The Boston Red Sox completed a spectacular September collapse early Thursday morning. In the span of a few minutes, the Red Sox blew a lead over the Baltimore Orioles in the ninth inning, and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Yankees in extra innings to steal Boston’s spot in the postseason. Bostonians thought the Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino with their 2004 World Series victory. According to the practitioners of black magic, can a curse ever come back?
Not usually, but this one may never have gone away in the first place. Winning the World Series or learning to love before the last petal falls from a rose are great ways to break a Hollywood spell. But real-world deliverers of curses don’t believe you can break free from a hex merely by overcoming it. Experts on Caribbean mysticism and witchcraft say the fact that the Red Sox have won two World Series championships in recent years doesn’t mean they’ve appeased the spirit of Babe Ruth or purified themselves of his influence. Sporadic signs of relief from a curse don’t imply a lasting cure.
How could the Sox break free, once and for all? It depends which religious tradition was the source of the curse. Adherents of Santería believe that angry or dissatisfied spirits cause many of our problems, although they wouldn’t use the term curse to describe them. (Perhaps Babe Ruth is still mad that the Red Sox owner sold him to fund a theater production.) It’s best either to appease the spirit through a ritual apology or offering, or to purify oneself with the help of a Santerían priest, or santero. The santero might smear coconut and honey on the suffering Red Sox players (or would it be their fans?), or shake their hands while spinning them in one direction, then the other.
Practitioners of Palo, another Caribbean religion with West African roots, sometimes take a more combative approach. Paleros maintain jars from which they can send out their own protective spirits to engage in warfare with the meddler. Red Sox fans might point to a 2004 game in which Manny Ramirez hit a long foul ball that bloodied the face of a teenage spectator who lived in Babe Ruth’s old house. But this probably wouldn’t qualify as a successful spiritual attack.
Curses are also part of Wicca, a neo-pagan religion. Few wiccans actually practice the cursing arts, because they believe curses tend to have negative effects on their issuers as well as on their targets. Nevertheless, some members of the faith do issue a curse here and there. The methods vary, but the basic idea is that focused thoughts and words can have an effect on the course of events. Their power can be strengthened if the ritual makes use of a lock of the victim’s hair, a photograph, or an article of clothing. (Some Wiccans are very careful to clean out the shower drain for this reason.) The curse can be reversed through a similar ritual—focused thoughts and words, paired with an object of significance to the sufferer.
Some believers in witchcraft think it’s possible to bring a curse upon oneself through hubris. If this is what happened to the Red Sox, they’re in trouble. The Explainer’s sources on the dark arts say the only way the Sox could break such a curse is to fundamentally change their identity—the name, the players, and even the team colors have to go.
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Explainer thanks Helen A. Berger of Brandeis University, Zsuzsanna E. Budapest of the Women’s Spirituality Movement and author of Grandmother Moon, and Kristina Wirtz of Western Michigan University.