"In her survey of folk medical systems in the United States, Dr. Loudell F. Snow found three core beliefs that set the stage for being hexed:

• the world is a hostile and dangerous place;
• the individual is liable to attack from external sources;
• the individual is helpless and has no internal resources to combat such attack but must depend on outside aid.

Snow found that these beliefs were widespread among groups as diverse as African Americans, the Pennsylvania Dutch, the Hutterites, the Amish, Appalachian whites, the Cajuns of Louisiana, Kansas farmers, Puerto Ricans in New York and the Midwest, and Mexican Americans. These beliefs were found from rural Florida through the Ozarks and from California to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

"If we look closely at these three beliefs, we can see why curses, hexes, and spells are inextricably linked with religion and, therefore, with prayer.

"The first core belief — that the world is hostile and dangerous — lies at the heart of many branches of Christianity. According to orthodox Christian doctrine, all of humanity is inherently blighted because of original sin and the fall, which pose the greatest danger of all. The second core belief — that we are liable to outside attack — is manifested in Christianity by the devil, in the constant lure of sin, and by the 'principalities and powers' that lurk everywhere. The third core belief — that we are utterly helpless and dependent on outside aid — is expressed in the idea that we must be redeemed by Christ to escape the problems posed by the core beliefs one and two.

"We can see, then, that hexing shares a common ontology with major features of the Christian faith. It is no wonder that hexing and religions keep such close company in our society and that both often involve prayer.

"Sometimes these connections are so stark that it is impossible to fail to recognize them. One of the most dramatic examples, as we've seen, was the black mass. This ritual, which was practiced by priests for centuries, involved cursing someone by saying mass over a wax image of the victim, placed on the altar, while praying to the devil."