A few years ago archaeologists stumbled upon a strange discovery. While investigating the water supply for a nearby bathhouse built in the first century B.C.in Keramikos cemetery they found a small lead case, shaped as a coffin. Inside the coffin was a small creepy human shaped figurine.
The creepy figurine, with deformed face, had it’s hands tied behind it’s back. So creepy! However, the creepiest thing about it was that it was commissioned to deliver a curse to the underworld!
But for what reason?
Love and Hate: This curse tablet was created against a newlywed woman named Glykera. The curse, which focuses on her vagina, was made by someone who envied the woman’s marriage. Photo credit: Dr. Jutta Stroszeck – German Archaeological Institute
There were four basic reasons for putting a curse on someone: to win a lawsuit, to succeed in business, to win sports and for matters concerning love and hate.
So, back in Ancient Greece, around 400 BC, Philo had serious disputes with Mikion who had beaten him in a trial. Philo didn’t want to give up and decided to take the situation into his magical hands or rather into the magical hands of someone who was specialized on curse practices and put spell on his opponent.
Part of a curse tablet against Pytheas, ordered by his opponent in an Athenian court. Photo credit: Dr. Jutta Stroszeck – German Archaeological Institute
Ancient Greeks usually hired “professionals” to write the curses, believing them to have supernatural powers.
The curse also mentioned the names of all those who intended to support Mikion in the trial.
How could a curse get to the underworld?
The burials, in addition to being a resting place for the dead, were also used as a place to perform magical practices. Archaeologists find often strange objects inside tombs.
The rocky, muddy opening to the ancient well in Kerameikos, Athens where the curse tablets were found. Photo credit: Dr. Jutta Stroszeck – German Archaeological Institute
The curses shouldn’t be found and read by anyone so placing them in a tomb they could remain hidden for eternity.
That’s why the lead case with the strange figurine was so small, it could be easily hidden in the palm and secretly placed in the tomb. The curse could be carried to the Underworld by the souls of the deceased.
It was common for the curses to be buried in graves, in bodies of water or wells.
These locations were thought to provide a fast track to the Underworld. And if the curse was placed in a coffin of a relative it would be delivered even faster to the Underworld.
Water, especially drinking it, was a sacred concept in Greek religion, protected by the Nymphs who could become very hostile if one did not treat their water with respect.
To make the Nymphs happy, they often threw gifts into the water. At that time it was believed that the water gave access to the Underworld and thus the latter could be ‘activated’ by throwing a curse into the well.
The most suitable for carrying spells to the underworld where the souls of those who had died in an untimely manner and through what appeared to be plain old bad luck.
These folks were deemed as being most suitable for carrying spells to the underworld. Their souls cannot rest in peace and wander in the world. They were also believed to be capable to provoke the chthonic gods and with their connivance or the wrath of the undead soul to fall on Mikion, to bind him, to shut him up, hook him up and cause him a general badass situation that is better not to try at home.
The gods and goddesses of the Underworld, such as Hades, Hecate and Hermes, were believed to be able to assist in the fulfilment of the curses.
So, since the archaeologist read the curse the souls may rest in peace.