Add to bookbag
Title: Curse
Original Title: Maléfice
Volume and Page: Vol. 9 (1765), pp. 944–945
Author: Unknown
Translator: Steve Harris [San Francisco State University,]
Subject terms:
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

This text is protected by copyright and may be linked to without seeking permission. Please see for information on reproduction.

Citation (MLA): "Curse." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Steve Harris. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2007. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Maléfice," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 9. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): "Curse." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Steve Harris. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2007. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Maléfice," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 9:944–945 (Paris, 1765).

Maleficia. [1] A type of magic or witchcraft. See Magic or Witchcraft.

That which is called an evil spell or fascination is not baseless. There are in this regard an infinite number of examples and stories that cannot be rejected out of hand, since they don’t fit with understanding of the world. One can even find some support for them in science. See Fascination [Fascination (Medicine), Fascination (Divination. Necromancy)].

All living beings that we know of emit secretions; some by breathing, some from the pores of their skin. Thus, all bodies found in the range of these secretions can be affected thereby in one manner or another according to the nature of the matter exhaled and to such degree according to the relative proximity of those parts of the body which emit the secretions and those which receive them. See Écoulement.

It is incontrovertible, and there is no need to show examples, that animals emit good or bad odors or instances of contagious communicable diseases by these types of secretions, etc. Of all the parts of an animal’s body, the eye appears to be that which has the most liveliness. It is mute in effect with the greatest lightness and in all sorts of ways. Besides its membranes and humors are also more permeable than any other part of the body, seeing the sun light which it receives in such great abundance. Thus, there is no doubt that the eye emits secretions more than the other parts. The subtle humors of this organ must be continually exhaled, the heat of the rays which penetrate them also weaken and thin them; those which are joined with the subtle liquid or with the spirits of the neighboring optical nerve (which the proximity of the brain furnishes in abundance), must create a source of volatile material which the eye will distribute and, so to say, determine. We thus have here the ability and the means to strike; the ability has force and violence and the means have the necessary speed and activity; thus, it is no surprise if their effects are quick and great.

We think of the eye as a sling capable of the most immediate and rapid movements and vibrations, and through which we have communication with the source of matter such as the nerve juices which work in the brain; matter so subtle and penetrating that it is believed to instantly run across the solid bodies of the nerves and at times so active and powerful that it twitches the nerves, jerks the limbs and changes the whole posture of the body, in giving movement and action to an otherwise inert and heavy mass of matter.

One aspect of this type of piercing by a machine such as the eye is that it must affect everything it strikes and the effect will be more or less great according to the distance and power of the eye, the quality, subtlety and acuteness of the senses and the delicacy or coarseness of the object struck.

By this theory one can, to my mind, make sense of some of the phenomena of evil spells and particularly of those called fascination . It is certain that the eye was always regarded as the principal seat, or, rather, the organ of evil spells , although most of those who have written or spoken of it don’t know why. Evil spells are attributed to the eye, but without imagining how it creates this effect. Thus, according to some, to have an evil eye is the same thing as to be given to cursing : from which we get the shepherd’s phrase from Virgil:

Nescio quis teneros oculus mihi fascinat agnos . [I don’t know what evil eye bewitches my lambs.]

Moreover, aged and bilious people are those who are ordinarily believed to have the ability to cast evil spells , because their nerve juices are depraved by their defective humors which are irritated, making them stronger and of an evil nature. This is why young people and, above all, children are often affected, since their pores are more open, their juices less formed and the fibers of their bodies more delicate and sensitive: also the evil spell of which Virgil spoke only affected the young lambs.

Finally, an evil spell is sent only by someone who is irritated, provoked or otherwise unhappy, because it requires an extraordinary effort and a strong emotion to project a sufficient quantity of secretions, with a violence capable of producing results over some distance. It is incontestable that the eyes have an extraordinary power. The ancient philosophers were certain that the basilisk and the opoblepa could kill other animals with just a look. You can believe this if you want, but a modern author swears to have seen a mouse running around a fat toad who was fixated on the mouse with his mouth agape. The mouse ran smaller and smaller circles around the toad and during that time cried as if it had been forced closer and closer to the side of the reptile. Finally, notwithstanding the great resistance which it appeared to make, the mouse entered the toad’s gaping mouth and was soon swallowed. A grass snake then did the same to the toad.

A scientist reported a similar experience. He put a fat toad under a container in order to see how it would live without any food and he observed it every day. One day, while staring at the animal, the inflated toad fixed his own eyes on those of his observer, whose sight became troubled and he eventually passed out. Who has never seen a lying dog and the effects of his eye on a partridge, when once the eyes of the poor bird encounter those of the dog, the partridge stops, appears all upset, forgets to protect itself and is easily taken? I remember having read of a dog which fixated on some squirrels in a tree. They stopped, stupefied, and fell into his maw.

It is easy to see that man is unprotected from similar effects. There are few people who have not seen some effects of an eye which is angry, fiery, imposing, disdainful, leering or begging. These types of results can come only from the different emanations of the eye and are a type of evil spell . This is all the sense that a bad philosophy can make of this.

By evil spell , demonographers mean a type of magic by which someone, by means of a demon, causes evil to another. Beside fascination, of which we have spoken earlier, there are several other types, such as infusions or bindings, those which are given in a potion or a dish, those which are transmitted by air, of which most can be related to poison; as a result of which, when this type of crime is found, the judges condemn the guilty to a painful penalty and the sentence always characterizes it as “for poisoning and casting an evil spell .” See Ligature, Philtre, etc.


1. [This unsigned article is derived almost in its entirety from Chambers’ Cyclopedia (London, 1728). See .]