated to crudely fashioned. Some call these dolls effigies, although most effigies are actually full-length figures of a person – alive or dead.
Worry Dolls, or Trouble Dolls, traditionally made in Guatemala, take a different perspective. Tiny dolls constructed of wood and cloth, these colorful dolls are often placed under pillows or “worried over” like rosary beads, and are usually used to help children heal from surgeries, as well as get over fears during the treatment of diseases. The doll is said to worry in the person’s place, allowing the person to rest, relax, and wake up with no worries.
Aboriginal Australians have a ritual of execution that utilizes a ceremonial bone called a Kundela or “death bone.” If the Kundela is pointed at a person, usually someone condemned or cast out by the tribe, that person will die. The “pointing of the bone” is always done by a powerful member of the tribe, and is accompanied by a chant that is said to curse the recipient. Famous oddity hunter John Godwin describes on Trivia-Library.com his own experience witnessing a young Mailli tribesman who had been “pointed” waste a way and die in a hospital, despite excellent medical care. The doctors could find nothing physically wrong with the tribesman, yet Godwin stated, “He died before our eyes, in dreadful agony, apparently from the mere knowledge that he must die.”
Magical tools and ritual objects have been used in ancient witchcraft and modern Wicca for centuries…from wands and swords to cauldrons and athames charged with energy used to carry out spells (positive, that is!), these tools are said to hold power in them, but one must ask if the power comes from the belief itself that the tools are sacred and special.
Desire and intent may play a role in the manifestation of spells that are cast for good. Telling someone that you are putting a spell on them to find more love in their lives would no doubt feed into the subconscious, and change both the awareness and the perception of the person. Telling someone you are cursing them to death with a chicken bone because they stole your gold might also work towards its goal, if the person you are cursing is guilty and already struggling with their own inner demons about what they’ve done.
It is almost as if the mind becomes sympathetic to the spell or curse. The weaker or more unstable and afraid the mind, the more the spell or curse affects it. Sympathetic magic suggests that like attracts, and affects, like, and that everything is connected and linked on an invisible realm. Therefore, the act of sticking a pin in a doll is supposed to harm the person the doll represents, because what occurs in the symbolic sense has an outcome in the empirical world.
Sympathetic magic is based upon two laws: the law of similarity, and the law of contagion. The law of similarity suggests that an effect will closely resemble its own cause, while the law of contagion suggests that the connectedness of all things guarantees that once we come in contact with something or someone, we remain so. A voodoo practitioner may use these laws to produce a desired effect by speaking it or imitating it. The contagion aspect occurs when another person “buys into” the whole situation and ends up manifesting the desired effect, as if the practitioner and patient were one and the same, connected by some unseen web or strand, sympathetic to the same intention between them.
The Creighton University Medical Center’s website on complimentary and alternative medicine (http://AltMed.creighton.edu/) features an interesting article titled “The Science of Voodoo,” which discusses several scientific studies into the claims of voodoo as an effective healing modality. These studies were conducted to determine the validity of voodoo in a medical sense; whether voodoo relies on suggestibility alone for its placebo-like effects, or on the various herbs often used in rituals and their actual therapeutic and toxicological value. Studies included one for the Volume 42, Number 7 2002 issue of “Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain,” which concluded that the improvement of symptoms in voodoo patients is mainly from placebo effects. By concurrently stimulating and inhibiting the nervous system, there appears to be an improvement of pain. The study author, Seymour Solomon, gives the example of someone drinking an herbal treatment over the body of a dead rabbit as both stimulation and inhibition of the nervous system, which may lead to relief.
Voodoo and other alternative healing modalities may be more “nocebo” than placebo. In voodoo practices, often the patient is cursed with negative intentions, and the nocebo effect is the result of experiencing a harmful outcome because that is the outcome that the patient expects. It is not so much that spirits and demons are conferring the negative energy and sickness, as it is the mind of the believer. The expectation of illness or death appears to lead to illness and death in voodoo and other such belief systems.
This concept leads to another interesting aspect of curses and spells. The more powerful the one who is casting the curse or spell is perceived to be by the patient, the more powerful the patient will manifest the curse or spell. A village medicine man or voodoo priest will have more ability to mold the belief of the villagers than someone with less spiritual authority. Even in our culture, we tend to look up to and trust our doctors and surgeons, and if they pronounce us terminally ill, many of us may “believe” them far more than we would if the same diagnosis happened to come from a neighbor or stranger on a subway.
Too many factors come into play in determining the power of prayer, or of curses, to be effective. The person at the receiving end seems to be the biggest factor of all. Do they believe? Do they accept their fate, good or bad? Are their minds strong enough to “unbelieve” negative input? Is the subconscious in charge, thus no matter what they think they believe is null and void?
Mind over matter, or mind over other minds, it may all be up to each of us as individuals how much control we give to outside thoughts, forces and beliefs that could hurt or harm us.
Thank you Marie! It’s been great having you here today. Check out Marie’s wide variety of intriguing, amazing books. The cover for The Deja Vu Enigma is but one of her titles, both fiction and non fiction. Hey, if you read The Deja Vu Enigma you’ll even see me in there. For more information on all of Marie’s work, stop by her website here.