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  • Curse Thy Neighbour September 9, 2010

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval , trackback

    Beachcombing was thinking about war today (as you do) and immediately the generations (actually three semesters) fell away and he saw one of his favourite students, a Southern Baptist, giving a passionate and articulate Christian justification for killing: it was a long list that began with Genesis 15 and ended, triumphantly, with Matthew 10, 34 ‘I come not to bring peace, but with a sword’.

    Beachcombing had been extremely impressed not least because he was brought up in the lily-white Anglican church where the closest the congregation got to violence was Onwards Christian Soldiers with some of the lyrics toned down and raising your eyebrows about Mrs Smith’s cake at Harvest Festival.

    But Christianity and violence have, of course, a long partnership, going if not back to the days of the Apostles, then certainly back to the Fathers. The Fathers, in fact, kept up that tiresome patina of reciprocal love, while hating each other: Beachcombing once spent a happy day in the library with a book on Jerome’s insults.

    But by the time the Empire (and the bridges over the Rhine) were down then all pretence ended.

    As the clergy were not supposed to kill – the Inquisition and its evasions and human bonfires were still some centuries away – a sub-genre was developed: Christian cursing. And many a medieval manuscript contains a few lines of sanctified black magic. So enjoy the following:

    ‘May they be cursed in the spring and excommunicated in the winter. May they be cursed in the four corners of the earth. May they be cursed in the East, disinherited in the West, interdicted in the North, and excommunicated in the South. May they be cursed in the day and excommunicated while away, cursed in standing and excommunicated in sitting, cursed in eating, drinking and sleeping, excommunicated in waking, cursed when they work and excommunicated when they rest.’ [43]

    It’s certainly a complete policy (in insurance terms).

    Or what about this?

    ‘May they be cursed in town and cursed in the fields. May their barns be cursed and may their bones be cursed. May the fruit of their loins be cursed as well as the fruit of their lands, their herds of cattle and their flocks of sheep. May they be cursed going in and coming out. May they be cursed at home and may they be fugitives outside their homes. May they drain out through their bowels, like the faithless and unhappy Arius.’  [36]

    Imagine for a moment the force of these sentences intoned in medieval Latin by twelve monks who would blow the candles out as the last word was said! Beachcombing would take his chances with an Aboriginal Kurdaitcha pointing his witch bone.

    Beachcombing has a small file of curses from other medieval European cultures – Viking, Irish, Welsh and Anglo-Saxon, the fringes in short. He’d be grateful for any more. Drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com  He is especially interested in secular or vernacular medieval curses.

    Beachcombing wants to finish by thanking Mrs B for putting up the posts while he was away in the hermit’s cave. May she never drain out through her own bowels…