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More Than Mummies: A Brief History of Curses

Tutankhamen's Coffin in Egyptian Museum in Cairo
le a Orhan Cam/Shutterstock

If you’ve ever had a multitude of bad things happen to you in rapid succession, you may have questioned whether you’re cursed. While it’s more likely coincidence, the idea of being cursed has been around for centuries.

What Is a Curse?

Among the various definitions of a curse from Meriam-Webster, the curse as an invocation or a prayer said that is meant to bring harm to the person it’s spoken to, or their family and future relatives are the most basic you’ll find (and is also common in movies and books).

People and families aren’t the only things believed to be cursed. Curses can be placed on objects, including homes, and even places. The eeriest thing about curses is that there’s no definitive proof that they’re real, but if you’ve ever felt like someone put a curse on you, you know that it sure feels real.

To get an idea of how curses work, I highly recommend the movie ‘Drag me To Hell,’ but only if you’re a fan of horror movies. In this film, an old Romani woman puts a curse on the main character and all sorts fo weird things happen to her while she tries to lift the curse.

If you watch vampire and werewolf movies, you’ve heard all about curses. In the tales of these fictional beasts, their vampirism and lycanthropy are often believed to be a curse on them.

The First Curses

Curses date back to the beginnings of religion and beliefs in gods. In Ancient Egypt, rumors have gone around about cursed mummies and tombs with curses carved into the walls. During the witch trials in England and America, people claimed those they were accused of witchcraft put hexes on them (another word for a curse).

Talismans have been created to ward off curses because people believe that curses are real. Nowadays, as well as in the past, you can go to witches, shamans, and other religious leaders to get help removing hexes and curses.

Let’s get back to those Ancient Egyptians, though. They can probably be dated back as one of the first places where curses were first discovered. It wasn’t until 1922 that we, in modern times, discovered King Tut’s tomb and the Curse of the Pharoah.

Why is Tut’s tomb thought to be cursed? Much like most curses, things happened that seemed mysterious, following the opening of the tomb. The man who financed the search for the tomb died the year after it was discovered (and it was rumored to be a “mysterious” death, but the man had been ill for a while before financing the expedition). Others who had been some part of the search also died unexpectedly, leaving folks to wonder if each death was part of the curse.

Other Famous Curses

King Tut isn’t the only person, place, or thing out there harboring a curse. You’ve possibly heard of some of these following famous curses, and some may be new to you.

The Hope Diamond

One would surely think that a beautiful necklace adorned with a 45.52-carat diamond would be lucky, but that’s not so when you’re speaking of the Hope Diamond. Often stolen, and it’s holders ending up dying untimely deaths, the beautiful diamond is believed to be cursed.

Some of the most famous people affected by this sparkling curse include King Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette, both of whom were beheaded. The diamond was often stolen, and the thieves met with early deaths as well.

The Ice Man Curse

Not all cursed mummies come from fancy tombs in Egypt. One mummy that has been blamed for cursing people is that of a frozen natural mummy discovered in the Ötztal Alps (which is where his nickname comes from), between Italy and Austria. The mummy had an arrowhead in the left shoulder, leading people to believe he’d been murdered—maybe that’s why he’s cursed.

Ötzi was found in 1991, and following his discovery, seven of the scientists who worked on the removal and examination of this stone-age man have died. Four of those deaths were accidental.

The Tecumseh Curse

Also referred to as the Curse of Tippecanoe, it’s said that Shawnee warrior chief Tecumseh, known for working to get Native American tribes together to fight against the United States. He even fought on the side of the British in the War of 1812.

Part of his fighting tacted is believed to be the cursing of William Henry Harrison. The curse was placed after Harrison’s troops won at the Battle of Tippecanoe. One month into his stint in office as the President, Harrison died of pneumonia, and every twenty years, the person sitting as president at the time died in office.

Eight presidents have died in office. They didn’t all die exactly twenty years apart, but six of those deaths following Harrison’s did follow the “every two decades” timeline. In 1981, when President Ronald Reagan survived an attempted assassination, many believed the curse was broken.

The Superman Curse

Some people believe that there is a curse on the men who played Superman because four former “men of steel” died or had freak accidents. However, there have been plenty of actors donning the red and blue caped suit who have lived happy lives since people questioned whether they were a bird or a plane. Then again, others having some role in Superman in the world of entertainment are said to have been cursed as well.

The first Superman to face the curse was Kirk Alyn, who starred in a couple of lowe-budget Superman movies in the 40s, and then couldn’t find work again because he’d played the superhero. George Reeves donned the cape in the 50s and died of suicide in 1959. The thing is, his fingerprints weren’t found on the gun that inflicted his death.

Christopher Reeve wore the cape in four movies, and then fell from a horse eight years after the final Superman movie and ended up paralyzed. He lived for nine years after his accident, but some believe his death was suspect and caused by an adverse reaction to his prescriptions.

The final Superman to die was Lee Quigley. He played the baby Superman that would grow up to be Christopher Reeve in the 1978 film. Quigley was only 14 years olf when he died in 1991 from solvent abuse.

Curse on the Kennedy Family

The Kennedy family has been plagued with tragedies for many years. While some people believe the curse on this famous family began with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, but there were already a few tragic deaths in the family before that one.

The most notable losses, however, do start with the gunshot wound to President Kennedy in 1963, followed by the death of his brother Robert in 1968 (he was also shot). The death continued, and even those who didn’t die tragic deaths, the curse still lingered.

In 1969, another brother of Jack’s, Edward (usually going by Ted), found himself amid a conspiracy. A woman was found dead in Ted’s car in the waters around Chappaquiddick Island. The death of Mary Jo Kopechne is still somewhat of a mystery and ruined Ted Kennedy’s hopes for a presidency.

The tragedy continues to this day with the drowning deaths of Robert F. Kennedy’s granddaughter and her young son. Both went missing while on a canoe trip on the Chesapeake Bay. Maeve Kennedy McKean’s body was found on April 6, 2020, and her son’s body was found two days later.

Some would say that curses only have an effect on you if you believe in them, and maybe all of the stories above can be attributed to coincidence. Whatever the case may be, curses are frightening.


Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »