A reader asks, “I’m new to studying about Paganism, and I’m looking at a lot of different forms of witchcraft. One thing I don’t understand is that some people say it’s never okay to hex or curse anyone, but a lot of times I read about curses and hexes in folklore and historical accounts. What if someone’s hurting me? Can I protect myself? Am I allowed to curse them? I don’t know how this works! Help!”
Well, much like everything else in modern witchcraft and Paganism, it’s really going to depend on who you ask. For starters, there’s the Rule of Three, or the Threefold Law, which is typically explained to mean that no matter what you do magically, there's a giant Cosmic Force that will make sure your deeds are revisited upon you threefold. It's universally guaranteed, some Pagans claim, which is why you better not EVER perform any harmful magic... or at least, that's what they tell you.
However, one could argue that Rule of Three only applies to members of traditions who follow it – in other words, you wouldn’t expect a non-Christian to follow the Ten Commandments, so it’s unreasonable to ask non-adherents to the Rule of Three to follow that particular guideline. There are many Pagan traditions who consider the Rule of Three to be a ridiculous and illogical tenet.
Furthermore, if you look at magic in a historical context, such as the various traditions of folk magic, there are many documented examples of people performing negative, or baneful magic.
When it comes to cursing or hexing, only you can decide whether or not it’s acceptable for you to do so. There are a lot of people out there in the magical community who have performed curses and hexes – some of them on an absolutely spectacular level – with no Karmic backlash.
Be sure to read up on Magical Ethics, for some examples of how "positive" and "negative" magic sometimes overlap.
Does that mean things can’t go wrong? No, absolutely not. Just like with “positive” magic, any negative magic has room for unexpected and unwanted consequences – and if you choose to interpret that as the Universe smacking you on the hand for the errors of your ways, then so be it. If magic is an act of will and intent – like our mundane actions – and if every action has a consequence, then yes, things can and will go wrong if you make mistakes.
Typically, a curse which results in expected and unwanted consequences is one that was performed badly – there are a number of things that go wrong in cursing and hexing, just like in other workings:
- Did you allow emotion to get in the way of the working?
- Did you word things in a way that allowed your plans to go awry?
- Did you spend too much time dwelling on the hoped for results and worrying about what would happen?
- Did you, while casting, question whether or not the working would be effective or not?
A very wise person once said that if you don’t let go of a grenade, eventually you’re going to blow yourself up – and that’s a good piece of advice to keep in mind when doing spellwork of any sort, whether it’s harmful or healing magic.
Also, keep in mind that there are some Pagan traditions that believe that any sort of magic for personal gain is wrong, whether it's harmful to another person or not.
Again, cursing and hexing isn’t for everyone. There are some paths that forbid it under any circumstances, and some which believe it’s acceptable in certain cases – such as you mentioned, if you are being attacked and choose to use it as a form of self-defense. There are also many practitioners of magic who, quite frankly, don’t enjoy performing harmful magic, and so choose not to as a matter of personal preference.
Be sure to read up on Magical Self-Defense for some ideas on protecting yourself using magical means.
If you feel uncomfortable with harmful magic, then by all means, don’t do it. On the other hand, if you’re part of a tradition that allows it, and you feel a need to perform it, then be sure to do so wisely and with all the forethought you would use in any other kind of working.