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Archive for the tag “witchcraft”

Juju outshines the sun

I was rather puzzled by the sudden popularity of a post on my other blog: Zuma witchcraft story goes viral in right-wing media | Khanya. Lots of people seemed to be finding my blog using search terms like “Zuma” and “witchcraft”. So what were the evil right-wing media up to now? The Daily Sun is notorious for its stories of witches, zombies, tokoloshes and the like, and, to judge by their sales, people love reading about such things.

Mermaids allegedly found in President |uma's swimming pool

Mermaids allegedly found in President Zuma’s swimming pool

So I did my own search on the search terms that people were using to find my blog, and found that this time it wasn’t the right, but the left — Julius Malema was apparently accusing President Zuma of practising witchcraft by having mermaids in his swimming pool! Who would have thought that Julius Malema would outshine the Daily Sun?

A quick Google search reveals that this story does not seem to have hit the mainstream media yet, not even the Daily Sun, or the UK Daily Mail, but it nevertheless seems to have stirred up enough public interest to promote a significant increase in traffic to my blog.

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Where child sacrifice is a business

A few years ago there was quite a lot of publicity in the media about allegations of “ritual abuse”, especially of children, and the general conclusion seemed to be that this was an urban legend cooked up by religious crazies, and that had been completely debunked. Nevertheless there have continued to be reports of ritual murder in various parts of the world.

Now (hat tip to The Pittsford Perennialist: In Defense of Witch Trials) it seems that they are focusing on Uganda: BBC News – Where child sacrifice is a business:

The villages and farming communities that surround Uganda’s capital, Kampala, are gripped by fear.

Schoolchildren are closely watched by teachers and parents as they make their way home from school. In playgrounds and on the roadside are posters warning of the danger of abduction by witch doctors for the purpose of child sacrifice.

The ritual, which some believe brings wealth and good health, was almost unheard of in the country until about three years ago, but it has re-emerged, seemingly alongside a boom in the country’s economy.

The report, however, is slightly misleading, with its mention of “witchdoctors”.

Witchdoctors are those whose job is to counter witchcraft, not to practise it.

Witchdoctors who engage in such activities are like policemen who take part in bank robberies and vehicle hijackings — they find it more lucrative to practise crime than to catch criminals. We should be careful not to give the impression that those are part of the job description.

I would also take issue with The Pittsford Perrennialist on the question of witch trials. The witch trials of the Great European Witchhunt were largely based on false accusations, made for the same reasons as those engagecd in child sacrifice in Uganda and other places today — greed and covetousness. The accused were accused of Satanism, but the accusers were actually far more satanic, because the main characteristic of the satan in Christian theology is the making of false accusations.

For more on witch trials, witch hunts and witchcraft accusations, see my article on Christian Responses to Witchcraft and Sorcery.

In addition to revelations about child sacrifice in Uganda, there is also the news that the US is now sending troops to Uganda. Perhaps it has something to do with allAfrica.com: Uganda: Scramble for Minerals Begins:

The revelations come shortly after an aerial survey report confirmed that Uganda is endowed with copper, iron ore, cobalt, tin, gold as well as platinum.

There is anticipation for Foreign Direct Investment in the mineral exploration sector in the Great Lakes region as China looks for raw materials to oil its growing economy.

China’s entry into Africa is seen as catalyst for renewed interest in Africa by the European Union and US to undermine China’s emerging influence due its non-political interference policy on investments in Africa and the potential for monopoly access to energy and mineral resources.

Another hat-tip to The Pittsford Perennialist: Another War?.

Google bewitched?

A few weeks ago a book I contributed to was published. It is on African Initiatives in Healing Ministry, and it was published by Unisa Press.

The marketing department of the publishers are supposed to place a web page for the book on their site, to say what the book is about, explain how to order it and so on. I wanted to see if they had done so, so that I could refer to that page when I wrote to people who might be interested in buying it.

The quickest way to see if the page was up, I thought, was to Google for the title of the book. So I did that. And what did Google come up with?

This.

Powerful witchcraft Spell
http://www.profzamba.co.za
Extremely Powerful Spells, Love Money, Revenge, 082 257 2395

Extreme Spiritual Healing
http://www.extremespiritualhealing.co.za
+27 73 476 3119 Love, Good Luck spells and more
Voted #1 Spell Caster

http://www.3witches.co.za
Call the most powerful spell caster today ..Dr Kubo +2776 53 74611

I suspect that someone must have cast a very powerful spell on Google to get it to return that as the top three results on a search for “African initiatives in healing ministry”.

People who are looking for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) need look no further. Don’t call an “SEO consultant”, call a witch.

Nollywood Effect: Witchcraft goes mainstream in Uganda

Last night as I was going to fetch my son from work I heard on the 10 o’clock news that some witchdoctors had been arrested in Uganda for killing Albinos and exporting their body parts to Tanzania for use as muti.

Though the source was given as the BBC, a search of Google news this morning found nothing of that, but I did find this: The East African�- Nollywood Effect: Witchcraft goes mainstream in Uganda:

One of the more dramatic stories that closed the month of March was the arrest of a witchdoctor in Entebbe.

Witchdoctors have been much in the news in Uganda recently over ritual murders of infants.

They claim to use the bodies of “pure” people, in this case children, to channel wealth to their clients.

They are thus as bad as the fellows in Tanzania who are driving the hunting of albino people by claiming that their body parts can help you grow rich if treated in certain ways.

This Entebbe witchdoctor was not as violent as the above types.

But he was as big as shame to the nation as the Australian lecher who fathered many kids with his confined daughter.

The last bit shows that some Kenyans confuse Austria with Australia as easily as some Brits confuse Tanzania and Tasmania, but that is not the point of my repeating this story.

These events in East Africa seem to be similar to the use of zvikwambo in Zimbabwe. Zvikwambo (singular chikwambo) are magical objects one can buy from a n’anga (traditional healer), which are supposed to make one rich. They are often made of human body parts. The purchaser of a chikwambo is usually urged to keep it secret, even from other members of the family, and it demands sacrifices for its continued efficacy. The demands become more and more onerous, and sometimes include human sacrifice.

An important aspect of Christian healing ministry in Zimbabwe is releasing people from the power and demands of zvikwambo. I recently co-authored a book on African initiatives in healing ministry, which is soon to be published by Unisa Press. One of the co-authors, Lilian Dube, of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Zimbabwe, did research on Agnes Majecha, a healer of the Zvikomborero Apostolic Faith Church, who specialises in neutralising zvikwambo. It is mainly African Independent Churches (AICs) that undertake this kind of ministry, and people have visited Majecha at her healing centre in Marondera from as far afield as Botswana and South Africa.

Muti murders also take place in South Africa, usually for similar motives — the desire to get rich quick. These are sometimes reported by the media, but often the reporting is confined to sensationalised stories about complaints, and possibly arrests, but very little is reported on subsequent trials, if any. One exception was a case in Tshwane a few years ago, when a four-year-old child went missing. The story of her disappearance and the subsequent search made headlines, as did the discovery of her mutilated body. A police sniffer dog detected her remains in the wall of a hairdressing salon — they had been incorporated to make the business prosper. In that case there was some reporting of the trial, but generally there isn’t. There were some sensational arrests in the Eastern Cape last year, but so far there have been no reports of a trial.

Sometimes people in the West look down on African culture, and point to such things as indications that African culture is inferior to Western culture. However the recent bailouts of Western companies with “toxic assets” resemble nothing so much as the sacrifices offered to appease zvikwambo, only on a far bigger scale. But where is the Agnes Majecha in Europe or the USA to deliver them from this mess?

And at the root of it all is one human passion — greed.

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.

Muti murders and ritual killing

The Daily Dispatch has a good article on the growing number of muti and ritual murders.

Daily Dispatch Online:

THE use of human body parts for medicinal purposes – “muti”, derived from the word meaning tree – is based in the belief that it is possible to appropriate the life force of one person through its literal consumption of another. Medicine, or muti, murder appears in several countries across Africa, with ethnographic evidence going back to the early nineteenth century in South Africa. Research indicates that an estimated 80 percent of South Africans regularly use traditional herbs and medicines for muti.

Not all traditional healers make use of human body parts as an ingredient in their medicines, but those who do place an “order” with a person hired for this specialist purpose. The orders include private parts, tongues, hands, heads, eyes and lips which are used to ensure economic prosperity, sexual potency and to promote romantic matters amongst others.

These are the type of self-centred motives that leads to murder.

The use of human body matter does, however, not always involve killing. F or example, a living person’s nail clippings or hair cuttings may secretly be collected by a jealous neighbour or friend and used in potions targeted against that person. Body parts can also be harvested from corpses, with mortuary workers and hospital staff implicated in this aspect of the trade.

Lest this be thought to be a problem related only to African culture and African traditional medicine, the following report indicates that Western medicine also suffers from this kind of abuse:

News – Crime & Courts: Spotlight on organ transplant scandal:

A decision is to be made this week on who is to be prosecuted in the alleged international kidney transplant trafficking scandal which allegedly involved St Augustine s Hospital and eight KwaZulu-Natal doctors specialists and staff.

And a decision will also be made on what the proposed charges ‘the participants’ should respond to said Advocate Robin Palmer a law professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal who has been called in to prosecute the case.

Charges were provisionally withdrawn two years ago against the doctors and Netcare transplant unit staff to allow the State time for further investigations.

Harvesting organs in this manner, whether for African traditional medicine or Western scientific medicine, turns healing into a zero-sum game, in which the health of one person can only be improved at the cost of the health of another.

More on child witches in Africa

The UK Channel 4 programme on child “witches” in Africa broadcast last week has reignited debate on the topic. I keep a database of African independent churches and church leaders, to try to build up a coherent picture of African Christianity, but the media reports on this phenomenon, which has been reported mainly from Nigeria, the DRC and Angola, usually raise more questions than they answer.

According to Tracy McVeigh of “The Guardian” (9-Dec-2007) “it is American and Scottish Pentecostal and evangelical missionaries of the past 50 years who have shaped these fanatical beliefs”.

What I would like to know is which American and Scottish missionaries these were. What are their names, their background? Who sent them to Nigeria, and when? Which denominaations and mission agencies sponsored them? What was the source of their teaching, and how did they influence those who are propagating these beliefs in Nigeria today?

These seem to me to be very important questions for missiologists and church historians to be asking. We have international academic discussion forums for researchers on African Independent Churches and New Religious Movements, but if anyone is doing research into those topics they aren’t saying. Possibly some sociologists have been doing research into it, but if they have, I haven’t heard of it. An interdisciplinary study would be useful.

In the absence of such studies, all one can do is try to read between the lines of the newspaper reports and try to guess what is going on.

According to some reports this phenomenon — accusing children of being witches — did not exist in Congo (DRC) in 1994, but it was common in 1999.

One of the denominations reported to be most active in witch hunting is the Liberty Gospel Church, founded in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria in 1992 by Helen Ukpabio, a former nurse.

She has apparently said that if children cry a lot and are fretful it is a sign that they are witches. Now I’m not a fundi on Nigerian witchcraft beliefs, but I do know that in most parts of Africa if a child is ill and feverish and cries a lot people may suspect that the child has been bewitched. Witchcraft has often been seen as a cause of illness. But it seems that Ukpabio has reversed this, and instead of seeing these as symptoms that a child is a victim, she teaches that it a sign that the child is a perpetator of witchcraft.

Maybe there is some precedent for this kind of thing in Nigerian culture — if there is, I hope someone will enlighten me. But it seems to me like a new twist on the “blame the victim” game.

And if Helen Ukpabio and others like her really got their theology from American and Scottish pentecostal and evangelical missionaries, it might be quite important to know which ones. I think it may, however, be a bit more complex than this.

In Central and West Africa there seems to be a growing interest in exorcism; though such beliefs may have been around for a long time they seem to be growing stronger. Many clergy seem to have specialised in it. I met a student at the Orthodox seminary in Nairobi who had been a Roman Catholic and gathered a congregation of about 500 people in Douala, Cameroun, who had mainly been attracted by his ministry of exorcism. He became Orthodox when the Roman Catholic bishop sought to inhibit his ministry of exorcism, which he continued with the blessing of the local Orthodox bishop.

Another student at the seminary, who was from the English-speaking northern part of Cameroun, had become a Rosicrucian at the age of 16, and had tried an amazing number of religions, including Wicca and Ekankar, before settling on Hinduism, which he studied for some time under a guru in India. On returning to Cameroun he was told by his spirit guides to worship the Triune God, and walked into town and the first Christian Church he came across was the Orthodox Cathedral, so he decided to join the Orthodox Church. But at the seminary he believed that the teaching staff were withholding important information from the students, such as which variety of incense was best for driving out which kinds of demons.

But there is also the possibility that the excesses of people like Helen Ukpabio could actually kill off African witchcraft beliefs altogether.

Something similar happened in the great European witch craze in the 16th and 17th centuries. In early modern Europe there was, in some places, a great increase in witchhunting and witchcraft accusations. As time passed, however, the accusations and the beliefs about witchcraft became more and more bizarre and over-the-top, until people could simply no longer believe them, and eventually the entire belief system crumbled under its own weight. Perhaps Ukpabio’s teachings are a sign that this is beginning to happen 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.

The Times – Military believe judge was ‘bewitched’

The case of a military judge who has claimed that she was bewitched has really set the cat among the pigeons.

The Times – Military believe judge was ‘bewitched’:

A Senior military judge has escaped prosecution for attempting suicide because some of the SA National Defence Force’s top brass allegedly believed her claim that she had been bewitched.

The defence force’s first black female judge, Colonel Phildah Nomoyi, 41, doused herself with petrol and set herself alight in her garage in June.

Now Thaba Tshwane — the military complex in Pretoria that is home to thousands of personnel from privates to generals — is buzzing with gossip about how Nomoyi escaped being booted from the force.

Not only is the unfortunate judge in danger of being sacked for “shooting herself in the foot” (as the saying goes), but the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) have said they will lodge a formal complaint with the Minister of Defence, SANDF Legal services, SANDF Chief and the Defence Secretariat, against “the spurious religious prejudice and defamation demonstrated against Witchcraft by Colonel Phildah Nomoyi” and (according to reports) “supported by the SANDF in their refusal to remove Nomoyi from her Judicial position or charge her with conduct unbecoming.”

Which quite frankly seems utterly ridiculous. Or do SAPRA have evidence that Philidah Nomoyi has accused them, or any of their members, of bewitching her?

I believe that, however the case turns out, the SA Pagan Rights Alliance owe Colonel Phildah Nomoyi an apology for accusing her of “spurious religious prejudice”, unless they have evidence to show that she specifically accused them, or any of their members, of bewitching her.

It appears that they are confusing two very different things — the modern religion of pagan witchcraft, and premodern African witchcraft beliefs. As the historian Ronald Hutton has pointed out in his book The pagan religions of the ancient British IOsles,

By assuming that witchcraft and paganism were formerly the same phenomenon, they (Wiccans) are mixing two utterly different archaic concepts and placing themselves in a certain amount of difficulty. The advantage of the label ‘witch’ is that it has all the exciting connotations of a figure who flouts the conventions of normal society and is possessed of powers unavailable to it, at once feared and persecuted. It is a marvellous rallying-point for a counter-culture, and also one of the few images of independent female power in early modern European civilization. The disadvantage is that by identifying themselves with a very old stereotype of menace,
derived from the pre-Christian world itself, modern pagans have drawn upon themselves a great deal of unnecessary suspicion, vituperation and victimization which they are perpetually struggling to assuage.

Now I am sympathetic towards neopagans who have been maligned in this way, and have suffered vi8ctimisation as a result. But it is disingenuous to claim that Colonel Phildah Nomoyi had the slightest intention of doing this. It is confusing two very different concepts, and has the effect of victimising Colonel Phildah Nomoyi in the same way that neopagans have themselves have been victimised. She clearly has problems, and deserves sympathy rather than persecution.

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