From the beginning of time, people have tried to gain control over their world. One way to achieve this was to ask various beings, with powers greater than humans, for help. Ancient peoples did this in formal and informal rites and rituals. Later peoples wrote their requests and expected results after doing a ritual.
Many cultures regarded writing as sacred. The Norse used their Runes for divination and for bind-spells. The Irish, Greeks, and Mayas had myths of how the Gods invented speech and gave humans the alphabet. The Egyptians were noted for their tomb writings, which were to help the dead achieve the afterlife.
One could say that the Ancient Egyptians practiced a form of petition magick. They had offering formulas inscribed to the Gods on the walls of their tombs. Petitioning various Gods for help was one way that an Egyptian could navigate through the underworld.
Later, the Greeks and Romans made petition magick into a high art. The Greeks scratched their victims’ names on lead or copper tablets along with a curse. Known as katadesmoi, these tablets were then burned or pierced with nails. Since many were addressed to various Chthonic Gods such as Hekate or Hades, the tablets were often thrown into wells or buried in the ground.
Meanwhile, Romans called their tablets: “tabulae defixiones”. The Latin word, “defixo” means the act of prayer, in essence consigning a written spell to the Gods. Like many cultures, the Romans differentiated between curses and healings in their spellwork. “Carmens” (charms) were encouraged and often incorporated into regular Roman rituals. (Whether a spell is good or bad is often in the eye of the beholder. Harm to one person could be a help to another.)
The Romans had petition spells for winning court cases, wooing lovers, cursing enemies, and retrieving stolen property. Their tablets were often addressed to Dis Pater (Hades) of the underworld, or to Saturnus Pater (Saturn). These lead tablets were often rolled up, and then thrown into a well, buried in a tomb or nailed to a tree.