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Archive for the tag “child witches”

Roman Pope speaks on African witchcraft and witch hunts

The Roman Pope, Benedict XVI, recently visited Angola, and expressed concern about the witch hunts that are taking place in some African countries.

Pope Calls for Conversion From Witchcraft in Africa – washingtonpost.com:

The pope began his day addressing Catholic clergymen and nuns, telling them to be missionaries to those Angolans ‘living in fear of spirits, of malign and threatening powers. In their bewilderment they end up even condemning street children and the elderly as alleged sorcerers.’

In Africa, some churchgoing Catholics also follow traditional animist religions and consult medicine men and diviners who are denounced by the church.

People accused of sorcery or of being possessed by evil powers sometimes are killed by fearful mobs.

The article is somewhad skimpy, and doesn’t report on what means, if any, Pope Benedict suggested should be used to deal with the problem, but it is good to know that there is concern about it at the highest levels in the Roman Catholic Church, which is probably the biggest single Christian body in Africa.

That’s not to say that others have not been concerned about it in the past, but many past responses have been ineffectual. The modernist response has been quite common among Christian churches — to assert, in the face of witchcraft beliefs and fear of evil spirits, that such things don’t exist at all, and that modern and enlightened people don’t believe in such primitive nonsense. Faced with that kind of response from the church leaders, people who fear witches and evil spirits conclude that the church is not equipped to cope with such problems, and so they resort to those who do claim to be competent to deal with them — diviners and medicine men, the so-called “witchdoctors”.

If Pope Benedict is urging church leaders to take the fears of such people seriously, and to help them to overcome them rather than despising them as primitive superstitions from the vantage point of a superior Enlightenment worldview, then that is to be welcomed.

But there is also the problem of some neopentecostal groups who, according to some reports, are actually fanning those fears into a flame, and thereby encouraging witch hunts and pointing the finger of suspicion even at children. That should be a matter of concern to all Christians in the continent.

Update

I’ve just found a link to the full text of Pope Benedict’s address here.

I believe this is a very important document for the Christian Church in Africa.

Saving Africa’s Witch Children

The disturbing new trend of witch-hunting, apparently sponsored by Neopentecostal Churches, continues to get publicity, but unfortunately the media reports are not very informative.

Channel 4 – News – Dispatches – Saving Africa’s Witch Children:

In some of the poorest parts of Nigeria, where evangelical religious fervour is combined with a belief in sorcery and black magic, many thousands of children are being blamed for catastrophes, death and famine – and branded witches by powerful pastors. These children are then abandoned, tortured, starved and murdered – all in the name of Jesus Christ.

This Dispatches Special follows the work of one Englishman, 29-year-old Gary Foxcroft, who has devoted his life to helping these desperate and vulnerable children. Gary’s charity, Stepping Stones Nigeria, raises funds to help Sam Itauma, who five years ago, rescued four children accused of witchcraft. He now struggles to care for over 150 in a makeshift shelter and school in the Niger Delta region called CRARN (Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network).

Is anyone doing any research into this phenomenon, on the origins and spread of these beliefs, and who is holding and propagating them?

Book review: The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-Hunting in the Western World – Scotsman.com

With such a broad subject as witch-hunting in the Western world, it is a pity that this book was not broadened still further to include the whole world.

Book review: The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-Hunting in the Western World – Scotsman.com:

Book review: The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-Hunting in the Western World

Published Date: 08 November 2008
By Germaine Greer
THE ENEMY WITHIN: 2,000 Years of Witch-Hunting in the Western World

By John Demos

Viking, 336pp, �17.99
JOHN DEMOS HAS BUILT A formidable reputation with his five scholarly books on early American history. His new book, The Enemy Within, is very different. Not only is it intended for a broad readership, but its putative subject, as indicated by the sub title, is no less than ‘2,000 years of witch-hunting in the western world.’ Demos tells us in his introduction that the plan for the book came from his publisher, but he does not really explain why he accepted the challenge. To paint so vast a picture requires a broader brush and rather more intellectual arrogance than Demos has at his disposal.

The review itself has come in for criticism. Letters – Witch Hunts – NYTimes.com:

I have not yet read John Demos’s new book on witch hunting (“The Enemy Within,” Oct. 12), but your reviewer, Germaine Greer, reveals an astonishing lack of up-to-date knowledge concerning a topic that has undergone a revolution among historical researchers over the last 40 years.

And I have a minor quibble of my own, when later in the review Greer says: Book review: The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-Hunting in the Western World – Scotsman.com:

This reader would have been intrigued to find out what Demos, with his in-depth understanding of the events in Salem, would have made of the judicial murder of Joan of Arc, whom the British would have tried as a witch if only Anne of Burgundy, Duchess of Bedford, deputed to examine her, had not testified that she was a virgin. Joan was tried as a heretic instead, found guilty and burnt alive at the age of 19. Like the teenagers in Salem, Joan could cite spectral evidence. Whether her voices would be classed as saints from heaven or goblins damned depended on her judges. The British burned her; 25 years later the French retried her and declared her saint and martyr.

Many of the female saints of the early church behaved in ways that in a different setting would have brought an accusation of witchcraft. Many had relationships with birds and beasts identical to those that witches were thought to have. The seventh-century saint Melangell, for example, sheltered a hare beneath her skirts as she knelt praying in a wood and when the following hounds caught up they fell back whining; later, witches would be thought to inhabit the bodies of hares.

Interesting stories, but rather spoilt by the anachronistic references to “the British” — it was the English, surely? The story of St Melangell is interesting, though rather tangential to the main topic. I’ve blogged about that elsewhere at SAFCEI: Saints and animals.

But to return to witch-hunting, I’d like to see more comparative studies between the Western world and elsewhere. Perhaps they will prove or disprove my hypothesis that witch-hunting seems to increase in societies where premodernity meets modernity, as in early modern Europe, and much of Africa at the present day. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been over influenced by the title of the collection of essays by Comaroff & Comaroff: Modernity and its malcontents: ritual and power in post-colonial Africa (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), ISBN: 0-226-11440-6, Dewey: 303.4, but the comparison is long overdue.

No more child witches in Congo?

clipped from www.bbc.co.uk
The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo is expected to vote shortly for new legislation that will make it a criminal offence to accuse a child of being a witch.
Many of the hundreds of children who are sleeping rough on the streets of the capital city Kinshasa have been accused of being witches. But is it possible to legislate against such deeply held beliefs and can such a law be enforced in a country that has been so fractured by war?

blog it

Whether the law can be enforced in such a fractured country is indeed a moot point, but so is the idea of these “deeply-held” beliefs.

These beliefs, to all accounts, appeared quite suddenly in recent history. Perhaps they could disappear just as suddenly. What we need to find is what it takes to make them disappear, and perhaps it could help to find what caused them to appear in the first place.

The DRC, like other African countries, has long had many people who believe that misfortunes are caused by witchcraft and sorcery. What appears to be new is the belief that these witches are young children, and that it is occurring on such a scale. Perhaps it is the very fractured nature of the society that is causing these beliefs to spread and be deeply held.

Hat-tip to What is witchcraft.

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