Cursed Objects and Haunted Relics

by Gail Z. Martin

“Look but don’t touch.”

If you ever find yourself in one of my fictional worlds, that’s good advice.

Personally, I blame my fascination with cursed and haunted objects on a childhood spent being dragged around to antique shows, flea markets, swap meets and used book stores. While my dad explored the cast-off treasures, I passed the time making up stories to amuse myself about the oddities and old items set out on display.

My imagination had plenty of fodder looking at old books in crumbling leather bindings, vintage clothing, antique personal items, even huge, working steam engines. Our house was littered with dad’s finds, from halberd axes and old-time bear traps under the eaves in the attic to big steam-driven engines from saw mills and factories that filled up our yard. It’s never been difficult for me to imagine the people who owned the items, to picture their lives and the circumstances that led them to buy the object or discard it.

It’s no real wonder that cursed and haunted objects turn up frequently in all of my book series. In my Deadly Curiosities dark urban fantasy series, my main character Cassidy Kincaide is a psychometric who can read the history and emotional resonance of objects by touching them. I don’t claim that kind of ability, but I’ve always been able to imagine what it would be like to know something about an object’s ‘experiences’ and previous owners on contact.

And on a darker note, to feel their pain, their loss, their madness and the turbulence of their lives by touching objects that accompanied them on their journey.

In my epic fantasy, I’ve used haunted swords, magical amulets and jewelry, crowns that convey kingship via magic as well as symbolism. Even in the Iron & Blood Steampunk series that I co-write with my husband, everyday objects like dolls, necklaces and other items become supernaturally dangerous either because of intentional spell work, intrinsic evil, or because they have ‘soaked up’ the disquieting experiences of their previous owners.

As I’ve browsed antique stores and yard sales over the years, I can think of instances when I instinctually gravitated toward some unremarkable items, and shied away from others. Perhaps it was just my imagination, but there have been pieces that I wouldn’t touch on a bet, that I did not want to make a connection with. When I browsed through a shop in New Hope/Lambertville that specialized in Victorian memento mori hair jewelry and death photography, I kept my hands clasped in front of me.

When we worked through my father’s collections after he died, there were a number of items that gave me or my husband ‘the creeps’–seriously bad vibes.  A psychic family friend singled out a few objects of dad’s collection he had no way to know even existed and advised us to remove them from the house because of their negative mojo. I can’t prove there was anything substantial to those warnings or my feelings, but I felt better being rid of the items, and I’ve learned to trust my gut.

The idea that the objects that we keep close to us throughout our lives, things we wear next to our skin and over our hearts, items that accompany through the poignant moments in our personal history might soak up some of our emotions doesn’t seem that far-fetched. It’s certainly a concept many other people have had throughout history, and the thought behind the lore of religious relics, sacred objects and protective amulets. Many–if not most–of the objects in my Deadly Curiosities series are based on pieces I inherited–and got rid of–from my dad’s collection. I’ve been up close and personal with the items. That made them a natural to work into my fiction.

So the next time you wander into an out of the way curio store or eye the offerings on a table at a flea market, pause before you reach out to pick up that tempting treasure. You might find that it comes with a dark–and unwelcome–supernatural something extra.

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