Thursday, February 14, 2008

Of witches, witch-doctors and the disposal thereof

It may sound strange to Western ears, but belief in witchcraft, the power of witch-doctors and the traffic in muti (medicine, potions, call it what you will) conveying power or warding off evil is rampant across much of the globe.

I was reminded of this by a recent outcry in Sweden concerning plans by a music group to stage the burning of a witch as part of their act. Local womens groups are up in arms at the proposal. However, such acts are horrifyingly commonplace all over the world, even today - as are murders committed by alleged witches or witch-doctors. It amazes me how little people in the First World realize this.

To give some examples: today the BBC reports on efforts to persuade the King of Saudi Arabia to halt the execution of a woman convicted of witchcraft by an Islamic court. I've just run a quick search on the IOL Web site with the keywords "witch killing" and found 51 reports from the past decade - on this one news site alone! It cites incidents in Nigeria, Tanzania, multiple cases in South Africa, Zaire and Malaysia, not to mention a spill-over case in London, England. Try it for yourself - click on any one of those links, type "witch killing" into the search box and spend a while looking through the results. Remember, this is one news site in one country. There are many, many more such reports.

I've personally witnessed this fixation on witch-doctors and witchcraft in many Third World countries. Even educated professionals with multiple university degrees are so indoctrinated about this from their youth that they can't shake it off. For example, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in South Africa is the biggest and most active on the African continent. It's up-to-date and thoroughly modern . . . but if you walk down Diagonal Street to reach it, you'll pass many "muti shops" where stockbrokers and traders will buy "medicine" to guarantee good fortune for the day's trading or bad luck to their competitors. Another example: white members of the South African national soccer team were dumbfounded in the 1990's to find that their (black) coach had put packets of muti into the toes of their football boots. They took them out - whereupon the black members of the team refused to play unless they put them back, because if only some of the team used the "medicine" their defeat was certain!

We have similar problems in the West, but we tend to ascribe them to psychological issues rather than witchcraft (for example the tragic case of Andrea Yates). Nevertheless, the outcome is the same. More credulous members of our society will fit right into the "witchcraft" idiom. You don't believe me? I have news for you, my friend. Go to New Orleans and look around the "voodoo" stores downtown - and the number of customers! Visit a local spiritualist center and check out the "seances". Look at the number of people around you who wouldn't think of letting a day go by without consulting their horoscope, or biorhythms, or some other fancy forecasting method, and conduct their lives accordingly. It's all BS, of course, but try to convince them of that!

We've got a long, long way to go before we can uproot ignorance and superstition from our society. I suppose the best way is still humor. I recall with glee the "Not The Nine O'Clock News" version of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Macbeth and Banquo meet the three witches on the "blasted heath". The chief witch turns to Banquo and says to him, "Thou shalt not be King, but thou shalt be Royal."

His reply? (In a falsetto, gay voice) "Oh, I'm going to be Queen!"



Anonymous said...

I think there is a rational explanation for the human fixation on "witchcraft" and other such beliefs.

Disclaimer: I'm not a highly educated person, not a doctor or psychologist or theologian or anything of the sort. I'm just an average joe with theories and opinions based upon my experiences and thoughts. Much of what I think is probably bunk, but it's MY bunk and I happen to like it... [/disclaimer]

I think our human penchant for predictions, and prognostications and magic and witchcraft stem from our basic desire to control.

One of our major weaknesses, however, is that we merrily spend most of our lives NOT controlling what is within our control and TRYING to control that which is not.

That tendency is the basis for the "Serenity prayer": Lord, Grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference"

Many people recite the words without really living them or even really thinking about what they mean.

What CAN we change and what CAN'T we change?

It's really simple actually.

What we CAN'T change is the behavior of others, the attitudes of others, the external things that happen to us every day.

What we CAN change is our reactions to those things. We can change OUR behaviors, OUR attitudes and how we DEAL with the external things that happen to us every day.

Witchcraft, magic, fortune telling etc is nothing more than an extended, fantasy based effort to control that which is beyond our control.

But what causes that "need" for control in human beings? This is where I get into MY "superstition" as some would call it. I believe that we are creations. As a part of the creation, the creator embedded into us an undeniable urge to be a part of His plan...a NEED to fulfill his "destiny" for us. That urge, when unfulfilled, leaves us empty. Seeking something. Lost. Out of control.

Only by giving up control to Him and seeking His path for our lives do we REALLY gain any true control over our lives. Otherwise, we're just floundering around quicksand...the harder we struggle against it, the deeper we sink.

Yes...I know there are many of you out there that will swear you don't need "an imaginary man in the sky" to make your life complete. Believe it or not, I was one of you not too many years ago. I was an avowed atheist and I thought I was perfectly happy. I flat out didn't know what I was missing until I found it. That's the bottom line. There was a hole in my life that I wasn't even aware of. I didn't know how good life could be. It's like having nothing to eat but gruel your whole life. That's all you know so you think that's as good as it gets. Until you visit a friend's house one day and they serve you a nice, juicy steak with a baked potato, cheese covered broccoli and home-made rolls. All the sudden, you realize that there's more to life than the gruel that you were perfectly happy with yesterday.

Anyway...I'm done preaching...there's more to life than gruel but whether you find it for yourself or not is beyond my control.

Pagan Blacksmith said...


Being a self identified pagan I would like to suggest that any faith system (Budhist, Islamic, Taoist, Christian, Jewish, Wiccan, etc) is a means of giving away ones responsibilities to self and ask another (real or otherwise) to take on what we, as humans, slough.

My personal belief system, as a pagan, does not have a deity to hand off all my troubles to, but instead represents an effort to seek balance in this existence. If I have or see a problem, it is my duty and responsibility to take steps to help resolve it.

That is what it means TO ME to be the pagan I say I am. Mileage will vary for others.

The universe is a varied and wonderous thing, as is the human existence. Each of us has our own perceptions and our own desires to manage and control the events that happen about us. But rarely does prayer and wishes resolve anything, action does. That action may be driving less, picking up trash, sharing ideas with others. Everything we do effects the environment about us.

Not everyone who thinks differently is a 'nut' or a 'flake'. Education and logic have NEVER been the cause for any conflict I have ever heard of. Greed, desire, narrow-minded vision, averice, these are some of the things that create imbalance. Where there are humans, there will alsways be these things. Some of us realize this and try to live our lives to help balance out these qualities as best we can.


Anonymous said...

While it may seem strange and foreign to us for people to actively believe in witches, how is it different from going to church and praying? We dismiss black soccer players beliefs as "superstition" yet we prey before a football game asking God to keep the players safe......

What about exorcisms? Speaking in tongue? We pretty much see anything significantly or radically DIFFERENT from our beliefs as strange or silly....

Something to think about....

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't defend any of these people. However, I do find it strange when I meet an engineer who proclaims to be "deeply religious". Since religion says you should pray and ask God for assistance, does this mean that when the Unit goes down we are all going to pray to God to fix the problem? Or do we start troubleshooting and making calls?