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Lifting Curses

To: alt.magick,alt.lucky.w,alt.paranormal.spells.hexes.magic,alt.occult.methods
From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Lifting Curses (was: Re: Tom Deluded?)
Date: Sat, 23 Mar 2002 23:47:30 GMT

> >>>"nguyen"  wrote:
> >>>>
> >>>> suppose the magician has someone come to them with a story of a 
> >>>> "psychic attack" or perhaps just somebody who believes they have 
> >>>> been cursed?
> >>>>
> >>>> Well most of these stories undoubtedly have nothing but 
> >>>> superstition behind them ... but how do you tell and how do you 
> >>>> help the sincere but mistaken, how do you sort out and expose the 
> >>>> liars, and how do you help the genuinely afflicted?
> >>>>
> >>>> If one is going to be a practicing magician and has people - and
> >>>> sometimes even hiding yourself people will seek you out - coming 
> >>>> to them ... how do they handle such things?

[A] wrote:

> >>> Interesting question. I haven't witnessed or experienced anything 
> >>> to convince me that the effects of "curses" and "psychic attacks" 
> >>> are anything more than a result of belief in them. They take the 
> >>> form of psychological manipulation and are reinforced by the 
> >>> belief in "bad luck".
> >>>
> >>> Haven't had anyone yet come to me to lift a curse. Not sure how I 
> >>> would handle that, probably just try to show sympathy for their 
> >>> present situation and explain that curses only have power if you 
> >>> give them that power.

> > [X] wrote:

> >> That never works, since they have already given the curse such 
> >> power, and so you saying that just makes it worse. No, you have for 
> >> your time with them to believe in their curse and if they believe 
> >> you have the power to do something about it then you can do 
> >> something about it. This is altogether a more efficacious route. A 
> >> shaman or witchdoctor is the wisdom holder of the community dealing 
> >> with superstitious and ill-educated folk, if mumbo-jumbo serves his 
> >> purpose then it's the best stuff to use. So if you do get someone 
> >> asking you to lift a curse don't try to be too clever, listen, 
> >> assess degree of stupidity of the cursed one, and apply the best 
> >> solution. If rational explanation will work by all means use it, 
> >> but the art is to assess the person and change the situation, not 
> >> to offload your personal views about how the universe works. Bit of 
> >> advice there for would-be curse lifters.

> [Y] wrote:

> > Does a low degree of stupidity make the task more difficult?  Seems 
> > that the more intelligent a subject is, the more likely they would 
> > be to question the methods of the one attempting to work through the 
> > curse.  If they were really stupid a little mumbo-jumbo, rum and 
> > chicken feathers, and the work would be done.


> If they are intelligent and they are still seeking to have a curse
> lifted then what they lack is knowledge. Then it's a matter of being
> more scholarly with the mumbo-jumbo, lifting books off shelves,
> furrowing the brow, consulting dictionaries of Sanskrit, Hebrew and
> and Chinese, making sure ever second word you utter is unfamiliar, and
> they'll usually go away just as satisfied as a rum and chicken
> feathers case.

Nguyen, who i know does this kind of work, had a good question. He was
not asking how to cure cursed people, but how to determine who has been
"psychically attacked" or cursed and who is deluded. 

This is a question that is rarely discussed, although a google search of
the usenet archives will turn up similar discussions between me, Chris
Warnock (who performs horary astroly in curse determination), and Dr.
Kioni (who discussed with me how we treat mentally ill people who
believe they are cursed, when there is no detectable curse going on).
This is a discussion i would like to continue, because it is certainly
one that touches on the magical work that nguyen, Dr. Kioni, and i
perform on a regular basis. 

Asiya, Joel, and Satyr, with no disrespect intended, you folks don't
seem to have had much experience with clients. Some of what you say
makes sense, some is just smug mutual grooming, and some is, in my
experience, counter-productive. None of it addressed nguyen's original

Before i begin, i would like to take a moment to remark on the word
mumbo-jumbo, used by Joel and Satyr in describing curse-cures: You two
might benefit from examining that term. It is used in English (and was
designated thus by slave-owners in America) to denote "meaningless
talk," equivalent to the English word "gibberish." It is, however,
actually a clear African phrase meaning "talk about the sacred things"
or "a discourse on prayers." In other words, to "talk mumbo jumbo" is
preceisely to discuss religious litergy or to engage in religious
liturgy. The disrespectful denotation was imposed on the word by

You two are not responsible for the racial attitudes your ancestors had
toward people of colour, and i believe you are both English, so you may
be a bit behind the curve, but around these parts (California), we don't
call African people "wogs" and we don't call an entire culture's
discourse on prayers "gibberish." A word to the wise should be

Now, as to the subject of clients and curse-lifting:

Asiya's advice (to talk clients out of a belief that they have been
cursed) is useless, as both of Joel and Satyr noted. It postulates a
particular method for cursing that i call the "consent of the victim"
paradigm ("a curse only works if you agree to believe in it") and it
recommends a form of curse-lifting that i call "The Alice Defense
("You're nothing but a pack of cards!"). 

However, when a person comes to you and says that there are powders at
their doorstep and that they stepped over them, telling them that this
was "superstititon" and that they can safely ignore the powders simply
does not work. It may also be neglectful to the client's mental or
physical safety, if the client is actually being cursed in an active and
ongoing way. The person who threw for them is real. The hostility is
real. Social issues must be addressed as well as magical issues. 

Joel and Satyr, you treat clients as rubes or yokels to be wowed by your
recitation of meaningless phrases. This is what i call  "The Dr. Coue
Method" of curse lifting. (Dr. Emil  Coue was a self-help teacher who
recommended the placebo-mantra, "Every day, in every way, i'm getting
better and better.") Placebos work 30% of the time, according to
numerous medical studies. That is an interesting fact, but a 30% cure
rate is not a good percentage of favourable outcomes. 

As practitioners, nguyen and i are looking for something above the 70th
percentile, at least, and hopefully higher than that. 

What we do is to invest both the client and the curse with respect,
assess the extent of the curse, and then to treat the curse, not with a
one-size-fits-all placebo, but with a series of specifically targeted
actions, both magical and social.

In nguyen's case, i believe that he deals mostly with people from his
own Vietnamese culture (correct me if i am wrong, nguyen, please). In my
case, i deal with people from almost every immigrant culture in the
United States. So here are my recommendations -- and this is an answer
to nugyen, primarily: 

In lifting curses, the very first thing you need to do is to understand
and work within the culture of the cursed person. 

You are dealing with a person whose curse is going to depend in great
part on what his or her culture has led him or her to expect a curse to
be. If an Asian man tells you he is cursed, the nature of his experience
will be quite different than if a Greek woman says she has been cursed.
If you do not understand the form of the curse that the client is
experiencing, you will not be able to help lift it. Your personal belief
in the curse is not as important to the client at this point as your
understanding of the form the curse takes. If you fail to understand
that, you will have wasted the client's time, and he or she will simply
go away saying that you did not or could not help. 

This is not the place to write a catalogue of the world's vast variety
of culturally-normative forms of curses and the symptoms that result
therefrom. A survey of all of the already-extant ethnographic studies in
the matter of curse-beliefs would be the work of a doctoral
dissertation, as would any attempt to thoroughly investigate the
curse-structures of one given culture, but i trust you catch my drift
here: If a black woman from Georgia tells you that her husband is
wandering and confused in his mind, you ask about the woman's
mother-in-law; if a Mexican man says he feels sad and depressed, you ask
when was the last time he suffered a fright in a lonely place; if a
Turkish woman says that her little girl is crying a lot, you ask if a
stranger praised the baby lately. 

Unless you know what is happening to people, you cannot help them. You
need to literally know their "mumbo jumbo" -- their culture's account of
the sacred things -- to know how things go out of harmony in that
culture, and then how to produce a cure within that culture's spiritual
and magical paradigm. 

Next comes the topic of nguyen's actual question: How do you sort the
mentally ill from the actually cursed? 

Knowing the forms that curses take within each culture will help you to
sort the truly afflicted from the mentally ill. If a person's
description of a "psychic attack" seems drawn from horror movies or
role-playing games, or is a jumble of the curse-systems of several
cultures that have been popularized in "spooky" books about witchcraft,
or if they tell you that they have been seeking a cure for their curse
for 20 years or more, you might be well advised to wonder if they are
they are suffering the magical equivalent of hypchondriasis or if they
are chronically mentally ill. 

If, however, they present as oriented, alert-yet-troubled, coherent in
speech, with curse-symptoms that are appropriately culturally enframed,
and they can provide a specific onset and time-line for the curse, you
can proceed on the assumption that they are not mentally ill. If their
cultural paradigm includes use of physical objects in cursing and they
provide examples of physical evidence that a curse is being engaged
against them (powders thrown for them, artifacts left at their premises
or stolen therefrom), you can be pretty sure that someone is working
against them. Ask them if they know who might be doing the work; if the
answer is socially appropriate within their culture's curse-paradigm,
again you will have accumulated evidence that they are probably not
mentally ill. 

Once you understand the nature of the curse with respect to the magical
paradigm of the culture in which the client lives, you can go on to step
three, which is to make a quick assessment of the client's social,
medical, and legal needs. This is because the client's social, medical,
and legal needs must be addressed before, during, and after the

As a rootworker, shaman, witch, conjure, or whatever your culture calls
you, you must have at your fingertips a working knowledge of local,
state, federal, private, and charitable programs for helping people with
a variety of social, medical, and legal needs. If you don't have this
knowledge, acquire it. If you do not, you are not going to produce
results. Again: The client's social, medical, and legal needs must be
addressed before, during, and after the curse-lifting. 

What i tell you three times is true: The client's social, medical, and
legal needs must be addressed before, during, and after the

Finally comes the curse-lifting itself. This is where i wish to comment
on three statements above:  

[X] said, "The art is to assess the person and change the situation,
not to offload your personal views about how the universe works." 

This is good advice. It is the best thing [X] said. Unfortunately, he
undercut and contradicted this advice later. 

[Y] said, "If they were really stupid, a little mumbo-jumbo, rum and
chicken feathers, and the work would be done." 

Not so. For instance, rum and chicken feathers will not lift the evil
eye. It just won't. It is culturally, paradigmatically, and
symbologically inappropriate. It probably won't even produce a 30%
placebo cure rate for the evil eye. 

[X] said, "Then it's a matter of being more scholarly with the
mumbo-jumbo, lifting books off shelves, furrowing the brow, consulting
dictionaries of Sanskrit, Hebrew and and Chinese, making sure ever
second word you utter is unfamiliar, and they'll usually go away [...]

Again, not so. The recitation of unfamilar Sanskrit, Hebrew, and Chinese
phrases will not lift a case of susto. Such speech may baffle the client
sufficiently to send him or her away, but the root cause of the problem
will not have been addressed, nor will a cure have been affected.

What Joel and Satyr propose, it seems, is to put on a bizarre
performance plucked at random from a grab-bag of images that have,
rightly or wrongly, accrued to rural "witchdoctors" (in Satyr's case)
and urban "chaos mages" (in Joel's case). By prescribing these silly
performances, Joel undercuts his own earlier, good advice to "assess the
person and change the situation, not [...] offload your personal views
about how the universe works." 

Such silly performances may be satisfying to Satyr and Joel's sense of
showmanship, but they are not acts of *magic*, and, what's worse, they
utterly fail to address the needs, expectations, hopes, intellect,
personal view, or -- most importantly, the *condition* of the client.

So, to return to the topic: If you will have taken the time to
understand the cultural paradigm in which the curse was cast, you will
also, presumeably, have the knowledge of how to proceed against that
kind of curse, within the magical traditions of that cultural paradigm. 

'Nuff said.


cat yronwode 

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