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Modern-day fear of witches in
Asia, Saudi Arabia, & sub-Saharan Africa

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Part 1 of two parts

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Confusing terminology:

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:

bullet 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."
bullet 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.
bullet 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. 
bullet There are at least 15 additional, mostly unrelated, activities which have been called "Witchcraft."  

The terms Witch and Witchcraft are being used to refer to many unrelated practices throughout Africa and the rest of the world. Confusion reigns.

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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 that." 1

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 be self-defense.

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.

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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 witchcraft.  14

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. She said:

"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 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.' 5

According to a report in

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

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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Related essay on this web site:

bullet Religious intolerance in Mexico
bullet Abuse of children in the Congo believed to be witches.


  1. Stephen Hayes, "Christian responses to Witchcraft and Sorcery," at:
  2. Sizwe samaYende, "Witchcraft Show Reduces Attacks," African Eye News Service (South Africa), 2000-JUL-19, at:
  3. "Killing for 'witchcraft' on the rise in tea garden areas," Hoover's Online, at:
  4. Bappa Majumdar, "Pagan movement steps in to help India's witches," Reuters India, 2006-OCT-12, at:
  5. 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:
  6. "5 women accused of being witches beaten to death in India," MSN, 2015-AUG-09, at:

Copyright 1999 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2015-AUG-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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