Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Celtic Curses

Celtic Curses

Bernard Mees
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 238
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Celtic Curses
    Book Description:

    The first comprehensive study of early Celtic cursing, this work analyses both medieval and ancient expressions of Celtic imprecation: from the binding tablets of ancient Britain and Gaul to the saintly maledictions of the early medieval period, and other traces of Celtic stipulation and binding only speculated on in earlier scholarship. It provides the first full overview and analyses of the ancient Celtic use of binding curses (as attested in Old Celtic and Latin inscriptions) and examines their mooted influence in later medieval expressions. Ancient finds (among them long Gaulish curse texts, Celtic Latin Curse tablets found from the Alpine regions to Britain, and fragments of Old Brittonic tablets excavated from Roman Bath) are subjected to rigorous new interpretations, and medieval reflections of the earlier tradition are also considered. BERNARD MEES gained his PhD from the University of Melbourne.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-700-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-vii)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. viii-viii)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    Ellen MacAuliffe sailed out from County Cork to the Colony of Victoria at the age of sixteen. She did not stay long in Melbourne, however, but instead went north to spend the rest of her life living out in what in Australia today is still referred to as ‘the bush’. In her final years, as Ellen Quigg, she was nursed by Eileen, her teenage granddaughter. Eileen Kelly was my grandmother and liked especially to tell us stories about her time in the small Victorian town of Kyneton caring for old Grandma Quigg. The one we all remember best was that...

  7. 2 Infernal Powers
    (pp. 10-28)

    The modern practice of throwing coins into springs, fountains and wells continues a very ancient tradition, one that has survived until recent times particularly in the form of wishing wells. Especially in those parts of Europe which have a Celtic connection, modern wishing wells continue a legacy known from throughout Europe that is thought to be based on the suggestive nature of deep pools and the therapeutic powers of natural springs. Such was the opinion of Roman thinkers, who recorded that the ancient Celts were renowned for their fascination with springs, rivers and lakes, and for the offering of items...

  8. 3 Dark Waters
    (pp. 29-49)

    Aquatic instances ofdefixionesare not restricted to ancient discoveries from the Continent – depositions of curse tablets in watery conduits to the nether regions are also a well-known type of find from Roman Britain. Indeed, Roman Britain has proved an extraordinary source for the discovery of curse tablets since the 1970s, accounting for approximately half of all preserved Latin-languagedefixiones– and of these a significant proportion are spring or river finds. This epigraphic richness is not limited to linguistically Latin curse inscriptions, however, but also extends to Celtic texts: two more ancient Celtic curses came to light with the publication...

  9. 4 Gemma’s Tomb
    (pp. 50-69)

    A clear process of religious Romanisation is evident at longstanding Celtic sites such as Bath. In fact, so evidently profound were the changes to cultic traditions under Roman rule that much of what is known today about ancient British and Gaulish religion might rather be understood as Romano-Celtic. Not only were indigenous divinities brought into the Roman pantheon through a form of cultural syncretism, but substantial changes in the ceremony and thinking surrounding Celtic funerary traditions also appear to have occurred under the Empire. Romanisation did not always mean the slavish adoption of Latinate beliefs and practices, however, as the...

  10. 5 Vengeful Prayers
    (pp. 70-87)

    The funerarydefixiofrom Larzac ends with a call that Severa Tertionicna’s enemies may suffer, just as she evidently was suffering from their legal machinations. It does so using an idiosyncratic form of a ‘just as …, so too …’ formula, one that repeats several key phrases from earlier on in the find. The Larzac curse is not unique in this manner, however: similar retributory themes are just as clearly expressed in other Gaulish inscriptions that have come to light since the 1970s, not that these texts have always immediately been recognised as recording ancient imprecations. Finds of Latin binding...

  11. 6 Fragments
    (pp. 88-112)

    Invocation of the restless dead is often not made explicit indefixionesdiscovered in ancient tombs and graves. As at Chagnon, relatively few of the curse texts found in such contexts make reference to their funerary surrounds. In some cases it appears that the agency of a resident restless spirit is just assumed in funerarydefixiones; on other occasions underworld gods are called upon (Pluto and Persephone at Chagnon), much as if the deposition of the curse in the funerary site itself was sufficient to ensure that the infernal powers would receive and enact it. Some curse tablets are not...

  12. 7 Breastplates and Clamours
    (pp. 113-136)

    The first Graeco-Roman curses to be written down were those of the conditional type: ‘Whoever steals this, may he be accursed’. These expressions are evidently quite different from the more complex tradition of binding magic and represent a both widely attested and rather basic kind of imprecation. Nonetheless, the originally Greek practice of binding with spells changed over time, first developing into curses of the handing-over type, then into judicial prayers,diakopoiand erotic binding and leading charms. Classical spellbinding remained a certain magical type, however – a developed form of sorcery preserved in a supernatural written tradition, expressed in particular...

  13. 8 Geases and Binding
    (pp. 137-156)

    When taken in the light of sources such as the maledictory formularies of medieval clerics, the stories of curses found in early Insular Celtic accounts often seem to be more the products of literary imaginings than faithful representations of actual cursing practice. These Celtic literary maledictions thus appear closer in style to a third type of Greek and Roman imprecation – other thankatadesmoiand conditional curses – one known only from ancient literary sources. Usually styledarae, or curse poems, there has long been a suspicion that these highly stylised and sophisticated classical expressions are somehow related to binding spells. Close...

  14. 9 Incantations
    (pp. 157-198)

    ‘You will be one with the birds’ was the curse put upon King Sweeney by Bishop Ronan Finn. This story of Mad Sweeney and his cursing by Ronan was written down as late as the seventeenth century, but is often thought to date as far back as the Old Irish period – in fact, it seems to recall an incident with a much broader pedigree. The madness of the king of Ulster, linked in theFrenzy of Sweeneyto the battle of Mag Rath of the year 637, has a close reflection in early Welsh recollections of the madness of Merlin....

  15. 10 Conclusion: Cursing Wells
    (pp. 199-204)

    Holy springs, pools and wells are dotted all across the British Isles – and similarly thought-of watery sites, like the ancient French shrine at Chamalières, are known from right across the European continent. Often more a concern of antiquarians than believers today, some such localities have also been traditionally associated with more sinister effects. Several wells which cursed rather than blessed are recorded in local Celtic folklore, much as if they represent a reflection of an age-old connection between watery sites and imprecation. At first blush, the preservation of such superstitions in local traditions seems to represent extraordinary evidence for the...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 205-222)
  17. Index
    (pp. 223-230)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 231-231)