In antiquity, the distinction was made between “white,” and “black,” witchcraft, or in simpler terms, good and baneful. Good magic can be spells that are healing in nature; baneful magic would be a hex, curse, or cross. Every witch knows that it’s not always black and white—many times there are shades of gray.
Esoteric Medicine, which consisted in the application of occult forces to the healing of disease in man and included a traditional knowledge of the medicinal properties resident in some substances disregarded by ordinary pharmacy, produced in its malpractice the secret science of poisoning, and the destruction of health.Arthur Edward Waite – The Book of Black Magic
Baneful magic has existed as long as magic has existed. As long as we as a species have believed in helpful magic, we have believed in harmful magic. Hexes, curses, and crosses are but a few of the names that baneful spells are given. So why is there such a huge culture of misinformation surrounding baneful magic? Why do people label it as being “black” or “dark”? Well—to be quite frank, it’s simply the result of a bad reputation and possibly a little ignorance. It’s unfortunate that noted authorities such as Waite are still being trusted when their beliefs are long outdated. They do give us a good idea of how far we’ve come.
To say his belief that “White Ceremonial Magic is … an attempt to communicate with Good Spirits for a good … purpose. Black Magic is the attempt to communicate with Evil Spirits for an evil purpose” would be a ridiculous oversimplification.
Traditions of Baneful Magic: What’s the Difference?
There is a common saying within the community of magic practitioners, that “a witch that cannot hex, cannot heal.” This quote is not particularly well received by practitioners who are adamant about the “harm none” tenant is the law. The overall concept is that magic itself is not good, nor is it evil. Just like a knife is not in itself good or evil. The operator of the equipment decides how to use it. Hypothetical: a construction worker decides to knock down an orphanage instead of the building set to be demolished. Are you going to blame the wrecking ball? So, let’s explore the differences between the different types of baneful magic.
Hexing, when it comes right down to it, is a baneful spell or ritual. Hexes done properly are intended to cause a very specific (baneful) result on the intended target. In metaphysical literature, it’s common for the words “hex” and “curse” to be used interchangeably. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be using the word “hex”. The topic of crossing will be broached later in the article. That is not to say that a casted hex is inherently evil, although many are cast with evil intent. Witches who hex typically have a good reason for casting such spells.
How hexes are used in modern magic
Let me give you an example. A parent is fighting for custody of their children through the courts. The other parent, and subsequently the target, has a history of domestic violence, drug abuse, or worse. The parent fighting for custody has done everything within their power to secure the safety and future of their children. Somehow, the target parent still has a good chance of winning custody. In this circumstance, a witch could hex the target’s attorney to perform poorly in court. This might be all that’s needed to turn the tables in favor of the parent. Alternatively, the witch could cast a hex to expose all of the target’s lies.
What is a curse to one person is a blessing to someone else. It just depends on where you happen to be sitting. That’s why the ethical lines are so blurry.Kate Frueler – Of Blood and Bones
Hexing is a tool that a witch can use to interfere with free will in situations that call for it. Of course, there are individual witches out there who are nasty and love nothing more than to watch people suffer. Overwhelmingly, people generally fall into the good category and don’t go out of their way to ruin people’s lives. There is also the lesser-known fact that practicing baneful magic takes a physical toll. The amount of physical, mental, and emotional energy expended will often leave a witch exhausted, irritable, or sick. Personal experience has shown me that the worse the intended hex is, the worse a witch will feel afterward.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to what a curse is. Some people believe that a curse is simply, wishing bad things upon someone who has slighted you in some way. This could be as silly as, “I hope you step in water whenever you put on fresh socks,” in an effort to ensure the person is forever uncomfortable—or it could be something much more serious. As a general rule, however, curses are not actually spells—they are manifestations of intentions, with no specific ritual attached to them. Most often, the layman knows curses as they relate to the grievous incidents that surround certain objects, projects, or historic events.
Curses have played a significant role in the history of the globe. Practically every culture on Earth contains a commonly held belief in real curses. These curses can range from the ridiculous to the significant, but one thing is certain, they get a lot of attention from those who believe in the supernatural and paranormal.
The Curse of King Tut (or the Curse of the Pharaohs)
Tutankhamun is famously known to have been a pharaoh of Egypt during the 14th century, but when the tomb at the base of his pyramid was opened in February 1923, no one could have known the tragedy that would follow. Perhaps this curse is a result of hysteria over the death of the archaeological team’s lead sponsor just two months after the discovery of Tutankhamun’s mummy. At the time, it was believed that he had died from King Tut’s curse when the reporters from Britain made the baseless claim—as it was found that he had actually died from an unidentified bacterial infection. However, when other members of the archaeological team died soon after, the curse was revived; ever since there have been movies inspired by the terrifying prospect of being cursed by the mummy of Tutankhamun.
The Curse of the Hope Diamond
When French gem dealer Jean-Baptiste Tavernier purchased a large diamond in the 1660s it was believed that the 112-carat monstrosity had been stolen from the head of an idol in India. The legend followed that the priests of the temple where the idol had been vandalized cursed the precious stone upon its theft. Some believe that it was Tavernier himself that had stolen the diamond from the Hindu goddess’s statue, and the legend of its curse was spread by newspapers and jewelers alike.
Its original owner after Tavernier acquired it, was King Louis XVI of France, who gave it to both Princess de Lamballie and Marie Antoinette to wear. Lamballie, Antoinette, and Louis XVI all met their end at the guillotine during the French Revolution, birthing the curse of the Hope Diamond. The first three possessors the Hope Diamond met such a gruesome death and it fueled the belief in a curse. Anyone unlucky enough to have the jewel in their possession would die in a mysterious way. Allegedly even jewelers who kept it at their shop met this unusual fate.
Henry Philip Hope came into possession of it in 1839 and died the same year, but eventually, it came into the possession of American heiress Evelyn Wash McLean in the 1910s. McLean ended up dying and ownership defaulted to a jewelry company in the U.S. that sold it to the Smithsonian in 1958. To this day, the famously cursed jewel remains on display in the United States through the Smithsonian Institution. Many who want to be more logical about so many deaths would believe that this curse was actually a product of greed, an attempt to make the jewel that much more valuable.
The Kennedy Curse
The assassination of President Kennedy was the lynchpin that marks the beginning of the curse of the Kennedys. Robert Kennedy was also assassinated five years later, Senator Ted Kennedy somehow survived a plane crash only to drive off a bridge later on. Robert Kennedy’s son died as the result of a drug overdose and his second son died in a skiing accident. Then, JFK Jr. died in a plane crash with his wife and sister, and finally the wife of RFK Jr., Mary Kennedy committed suicide. Talk about a family curse!
The Curse of Rosemary’s Baby
Marketing strategies will lead promoters to invent or exaggerate details of unfortunate incidents to hype a film. These publicity stunts often boost ticket sales and are confirmed to be hoaxes later on. There are many who believe that all the negative happenings surrounding the production of the movie weren’t just a little bad luck.
Ira Levin’s Reputation Tanked
Despite the book’s adaptation into a feature film and lingering popularity over the last five decades, author Ira Levin’s reputation, career, and personal life were all but ruined. Organized religion felt attacked by Levin’s novel. The Catholic Church asserted that the book itself was blasphemous. Bad luck followed Levin when his wife left him the same year the film was released. Levin became more terrified and paranoid as time passed.
Not just that, but due to his reputation as a blasphemer, he had to publicly denounce Satanism on a regular basis and his later attempts to salvage his career with a sequel to Rosemary’s Baby failed miserably.
The Fall of Castle
William Castle, the man who initially picked Levin’s novel up to purchase the rights to the film ended up becoming the producer for the project. Unfortunately for Castle, not only did he develop severe kidney stones, but his mental health also suffered due to the volume of hate mail he received as a direct result of being associated with the film. He later made claims that he hallucinated demonic scenes from the movie while he was under anesthesia during his surgery. His reputation never recovered.
Death, Substance Abuse, and Assault
Numerous other stories are related to the curse that is believed to have surrounded Rosemary’s Baby, one truly famous story involves the film’s composer Krzysztof Komenda, who fell into a coma after a falling accident. Some link his coma to that of Rosemary’s friend in the film, Hutch who was targeted by a witch’s curse. Like Hutch, Komeda never recovered from the coma but instead died the following year. John Lennon was another popular death associated with the curse of the film since he was assassinated just outside of The Dakota in 1980, the building featured as Rosemary’s prison within the film. Another famous story that is linked to the curse, is the murders of Roman Polanski’s wife Sharon Tate, as well as their unborn child. Victims of the Manson Family and their leader, Charles Manson.
Crossing comes from a separate tradition altogether. It’s not technically considered part of the witchcraft tradition, since voodooists, hoodoos, granny and folk magic practitioners don’t generally consider themselves to be “witches”. The lore of becoming a zombie stems from the folk magic practices of these traditions, namely voodoo, but it typically entails being crossed by a voodoo priest; or at least having zombie dust blown in your face. Being crossed with Zombification might not exactly be something that you’d wish for, but as opposed to other ways in which folk magic practitioners practice baneful magic it might be one of the least painful ways to suffer.
Crossing within folk magic cultural practices might be similar to curses and hexes in theory, but it’s well-known that regular “black” magic doesn’t hold a candle (pun intended) to the type of crossing that is done within voodoo, conjure, hoodoo, granny magic, and folk magic. This is in part due to the fact that crossing often involves personal talismans, like blood, hair, and fingernails which amp up the power of any magical working. The work of crossing someone is very often directed at their energies and luck—whereas hexes and curses are more often directed at causing something bad to happen to the target.
The Scientific American aptly states that people are wary of so-called “black” magic, because of the “black is bad” effect. “[It] only underscores the importance of finding ways to combat the various ways that our inherent biases can influence perceptions of guilt and innocence.” This essentially submits that anything with the label of “black” is automatically associated with being bad. Hexes, curses, and crosses are often used in a way that vindicates the practitioner of any wrongdoing.
Speaking from a strictly personal point of view, I don’t advertise the ins and outs of my magical practice. It is no ones right, aside from the practitioner themselves, to know the whys or hows of what they do. I would never divulge on whom these practices might be focused! Witchcraft and other magical practices are very personal to the individual. No witch worth their salt goes around telling their targets that they’ve done work on them. Rest assured that those who claim they’ve cursed, hexed, or crossed are likely manipulating you. They simply want you to believe they have cast something upon you to effectively scare the shit out of you.
And with that, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes…
A witch ought never to be frightened in the darkest forest … because she should be sure in her soul that the most terrifying thing in the forest was her.”Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith
Dhruv Bose, Swapnil. “Dissecting the Curse of Roman Polanski’s Horror Classic ‘Rosemary’s Baby’.” Far Out Magazine, 24 Nov. 2020.
Farnstrom, Mary. “A Voodoo Practice: Mysteries of Zombification.” Puzzle Box Horror, 2 Apr. 2020.
Farnstrom, Mary. “African American Folk Magic: Hoodoo, Conjure, and Rootwork.” Puzzle Box Horror, 12 Feb. 2020.
Farnstrom, Mary. “Oddities of the Bayou: Religions and the Occult.” Puzzle Box Horror, 12 Feb. 2020.
Farnstrom, Mary. “Punishment for Grave Robbing Epitomized in Short Horror Film, Toe (2020).” Puzzle Box Horror, 5 Apr. 2020.
Farnstrom, Mary. “Rosemary’s Baby Review: Terror in Plain Sight.” Puzzle Box Horror, 24 Jan. 2021.
Freuler, Kate, and Mat Auryn. Of Blood and Bones: Working with Shadow Magick & the Dark Moon. Llewellyn Publications, 2020.
Farnstrom, Mary. “The Utterly Wicked Truths About ‘Dark’ Magic.” Puzzle Box Horror, 11 Sept. 2020.
Grewal, Daisy. “The ‘Bad Is Black’ Effect.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 17 Jan. 2017.
Waite, Arthur Edward. : Including the Rites and Mysteries of Goëtic Theurgy, Sorcery, and Infernal Necromancy. The de Laurence Co., 1940.
Updated May 27, 2023
Georgia-based author and artist, Mary has been a horror aficionado since the mid-2000s. Originally a hobby artist and writer, she found her niche in the horror industry in late 2019 and hasn’t looked back since. Mary’s evolution into a horror expert allowed her to express herself truly for the first time in her life. Now, she prides herself on indulging in the stuff of nightmares.
Mary also moonlights as a content creator across multiple social media platforms—breaking down horror tropes on YouTube, as well as playing horror games and broadcasting live digital art sessions on Twitch.