I’ll be totally transparent here: I don’t believe in curses and hexes. Or–to be more clear, I don’t believe that curses work in the way most people think. And most of the people who I hear talking about being under psychic attack or dealing with an energy vampire have very different issues going on.
But then again, I’m a pretty pragmatic Pagan, and I tend to lean on the idea that psychology and science are core pieces of magic. As usual, I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me back up and explain where I’m coming from on this. And let me also be clear–my intention is not to be dismissive of your experience. Rather, to offer a different perspective on what might be going on beneath the hex.
In my experience as a leader, teaching leadership, and engaging in the process of attempting conflict resolutions, I frequently run into people who say something along lines of, “Well, he cursed me.” Or, “She tried to hex me,” or, “They are psychically attacking me.” Most of the time, this isn’t really a useful approach to dealing with a conflict and skips over the actual core issues of the conflict, and also it’s a way I find people negate their own personal responsibility.
First–a quick plea for assistance. I’m in the final days of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a car so I can continue traveling and teaching leadership and writing articles like this. I’m offering cool perks from $1 and up, including leadership resources. Every dollar helps me to get a safe, reliable vehicle for those long road trips. If my writing is useful to you, please consider contributing so I can keep doing this work. If everyone who read my blog this week contributed $1-$5, I’d have a pretty reliable car. http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/leadership-education-and-writing-for-pagan-community/
I’ll also offer a little bit from the personal growth/self esteem/psychology side of things. Typically in my experience working with people–that is, as a facilitator of spiritual work focused on personal growth/spiritual development, and a facilitator of leadership training–I find that most of the folks who are afraid that “things are out to get me” are actually doing that to mask issues of poor self esteem.
If you’ve read my previous posts on leadership and conflicts, you’ll notice I talk a lot about ego and self esteem. Typically, people who have old wounds in the ego, poor self esteem, tend to be more defensive, more egotistical, more arrogant. They tend to blame bad things on other people. I refer to these as “holes in the ego,” ie, wounds in in our sense of a strong personal identity. Ego’s not bad; egotism is where things are a problem. Ego is our sense of ourselves, our identity.
Curses, hexes, and psychic attacks are a great way to blame what’s going on in our lives on something that is largely unable to be proved.
In fact–I see a lot of people in the Pagan community who are coming at the idea of wanting magic and spellwork to solve all their problems, and blaming what’s wrong in their lives on people being “out to get them.”
The truth is, the world is a scary place, and I know that the scariest moments of my own past, I wanted magic to rescue me. I wanted to blame something else “out there” on what was going on. Terrible things happen to people all the time that we can’t control, and I understand the desire to make there be a reason for it. To want to believe we have control over it. I can imagine my ancestors thousands of years ago experiencing a tornado or a volcano or earthquake or a devastating drought, and trying to work the magic to make things better, but do I honestly believe that even an entire tribe of people have the magical “juice” to stave off an earthquake? Nope.
Similarly, when we see bad things going on caused by people, I think we want to believe that the bad guys get what they deserve via karma/the rule of 3. But I really don’t think it works like that. Lauren Ouellette-Bruchez wrote a great piece on Pagan Activist about the subject of karma and the Pagan worldview about magic. http://paganactivist.com/2014/03/06/karma-the-just-world-fallacy-and-the-magick-of-action/
Recently I survived a car accident, and afterword, many people offered the sentiment that the gods must have been protecting me. I appreciate the thought, but I don’t really believe it works like that. I believe that I lived because I lived, and because I lived, I’m recommitted to bringing my work out into the world. I don’t believe that the gods saved me any more than I believe that my current financial difficulties are because I’m being cursed.
When Do We Hex?
I experience that people go to cursework and hexes when their back is to the wall. When they’ve been hurt and harmed beyond their ability to bear, and beyond what any justice can bring them. When we’ve been stolen from, lied to, raped, betrayed, injured–by someone else’s action–and when that person isn’t going to get any justice served to them, I think that’s when we go for the curse magic.
Because it fucking hurts so bad. Because we need to believe that there’s justice in the world. Because we need to believe in that “just world” fallacy that Lauren wrote about in her blog post. Because we ourselves have no ability to stop that person from harming other people the way they hurt us. We have to believe it’ll work, because the opposite is more than our wounded hearts can bear in that moment.
Tribal and Psychological Function of Curses
The idea that witches and shamans thousands of years ago didn’t do hexes or curses is actually kind of ridiculous. I know that as modern Pagans we try really hard to paint the picture of witches who do no harm, but that’s really not realistic. In fact, back in college in my cultural anthropology class we spent a fair amount of time talking about the function of the tribal shaman/medicine man and how curses worked in that tribal community.
In that particular tribe in Africa, there were curse-poles put up to guard land. If you stole food grown on that land, you invoked the curse. Now–do I personally believe that someone was magically/energetically “zapped” by that curse-pole?
However, here’s how it works socially. Curses work when you believe in them. If you were brought up to culturally believe in curses, then even if you overcome your fear to go steal from that land, you’re going to be worrying that you are cursed, and that’s going to impact how you feel about yourself going forward. You’re going to be afraid, looking over your shoulder. You’ll blame your misfortune on that curse, and eventually you’ll probably spill the beans about how you were cursed, and then that tale adds to the egregore of stories about curses. People will nod and say, “Yeah, that hexing really does work.” But really, it was the person’s own actions that did it.
Here’s another way that curses work. Let’s use the example I mentioned–let’s say you’ve been wronged. I bet everyone reading this has had someone hurt them deeply before. Let’s say it’s something that it’s not really easy to get justice for. You were cheated on, you were stolen from by a spouse, you were raped, you were beaten, you were lied to…whatever happened, let’s just make the assumption that the perpetrator is not going to get justice.
There’s something called the Karpman Drama Triangle that expresses what’s going on psychologically. There’s the Persecutor, the Victim, and the Rescuer or Hero. Most of us want to be the Hero. It’s basic ego programming–Heroes are “good.” Persecutors are “bad,” and Victims are “weak.” We don’t want to be a victim, we want to feel empowered, but we don’t. We feel hurt, we feel angry, we feel powerless. That person who hurt us is out there living free, free to do it again to others.
And trust me, I have been there.
So let’s say that we were raised in a tribal society with a few different shamans and sorcerers serving our tribe. We were wronged and we have no legal recourse, so we take a few offerings (payment) to the local sorcerer and ask the sorcerer to curse the person who hurt us. The sorcerer takes the offerings in trade, and does the spell. The spell probably involves our active participation, perhaps even the participation of our family members. Once the spell is done, the sorcerer nods and says, “It’s done.”
Now–this is serving two important functions, one psychological, one sociological:
- Psychologically, we feel that justice has been served. We can then more easily move on from our lives. We no longer feel as stuck in that role of Victim. I’ve read a few articles online (can’t find them at the moment) that victims are able to psychologically heal and move on with their lives when they feel that justice (or vengeance) has been served.
- Sociologically, that person is now cursed, as in, people will treat them differently. Gossip travels fast and nothing travels faster than a story like this. “___ is cursed!” When people in a society that believe in cursework hear about someone being cursed, they will keep their distance, maybe withdraw business from that person or shun them. Eventually the person who did the harmful actions will hear that they have been cursed, and then they’ll believe it too.
Power of Words
Obviously a scenario like this only works in part in modern society because we don’t have a monoculture which universally believes in curse magic, but you can see the roots of how curse magic doesn’t have to be “magic” at all in order to function. Just the person in the appropriate role (shaman/witch/sorcerer/leader) saying, “This person is hexed/cursed/shunned” makes it so by the power of their words.
I wrote a post on Pagan Activist about the power of words and stories and how simply speaking specific words can change someone’s thoughts about something. In this case, it’s not “magic” in the way that the word magic is often used in the Pagan community, implying spells, incense, candles, and elaborate rituals. Instead, it’s the power of words to create a change. http://paganactivist.com/2013/12/02/media-mind-control-myth-and-magic/
But I’m Cursed, I’m Under Psychic Attack
Let’s go back to a modern scenario where someone feels they’ve been hexed. Usually it’s one of two scenarios. Either they are going through a rough patch in their life and they are convinced that “someone” is out to get them, or, they are in a conflict with someone else in the Pagan community and they are convinced that that person is cursing or psychically attacking them.
Either scenario raises a few red flags for me as far as my own work with conflict resolution and personal work. Often someone complaining about being cursed is not really taking responsibility for what’s going on in their own lives. Right now I have a lot of financial problems. Is it because I’m cursed? Well, no. It’s because I made the decision years ago to pursue a dream of being a full-time writer, artist, and community teacher, none of which are particularly lucrative. I own my choices around that.
Psychic Attack, Psychic Vampires, and Overwhelmed Empaths
Often people complain about both of these in the same breath. I’m not going to go into the whole ethical psychic vampire thing because I really can’t speak to it. If you’re interested, check out Michelle Belanger’s Psychic Vampire Codex. What I can say is that most people are talking about an unseen magic that functions like a curse. Ie, “Someone is sending magical death rays at me/sucking my energy/I can’t stop it.”
Again we’re talking about that feeling of being powerless. “Someone’s hurting me and I can’t stop it.”
First, let’s talk about the kind of skill someone would have to have in order to effectively attack someone else in this manner. Second, let’s look at how energy works. I really think that in most instances, nobody is beaming magical death rays.
What I do think happens is that aggression is psychologically taxing. Take my blog. On one of my previous posts I just dealt with a troll–someone who was posting overly-aggressive things and engaging in personal attacks against me. I don’t need to wonder, I can be really clear–that person is pissed off at me! Do I worry about them psychically attacking me? Is that why I have a headache, why my heart is racing?
Well, no. My heart is racing because any time I deal with a conflict like that my body shoots out a bunch of adrenaline. Probably more than it needs to. I get a little queasy and upset, because that’s how I respond, particularly to a conflict I can’t resolve. I’m not under psychic death ray attack, I’m under psychic attack in the form of psychic=mind. Words. No magic needed, no death ray. Words alone were all it took to get me upset.
Similarly, I don’t know that I can ever say I’ve had someone psychically drain me in the respect of the magical unseen force. You know what drains me? Boring people. People who talk about something and go on and on and don’t notice my body language that I’m totally uninterested. Mean people. Assholes. My ex-fiance who emotionally abused me. It doesn’t require any psychic woo-woo for someone to be energetically drained. Constant abuse, a toxic coworker, a boss who is constantly a jerk. A family member that you live with.
All of those situations are going to be emotionally draining, no woo-woo required.
Most Pagan 101 books spend a lot of effort talking about shielding, but I’ll tell you a 501-level magical secret. You know what’s more powerful than shielding? Healthy boundaries. It’s why I’ve written several posts on boundaries in the past, and I’ll continue writing more on them in the future. If you know yourself, work to repair and heal those old wounds to your ego, develop healthy, grounded self-esteem, most of that shielding work becomes superfluous.
Hexes and Conflict Resolution
There’s a conflict resolution tool that I teach from Diana’s Grove that comes from Jean Houston called the Four Levels of Reality, and I’ve referred to it before. Physical Reality: What actually is happening. Mythic Reality: Our instantaneous story overwrites what actually is happening. Emotional Reality: Our instantaneous emotional reaction. Essential Reality: Why did we choose that particular myth, story? What are our beliefs about the world around us, about ourselves?
If someone has things going wrong in their life, or is in a conflict with someone (or a perceived conflict) and the first place they go to is, “I’m under psychic attack” or “They are hexing me,” that’s a big red flag for difficulties in Essential Reality. Going back to the idea of holes in the ego and poor self esteem, someone who thinks others are out to get them is sometimes (not always) playing out a story of self importance.
Because, gosh. If someone’s hexing you or psychically attacking you, you must be really important, right?
You’re Out To Get Me Because I’m Special
I’ve talked about that in some of the leadership and conflict resolution articles too. We want to feel important, feel special. And if we hate our lives, drama provides an amazing psychological escape. I know of people who have elaborate fantasies about past lives, or magical powers they possess but cannot prove, or they believe they are at the center of elaborate conspiracies of people who are out to get them.
It’s an entertaining diversion, and for many people, it keeps us sane. When I was in high school and my peers tormented me, I had this elaborate fantasy cooked up. It kept me sane, it kept them from breaking me. However, the worldview that everyone is out to get me, that people are attacking me, did not and does not serve my adult life. I found myself in my early 20’s treating everyone around me like they were the bullies from school. It was only when I stopped acting like this that I was able to develop meaningful friendships and grow and mature.
A Life Of Meaning
If someone is constantly worried they are hexed or under psychic attack or that spirits are out to get them, I have to say that I typically can see a pretty clear pattern with most folks like this. It has more to do with their worldview. I’m not saying this is everyone, but typically people concerned that something’s out to get them have difficulties in their lives. They don’t feel they are living a life of meaning, or they don’t feel that people see them as unique/special, or any number of a host of other challenges that modern people face in this culture of ours.
And that might sound trite and it’s not. One of our core human needs is to feel we are living a life of meaning. To feel that our lives are meaningless eventually leads to depression, among other things.
It stands to reason that if one is under psychic attack, hexed, harassed by demons, spirits, etc….if someone has any of these things going on, that would make them special. Unique. Worthy of attention. Believe me, I get it. I’ve been there. But it’s also not a worldview that is going to serve in the long-run.
I’m not saying there aren’t spirits out there–I’ve seen ghosts. And I’m not saying that there aren’t people who might try to hex you. In fact, about a year back I heard that my ex fiance had stolen my hairbrush in order to curse me. Do I believe it worked? No, and I feel really sorry for him that the only way he can cope with his own issues is to believe that he has the power to curse me. He doesn’t.
But Really, I’m Hexed
I personally don’t feel really ethical “breaking” someone’s hex, because I don’t believe the hex is there in the first place. Not in my cosmological view. However, I do believe in the power of Dumbo’s Magic Feather. If I tell you a hex is broken and it allows you to move forward in your life…then I suppose I’ve performed the social function of the Shaman.
However, if I’m dealing with a community conflict where one or more people are unwilling to entertain the idea that the Physical Reality of a situation does not support the idea of them being hexed and they aren’t willing to sit down to a mediated discussion because “That person is hexing me,” that’s usually a pretty significant red flag. As I’ve pointed out in the past, someone refusing mediation is usually going to be someone who continues to cause conflicts in my group. In some rare instances, they are responding with fear to someone who has been abusing them or to a sociopath who has targeted them, and I have to keep my eyes open for that, but usually if someone won’t sit down at the table to work out a conflict, my experience shows me that those folks will keep on finding themselves in the eye of the storm of drama and conflict.
And if their primary basis for the conflict is “So and so is hexing me,” that’s a further red flag because of the reasons I mention above.
Do I believe hexes are completely impossible? Well, no…but I believe they are as rare as a true miracle. I believe that most of the hexes we suffer are the ones we place on ourselves. The stories we tell about ourselves. “I’m not good enough,” “He’ll never want me,” “I’m too fat,” “I’ll never get out of this mess,” “Nobody likes me, ” “I’m going to die alone.”
Those are some powerful hexes. And the only ones that can really break that hex is us.
What are the spells you’ve cast on yourself, the negative self talk? What are your old wounds and beliefs about the world? Will you break that hex? Will you break the spell? You have the power to break any hex you are under.