Curses and Hexes As a Plot Device

Curses have been used in literature, theater, and fairy tales for hundreds of years. They are the theme of many movies and television programs and can even be found in gaming. When they are utilized as a plot device, they involve one character casting a curse or hex on another, which moves the story forward as the recipient of the curse must battle or deal with its effects. 


Fairy tales thrive on curses. But the original versions of your favorite fairytales might be much darker than you would ever imagine, with stories of cannibalism, child abuse, rape, and graphic violence.


1920 Sleeping Beauty book
The Sleeping Beauty 1920 Edition Illustrated by Arthur Rackham Silhouettes Retold by C. S. Evans

This dark tale has gone through many incarnations over the years and is thought to have first been told around 1330. Early versions tell how an evil fairy cursed the princess to fall into a deep sleep after pricking her finger on a piece of flax. One version mentions seven fairies, one who was not invited because she had been locked in a tower for many years and presumed dead. When she shows up at the christening, she bestows the gift of a curse. The Grimm fairytale version replaced the flax with the spindle of a spinning wheel. But those early versions include how a wandering king came across the sleeping girl, raped her while she still slept, and impregnated her with twins. Charming. It is not until she gives birth that one of the babies brings out the flax that initially put her to sleep, thus awakening her. However, we can see how the story of a simple kiss awakening her came to be – it was a much-needed, G-rated interpretation of events.


The original story was published in 1812 by the Brothers Grimm and featured many of the same elements we know today: the vain stepmother, the magic mirror, the poisoned apple, and the seven dwarves (although the dwarves were nameless in the original story.) We are familiar with the evil Queen wanting the Huntsman to bring her Snow White’s heart in the modern telling. Initially, she requested her lungs and liver so that the Queen could eat them. When she finds out the Huntsman didn’t do the job, the Queen sets out to kill Snow White herself. Disguised, she sells Snow a bodice and laces her up so tightly that she collapses but is revived by the dwarves. The second assassination attempt is with a poison-tipped comb, but the dwarves revive her again. The poisoned apple finally does the trick, and the dwarves rest her in a glass coffin. 

A prince comes across the supposedly dead Snow White lying in her glass casket during a hunting trip. After hearing Snow White’s narrative from the Seven Dwarfs, the prince is permitted to return to her to his father’s castle, a more appropriate resting place. Suddenly, one of the prince’s servants falls and loses his footing while transporting Snow White. This miraculously resurrects Snow White by dislodging a chunk of poisoned apple from her throat. Of course, they fall in love and plan to wed. The Queen is invited to Snow White’s wedding, where the guests heat a pair of iron shoes over a fire and force her to wear them and dance in torment until she dies.

Both the stories of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White traditionally ended their curses with a magical kiss – not found in either original version of the stories. But what is interesting is the vehicle in which the curses were cast. Neither was simply by chanting a spell or magical words. They both included cursed objects, which brought about the deep sleep of these two maidens. Neither the flax (later spinning wheel) nor the apple caused permanent death – just a cursed, deep sleep. So, you might say that if the goal were to kill them the spell caster didn’t do a very good job. But, as a plot device it makes sense. If you kill off your leading lady right away in your story and she’s dead for good, that doesn’t make for much of a plot.


We’ve been telling stories with hexes and curses for as long as stories have been told, filled with bad luck, punishments, and redemption. But, whatever the reason behind why they were cast, these curses deliver precisely what we humans crave in literature and in our everyday lives: clear causes for disastrous consequences and explanations for the terrifying and irrational. They are lessons in cause and effect.


Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The House of the Seven Gables follows the generations of a Puritan family and the curse that follows them. The Pyncheons are a well-respected family in their little Massachusetts town, but their past is filled with mysteries, inexplicable deaths, and a dying man’s curse. Colonel Pyncheon is a wealthy and influential Puritan from Salem, Massachusetts. He just has one ambition: to bequeath his descendants a magnificent home. After much hunting, he finally discovers the perfect spot for his house, adjacent to a freshwater spring. But there’s a snag. It’s a big one. Matthew Maule, a poor man, owns the property. Colonel Pyncheon refuses to buy Maule’s land since he has already cleared and tilled it. Colonel Pyncheon, on the other hand, is patient. Pyncheon sees his opportunity when witchcraft mania sweeps Salem in 1692. He accuses Maule of witchcraft, and Maule is hanged as a result. Maule curses Pyncheon before dying, warning him that ‘God will give him blood to drink.’

Pyncheon begins construction on a large residence, which he names the House of the Seven Gables, as soon as he obtains Maule’s land. However, Matthew Maule’s curse reappears on the day of Colonel Pyncheon’s housewarming party. Pyncheon is discovered dead, his neck covered in blood. The curse has begun. And so the story continues with the descendants of Colonel Pyncheon being affected by the curse.


In this novel by Erika Swyler, we have Simon and Enola Watson, who are from a line of breath-holding carnival mermaids, but each generation of Watson women suddenly drowns on the same day every year. The clues to the curse of July 24th are weird ecological events, a mysterious ancient book, and a collapsing house. In this novel, the plot is about the investigation of a curse with Simon trying to find out the source of it in order to attempt to end it. I will tell you that the story deals with a cursed object causing the problem, but, not being an author who enjoys publishing spoilers, you will have to give it a read to find out what that object is. It may not be the one you thought.


In this 1989 young adult novel by Louis Sachar, we are introduced to the main character, David, a young boy in middle school. His friend, Scott, wants to hang out with the cool kids, but David isn’t quite cool enough to be accepted into the group. When the boys decide to take an elderly lady’s cane, the old woman casts a curse with David as the target. Everything goes wrong all of a sudden: David smashes his parents’ bedroom window, his fly is never zipped, his pants come down, and he pours flour all over the place. Meanwhile, his “friends” mock him and exclude him from their social circles. While you’ll have to read the book to find out what happens, this is an excellent example of a curse being cast by using nothing but words. Or, do the words create a self-fulfilling curse?


Hollywood and television have used curses and hexes as their plot too many times to count. But here are my two favorite examples, each one using a different type of curse. 


The Owens family curse is one of the fundamental conflicts in the film. The first thing viewers learn about Maria Owens is that she cursed her family (accidentally), resulting in a generational curse that any man who dared to love an Owens woman would die. Her original intention was to call a spell on herself so that she would not feel the pain of love loss. But, over time, it caused her to turn bitter and the spell transformed into a curse. When Sally and Gillian’s father dies when they are only children, we see the curse in action. Their mother passes away as a result of a broken heart, and the two girls are forced to live with their aunts. The curse reappears several years later, this time with Sally’s husband, who also succumbs to the curse and is hit by a truck. The elimination of the curse was one of the many difficulties remedied after the ritual that took care of Jimmy.

There is no curse in Alice Hoffman’s book “Practical Magic.” Sally and Gillian’s parents, as well as Sally’s husband, do pass away. (In the book, he is hit by a car full of teenagers when he steps off the curb.) However, none of these fatalities have anything to do with the curse. These deaths are solely for the purpose of driving the plot forward.


drag me to hellChristine Brown works as a loan officer at a bank, and she is competing for an assistant manager position with a coworker. Because her boss thinks she is incapable of making hard decisions, she declines a time extension on a loan to an elderly woman, Mrs. Ganush, who is facing foreclosure and the loss of her home. In vengeance, the elderly woman casts a curse on her, which she later discovers will result in her being dragged to hell after three days of being tormented by a Lamia demon. (In mythology, a Lamia is a demon who devours children.) She eventually turns to a psychic who has had experience with a Lamia to try and exorcize the demon. 

Some spells and curses call upon what is called an ‘intranquil spirit’ to torment someone until they give in to whatever the caster wishes. Here we have a curse that calls upon an outside force, a demon, to carry out its wrath. You will find more on the intranquil spirit in the next chapter.

Whether the curse appears in books, television, the theater, movies, or beloved fairy tales, any good fiction writer will appreciate the one thing they have to offer – they provide the characters with a conflict that seems impossible to hurdle. 

excerpted from the book “Hex Appeal.” copyright 2022 Gregory Lee White.

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Using Socks and Stockings in Spellwork and Hoodoo

Part of using ‘personal concerns’ in rootwork deals with using a person’s clothing to work magic on them. I most recently acquired volumes 3,4, and 5, of Harry Middleton Hyatt’s HOODOO CONJURATON WITCHCRAFT and ROOTWORK and they’ve become a goldmine of information that could have easily been long forgotten without his research and interviews.

In volume 5, there is an entire section on using a person’s sock and stockings for spellwork. Some examples are:



This takes HOT FOOTING someone to a whole other level. Taking someone’s dirty socks, washing them out, then bottling the water is also the act of collecting their sweat and skin particles. To me, this a great ingredient to mix with ingredients that are using in hot footing like cayenne, sulphur, black pepper, etc. For those who are still learning about Hoodoo, Hot foot powder is used in African American hoodoo folk magic to drive unwanted people away. It is a mixture of herbs and minerals, virtually always including chili powder, salt, pepper and chili flakes. Other ingredients, such as wasp’s nests, sulfur, and graveyard dirt are sometimes added. What I would do is take Hot Foot oil (we sell this on our Conjure Shop website) and mix it with this water which would create a bond directly connected to the person you are wanting to control. Another old method is to add Hot Foot ingredients to the water in which you wash someone’s socks so that even their clean socks are “fixed” to get them to go.

But the work you’re doing with this ‘sock water’ can also be used to help hold onto a lover or husband (or wife) that strays. Mix with a Return to Me oil and use in your spellwork to keep them from wanting to wander. One ritual mentioned is for a woman to take her husband’s socks and to wear them around her waist to keep him faithful. Or, a woman would nail her man’s left sock under the door’s threshold (door saddle) to keep him home. On a similar note: If you want your husband to stay at home, get a pair of his dirty socks and fold them towards you then bury under the porch steps.

This quote is from my book THE USE OF MAGICAL OILS IN HOODOO, PRAYER, AND SPELLWORK: “Take their left shoe and anoint the bottom of the shoes with RETURN TO ME oil, mainly towards the front of the shoe where the toes would be. Sift together equal parts of salt and pepper and drop them into the shoe. Stand at the front door and point the shoe inside (toes towards the inside of the house). Shake the salt and pepper inside the shoe as you walk towards the back door. Dump the contents out the back door. Salt and pepper the shoe two more times until you have performed this three times total, each time pointing into the house and shake out the contents out the back door. When you have finished, place both shoes back where you found them but make sure to point them in the same direction as if the person were walking into the front door. Finally, dress the threshold of the front door with your RETURN TO ME oil.”

One story out of Memphis, TN, tells to bury a woman’s stockings in a fruit jar to bring her back. This sounds like it has sweetening components to the spell with the use of a FRUIT JAR.

If you were wanting a lover to leave, wash his socks and bottle the water. Then take the bottle and throw it into running water, such as a river, to carry him away from you. Including hot foot oil or powder to this seems like it would give it quite a ‘kick.’

Other than the direction connection with a specific person, using a person’s socks or stockings deals mainly which which way they are WALKING. Are you trying to keep someone from walking out of your life, to keep them home? Or are you needing to convince that person the walk away and leave for good? Whatever way you choose to implement it, I think it’s genius to wash someone’s socks and bottle the water for magical work.