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Cursing

by Bernadette Weyde
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Perhaps the most primitive form of sorcery practiced in the Island was ‘the Curse’, used as much by enthusiastic amateurs as by the notorious practitioners and always dreaded by those at whom it was aimed.

It was made more effective in its results by a simple ritual which involved kneeling, the uncovering of the head, and, in the case of women, loosened hair.

In 1713 Henry Quay, arguing his case with George Cown at Kirk Michael before Deemster McYlrea, suddenly dropped upon his knees and bitterly cursed his opponent, using such imprecations as are not fit to be repeated.  The scandalised judge passed him over to the Church to discipline him with the cold comfort of the Bishop’s dungeon at Peel. 

The form of the Curse varied.  Sometimes its application was thinly veiled, as in:

‘May an ill end come upon your father’s son and on all his goods,’

or

‘May the hides of your cattle be a-sunning before May Day.’

One curse which was popular in the Sheading of Rushen was:

‘Mollaght ny jouyl as Vac Vollagh’ – the Curse of the Devil and MacMollagh

Kerrie Mac-Mollagh being a Southside witch.  She had so impressed her generation that she became a legendary figure, fit to rank with Satan himself, and therefore it did not appear an odd conjunction of names when an enraged Kirk Patrick man exclaimed:

‘Though art the Devil, and Mac-Mollagh too!’

The most potent Curse was for long considered to be the ‘Shiaght mynney mollaght’ (the seven swearings of a curse) and was in early times associated with a ritual in which the person turned a round Swear Stone seven times anti-clockwise in a cup-shaped hollow of a larger stone.  It has been suggested that a holed stone slab near the keeill on Raby in Kirk Patrick was once used for the purpose but its appearance does not carry conviction. 

One finds survivals of the ancient Curse in the 17th century.  In 1677, Moore the miller of Pulrose reported that a neighbour had said to him:

‘I hear badd toake of my god daughter.  If it be true my seven curses on her!’

But long before that time the ‘Shiaght mynney’ had yielded in popularity to the devastating ‘Skeab Lome‘ (i.e. bare broom), the Besom of Destruction.  In the full performance of this curse the person, armed with a besom, swept the ground in front of the house containing the object of his hatred and recited the Curse in terms similar to the following:

‘May neither branch nor root of your family nor aught of your goods be left but swept away as I sweep this ground bare with the besom!’

A woman of Kirk Christ Rushen is said to have cursed in this fashion in the last half of the 19th century.  The Broom ritual appeears in various modifications, as for example, in 1720 when the widow Qualtrough of Kentraigh complained that the apprentice of one of her tenants came into the house in her absence and swept the floor backwards and fowards and brought the sweepings away.  Since that time she had lost animals to the value of twenty pounds.

As time went on, ‘Skeab Lome’ lost much of its early significance.  It was no longer reserved for great occasions of emotional hate, but was evoked casually by the trivial irritations of every day life. 

‘Skeab lome!’ was pronounced on the shingle the fisherman shook out of his net; on unproductive hens – to quote instances taken at random from the records.  And when the Church courts relaxed their discipline in face of the slowly growing hostility of the community, the Curses, which had been raised to an undeserved importance by ecclesiastical censures, lost their terrifying qualities and largely fell out of use.


(source: The Journal of the Manx Museum Vol IV, June 1939, No.59 by David Craine, M.A.)

 

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