What Is Magical Binding?

A reef knot

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In the course of your magical studies, you may at some point hear someone use the word "binding" in reference to a spell or working. Typically, a magical binding is simply a spell or working that restrains someone metaphysically, preventing them from doing something. It is often used to keep the individual from causing harm to themselves or others.

Did You Know?

  • Magical binding doesn't have to be negative — it's often done in a positive context, to prevent someone from causing harm to themselves or others.
  • The ancient Greeks utilized binding, which they called katadesmos, often by creating curse tablets or spell tablets.
  • In 1941, a group of witches performed a binding spell to keep Adolf Hitler from invading England.

Some popular methods of binding include, but are not limited to:

Binding should not be confused with banishing, which is to send a person or thing away using magical methods.

Binding in Folk Magic

Granny Tackett over at Hoodoo Hill practices a form of American Folk Magic (and if you haven't explored her website at all, you really should). She says,

"Works that involve binding, banishing, cursing, & hexing scare off most people. Many believe that the effects will come back on them instead or at the same time it begins to take effect on its intended victim ... if someone has harmed you or yours in a very ugly manner, such as stolen from you, raped, attacked, caused great physical harm or death, then hell yeah, have at it! Use that energy to send back upon them that which they've inflicted on you & yours (and others you may not even know). These types of people deserve all they can get, mundane and conjured."

It's also important to note that binding can be a positive act, depending on the intent involved. For instance, in a handfasting ceremony, two people are bound together magically through the use of a symbolic cord.

During the medieval period, there are instances of practitioners binding spiritual power into a magical gemstone or piece of jewelry; this was a popular method of cursing people.

In some forms of folk magic, binding is used to keep ghosts and restless spirits from wandering out of their graveyards and pestering their neighbors or surviving family members.

Binding in the Ancient World

The Labors Of Hercules: Hercules Receiving The Garment Steeped In Nessus Blood
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Believe it or not, the idea of binding magic—despite it being a popular TV trope—really isn't that new. The ancient Greeks utilized this often enough that they had a word for it: katadesmos. When someone had done another person wrong, it was perfectly acceptable to create a spell tablet or curse tablet as part of a binding working. 

One famous story about binding magic is the tale of Hercules and his wife, Deianeira. Believing he had been unfaithful to her, Deianeira gave Hercules the gift of a tunic that had been soaked in the blood of the centaur Nessus. Unfortunately, the shirt also was covered in the venom of a Hydra, so when Hercules put it on, it began to burn his skin. To escape this horrible fate, Hercules built a fire and jumped into it, although one could argue that this was an equally awful death.

Christopher Faraone is a professor of classics at the University of Chicago, and author of Ancient Greek Love Magic (Harvard University Press, 1999). He says that the Greeks often invoked ghosts and spirits as part of their binding magic.

"The magical paraphernalia of Apuleius' witch and Martina, who allegedly attacked Germanicus, included tablets inscribed with strange letters or the victim's name. Archaeologists have found hundreds of these. The Greeks called them "curses that bind tight," and the late Latin term for them meant "curses that fix or fasten someone." To make such a "binding spell" one would inscribe the victim's name and a formula on a lead tablet, fold it up, often pierce it with a nail, and then deposit it in a grave or a well or a fountain, placing it in the realm of ghosts or underworld divinities who might be asked to enforce the spell."

To Bind or Not to Bind?

Some magical traditions have injunctions against manipulative magic, and binding would certainly fall into that category. However, many other belief systems have no such restriction. The use of binding magic is hardly new, and a few high-profile binding spells are part of our magical history. In 1941, a group of witches cast a spell to bind Adolf Hitler, in an effort to keep the German army from ever invading Great Britain.

The bottom line? If you're unsure whether you should perform a binding spell, follow the guidelines of your tradition.

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Wigington, Patti. "What Is Magical Binding?" Learn Religions, Sep. 3, 2021, learnreligions.com/what-is-magical-binding-2561870. Wigington, Patti. (2021, September 3). What Is Magical Binding? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-magical-binding-2561870 Wigington, Patti. "What Is Magical Binding?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-magical-binding-2561870 (accessed June 9, 2023).