Modern-day fear of witches in
Asia, Saudi Arabia, & sub-Saharan Africa
Part 1 of two parts
In that part of Africa south of the Sahara desert, and in parts of Asia, the terms Witch and Witchcraft have multiple, conflicting,
and largely unrelated meanings:
Early Christian missionaries in Africa used these terms to refer to
individuals who are believed to intentionally use "incantations,
ritual, and various substances" 1to mount psychic
attacks against other people. Attacks were in the form of direct destructive black magic
focussed on their victims. Those responsible for the attacks are called umthakathi among the Zulu and moloi among the Sotho. "Evil
sorcerer" or "evil sorceress" would be a
preferred term to use. Unfortunately, they are often referred to
simply as "Witches."
Followers of many African Aboriginal religions use the terms witch and witchcraft to refer to individuals who are believed to have the
potential to harm others through psychic means. Some are believed to
be unaware of their evil powers. Witchcraft is not something that they
learn; they are perceived as having been born with magical abilities
to harm others. Witch Doctors are spiritual specialists who
attempt to counteract the powers of the witches.
The same terms, Witch and Witchcraft, often refer to Wiccans and Wicca in North America and throughout much of
the world. Wiccan's main rule of behavior is called the Wiccan Rede. It prohibits Wiccans from harming others. This is a modern religion that is based largely on symbols,
beliefs, deities and festivals of the ancient Celtic society. This
meaning has occasional use in Africa as well.
There are at
least 15 additional, mostly unrelated, activities which have been
The terms Witch and Witchcraft are being used to refer to many unrelated practices
throughout Africa and the rest of the world. Confusion reigns.
Violence against "Witches" in Africa:
Writer Stephen Hayes has said:
"In Southern Africa, decades of violent repression and armed
struggles against it have led to a 'culture of violence'. Witchcraft and
witch hunts [directed against evil sorcery] are but two manifestations of
The Ministry of Safety and Security of South Africa's Northern Province created
a Commission of Inquiry into Witchcraft, Violence and Ritual Killings. The
Commission issued a report in 1996-MAY which showed that thousands of people had been
accused of witchcraft, run out of town and lost their property. More than
300 had been killed by vigilante mobs over the previous ten years. The victims were
accused of "shape-shifting" themselves from human form into bats and birds, of
converting people into zombies, and of causing death by calling down lightning or through
the use of toxic medicines. These beliefs are quite similar to those which circulated
during the Witch burning craze of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in Europe circa 1450 to
1792 CE. Those earlier Witches didn't exist either. One possible
source of confusion in the country is the Suppression of Witchcraft Act (1957)
which does not differentiate between most forms of traditional African healing and evil
sorcery (black magic). It banned both practices.
Ten farms were set up in the Northern Province to hold hundreds of refugees who
have been found guilty of witchcraft by traditionalist kangaroo courts and are
in danger of being assassinated by mob action.
The Congolese Human Rights Observatory announced that more than 60
people had been burned or buried alive in that country since 1990 - including 40 in 1996. The victims were
accused, often by members of their own family, of being witches.
On 1998-SEP-7, a conference involving about 200 police and government representatives
was convened in Thohoyandou, South Africa. Its purpose was to curb Witchcraft-related
deaths. Between 1994-APR and 1995-FEB, 97 women and 46 men in South Africa had been accused
of being Witches or Wizards, and murdered by townspeople or rural individuals. In the
first 6 months of 1998, in the Northern Province alone, 386 crimes had been perpetrated
against suspected witches; these included murder, damage to property and assault. Victims
accused of Witchcraft are typically women between 55 and 72 years of age. Murders are most
common in the rainy season, when Witches are accused of directing lightning at people that
they wish to destroy.
It will be very difficult to eradicate crimes against suspected Witches. Ill-educated
people are convinced that evil Witches exist and react violently in what they consider to
According to African Eye News Service, The South African Gender
Commission is sponsoring a road show which features former
Witch-hunters committed to changing people's beliefs about Witches and evil
spirits. Some of the 33 actors had been given amnesty by the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission after they testified that witchcraft-related
violence in the former homelands was politically motivated. The Gender
Commission said on 2000-JUL-19 that its road show had dramatically reduced
Witchcraft-related violence. 2
In recent years, government action appears to be partly effective, as reports of the murders of witches are on the decline.
Similar violence in India:
On 2002-JUL-29, five women were hacked to death because
they were believed to have been practicing "witchcraft." The
murders took place in the tea belt area of Jalpaiguri state of India. Ten
laborers in the Kilkote tea estate were arrested. During the previous
decade, 79 women had been murdered in this area on suspicion of
Between 2001 and 2006, police have reports of over 700 women being killed as
witches or witch doctors in eastern India alone. But they believe that the
actual number could be many times higher.
The Dakini Vidya
form of witchcraft is widely practiced by women in India. Similar to Wicca, it
involves invoking the Mother Goddess to draw spiritual strength. Unfortunately,
perhaps because of lack of education and literacy, witches are often persecuted
by villagers who blame them for natural disasters, illness, death, or theft.
Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, a prominent social activist who
practices Wicca, studied the religion in Canada. She has written two books on
Wicca, including "The Sacred Evil" which has been adapted as a movie.
"People from different walks of life and even governments
had asked me to institutionalize Wicca, but I was waiting for the right
moment. ... Now is the time we stood up against people who persecute and
kill innocent women."
She is organizing a "Wiccan Brigade" to document complaints of
persecution and work with the police to bring criminal cases to trial. Over 100
people signed up to take her course in Wiccan philosophy, literature
and psychology. 4
It is worth noting that the
fundamentalist Christian "Abominations" website at http://aboms.com added a biblical quote to its reporting of the "Wiccan
Brigade on 2006-OCT-17." It is Exodus 22:18's advocacy of religiously-based
genocide: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." This is from the
King James Version. More recent translations use the
term "sorcerer" in place of "witch."
Occasional outbreaks against suspected evil sorcerers and sorceresses still occur. All it takes to trigger an attack is some misfortune to happen to a village or to some of its inhabitants. For example, during 2015 problems surfaced in Kinjia village in Jharkhand state in eastern India. Crops partly failed, many people expereinced sickness, etc. During AUG-08, dozens of villagers dragged five women out of their homes and killed them with sticks, stones, knives, and iron rods. About 50 people have been arrested. The triggering event may have been the death of an infant earlier in the week.
Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Raghubar Das, issued a statement condemnint the murders. He wrote:
"In the age of knowledge, this incident is sorrowful. Society should ponder over it.'
According to a report in MSN.com:
Superstitious beliefs persist in many parts of India and have been behind similar attacks on women in Jharkhand. From 2000 to 2012, around 2,100 people, mostly women, were killed in India on suspicion of practicing witchcraft, according to the National Crime Records Bureau." 6
Related essay on this web site:
Stephen Hayes, "Christian responses to Witchcraft and
Sorcery," at: http://hayesfam.bravehost.com/
Sizwe samaYende, "Witchcraft Show Reduces Attacks,"
African Eye News Service (South Africa), 2000-JUL-19, at: http://www.africanews.org/
"Killing for 'witchcraft' on the rise in tea garden areas,"
Hoover's Online, at: http://hoovnews.hoovers.com/
Bappa Majumdar, "Pagan movement steps in to help India's witches," Reuters
India, 2006-OCT-12, at: http://in.today.reuters.com/
Tim Macfarlan, ""Five women are beaten to death in rural India by villagers who accused them of being WITCHES after illness and a poor harvest blighted the area," Daily Male, 2015-AUG-08, at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/
"5 women accused of being witches beaten to death in India," MSN, 2015-AUG-09, at: http://www.msn.com/
Copyright © 1999 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2015-AUG-09
Author: B.A. Robinson