“She's such a b**tch!” You silently curse at that two-faced girl who snatched your boyfriend behind your back. Ever wondered how this situation would be dealt with in ancient times? Well, it’s simple. You know the burn book in “Mean Girls”?
Picture that on a stone tablet and you get what people in Greco-Roman times used as a binding spell to curse others. Basically all you need to do is to get your curse down on some sheets of lead or stone (so that your curse is non perishable and remain savage forever), bury it under the ground, cast a spell asking for the help of some divinity/demon and that b*tch will go to hell. Kidding, it is not 100% guaranteed that all those tablets worked of course.
So what are these tablets exactly? Are they really just an older version of the “burn book”?
As compared to Means Girls’ “burn book”, where everything written is easily understood, traditional curse tablets were written in “magical gibberish”. These curse tablets were written in Greek or Latin with some incomprehensible words, voces mysticae - not associated with any known human language, and charakteres - unfathomable signs and symbols believed to be linked to supernatural forces. I mean, if they were to ask for help from some supernatural force, surely they got to use some language that is out of this world right?
Curse tablets relied on spiritual forces to compel whoever and whatever you hate or love. You can use it to crush the people you hate, get your stolen goods back or even get your desired lover!
The first few curse tablets discovered were created around 5th century B.C, and originated from Selinunte- one of the Greek archaeological sites. These tablets were mainly created out of legal disputes, curses intended to kick opponents’ asses in a lawsuit. Other interesting types of curses included love or sex spells.
Pella Curse TableT
Want to keep the man you love forever by your side? Just follow Dagina and cast a love spell on the Pella curse tablet. The Pella curse tablet was a Greece curse tablet dated back to the first half of the 4th century written in Doric Greek idiom. Dagina invoked demons to cause her lover Dionysophon to marry her instead of Thetima, and never to marry another woman. In addition to that, Regina and her squad would probably add a ton of nasty reasons why Dionysophon shouldn’t marry Thetima.
However, this tablet has greater significance than the superficial vengeful purposes. It has become a key evidence supporting the view that ancient Macedonian language was a dialect of North-Western Greek, and one of the Doric dialects. This tablet is therefore significant in proving the origins of the ancient Macedonian language. That’s so fetch!
Why do people like creating all these tablets back then? Other than the distinct bitter reasons, the ancient Greeks believed in a number of deities and the power of spirituality.
Curse tablets were used to seek help from the supernatural or to make those people or problems disappear. Just like how sticking pins in voodoo dolls today are used to express hatred and curse those wretched people, curse tablets were used in a similar concept in ancient Greece.
Yet, ancient Greeks took it one notch higher by using herbs and fire to make their spells stronger so that all those hated individuals would get what they totally deserved. In addition, many spells were also created with stones or baked clay to ensure their sustainability. I guess ancient Greeks were really vengeful and adamant people huh? These kind of sustainable spells were called katadesmoi or defixiones, and it was believed that they would work as long as the text existed. Basically if your name is etched on those curse tablets, be prepared to definitely burn in hell someday.
Eventually, these sustainable curse tablets were discovered in Pella, the capital of ancient Macedonia and were believed to be created between 375 and 350 BCE. An astonishing number of tablets have also been discovered-1600 to be exact. I guess there were one too many tablets for the mean girls to complain about. Most of the known curse tablets were written in Greek and the Pella curse tablet is one example of these texts from ancient times.
On the surface, these tablets may seem just like a medium for people to complain, be bitter and jealous about others. However, these tablets shed light on societal behavior then. These tablets were significant as they showed the method that people used to communicate with the supernatural and demonstrated the strong belief in the supernatural force. Furthermore, living in a prescientific world where the “art of memory” was emphasized, written records were expensive and time-consuming to produce. The fact that people spent so much time and effort in carving these curse tablets shows the strength of their faith in these forces. Also, many things cannot be scientifically explained back then and the carvings on these tablets gave people hope that they can actually do something about their life issues and have some sort of control.
When people were in doubt, they sought out to the supernatural for help and believed that these forces would right the wrongs in the world. This served as a form of comfort for ancient Greeks as it reduced their uncertainty and provided them with hope for the future.
Bath Curse Tablets
The Greeks weren't the only ones to use curse tablets! The inhabitants of Bath (England) during the Roman empire wrote tablets too, but more to seek justice rather than to seek revenge.
What do you do when your things get stolen? You’ll probably make a police report immediately right? But for the ancient Romans who weren’t blessed with a police force? Just make a curse tablet and hope for the best. People complained about their stolen goods and belongings on the tablets because thieves often targeted Roman public baths as people would leave their belongings in unsafe places. Without a police force to report such incidents, a victim may seek justice through divine intervention as that was their best attempt to get back at those thieves.
So what makes these tablets so great then? As mentioned above for the Pella tablet, the Bath tablets served as a platform for ancient Romans to voice out social issues. In this case, the lack of security and law enforcement agency led to the creation of Bath curse tablets. It is also one of the most important record of Romano-British religion available and it is awfully valuable to historians and other researchers. The Roman curse tablets shows evidence of bilingualism in the British population under Rome. Based on what was inscribed on the tablets, both Celtic and Latin languages were evidently used, showing the widespread of bilingualism throughout the population.
Indeed, many of the collections contain surprising facts and it shows how society functioned back in the days. The Romans cleverly used the fear of gods to prevent crimes due to the lack of law enforcement agency.
Although the burn book is exclusively for the Mean Girls, these tablets were for anybody with grievance or hatred. Social status did not matter when it came to the accessibility of these tablets. Contrary to common beliefs, it was discovered that not only the lower class, but the middle and upper class also used these tablets. Also, it was interesting that people did not ask the deity/devils to outrightly kill those people they hated, but instead took an indirect approach-like curse for their downfall. This was mainly due to the fact that killing somebody who lived in the same community was frowned upon. Therefore, the curse tablets didn’t often ask for the object of the curse to die outright, asking instead for their failure at some endeavor. Ain’t that nice!
So guys just don’t be obsessed with people you hate, let them do their thang, bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles, eat it and be happy.