Saturday, January 15, 2011
Defixiones, Curse Tablets of the Ancient World.
Defixiones, were curse tablets used in the ancient world for binding spells, love spells, judicial system spells and curses. They were made of thin sheets of lead, and the spells were carved onto them with a bronze stylus. They were then folded and pierced with nails and either buried in the ground, thrown in a well or spring, or nailed to a temple wall. They were sometimes found with hair folded into them or a little "voodoo doll" alongside it. Usually these tablets were addressed to Gods and Goddesses such as Hekate, Persephone, and Hermes.
Many of these tablets have been found throughout the ancient Roman empire and Greece. To date there have been about 1600 of these found, dating from 500 BCE to about 500 CE. The tablets are very revealing of each individual who wrote them. Love spells asking to be recognized by the one they want, spells asking for someone to slip up in a court case, erotic binding spells and curses against business or sports rivals, there are a wide array of spells found on these ancient tablets. Each one of these unique defixiones, give us a little insight to that persons life. What was troubling them at the time, and it also reveals their true nature.
We can learn a little about ancient magic with these tablets. The act of obtaining the lead, carving your wish with intent, nailing in binds the spell, burying it secures the promise from the Goddess or God. The same process we go through for magic today, although I do not perform curses and dont know anyone who does (hopefully)! The act of power with intent is the same. Many of these curses were written using the voces mysticae. Which were "magical words of power" unrecognizable by the Greek language. This was neccessary because it is said that the voces mysticae represent "the language the demons can understand". Anthropologists and historians say that these words were used because people believed that "normal human language was not appropriate in addressing gods or any higher beings." Therefore, unfortunately it was difficult to translate many of these tablets.
Defixiones are interesting in that they give us a window into that persons life. You can see what they were thinking. Which is so interesting in the history of these ancient cultures. It also has helped fill in some of the gaps archaeologically. Discoveries of pottery, temples and shrines are inspiring, but discoveries of peoples personal wishes, curses and dreams, are more revealing of their day to day life and thinking patterns. Which I think helps create a clearer picture of how people actually lived at that time. Their personal trials and tribulations you'll see, are alot like ours today, just a different point in history.
The following is an example of a defixione found in Minturna, which is in Campania, Italy. You can see the depth of feeling in this one (Please note, this ancient spell is posted here for archaeological reference only, and was taken from this website: PinkTink ):
Ticene of Carisius. Whatever she does, may it all turn out wrong. Spirits of the netherworld, I consecrate to you her limbs, her complexion, her figure, her head, her hair, her shadow, her brain, her forehead, her eyebrows, her mouth, her nose, her chin, her cheeks, her lips, her speech, her breath, her neck, her liver, her shoulders, her heart, her lungs, her intestines, her stomach, her arms, her fingers, her hands, her navel, her entrails, her thighs, her knees, her calves, her heels, her soles, her toes. Spirits of the netherworld, if I see her wasting away, I swear that I will be delighted to offer a sacrifice to you every year.
For more information on defixiones, check out Wikipedia or this great essay at PinkTink
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Posted by Tara at 7:58 AM