Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “witches”

The witch hunts of Papua New Guinea

Last night I watched a BBC TV programme on The witch hunts of Papua New Guinea – BBC News, and was struck by the similarity with witch hunts that have taken place in South Africa in the last 25 years or so.

The programme had interviews with people who had been accused of witchcraft, and with some of the accusers, and there were many similarities. You can also read more about the Papua New Guinea witch hunts here: Malum Nalu: Papua New Guinea has a witch hunt problem.

I don’t know if there were any attempts by Christian groups to deal with the problem in Papua New Guinea, but in South Africa there was a reluctance to discuss it in missiological circles. The only Christian groups that seemed to have come up with a way of dealing with it were some Zionists, and most Zionists don’t have an academic bent, so not much has been written about it.I did write one journal article, which you can read here: Christian responses to witchcraft and sorcery, but there has not been much response to it.

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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.

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.

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.

Witchcraft Suppression Bill put on hold

Well that’s a relief.

It was a horribly badly-drafted piece of legislation, which failed to define terms and would have created endless confusion had it become law.

clipped from www.sowetan.co.za

Mpumalanga healers and pagans have been given a new lease of life after the Witchcraft Suppression Bill was put on hold.

The proposed bill by the department of local government, which came under fire last year from various stakeholders, was put on hold yesterday. The department of local government said it had put the drafting of the bill of 2007 on hold “until further notice”.

The department was mandated by the provincial executive council to prepare a bill which seeks to address high levels of violence in Mpumalanga linked to allegations of witchcraft.

blog it

While witchcraft allegations have certainly led to a lot of violence, hasty legislation and imprecise definitions will not help to solve the problem.

Kenya mob burns 15 women to death over witchcraft

In South Africa it’s foreigners, in Kenya it’s suspected witches, though of course there have been witch hunts in South Africa too.

Kenya mob burns 15 women to death over witchcraft: “to death, a local official and villagers told AFP Wednesday.

‘This is unacceptable. People must not take the law into their own hands simply because they suspected someone,’ said Mwangi Ngunyi, the head of Nyamaiya district. ‘We will hunt the suspects down,’ he added.

The gang of about 100 people moved from house to house late Tuesday, tied up their victims and set them ablaze, the official said.

Ngunyi added that the mob also torched 50 houses in Nyakeo village, located some 300 kilometres (180 miles) northwest of the capital Nairobi.”

Witchcraft accusations and exorcisms in DRC

BBC News | AFRICA | Congo witch-hunt’s child victims:

Congolese children are being accused of witchcraft and made scapegoats for the country’s many ills. Jeremy Vine reports from Kinshasa on the gruesome business of exorcism.

The sect – run by a free-thinking Congolese Bible teacher called Prophet Onokoko – has 230 children on its books. All are accused of witchcraft. Many have been thrown out of their family homes. All will have to undergo some kind of ritual exorcism to expunge the evil spirits.

I have a database of African Independent Churches (AICs) and would be interested in more information on this one, and on Prophet Onokoko. Does anyone have any more information on the history of this church, and its theology?

The Times – Muti-killing arrests imminent

The Times – Muti-killing arrests imminent:

Police are on the verge of arresting two traditional healers who bought the body parts of seven of the 17 women murdered in the Eastern Cape.

Police spokesman Superintendent Mike Fatyela said yesterday that the police would arrest two suspects before the end of the week and charge them with conspiracy to murder and with dealing in human flesh.

The two traditional healers’ “order” for women’s genitals is thought to have prompted a killing spree in Mzamba village, Bizana, that resulted in 18 people being murdered in the past five months.

A 24-year-old man appeared yesterday in the Bizana Magistrate’s Court to answer to three charges of murder, one of rape and one of attempted murder.

In a case like this, “traditional healers” seems to be a misnomer. It would be more accurate to call them sorcerers, or even witches, because the muti is probably used to make someone’s business prosper, or to harm a rival’s business. Healing has nothing to do with it.

But 18 murders in five months in a single village is quite mind-boggling.

Christianity, paganism and witchcraft

I’ve been asked to read a paper on the Christian understandings of paganism and witchcraft at the conference of the Association for the Study of Religion in Southern Africa (ASRSA) in May.

The following book, announced by John Morehead, will be released too late to consult for my paper, but I’d welcome recommendations of other recent books that might throw more light on the subject. Meanwhile, I might mention the forthcoming book as a p[ossibly useful one on the topic.

Morehead’s Musings:

I am pleased to be able to begin promotion for the forthcoming book, Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue, by Philip Johnson and Gus diZerega. This volume was approximately three years in the making from conception to finished product, and it is now in the final stages as Lion Publishing prepares for its marketing and publishing. I was privileged to serve as editor and project coordinator for this book, which represents a major step forward in dialogue and understanding between Paganism and Christianity

Legends of the Tokoloshe

Arthur Goldstuck, the collector of South African urban legends, recently posted a couple of examples of tokoloshe stories.

Legends from a small country: Legends of the Tokoloshe #1: A monster ate my homework:

A tokoloshe is believed to have an uncanny power called ‘moshoshopansi’: to make it go under. It can extend its penis to any length and send it underground into the genitals of a sleeping or unsuspecting woman… many of my informers tell me that divorce… is caused by tokoloshes raping wives of migrant labourers. When a woman loses interest in her husband, it is often interpreted as being the result of rape by the tokoloshe.

In that brief observation lurks a world of meaning. It speaks of scapegoats, refusal to face reality, inability to accept responsibility when it all goes wrong.

The tabloid press abounds in tokoloshe and similar stories, of course, and the placards for Sunday newspapers often make the the most of them. One of my favourites was Zombie ate my soap. Unfortunately I forgot to buy the paper and never saw the full story.

Traditionally the tokoloshe (Zulu utikoloshe) was a fairly harmless trickster character in folklore, who played practical jokes on people. Such characters are found in many cultures around the world. But a tokoloshe can become dangerous if caught by a witch to become a familiar. In this role the tokoloshe legend has grown in the urban areas of South Africa far more than in the rural areas, and it is therefore very properly in Arthur Goldstuck’s sphere of interest as the source of numerous urban legends.

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