(After a few distractions, we're back to our regularly scheduled October series.)
I'm not talking about stage magic. We're talking about witchcraft, curses and hexes. Yes, they're real, and all demonic in origin. This was truly frightening to me, because I never would have imagined it was possible. Apparently, like all demonic activity, it's just another way God honors our free will and provides occasion for grace.
Father Amorth defines a curse as "harming others through demonic intervention." He considers spells and witchcraft to be two different kinds of curses. Seriously, this is not some innocent pastime for adolescent girls. People get hurt doing this. "Those who practice any sort of magic believe they can manipulate superior powers," he says, "but in reality it is they who are manipulated."
Naturally Father Amorth is most familiar with his native Italy, where a robust tradition of sorcery and spiritualism still survives. In this context, his vocal opposition to the Harry Potter franchise is understandable. "When curses are spoken with true perfidy," he says, "especially if there is a blood relationship between the one who cast them and the accursed, the outcome can be terrible. The most common instances that I have encountered involved parents or grandparents who called down evil upon children or grandchildren. The most serious consequences occur when the evil wish is against someone's life or when it is pronounced on a special occasion, such as a wedding. The authority and the bonds that tie parents to their children are stronger than any other person's." These curses apparently do not die with the ones who cast them, and can be frighteningly effective despite blessings, exorcism and prayer.
A spell may also be known as a malefice or a hex, and involves brining evil upon someone by means of a physical object, a kind of anti-sacramental. Direct application involves the victim ingesting the cursed object, which according to Father Amorth, can be made of almost anything: "it can be menstrual blood; bones of dead people; various burned powders, mostly black; animal parts -- the heart seems to be the favorite; peculiar herbs; and so on. But the evil efficacy is not so much in the material used as in the will to harm through demonic intervention." Not surprisingly, one of the first symptoms of a spell of this kind are stomach pains which only improve when the substance is expelled through vomiting or otherwise. Indirect application involves hexing the belongings of the victim or a proxy, "dolls, puppets, animals, even real people of the same age and sex." Remember voodoo dolls? Apparently they actually work. The examples he gives are rather hair-raising, but I'll let you read the book for yourself.
Despite all this, he cautions that true hexes are still rare. Although he has personally dealt with several, he has seen still more cases which had legitimate psychological explanations. Sometimes curses fail, through the inexperience of the sorcerer, the prayer life of the intended victim, or the intervention of God. "It would be a most grave error to live in fear of falling victim to a hex," he says. Still, neither is it a good idea to completely deny their existence.
He describes witchcraft at length, which covers a broader range of activities than just spells and hexes. Even when used for the most mundane and apparently innocuous personal purposes, witchcraft and genuine magic are always interaction with Satan and always come with harmful side effects. In 2002, our neighbors' teenage daughter told me and my sister that she had been practicing witchcraft in her spare time, and had recently managed to open a door without touching it. Later she complained of seeing a man in black at the foot of her bed at night. Naturally I can't verify any of it, but it may be a useful case in point.
The moral of the story? Witches aren't funny. Dress your kids up as saints, for pity's sake.
And read this book. (But not late at night.)