Agnes Booth is dead. My cousin, Jessie, rang me last night from Ireland with the news. There was a shaky tearfulness in her voice and a question she didn’t dare ask.
Agnes Booth lived in Jessie’s village. She was an odd, shrivelled little person who you could imagine listening at keyholes and opening other people’s mail if it happened to land in her postbox by mistake.
She had long, silver-black hair she tied up in a chignon. It was quite an elegant style for rural Ireland, and with her penchant for chic black ensembles from the London high street and sometimes from Paris (I know this because my Aunt Nelly was a fashion buyer in the 1970s for a London boutique), she set herself miles apart from her more dowdy village contemporaries.
It was incongruous, seeing her shuffling to the shops, her tiny frame swathed in black silk. She rustled as she walked.
It was inevitable, really, that the local kids began to regard Agnes as a witch. The black silk and constant rustling certainly didn’t help. Neither did the fact that she lived alone in a house with a huge gate at the end of the garden. The gate squeaked, worse than nails on a chalkboard whenever it opened, and some of the neighbourhood kids took to saying: ‘The witch is nigh. The witch is nigh’ whenever they heard the squeak.
For many years Jessie, my other cousin, Aine, my sister Shelley and I believed Agnes Booth was in fact a witch. This was highlighted by what she did to Jessie; something which I believe has impacted on her to this day. Something that challenged the beliefs of all of us.
Agnes Booth cursed my cousin.
I know it sounds unbelievable, the stuff of fantasy, but she did it.
Jessie loved flowers, daisies in particular. Her nimble little fingers couldn’t help but pick them when she saw them, forming them into daisy chains that she would hang around her neck or weave into her hair. Agnes had Black-eyed Susans in her garden. I made a joke about them, saying they were children Agnes had turned into flowers, their eyes turned black with sorrow, warning Jessie not to pick them. I had seen Agnes out in the garden in the mornings, crooning to the Susans, as we called them. I could see how much she loved them and feared that if Jessie picked them there would be hell to pay.
A few days later as we were playing dress-ups in the garden, Jessie finished off her old bedsheet doubling as a Roman toga with a new necklace she had made. From Agnes Booth’s Susans. She had sneaked into the garden earlier that morning and picked a handful. What we didn’t know at the time was that in her haste to pick the Susans she had pulled several of the plants out by the roots and trampled a few others.
It wasn’t long before Agnes found out. She stormed into the garden. How she knew it was Jessie who picked the flowers, I will never know, but she knew and she was angry about it.
You hateful child, she shouted. You nasty, thieving little madam. You picked my flowers, the ones I love best.
She bared her teeth, they were pointed like a kitten’s. With a shaking, gnarled finger she spat out the words that made us all gasp aloud: I curse you for taking the things I love. For now and evermore the things you love will slip from your fingers, always out of reach. For now and evermore.
You can imagine how shocked we all were. Our ages ranged from 8 to 12. We were highly imaginative and quite superstitious. I remember clutching my chest after Agnes Booth rustled off, convinced I was having a heart attack from the shock. Shelley and Aine were crying, but it was Jessie who was the most affected. She was so pale and still I thought she had died where she stood.
Jessie believed she’d been cursed. We all did. But what the curse actually meant, we weren’t sure. ‘Is Jessie going to die?’ Shelley asked. ‘No, of course not, ‘ I replied. But as the cool afternoon breeze swept up from the Atlantic a sense of foreboding grew in me that stayed there for several days.
The jury is out on whether or not curses are real, but what is real is the power of suggestion that often accompanies a curse. How many stories have we read of people cursed – particularly when Voodoo is involved – who withered away and died? Is it the actual curse or the power of suggestion that does the damage?
Some curses are famous. The Kennedys were supposed to be cursed.
Blues guitarist, Robert Johnson.
The list goes on and on. These people experienced misfortune and a great deal of tragedy in their lives, but does that mean they were cursed?
Jessie is in her forties now. She has never been married. Has no children. She was almost married several times but the grooms to be either got cold feet or the relationships fell apart. She lost her brother a few years ago and a while back she was working overseas and her tenants burned her house down.
Despite this, I believe Jessie has had a good life. She is a highly respected doctor and has worked all over the world for the Red Cross and similar organisations. She has a beautiful new home and is quite well off. She has always seemed busy and fulfilled.
I was surprised to hear that she sometimes blamed any perceived bad luck on Agnes Booth and that more than thirty years later at the back of her mind she still wonders if she’s cursed.
After chatting for more than an hour Jessie still hadn’t asked me the question I know she wanted to ask. So I answered it anyway.
The curse will be broken now, I said. Now that she’s gone.
For Jessie’s sake, I hope I’m right.
*Image by MsCrys at DeviantART.
Is this true? If it is, spooky. And shivery. And sigh.
If it isn’t…well, all of the above. Which means that it is high time for me to–again–make my speech about sending stuff out. You are so GOOD.
Oh Sel, you floored me with this post. Again, your words float over me like a spring breeze, your imagery turns the page to Technicolor. I believe in the power of words — in this case dark — that do and can affect people, particularly children. I mean, abusive words last a lifetime, so why not those of a woman dressed in black supposed to be a witch? I do not mean to say Jessie created bad things — they happen to all of us — it’s in the retelling that we fall into the land of the cursed.
Oh yes, I do believe that the power of suggestion can affect people and the course of their lives. If you feel that you are cursed you will react to everything that happens in your life, with an expectation that the curse will prove to be true – push people away or whatever.
Let’s hope Jessie can now break free and hopefully find love if that is what she seeks.
Wonderfully written, Selma.
That’s my ?? too, is this true? I am fascinated by the topic of curses. what about voodoo? Is it mind over matter, an overactive imagination or a true power that some people have?
Great story Sel, whether it’s true or not.
Happy Weekend, G
Selma what an amazing story! You had me from the first line. I think curses can be real, I’m superstitious about most things and give them room to exist.
Now come on, everything I write is true 😉
Actually, Agnes did exist, she was a very cranky, miserable lady who chased a lot of the kids in the village. And she did curse Jessie over the flowers. What I left out of the story was that she was always cursing everyone. My grandmother told me it was her usual turn of phrase. If the paper boy delivered her paper late, she cursed him. If her meat was fatty, she cursed the butcher – and so on. The difference is that Jessie actually believed she’d been cursed, whereas the others didn’t. And even though we later learned of her propensity to dole out curses, we all thought that in Jessie’s case it had stuck. Was she cursed? I can’t say. But it sure makes for a good story…
I wonder if she realized the impact she had on all of you kids…
In a way, I felt this was actual a wonderful kind of tribute.
It’s true, isn’t it? The power often lies in the retelling. I don’t believe Jessie was cursed in the logical part of my brain. She hasn’t really had an excessive amount of misfortune in her life, but I do wonder if what Agnes said sat at the back of her mind all those years and subconsciously shaped her decisions. The mind is such a powerful tool. I don’t think we fully understand it yet!
It’s like visiting an astrologer or a psychic. I have had friends who were convinced what they were told in their readings would come true, but they didn’t, well, at least not in the way they expected. The power of suggestion is amazingly strong. In my third year of Psychology at Uni we did a lot of research on it and many times were able to convince our subjects of things that hadn’t really happened. I hope Jessie finds love too if that’s what she really wants. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.
I am so interested in Voodoo. The more I read about it, the more it scares me. Some of the well-known curses out there really make you think. You read all the stuff about it and it does seem as if the person was cursed. I guess we’ll never know, for sure.
My Irish family are so superstitious it just isn’t funny. Yet they are also deeply religious. I remember breaking a little hand mirror of my aunt’s when I was about 5 and she took me straight to the church to be blessed so I would avoid the 7 years bad luck. It freaked me out!
You know, you are actually right. She couldn’t have known the impact she had on us with her poorly-aimed curses, yet she remained significant to us for a number of years. In a way, this was a tribute to her. Thank you for seeing that because I hadn’t thought of it before!
Do you remember the so-called ‘zero curse?’ Every US President who took was inaugurated in a year ending with 0 dies in office … until Ronald Reagan (who survived an assassination attempt) and George W Bush.
I wonder how that curse got broken?
I don’t know that I believe in curses but I certainly believe in the power of suggestion. It’s like when people go to a clairvoyant…they tend to make things happen that were suggested as a fact or something that will happen in the future.
It was a great story as always. You really do have a gift my little mate.
That is so intriguing. I had forgotten about that. I wonder why Reagan and Bush managed to survive the curse. Maybe the Republicans were working a little hoodoo of their own!
The power of suggestion is certainly a force to be reckoned with. It can be easy to read something into what a clairvoyant says, for sure. Thanks for your kind words, hon!
I did a little research into the Tutankhamun dig of 1926 … and was intrigued how the death of anyone connected with it, no matter how much later, and from what cause, was attributed to the non-existent ‘Curse of the Pharaohs’
Isn’t there supposed to be some sort of curse on what actors refer to as ‘The Scottish Play’?
The Tutankhamun dig is particularly intriguing. A lot of people associated with the dig did die, but chances are they would have died anyway, yet their passing was attributed to the curse.
That good old Scottish play is another interesting one. I have always been curious about the origins of it. An actor friend of mine was in a local production of Macbeth about 5 years ago and I didn’t think the superstition would extend as far as Sydney but I was not allowed to say ‘Macbeth’ before opening night. Apparently, if anyone says it before opening night the entire season is cursed!
The power of the mind is really over the power of the curse, IMO. Reminds me of that FABULOUS line at the end of Labyrinth, “You have no power over me.”
Not that I don’t believe in evil spirits or that people can torture you – been there, done that. I still keep basil oil around for when I start smelling cigarette smoke in the house (I’m haunted by someone, but don’t know who & the smell drives me nuts – none of us smoke). But mostly it’s mind over matter (IMO), and if you need to shake a few leaves around and light a candle or two to shake off the heebie geebies, I say go for it.
Oooh, I wish you’d do a post about your haunting. Does the basil oil work? That is absolutely fascinating. That line is fantastic and I agree with you that the power of the mind could counteract the power of a curse any day. You’ve got me thinking now, Tex. I can feel a story brewing!