While doing my research on magic and witches throughout history, I came upon what was known throughout the Greco-Roman world as a curse tablet. People who wish to ask the gods to do harm to another wrote a curse tablet text. These curses were usually scratched on very thin sheets of lead, then rolled, and pierced together with nails. The bound tablets were then buried, either in graves, thrown in wells or rivers, or nailed on the wall of temples. Sometimes the tablets included a piece of hair or clothing, or the name of the person the curse was meant to harm.
The messages were often addressed to the lessor gods like Pluto, Charon, and Persephone. Not all evoked the gods, and some of the tablets provided a list of crimes against the target. The targets tended to be rivals in love and war. Some tablets only carry the name of the person targeted, leading researches to believe that the curse may have been said aloud. Many of he tablets are said to contain imprecise wording, like: “if he is guilty” or even conditional phrases such as, “if he breaks his word.” The concern is with justice being received by the target.
Curse tablets were used to deter thieves in Roman Bath houses. Over a hundred Latin written tablets were excavated in Bath, England. Bathers didn’t care to emerge from their bath to find their clothes stolen, so the tablets were used to deter thieves by using their faith and fear in the gods. The curse tablet was believed to bring the criminal to justice and retrieve the lost item. They were oft times considered more binding if the curse was written backwards.
Curse tablets were also used for court cases, like writing down a curse that would prevent another from speaking.
In 2006, a curse tablet was found in Leicester, England, outside of an Ancient Roman townhouse, dating from the second century A.D. The tablet reads: “To the god Maglus, I give the wrongdoer who stole the cloak of Servandus. Silvester, Roimandus … that he destroy him before the ninth day, the person who stole the cloak of Servandus …" A list of 18 or 19 suspects were named on the tablet.
Magic was used by the Greco-Roman society, regardless of economic or social status. There are about 1600 curse tablets discovered, 220 of them were located in Attica, Greece, with the many of those written in Greek. The first sets of tablets were found in Selinus, Sicily and are believed to be from the 6th century B.C. Of the 1600 tablets found, 110 are written in Greek. Ancient literature shows that these curse tablets were well known and feared.
Not all of these tablets contained curses; some of them contained love spells. The curse tablet faded into obscurity around the 7th or 8th centuries A.D., although cursing continues to flourish today.
A special thank you to National Geographic News and paganwiccan.com