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Asia

India

Belief in the supernatural is strong in all parts of India, and lynchings for witchcraft are reported in the press from time to time. Around 750 people were killed as witches in Assam and West Bengal between 2003 and 2008. Officials in the state of Chhattisgarh reported in 2008 that at least 100 women are maltreated annually as suspected witches. A local activist stated that only a fraction of cases of abuse are reported.

Islamic State (ISIS)

In June 2015, Yahoo reported: “The Islamic State group has beheaded two women in Syria on accusations of “sorcery,” the first such executions of female civilians in Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday.”.

Japan

In Japanese folklore, the most common types of witch can be separated into two categories: those who employ snakes as familiars, and those who employ foxes.

The fox witch is, by far, the most commonly seen witch figure in Japan. Differing regional beliefs set those who use foxes into two separate types: the kitsune-mochi, and the tsukimono-suji. The first of these, the kitsune-mochi, is a solitary figure who gains his fox familiar by bribing it with its favourite foods. The kitsune-mochi then strikes up a deal with the fox, typically promising food and daily care in return for the fox’s magical services. The fox of Japanese folklore is a powerful trickster in and of itself, imbued with powers of shape changing, possession, and illusion. These creatures can be either nefarious; disguising themselves as women in order to trap men, or they can be benign forces as in the story of “The Grateful foxes”. However, once a fox enters the employ of a human it almost exclusively becomes a force of evil to be feared. A fox under the employ of a human can provide many services. The fox can turn invisible and find secrets its master desires. It can apply its many powers of illusion to trick and deceive its master’s enemies. The most feared power of the kitsune-mochi is the ability to command his fox to possess other humans. This process of possession is called Kitsunetsuki.

By far, the most commonly reported cases of fox witchcraft in modern Japan are enacted by tsukimono-suji families, or “hereditary witches”. The Tsukimono-suji is traditionally a family who is reported to have foxes under their employ. These foxes serve the family and are passed down through the generations, typically through the female line. Tsukimono-suji foxes are able to supply much in the way of the same mystical aid that the foxes under the employ of a kitsune-mochi can provide its more solitary master with. In addition to these powers, if the foxes are kept happy and well taken care of, they bring great fortune and prosperity to the Tsukimono-suji house. However, the aid in which these foxes give is often overshadowed by the social and mystical implications of being a member of such a family. In many villages, the status of local families as tsukimono-suji is often common, everyday knowledge. Such families are respected and feared, but are also openly shunned. Due to its hereditary nature, the status of being Tsukimono-suji is considered contagious. Because of this, it is often impossible for members of such a family to sell land or other properties, due to fear that the possession of such items will cause foxes to inundate one’s own home. In addition to this, because the foxes are believed to be passed down through the female line, it is often nearly impossible for women of such families to find a husband whose family will agree to have him married to a tsukimono-suji family. In such a union the woman’s status as a Tsukimono-suji would transfer to any man who married her.

The Lost Bearded White Brother

Americas

North America

Accusations of witchcraft and wizardry led to the prosecution of a man in Tennessee as recently as 1833.

The most notable appearances of witches in fantasy art are in L. Frank Baum’s Oz book series, especially Glinda. She is the most powerful sorceress of Oz, ruler of the Quadling Country south of the Emerald City, and protector of Princess Ozma. Her arch-enemies in these fairy tales include the Wicked Witch of the East, Wicked Witch of the West, and Mombi.

Author C. J. Stevens wrote The Supernatural Side of Maine, a 2002 book about witches and people from Maine who faced the supernatural.

Ordeal by water was associated with the witch-hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries: an accused who sank was considered innocent, while floating indicated witchcraft.

Witchcraft was also an important part of the social and cultural history of late-Colonial Mexico. Spanish Inquisitors viewed witchcraft as a problem that could be cured simply through confession. Yet, as anthropologist Ruth Behar writes, witchcraft, not only in Mexico but in Latin America in general, was a “conjecture of sexuality, witchcraft, and religion, in which Spanish, indigenous, and African cultures converged.” Furthermore, witchcraft in Mexico generally required an interethnic and interclass network of witches. Yet, according to anthropology professor Laura Lewis, witchcraft in colonial Mexico ultimately represented an “affirmation of hegemony” for women, Indians, and especially Indian women over their white male counterparts as a result of the casta system.

South America

In Chile there is a tradition of the Kalku in the Mapuche mythology; and Witches of Chiloé in the folklore and Chilote mythology.

The presence of the witch is a constant in the ethnographic history of colonial Brazil, especially during the several denunciations and confessions given to the Holy Office of Bahia (1591-1593), Pernambuco and Paraiba (1593-1595).

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Americas

North America

In 1645, Springfield, Massachusetts, experienced America’s first accusations of witchcraft when husband and wife Hugh and Mary Parsons accused each other of witchcraft. At America’s first witch trial, Hugh was found innocent, while Mary was acquitted of witchcraft but sentenced to be hanged for the death of her child. She died in prison. From 1645-1663, about eighty people throughout England’s Massachusetts Bay Colony were accused of practicing witchcraft. Thirteen women and two men were executed in a witch-hunt that lasted throughout New England from 1645-1663.

The Salem witch trials followed in 1692-93. These witch trials were the most famous in British North America and took place in the coastal settlements near Salem, Massachusetts. Prior to the witch trials, nearly 300 men and women (mostly women) had been suspected of partaking in witchcraft and over 30 of these people were hanged. The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings before local magistrates followed by county court trials to prosecute people accused of witchcraft in Essex, Suffolk and Middlesex Counties of colonial Massachusetts, between February 1692 and May 1693. Over 150 people were arrested and imprisoned, with even more accused who were not formally pursued by the authorities. The two courts convicted 29 people of the capital felony of witchcraft. Nineteen of the accused, 14 women and 5 men, were hanged. One man who refused to enter a plea was crushed to death under heavy stones in an attempt to force him to do so. At least five more of the accused died in prison.

Despite being generally known as the “Salem” witch trials, the preliminary hearings in 1692 were conducted in a variety of towns across the province: Salem Village, Ipswich, Andover, as well as Salem Town, Massachusetts. The best-known trials were conducted by the Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692 in Salem Town. All 26 who went to trial before this court were convicted. The four sessions of the Superior Court of Judicature in 1693, held in Salem Town, but also in Ipswich, Boston, and Charlestown, produced only 3 convictions in the 31 witchcraft trials it conducted. Likewise, alleged witchcraft was not isolated to New England. In 1706 Grace Sherwood the “Witch of Pungo” was imprisoned for the crime in Princess Anne County, Virginia.

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Africa

Complimentary remarks about witchcraft by a native Congolese initiate: “From witchcraft … may be developed the remedy (kimbuki) that will do most to raise up our country.” “Witchcraft … deserves respect … it can embellish or redeem (ketula evo vuukisa).” “The ancestors were equipped with the protective witchcraft of the clan (kindoki kiandundila kanda). … They could also gather the power of animals into their hands … whenever they needed. … If we could make use of these kinds of witchcraft, our country would rapidly progress in knowledge of every kind.” “You witches (zindoki) too, bring your science into the light to be written down so that … the benefits in it … endow our race.”

Among the Mende (of Sierra Leone), trial and conviction for witchcraft has a beneficial effect for those convicted. “The witchfinder had warned the whole village to ensure the relative prosperity of the accused and sentenced … old people. … Six months later all of the people … accused, were secure, well-fed and arguably happier than at any [previous] time; they had hardly to beckon and people would come with food or whatever was needful. … Instead of such old and widowed people being left helpless or (as in Western society) institutionalized in old people’s homes, these were reintegrated into society and left secure in their old age … . … Old people are ‘suitable’ candidates for this kind of accusation in the sense that they are isolated and vulnerable, and they are ‘suitable’ candidates for ‘social security’ for precisely the same reasons.”

In Nigeria, several Pentecostal pastors have mixed their evangelical brand of Christianity with African beliefs in witchcraft to benefit from the lucrative witch finding and exorcism business – which in the past was the exclusive domain of the so-called witch doctor or traditional healers. These pastors have been involved in the torturing and even killing of children accused of witchcraft. Over the past decade, around 15,000 children have been accused, and around 1,000 murdered. Churches are very numerous in Nigeria, and competition for congregations is hard. Some pastors attempt to establish a reputation for spiritual power by “detecting” child witches, usually following a death or loss of a job within a family, or an accusation of financial fraud against the pastor. In the course of “exorcisms”, accused children may be starved, beaten, mutilated, set on fire, forced to consume acid or cement, or buried alive. While some church leaders and Christian activists have spoken out strongly against these abuses, many Nigerian churches are involved in the abuse, although church administrations deny knowledge of it.

In Malawi it is also common practice to accuse children of witchcraft and many children have been abandoned, abused and even killed as a result. As in other African countries both African traditional healers and their Christian counterparts are trying to make a living out of exorcising children and are actively involved in pointing out children as witches. Various secular and Christian organizations are combining their efforts to address this problem.

Also in Malawi, according to William Kamkwamba, witches and wizards are afraid of money, which they consider a rival evil. Any contact with cash will snap their spell and leave the wizard naked and confused. So placing cash, such as kwacha around a room or bed mat will protect the resident from their malevolent spells.

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Africa

As of 2006, between 25,000 and 50,000 children in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, had been accused of witchcraft and thrown out of their homes. These children have been subjected to often-violent abuse during exorcisms, sometimes supervised by self-styled religious pastors. Other pastors and Christian activist strongly oppose such accusations and try to rescue children from their unscrupulous colleagues. The usual term for these children is enfants sorciers (child witches) or enfants dits sorciers (children accused of witchcraft). In 2002, USAID funded the production of two short films on the subject, made in Kinshasa by journalists Angela Nicoara and Mike Ormsby.

In Ghana, women are often accused of witchcraft and attacked by neighbours. Because of this, there exist six witch camps in the country where women suspected of being witches can flee for safety. The witch camps, which exist solely in Ghana, are thought to house a total of around 1000 women. Some of the camps are thought to have been set up over 100 years ago. The Ghanaian government has announced that it intends to close the camps and educate the population regarding the fact that witches do not exist.

In April 2008, in Kinshasa, the police arrested 14 suspected victims (of penis snatching) and sorcerers accused of using black magic or witchcraft to steal (make disappear) or shrink men’s penises to extort cash for cure, amid a wave of panic. Arrests were made in an effort to avoid bloodshed seen in Ghana a decade ago, when 12 alleged penis snatchers were beaten to death by mobs. While it is easy for modern people to dismiss such reports, Uchenna Okeja argues that a belief system in which such magical practices are deemed possible offer many benefits to Africans who hold them. For example, the belief that a sorcerer has “stolen” a man’s penis functions as an anxiety-reduction mechanism for men suffering from impotence while simultaneously providing an explanation that is consistent with African cultural beliefs rather than appealing to Western scientific notions that are tainted by the history of colonialism (at least for many Africans).

It was reported on May 21, 2008 that in Kenya, a mob had burnt to death at least 11 people accused of witchcraft. In Tanzania in 2008, President Kikwete publicly condemned witchdoctors for killing albinos for their body parts, which are thought to bring good luck. 25 albinos have been murdered since March 2007. In Tanzania, albinos are often murdered for their body parts on the advice of witch doctors in order to produce powerful amulets that are believed to protect against witchcraft and make the owner prosper in life. Every year, hundreds of people in the Central African Republic are convicted of witchcraft.

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Africa

The term witch doctor, a common translation for the South African Zulu word inyanga, has been misconstrued to mean “a healer who uses witchcraft” rather than its original meaning of “one who diagnoses and cures maladies caused by witches”.

In Southern African traditions, there are three classifications of somebody who uses magic. The thakathi is usually improperly translated into English as “witch”, and is a spiteful person who operates in secret to harm others. The sangoma is a diviner, somewhere on a par with a fortune teller, and is employed in detecting illness, predicting a person’s future (or advising them on which path to take), or identifying the guilty party in a crime. She also practices some degree of medicine. The inyanga is often translated as “witch doctor” (though many Southern Africans resent this implication, as it perpetuates the mistaken belief that a “witch doctor” is in some sense a practitioner of malicious magic). The inyanga’s job is to heal illness and injury and provide customers with magical items for everyday use. Of these three categories the thakatha is almost exclusively female, the sangoma is usually female, and the inyanga is almost exclusively male.

Much of what witchcraft represents in Africa has been susceptible to misunderstandings and confusion, thanks in no small part to a tendency among western scholars since the time of the now largely discredited Margaret Murray to approach the subject through a comparative lens vis-a-vis European witchcraft. Okeja argues that witchcraft in Africa today plays a very different social role than in Europe of the past – or present – and should be understood through an African rather than post-colonial Western lens.

In some Central African areas, malicious magic users are believed by locals to be the source of terminal illness such as AIDS and cancer. In such cases, various methods are used to rid the person from the bewitching spirit, occasionally physical and psychological abuse. Children may be accused of being witches, for example a young niece may be blamed for the illness of a relative. Most of these cases of abuse go unreported since the members of the society that witness such abuse are too afraid of being accused of being accomplices. It is also believed that witchcraft can be transmitted to children by feeding. Parents discourage their children from interacting with people believed to be witches.

The Lost Bearded White Brother

Abrahamic Religions

Islam

Divination, and magic or “sorcery” in Islam, encompass a wide range of practices, including black magic, warding off the evil eye, the production of amulets and other magical equipment, conjuring, casting lots,and astrology. Muslims do commonly believe in magic (Sihr) and explicitly forbid its practice. Sihr translates from Arabic as sorcery or black magic. The best known reference to magic in Islam is the Surah Al-Falaq (meaning dawn or daybreak), which is known as a prayer to Allah to ward off black magic.

  • Say: I seek refuge with the Lord of the Dawn From the mischief of created things; From the mischief of Darkness as it overspreads; From the mischief of those who practise secret arts; And from the mischief of the envious one as he practises envy. (Quran 113:1-5)

Also according to the Quran:

  • And they follow that which the devils falsely related against the kingdom of Solomon. Solomon disbelieved not; but the devils disbelieved, teaching mankind sorcery and that which was revealed to the two angels in Babel, Harut and Marut … And surely they do know that he who trafficketh therein will have no (happy) portion in the Hereafter; and surely evil is the price for which they sell their souls, if they but knew. (al-Qur’an 2:102)

However, whereas performing miracles in Islamic thought and belief is reserved for only Messengers and Prophets, supernatural acts are also believed to be performed by Awliyaa – the spiritually accomplished. Disbelief in the miracles of the Prophets is considered an act of disbelief; belief in the miracles of any given pious individual is not. Neither are regarded as magic, but as signs of Allah at the hands of those close to Him that occur by His will and His alone.

Some Muslim practitioners believe that they may seek the help of the Jinn in magic. It is a common belief that jinn can possess a human, thus requiring Exorcism. Still, the practice of seeking help to the Jinn is prohibited and regarded the same as seeking help to a devil.

The belief in jinn is part of the Muslim faith. Imam Muslim narrated the Prophet said: “Allah created the angels from light, created the jinn from the pure flame of fire, and Adam from that which was described to you (i.e., the clay.)”. Also in the Quran, chapter of Jinn:

  • And persons from among men used to seek refuge with persons from among the jinn, so they increased them in evil doing.
    -(The Qur’an) (72:6)

To cast off the jinn from the body of the possessed, the “ruqya,” which is from the Prophet’s sunnah is used. The ruqya contains verses of the Qur’an as well as prayers specifically targeted against demons. The knowledge of which verses of the Qur’an to use in what way is what is considered “magic knowledge.”

A Hadeeth recorded by Al-Bukhari narrates that one who has eaten seven Ajwa dates in the morning will not be adversely affected by magic in the course of that day.

Students of the history of religion have linked several magical practises in Islam with pre-Islamic Turkish and East African customs. Most notable of these customs is the Zar Ceremony.

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Abrahamic Religions

New Testament

The New Testament condemns the practice as an abomination, just as the Old Testament had (Galatians 5:20, compared with Revelation 21:8; 22:15; and Acts 8:9; 13:6), though the overall topic of Biblical law in Christianity is still disputed. The word in most New Testament translations is “sorcerer”/”sorcery” rather than “witch”/”witchcraft”.

Judaism

Jewish law views the practice of witchcraft as being laden with idolatry and/or necromancy; both being serious theological and practical offenses in Judaism. Although Maimonides vigorously denied the efficacy of all methods of witchcraft, and claimed that the Biblical prohibitions regarding it were precisely to wean the Israelites from practices related to idolatry, according to Traditional Judaism, it is acknowledged that while magic exists, it is forbidden to practice it on the basis that it usually involves the worship of other gods. Rabbis of the Talmud also condemned magic when it produced something other than illusion, giving the example of two men who use magic to pick cucumbers (Sanhedrin 67a). The one who creates the illusion of picking cucumbers should not be condemned, only the one who actually picks the cucumbers through magic. However, some of the Rabbis practiced “magic” themselves or taught the subject. For instance, Rabbah created a person and sent him to Rabbi Zera, and Rabbi Hanina and Rabbi Oshaya studied every Friday together and created a small calf to eat on Shabbat (Sanhedrin 67b). In these cases, the “magic” was seen more as divine miracles (i.e., coming from God rather than “unclean” forces) than as witchcraft.

Judaism does make it clear that Jews shall not try to learn about the ways of witches (Deuteronomy/Devarim 18: 9-10) and that witches are to be put to death. (Exodus/Shemot 22:17)

Judaism’s most famous reference to a medium is undoubtedly the Witch of Endor whom Saul consults, as recounted in the First Book of Samuel, chapter 28.

The Lost Bearded White Brother

Abrahamic Religions

The belief in sorcery and its practice seem to have been widespread in the Ancient Near East. It played a conspicuous role in the cultures of ancient Egypt and in Babylonia, with the latter composing an Akkadian anti-witchcraft ritual, the Maqlû. A section from the Code of Hammurabi (about 2000 B.C.) prescribes:

  • If a man has put a spell upon another man and it is not justified, he upon whom the spell is laid shall go to the holy river; into the holy river shall he plunge. If the holy river overcome him and he is drowned, the man who put the spell upon him shall take possession of his house. If the holy river declares him innocent and he remains unharmed the man who laid the spell shall be put to death. He that plunged into the river shall take possession of the house of him who laid the spell upon him.

Hebrew Bible

According to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia:

  • In the Holy Scripture references to sorcery are frequent, and the strong condemnations of such practices found there do not seem to be based so much upon the supposition of fraud as upon the abomination of the magic in itself.

The King James Bible uses the words “witch”, “witchcraft”, and “witchcrafts” to translate the Masoretic kashaph or kesheph and qesem; these same English terms are used to translate pharmakeia in the Greek New Testament text. Verses such as Deuteronomy 18:11-12 and Exodus 22:18 (“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”) thus provided scriptural justification for Christian witch hunters in the early Modern Age.

The precise meaning of the Hebrew kashaph, usually translated as “witch” or “sorceress”, is uncertain. In the Septuagint, it was translated as pharmakeia or pharmakous. In the 16th century, Reginald Scot, a prominent critic of the witch-trials, translated kashaph, pharmakeia, and their Latin Vulgate equivalent veneficos as all meaning “poisoner”, and on this basis, claimed that “witch” was an incorrect translation and poisoners were intended. His theory still holds some currency, but is not widely accepted, and in Daniel 2:2 kashaph is listed alongside other magic practitioners who could interpret dreams: magicians, astrologers, and Chaldeans. Suggested derivations of Kashaph include mutterer (from a single root) or herb user (as a compound word formed from the roots kash, meaning “herb”, and hapaleh, meaning “using”). The Greek pharmakeia literally means “herbalist” or one who uses or administers drugs, but it was used virtually synonymously with mageia and goeteia as a term for a sorcerer.

The Bible provides some evidence that these commandments against sorcery were enforced under the Hebrew kings:

  • And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee. And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die?

Note that the Hebrew word ob, translated as familiar spirit in the above quotation, has a different meaning than the usual English sense of the phrase; namely, it refers to a spirit that the woman is familiar with, rather than to a spirit that physically manifests itself in the shape of an animal.

The Lost Bearded White Brother

Contemporary Witchcraft Contrasted With Satanism

Satanism is a broad term referring to diverse beliefs that share a symbolic association with, or admiration for, Satan, who is seen as a liberating figure. While it is heir to the same historical period and pre-Enlightenment beliefs that gave rise to modern witchcraft, it is generally seen as completely separate from modern witchcraft and Wicca, and has little or no connection to them.

Modern witchcraft considers Satanism to be the “dark side of Christianity” rather than a branch of Wicca: – the character of Satan referenced in Satanism exists only in the theology of the three Abrahamic religions, and Satanism arose as, and occupies the role of, a rebellious counterpart to Christianity, in which all is permitted and the self is central. (Christianity can be characterized as having the diametrically opposite views to these.) Such beliefs become more visibly expressed in Europe after the Enlightenment, when works such as Milton’s Paradise Lost were described anew by romantics who suggested that they presented the biblical Satan as an allegory representing crisis of faith, individualism, free will, wisdom and enlightenment; a few works from that time also begin to directly present Satan in a less negative light, such as Letters from the Earth. The two major trends are theistic Satanism and atheistic Satanism; the former venerates Satan as a supernatural patriarchal deity, while the latter views Satan as merely a symbolic embodiment of certain human traits.

Organized groups began to emerge in the mid 20th century, including the Ophite Cultus Satanas (1948) and The Church of Satan (1966). It was estimated that there were up to 100,000 Satanists worldwide by 2006, twice the number estimated in 1990. Satanistic beliefs have been largely permitted as a valid expression of religious belief in the West. For example, they were allowed in the British Royal Navy in 2004, and an appeal was considered in 2005 for religious status as a right of prisoners by the Supreme Court of the United States. Contemporary Satanism is mainly an American phenomenon, although it began to reach Eastern Europe in the 1990s around the time of the fall of the Soviet Union.

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