Writing a Defixio

Curse tablets (defixiones in Latin, or καταδεσμοι in Greek) are an ancient form of curse and binding spell dating back to the antique Hellenistic era.  They were used popularly by magicians and the common people alike for centuries, and archaeologists are still finding caches of them to this day across the remnants of the Alexandrian and Roman Empires.  In their basic form, they consisted of a lead or clay tablet inscribed with a curse against a particular person, often rolled up and pierced with nails or tied up with wire,  and dropped off in a well, bathhouse, graveyard, or other chthonic (earthy, afterlife-y, etc.) place.  This method of cursing was so popular that ancient magicians used to have ready-made template defixiones on hand with blanks for names, reasons, and magical words.

Binding spells are a specific kind of curse, much like the Prayer of the Intranquil Spirit.  The intent of the curse is to restrict or control the actions, thoughts, or circumstances of a particular person either indefinitely or until some condition has been fulfilled, at which point the curse would come to an end.  The idea is that the spirits of the dead are helpful and able to communicate messages between this world and the underworld, or fulfill desires across this world by means of spiritual retribution.  Especially powerful among the dead were those killed violently (βιαιοθανατοι) or who died untimely (αωροι), since they had died “unnaturally” and thus didn’t fall into the same level of restful stupor that the other dead had; further, those who died without achieving something in their life might work some defixiones more forcefully, such as a love-themed curse tablet placed in the tomb of a young unmarried woman.

A method to write defixiones and an example defixio are given below.  First, however, a disclaimer: do not do anything you are not prepared to own up to. If you get any hunches or feelings that you shouldn’t do this, whether it’s some hunch you get, some message from the gods or your conscience, or some omen in a dream, do not write a defixio.  Make sure it’s clear with your conscience and whatever powers you obey first; if so, then by all means, go ahead.  Plus, keep in mind that you’re working with the spirits of the dead and other revengeful spirits, some of whom aren’t as rational or considerate as you might prefer.  You might become collateral damage of your own operation unless you watch your step.

To write a defixio, you’ll need the following supplies:

  • a sheet of lead, black clay rolled out thin, or black paper
  • a writing instrument (a stylus or burin if you’re using lead or clay, a pen if you’re using paper)

You’ll also need a location to drop off the defixio.  Scope out nearby places like graveyards, deep or underground construction sites, lakes, pits, wells, caves, or cellars.  All the better if they’re dark, desolate, or emptied at night.  Ideally, you want someplace as chthonic or associated with the dead as possible.

The core of the defixio is the tablet itself and its deposition in a chthonic place.  You’ll want to write the defixio such that it describes who you are, who the people you want bound are, and what you want done to them.  The “audience” of the curse tablet is the spirits of the dead or other chthonic spirits; with that in mind, you’re laying a charge to them to carry out your wishes that you’ll physically give to them in the form of the curse tablet.  If you know the spirit or ghost’s name you’re handing the defixio to, all the better.  You could be as specific as you want in terms of punishment and duration of the curse, or as vague as you want so that they suffer general agony for an indefinite period of time.  The use of magical words, symbols, seals, or names is a common feature of defixiones, so feel free to add whatever holds meaning and power for you.  Once the defixio is written, drop it off in a graveyard, cave, lake, or other chthonic place, maybe with a spoken charge to the spirits to have them get to work.

The following is an example inscription to be used for someone who was promised a sum of money by two other people in a contract which was never paid.  The style is par for the course with regards to defixio writing, if not a little fancy.  The text illustrates that one should be as specific and clear as possible with regards to the writer of the defixio, those to be bound by the defixio, and what is to happen to them and for how long.

Of N. and N. and their affairs I bind and I afflict,
Let none of their plans come to fruitition or bring any success,
Let them be laid low by demons, let their health suffer,
Let their skies be always cloudy, let their faces never smile,
Let them suffer and wail and languish in whatever they do.
Have pity on me, N., abandoned and made poor by N. and N.,
the women who pledged money to me by a written contract and never paid up.
Until they repay what they owe me in full for all that I have done for them,
let them suffer by this curse I write against them.

Once they each repay me, this curse shall be lifted on each of them,
and they may return to their happy and healthy lives,
and no demon or spirit or curse from me will afflict them any longer.
But until I am myself made rightly happy and prosperous by N. and N.,
neither shall they be happy or prosperous in any way.
I am your supplicant, afflicted and constrained.
I entrust this to your care, you spirits who receive this from me.
Please keep this for my sake, please help me in this injustice.
Bring me justice, bring me justice, bring me justice, bring me justice.
Bring me justice, bring me justice, bring me justice, bring me justice.
Bring me justice, bring me justice, bring me justice, bring me justice.
Bring me justice, bring me justice, bring me justice, bring me justice.

If you want to write a defixio with all the flourish of a ritual, I would recommend the following extra supplies and to carry out the steps below:

  • old coins
  • a black candle consecrated to a chthonic deity or to Saturn
  • a wax or metal poppet representing the person/people to be bound
  • old, ragged, dirty, or black clothing
  • milk, meat, wine, animal blood, honey, whiskey, tobacco, pennies, etc. as offerings to spirits
  1. Purify yourself.  Spend a day or so fasting, at least from sex and intoxicants.  Just try to keep yourself mentally and physically pure and focused.
  2. On a Saturday during a waning moon, at midnight, turn out all the lights where you live and wear the clothes with your hair disheveled and messy (to imitate ancient funeral rites and lamentation). Light the black candle and lay out the lead/clay/paper sheet in front of you. Write the inscription on the sheet, saying each word aloud as you write it.
  3. Go to the chosen chthonic site with the inscribed sheet, keeping it as unbent as possible. Where you find a suitable place to drop off the sheet with the inscription (an open pit, a well, an open grave or a decorative urn on the gravesite, etc.), walk up to it humbly.  Call out to the spirits of that place, “whatever demons or ghosts  or spirits reside here, by whatever names you go by, by whatever forms you take”, that sort of thing.  Read aloud what you inscribed on the sheet. When you’re done, roll up the sheet around the poppet and pierce it with the nails or bind it up with the wire so that it’s held shut.  Drop the bound sheet in the well/lake/grave/pit. Drop the coins in after or scatter them around the site, thanking the spirits for their attention and care.
  4. Go home. Take off the clothes and get rid of them or put them away, shower, go to sleep, then live your life as normal. Put the whole operation out of your mind.
  5. Once you notice the curse and any conditions you might have written on the tablet are fulfilled, go back to the site where you dropped off the sheet, call out to the spirits as you did before, and thank them for their work for you. Leave them the offerings and proclaim their work done. Thank them once more, then leave.

At this point, the curse should be lifted and all things can resume as normally.  If not, however, you might want to consider doing some banishment or exorcism work to put things to a halt.