Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Curses That Worked 1: The Curse of Shakespeare's Tomb

'Hello! My name is Buffy. Ask me about curses.'
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer,  episode 1, Season 6

William Shakespeare was buried in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford, on 25 April 1616. His tomb  is still there, on the floor of the church with a stone which bears this inscription:
Good friend for Jesus sake forbear

To dig the dust enclosed here!

Blest be the man that spares these stones,

And curst be he that moves my bones.      
 Since the 19th century, there have been various unconvincing  attempts at 'proving' that Shakespeare did not write the works attributed  to him. No serious scholar accepts these arguments - see

In his biography of Shakespeare, Anthony Burgess notes that a common failing of the doubters is to think that authors know all about any subject they write about - thus because there is quite a bit of Elizabethan law in the plays - so the theory goes - Shakespeare must have had great legal knowledge. Not so, says Burgess - Shakespeare did what all writers do, he picked up a book, asked a friend.
Similarly with the curse. The people who believe that Shakespeare the Stratford resident was not Shakespeare the London dramatist point to this curse as evidence - surely Shakespeare would have had some high-flown wonder of a poem rather than a piece of doggerel? Again not so, says Burgess.
The quatrain is a tool - a curse used to preserve his remains. Graves were often opened and their occupants buried in less popular spots. Shakespeare's curse prevented that happening. Far form being the work of an amateur hand it is a brilliantly crafted tool - a curse that worked.
 For the problems of restoring the stone see

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Ancient Curses 1: The Curse of Akkad

'Hello! My name is Buffy. Ask me about curses.'
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer,  episode 1, Season 6

Welcome to Buddha's Black Dog, my blog on curses and spells: for what it's about  (and my other blogs).  see  
Buddha's Black Dog is  organised thematically, and older posts will be linked to  after each post.

One of the oldest curses we know of – the Curse of Akkad - involves the oldest empire we know of, the Akkadian Empire, which lasted roughly 2350-2150 BC during the Bronze Age.
The curse is ancient yet is remarkably relevant to our own time.
The Akkadian Empire was founded by Sargon the Great (like Moses, as an infant he was supposed to have been discovered floating in a basket) who regarded his empire as one that would last until the end of time - a common mistake among empire builders.
Sargon the Great Beardie
 The curse is written in Sumerian and describes the sack of the city Akkad (thought to have been sited south of Baghdad) – a direct result of the Akkadians attacking the city of Nippur, thus arousing the anger of the gods that had up until then supported Akkad. This theme – of the arrogance of earthly rulers being punished by the gods (or subsequently of course, a god) became a familiar theme of human history. The effect of the curse of the gods, says the text, was:
For the first time since cities were built and founded,
The great agricultural tracts produced no grain,
The inundated tracts produced no fish,
The irrigated orchards produced neither wine nor syrup,
The gathered clouds did not rain, the masgurum did not grow.
At that time, one shekel's worth of oil was only one-half quart,
One shekel's worth of grain was only one-half quart. . . .
These sold at such prices in the markets of all the cities!
He who slept on the roof, died on the roof,
He who slept in the house, had no burial,
People were flailing at themselves from hunger.
It was the end of a civilisation – and for the first time (so far as we know) the first collapse attributed to a curse from the gods.
Whatever any possible gods may have thought, it now seems to be the case that humans were being punished by another force at work, one that we are familiar with today – climate change. See
We now know that a huge drought affected the Middle East, North Africa and other parts of the world – crops failed, clans and tribes migrated and the old Akkadian Empire sank (quite literally) into the dust. And eventually new gods emerged from our belief systems to tell the same stories. As Kipling put it in ' The God of the Copybook Headings'

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wobbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!