Strange British Love Spells and Curses
JON KANEKO-JAMES looks back at the strange and wonderful love spells & curses used in the UK over the centuries
Love spells seem to be one of the oldest two kinds of spell known to man: just before we decided to hit the other primeval human on the head a lá 2001 A Space Odyssey, it would seem that we first decided we’d like to make out with his hot sister.
Love magic and divination are incredibly central to many of the ways that we celebrate holidays in Britain: Halloween was sometimes called ‘Nutcrack night’ after the tradition of your couples throwing paired bunches of hazelnuts into the fire. If the two nuts burned together, the couple would stay together, if they broke apart or exploded in the heat, the couple would be destined to part.
In Worcestershire, and several other parts of the country associated with weaving, would throw a ball of wool out of the window at midnight on the full moon, believing that the first person to pick it up and whisper her name would be the man she would marry.
And that wasn’t the only way to divine the identity of your love: you could peel an apple carefully, being sure to get the skin off in one strip, and then throw it over your shoulder: where it would form the name of your proposed lover. Another technique much vaunted in Medieval/Early Modern England was to drip either hot lead of wax into a cup of cold water, where it would form a shape symbolic to the profession of your future love.
And divination wasn’t the only resource that lovers could resort to: just as the Ancient Greeks used gruesome love magic including lizard penises and bat semen, the Medieval British turned to love spells of their own, albeit using slightly less crinegworthy components like magical dolls. One of the many accusations in the horrific Scottish witch trials of the 1590s was that a cabal of witches had used a wax image of King James VIth to gain control of the monarch in order to strengthen the position of his court competitor, the Earl of Bothwell. The simplest effigy spell I’ve ever heard is from Leonard. R. N. Ashley’s Complete Book of Spells and Curses: take the bone from a sheep’s shoulder and a sharp knife. Pierce the shoulder bone and say:
“It is not this bone I wish to stick,
But the heart of N, I wish to prick,
Be he asleep or wide awake,
I’d have him come to me and speak.”