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There is a difference of course: a curse is meant to harm someone, while cussing is more like “getting something off your chest,” not a polite way to talk, but usually not meant to harm anyone. However, cussing is often laced with profanity and certainly does not honor God.

My dad and many of my friends and relatives cussed a lot, and I learned the habit as well. However, shortly before my 17th birthday I came to know and believe in Jesus, and I stopped cussing and cursing immediately (“hell” and “damn” sometimes caused a problem).

A low level of cursing is profanity, and some professional athletes have set that bar low and cannot talk without expletives. They cannot utter a sentence without resorting to their “go-to vocabulary” of bodily functions and nasty kinship terms. We hear it all the time on radio and TV, and we have gradually become tolerant of their vulgar opinions, interspersed with “you know,” “like,” and “I mean.” We are supposed to be illiterate enough to believe that *F(blank) is less meaningful than the word when fully spelled out.

We should take profanity and cursing more seriously. The ancient Jews, as recorded in the Bible, took it seriously and did it well. In his book on the Psalms, C. S. Lewis has a chapter on “The Cursings,” and, when reading them, we can feel some of their power and vindictiveness. Did those people really want to beat out the Babylonian babies’ brains? Did they want their enemies to be dead and their orphans beggars? Or even their enemy’s prayers to be turned into sins? Apparently so, and that is violent cursing.

In many societies there are agents that accompany a curse: In some Australian Aboriginal cultures, when a bone was pointed at a person, the magic ritual placed a curse on them. It could be a kangaroo, emu, or even human bone, and the shape of the bone varied from tribe to tribe. The outcome of the practice was said to be certain: the victim died.

Another type of curse that is common around the world is the “evil eye,” a malevolent glare that is said to date back 5,000 years. There were also ways to neutralize the evil eye. In folk religion, we read of using amulets and talismans, as well as charms and gestures. According to an entry on Wikipedia, “Belief in the evil eye is strongest in West Asia, Latin America, East, and West Africa, Central America, South Asia, Central Asia, and Europe, especially the Mediterranean region; it has also spread to areas, including northern Europe, particularly in the Celtic regions, and the Americas, where it was brought by European colonists and West Asian immigrants.” In other words, it is widespread.

The following are said to be the most prominent curses in history:

  • King Tut's Curse (and Other 'Mummy's Curses'), where disturbing a mummy or its tomb would bring bad luck

  • The Curse of the Polish King's Tomb: when the tomb was opened many of the people who were there became ill and some died

  • The Hope Diamond Curse was a result of the gem being stolen from an idol in India

  • The Curse of Tippecanoe (or Tecumseh's Curse) refers to an urban legend about the deaths of US Presidents who were elected in a year that ended with 0

  • The Curse of Macbeth: a group of witches was said to object to Shakespeare using real incantations, so they cursed the play. To counteract the curse, one should go outside and run around the theatre three times, spit, and swear or quote a line from another Shakespeare play

  • The Billy Goat Curse on the Chicago Cubs

The latter curse demonstrates how stupid they can be. The story goes like this: “In 1945, a tavern owner named William “Billy Goat” Sianis was reportedly prevented from bringing his pet goat, Murphy, into Chicago’s Wrigley Field to see the Cubs play the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Supposedly, Sianis put a curse on the Cubs, saying they wouldn’t win this or any other World Series ever again.” (They did, but the story is on if you are interested.)

The human race is cursed because of Adam’s sins (Genesis 3.17), and Noah cursed his grandson Canaan because his son Ham had seen the nakedness of his father. (Genesis 9.20-27) Although there is no biblical evidence that Ham was the "father" of African peoples, some Jewish, Christian, and Islamic writers came to that belief, which helped them justify the curse of African enslavement.

There are many other instances of curses being applied or pronounced in the Bible: these include a crime worthy of death (Deuteronomy 21.23), children who struck their parents (Exodus 21.15), serving other gods (Deuteronomy 29.24-28), neglecting the building of the temple, and so on.

There was also the terrible curse placed on Jesus (Matthew 27.32-55, Mark 15.21-41, Luke 23.26-49, and John 19.17-37) when he was condemned to death on a cross. In Galatians 3.13, we read: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’”

However, that is one curse we can be thankful for—it abolished our sin curse.

Karl Franklin


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