an employee is putting magic curses on her coworkers

I’m on vacation this week, so here’s a reprint of one of my favorite letters of all time.

A reader writes:

I’ve recently been contacted by a supervisor in our company who has heard that one of his subordinates has been regularly “cursing” both him and his daughter (who also works for our company). By “cursing,” I don’t mean using foul language. I mean she considers herself something of a witch and has been literally putting curses on these people.

These people don’t generally put much stock in that sort of thing, but they are starting to get scared to work with this woman (especially the daughter). Not exactly sure how to approach the “witch”…. Suggestions?

I wrote back and asked for more details, because how could you not?

The additional information:

I work in HR for a school division. The problem is happening at one of my schools. There are four cleaning staff working at one school. The head janitor (Jeff), the assistant head janitor (Mandy), and two cleaners (Whitney and Roberta). Roberta is leaving, and I met with her today for an exit interview.

Mandy has, for whatever reasons, decided that she hates Jeff and Whitney. So she is bad-mouthing them to staff, bullying Roberta into “joining her” in her hatred and and maligning them to other staff. That, I can deal with. It has happened before and I have learned how to deal with workplace bullies and insecure people who feel the need to undermine the reputations of their peers in order to make themselves look better.

What I’m concerned about, and what was confirmed by Roberta during our interview, is this “curse.” My information is that Mandy said something along these lines: “When people make me angry, or cross me, I don’t worry because I have ways to get rid of them. And I’ve cursed them. I have a place in my house with candles and other items and I know how to do that.”

Jeff is thinking it is just silly, but Whitney is absolutely terrified. She’s looking up ways to ward off curses online and starting to consider going on sick leave because she is afraid to work with this woman. (To make it worse, both Jeff and Whitney got really sick and missed almost a full week of week approximately two weeks after Roberta said that Mandy “cursed” them, which adds to her fear!)

To me, regardless of whether or not she is Wiccan or a witch or practices voodoo or whatever she does, this is a bona fide threat against another employee. I honestly want to treat this pretty seriously, separate from the bullying issue. Thoughts?

I think that’s exactly right — it’s intended as a threat and that’s not acceptable.

Normally I’m a big fan of managers handling performance problems on their staff themselves rather than looking to HR to do it for them, but in this case, since she’s putting curses on her manager, I can see an argument for you having a one-time meeting with her and her manager and jointly laying down the law. (Of course, this may just get you added to the list of people she’s cursing, but black magic is one of many occupational hazards.)

Tell her clearly that it’s not acceptable to threaten to curse or otherwise harm anyone she works with, that threatening people with harm — regardless of the means — is grounds for termination, and that this is a one-time warning but if it happens again, you’ll let her go. And in this same conversation, you should also make it clear that badmouthing her coworkers to others isn’t acceptable either, and that she’s expected to behave professionally and pleasantly while she’s at work. Basically, this is the “your behavior is far over the bounds of what we will accept here, we take it seriously, and we’re going to have zero tolerance for it going forward” conversation.

And please don’t get caught up into some long series of warnings with her. Behaving this way is sufficiently unacceptable that it warrants only a single warning and then firing. In fact, frankly, if you’re 100% sure that the reports you’ve heard are true, I’d assume that you’re going to need to end up letting her go fairly soon, because good employees just don’t operate this way (and I’m talking here about all of the behavior, not just the curses), and I’m highly skeptical that she’s a stellar performer on every other front.

Meanwhile, I would start reading up on counter-spells, potions, and hexes, as you’re probably going to need them.

{ 100 comments… read them below }

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      In horribly bad taste, but I so want to make this joke…so I’ll ruin it by explanation, just to make sure that no one is actually taken in by it, even for a split second:

      No, tragically the OP suffered a freak accident, having been impaled by a 7-foot sewing needle shortly after writing to Alison…..

      1. 2 Cents*

        (laughing at your intended joke, not if something actually befell the OP)
        This is one of my favorite letters on AAM ever!

    2. Snark*

      I was a little concerned when I read this in the archives, because OP was really second-guessing themselves about how to react, and they needed their firin’ face on with this one.

  1. selina kyle*

    What an iconic letter. I want to know what happened next but there’s something wonderful in wondering about it too.

      1. WellRed*

        Or while driving from the bank after depositing a cash collection from cowerkers to help another into her personal acvount.

    1. Bitey Gobstopper Psycho*

      I’d rather like to see a book called “Occupational Hazards of Black Magic”. I’m torn between wanting it to be an urban fantasy novel and wanting an anthology of AAM stories that are truly bizarre.

  2. SC Anonibrarian*

    This is one of the letters I come back to when I feel like my own job is full of bonkers people. It’s just so perfect.

  3. Engineer Girl*

    I actually had someone in my life try this out nd of stuff! At first I was stunned. I took comfort in this verse from Proverbs 26:2
    “Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, a curse that is causeless does not alight.”

    It drives the other person crazy when you don’t react to them.

  4. Dawn*

    My sister used to walk around telling people she was a witch, it was comical cause everyone knew she was just bonkers. She also used to tell people she was part dragon. Luckily she mostly grew out of that, but she still insists she can manipulate the universe to her will.

  5. Jam Today*

    Just go re-watch the beginning of MOONSTRUCK, as Cher is seeing Danny Aiello off to Sicily. Next to her is a tiny old Italian lady in a mantilla who turns to her and says “My sister is on that plane. I put a curse on that plane that its gonna explode, burn on fire and fall into the sea!” Cher says “I don’t believe in curse.” The lady replies, wearily: “Neither do I.”

    1. DoctorateStrange*

      I was just thinking of that movie yesterday! Cher is so beautiful in it with her big dark curls. It makes me jealous of both my sisters’ curly hair. My younger sister in particular has that gorgeous Mother Gothel style of black curls. I was the only one out of the three to end up with waves instead.

  6. Temperance*

    I would be terrified to work with her, too, even though I wouldn’t believe in her power to “curse” me. Someone who actually believes that they have this power is both dangerous and unhinged.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I wouldn’t believe it either, but I’d worry that she would try to slip something into people’s food or drink. I have no problem with Wicca or Santeria or any other practice a person feels is right for them, but if they would try to intimidate their coworkers with it? That ain’t okay. It’s no different from threatening them with Hellfire and frankly, it makes them look a little batshit.

      1. Wicked Odd*

        Offline, a couple of us pagans are chatting about the rule of three. A witch cursing (threatening) a coworker and being fired for it is a pretty good example of that law in action!

    2. sam*

      It is, of course, less about what any of *us* believe, and more about what Mandy believes, and what her intent is. She clearly intends harm on her co-workers (whether or not she intends some sort of follow through action is another question). Roping in another co-worker is the quickest way for her “threats” to get back to everyone at work and create an atmosphere of fear and paranoia.

      (I mean, if she *just* had the hate shrine at home, didn’t tell her co-workers about it, and never acted on anything, that might be a different situation – that’s basically the religious version of everyone who anonymously vents about their boss in the comments section or on twitter).

    3. Wicked Odd*

      Someone who threatens coworkers is, sure — I’d want to stay far away from her. But religious and spiritual practices are complicated and diverse, and that’s why most sensible people don’t bring them into work.

    4. Witches Need Office Advice Too*

      Ennnh, I know plenty of people with that power (I hang out in witchy circles), and they’re neither dangerous nor unhinged. The worst of the lot are unpleasant and I dislike them, but that’s about it. A lot of witches believe that she who cannot hex cannot heal, so you learn both.

      There are plenty of annoying-as-fuck witchy/pagan types, but thankfully the genuinely unhinged and dangerous are few and far between.

  7. SallytooShort*

    I don’t know if printing this letter TWICE is such a good idea, Alison! If they see it you are sort of begging for a cursing, at this point.

    1. FeralCattz*

      It’s okay. I suspected the possibility that word might get around and Alison might get targeted so I threw around some chicken feathers and busted open a gourd. A crow cawed three times, so she safe now.


    1. Daffodil*

      Hah, that is awesome. A better writer than me needs to write a series about an HR manager tasked with untangling Shakespeare plots at their workplace.

  8. HannahS*

    Fun fact: it is a criminal offense in Canada to pretend to use or exercise any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration.

    The current federal government is in the practice of getting rid of this law, which also outlaws telling fortunes for money and pretending to be able find lost and stolen things due to “skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science.”

    So…until they get rid of it, if this happened in Canada, Mandy would be committing a criminal offence.

      1. King Friday XIII*

        Hey now, whether or not I conjure demons in my spare time in the privacy of my own home is nobody else’s business.

        1. AKchic*

          I think it should be. I have no idea if you can control what you conjure. Do you have your conjuring license? Insurance? Sam and Dean on speed dial?

          1. King Friday XIII*

            I have no idea if people can do stuff they purport to do all the time. I work in customer service and I don’t fully believe half my customers should be allowed to use their own computers. Doesn’t mean it should be illegal. XD

        1. Snark*

          I meant more the commercial aspect of fortune-telling and selling occult services. People can believe what they wish, of course, but people who use religion and the occult to con the desperate and/or not very smart – whether it be televangelists healing with the laying on of hands or phone psychics or anything in between – are frauds.

      2. Wicked Odd*

        I know quite a few witches, and none of their religious practices involve terrorizing co-workers. The problem here is not the religion, thanks.

      3. HannahS*

        In all seriousness, this law as it’s written is pretty bad. Now, in cases where it’s been applied–and that does happen, and has happened recently–it’s been in situations that I’d label spiritual abuse or fraud (“I heard from the spirit world that you’ve been cursed and you have to pay me $$$ to intercede on your behalf” “I know you committed a crime but if you give me $$$ I’ll get you divine protection and the police won’t find you”). But as written, since it’s not “witchcraft,” the same law wouldn’t apply to those awful televangelists who get the poorest, sickest, least educated, and most vulnerable Christians to send them endless amounts of “seed money,” and that really should be seen as equally wrong.

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          Yes, and I’d wager that fraud is already illegal; plus governments should not be in the business of arguing whether a religion’s spiritual practices are inherently fraudulent. You could make that argument for any religion, or all religions, or none of them, and nothing good will come out of trying to have that argument — especially if it ends with cherry picking which religions are “real” and which ones supposedly aren’t. As you say, it doesn’t matter WHICH religion is used as smoke and mirrors, fraud is fraud whether perpetrated by a christian minister or a medium.

      4. Chinook*

        Exactly. It isn’t like it is banning doing it, just pretending to. So, in order for you not to be convicted, she would have to prove that she is not a fraud by actually being successful at casting a spell. Then her actions would consist of uttering a threat to cause bodily harm.

        Though AKchic makes a good point about not necessarily being able to control your results. Unless you have the skill set of a Winchester or the abilities equal to Rowena, there is no guarantee one can control the damage done.

    1. Liane*

      You mean Harry Dresden couldn’t open an office in Canada?

      Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if this one won a poll of Favorite AAM Column. And Alison, please do the mug run. Or a shirt run. (Maybe with Wakeen’s Teapots, Ltd.?)

    2. nonegiven*

      >to be able find lost and stolen things

      I’m the appointed ‘finder’ in my house. Whatever it is will usually be found in plain sight. Maybe I’m a witch.

  9. Catabodua*

    I’ve dealt with this sort of nonsense before. I had a staff member who read palms. Never interfered with her work – she did it at lunch, but only people who were actually interested and approached her.

    An employee in a different department complained about her practicing witchcraft and demanded that she stop.

    Oh the back and forth with both of them claiming their religious rights to their side of the argument. The person who did the palm readings had lots of support, the person claiming it was witchcraft got made fun of and told to lighten up by the people who liked having their palms read.

    Eventually solved by making them go to lunch at different times. Out of sight, out of mind worked.

    I am so, so, so very glad I no longer supervise people.

    1. SallytooShort*

      I worked with someone who read palms and was super into astrology stuff years ago. When anyone had a baby she did the baby’s star chart and everything.

      She was a really, really nice woman so it was really just an odd quirk to most people. No drama came from it.

      1. Catabodua*

        This was a non-issue for years. The person who started complaining didn’t care about it until she switched churches and became more of a fundamentalist. Unfortunately everything became a crusade.

      2. kitryan*

        At a previous job the boss and some coworkers were into astrology and one would (with the boss’s approval) run off copies of a particular column each month and distribute it to everyone.
        It was odd but pretty innocuous. When I left that job, I gave the boss one of those blue and white ‘eye’ charms that are to ward off bad luck, to thank her for taking a chance on me a few years earlier.

        1. kitryan*

          Oh, also- no peacock feathers allowed in the work space (they’re bad luck in theater, the field we were in). One person had brought some in for a personal project she was doing after work and was told to remove them and not to bring them in again.

            1. kitryan*

              Owning them may also be bad luck, but having peacock feathers in the theater, in the theater’s work space or on the costume is indeed considered bad luck. The above story did happen and working in theater for many years, with a variety of people in a variety of states/locations, I can confirm that this is a commonly known superstition in that milieu.
              I did a quick google and can also confirm that the internet is also aware of this superstition as regards peacock feathers in the theater. Theater has lots of fun traditions and superstitions.

              1. TardyTardis*

                Although my husband had a peacock fan for a production of A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (he was drafted into being the eunuch because all the boys at the school he taught at found out what one was and refused to try out for it. My husband had already had a vasectomy at that time, and adored being it and the fan was to keep the other slaves cool and looking good for the block). The production almost failed because Pseudolis flunked algebra and there was some fast talking by the drama teacher, but it came off and turned out well. I still have a good picture of my husband being made up by the girls for the closing night, and it would make good blackmail material if he didn’t love it so. We’re talking glitter, mascara, you name it.

  10. Cochrane*

    The LW shouldn’t be handling this by themselves. I would escalate the matter to Professor Dumbledore immediately.

      1. TardyTardis*

        Snape would be even more effective, but alas, he too is indisposed (or faked his death and left for Jamaica, traditional resting place of retired spies in re Ian Fleming).

  11. Anoyneeemous for this*

    I actually did this myself.. Tagged along to the local botanica when a group of friends went to help choose the proper candle to help a budding relationship bud :-). Caught up in the wave, I got home with a purple St John the Conqueror candle, reputed to reflect evil where it came from. So I started getting home from work every night, thinking evil-reflecting thoughts of the two fundamentalists who were making my life hell, and lighting the candle for the evening, being reminded of reflected evil every time I saw it.

    This worked GREAT, and I cannot recommend the method enough. First, every time I ran into one of the offending parties I was seized by near-incontrollable snorts/guffaws, which made them think I was feeling much friendlier than I was, so they actually mellowed out some towards me. And then it got even better within a month or so. The jewish fundamentalist got a job at Competing Ivy League school, was neatly removed from my vicinity, and accessorily broke the heart of the Bad Boss who was supporting him so he too mellowed out towards me. The christian fundamentalist got pregnant, was ordered to bed for the next 6 months, segued into proper kinder-kuche-kitche permanent status. I was thrilled – both of them neatly and thoroughly removed, and both in a way that made them very happy so I didn’t need to feel guilty at all. I haven’t had occasion to do it again, but I’d totally recommend that solution. No need to actually believe anything :-).

    1. JanetM*

      Respectfully, “reflecting evil” is not the same as cursing, in much the same way that wearing bullet-proof armor is not the same as shooting. I am, however, very glad that it worked for you!

    2. Lizzy Lifting Drink*

      Just curious, what kind of candle would one choose for a budding relationship? Asking for a friend…

  12. AKchic*

    Look, us pagans still haven’t gotten a certain tangerine tyrant out of office, so I’m really sure that the cleaners haven’t managed to do so much as cause a split end to the badmouthed coworkers.

    However, the intent to cause harm is there, and intent is just as good as deed when it comes to a practitioner. Therefore, the practitioners have caused damage to themselves and have earned their comeuppance.

    I’d love to hear an update on this.

    1. Language Student*

      Although there *have* been groups of witches who have been cursing him. I’ve also heard of people doing protection spells and the like to protect certain demographics from him, too.

  13. DoctorateStrange*

    I’m a Catholic that practices witchcraft. My colleagues are absolutely great about it but I do try to keep my personal separate from the professional and don’t go too deep into it, unless asked. So, it already stands out to me what a ridiculous person this Mandy is.

    I have used a curse once, against a man that was harassing my friend. He was using his local celebrity status (he was a DJ) to get to her by having his little minions attack her on social media. It was draining for me to use but worth it. I would only use curses/hexes for serious situations and some curses that I’ve looked up come off as time-consuming to do, so reading about this person, I can only come to a few conclusions: she’s bratty and she’s exaggerating her own knowledge/skills. I mean, why would you waste time and energy over something quite petty?

    Even if she does genuinely believe herself to be Endora, she sounds more like a mean version of Aunt Clara.
    If Whitney is still upset over this situation, you can at least assure her that a witch out there thinks that Mandy is full of it. ;)

    1. Candi*

      Considering the effort some people have put in to being petty just on this site -yes, I believe they would devote their energies to something so small and ridiculous.

  14. Beaded Librarian*

    I saw the title before I read the post and my first thought was AGAIN?!?!?

    Glad to see it’s a repeat of a definite WTH letter.

  15. Ann Furthermore*

    While browsing through the mall with my daughter before Christmas, we went into a funky gift store that sells a little bit of everything, including an encyclopedia of witchcraft called “Wiccapedia,” which I thought was very clever. This reminded me of that. Heh.

  16. Anon for this*

    The last curse I worked (it’s not something I take lightly or do often) was on a former co-worker. Having exhausted other options, I felt it was appropriate. Man, it can feel so good to see mean, hurtful people get their comeuppance.

  17. Jadelyn*

    I’m a witch and pagan, and we had a coworker who was paranoid (about a bunch of stuff) and hated the rest of the team – she once confided in another employee (the new person she was trying to woo to her side before he learned not to trust her) that she’d gotten some powder from her aunt and sprinkled it around her desk to protect herself from my “black magic”.

    I mean, I hadn’t cursed her, but I was really tempted to after that. If someone’s going to give me the credit, I might as well enjoy doing the thing I’m getting blamed for. ^_^

      1. Language Student*

        Actually cursing someone for no real reason is way too much effort. If anything, making her *think* she’s been cursed would be much more entertaining, for much less effort.

      1. TardyTardis*

        All this reminds me of Nell Carter, saying, “honey, you is on your own!” in Modern Problems when faced with Chevy Chase levitating and all that.

  18. buttercup*

    This one’s my favorite, too! It’s absolutely hilarious – I had a laughing fit when I first read it.

  19. Candi*

    I remember reading in a couple of books that the true power of a curse is in the target knowing that it’s been cast.

    Just so sad that letting the target know means quite likely violating company policies on not threatening coworkers. (Not.) Power behind it or not, cursing a coworker out of spite is a nasty thing to do.

    Another thing I read is using magic in a deliberately malicious manner eventually destroys the caster. Maybe it happened in this case.

  20. WillowSunstar*

    I find it hard to believe that someone would be so dumb as to admit they were doing such a thing openly. How does someone think they aren’t going to get in some sort of trouble? But I guess this world has all types in it, including the work place.

  21. Richard*

    In reality, this is like getting pissed over someone praying for god to “open their eyes” to how horrible someone is to others. Instead of getting upset someone is casting curses; maybe find the reason why their boss and daughter deserve it?

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