Curse Tablets

Here is an extraordinary item from Highways & Byways on Yorkshire, as it raises a lot of questions as to its origins:

At Gretna Bridge not many years ago was found a pair of tablets which illustrate so luridly the manner in which the hate of families found vent,… Two leaden plates were dug out from a heap of stones on Fatherly Moor. They were carved with planetary signs and with the following inscriptions:-

‘I doe make this that James Phillip, John Phillip0 his son, Christopher Phillip and Thomas Phillip, his sons, shall flee Richmondshire, and nothing prosper with any of them in Richmondshire.’ and on the other was this even more comprehensive aspiration:

‘I doe make this that the father, James Phillip, John Phillip, Arthur Phillip, and all the issue of them shall come presently to utter beggary and nothing joy or prosper with them in Richmondshire.’

This family of Phillip was one of property and standing. In the early days of Queen Elizabeth they held an estate at Brignall, up the stream, and the owner of the land, who is given the place of honour in the evil wish recorded on the tablets. John Phillip, who made the spell, appears to be the representative of an elder branch which had by some means been dispossessed by a younger one; and failing other remedies he took this dark way of avenging himself. It is easy t smile at the folly that supposes a few scratches on a plat of lead have any power to control events. But is there anyone who would not feel some qualm of horror on discovering that a curse so awful had been levelled at himself? It is perhaps a mere coincidence that the fate invoked by John Phillip did indeed descend upon the family he cursed. All the male descendants named upon the late died without issue; and the name of Phillip0 ceased to be known in Richmondshire.

The author goes on to ponder how widespread were such curses and how widespread were disputes in these regions. But there is another aspect to this that anyone who has visited the thermal baths at Bath in Somerset, where they have found a large number of these curse tablets, also on lead, and deposited in the sacred spring.

The Romans had been in Yorkshire, but they and their culture had long gone by the time these tablets were written. So, does this mean the knowledge and practice continued amongst locals for centuries, or had it been re-imported by travellers to Italy -early Grand Tourists – at such an early date? Intriguing.

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