Friday, March 06, 2015

It's a scary world out there

The verbal character of lay curses in illiterate societies contributed not only to their dangerousness but also to their ubiquitousness. They are dangerous because once declared, curses enjoyed an independent existence that could not be readily supervised. They take on a life of their own. They spread through gossip. They are ubiquitous because curses were a powerful tool available to anyone who could speak. No special knowledge was needed beyond the cultural conventions that determined the verbal elements that made a curse a curse. For the amateur, no special ritual was necessary aside from a quick gesticulation, if that was used at all. On the one hand, the words established the nature of the harm to be done. On the other hand, a gesture would merely strengthen the requested injury through a form of dramatization. If anything, the gesture merely sought to elucidate and reinforce the manner in which the orally declared harm was to be administered by the importuned supernatural power.— Cursed Are You!, page 358

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