The current situation of witchcraft outside the western world


In what is understood by the Western world, witchcraft can be viewed with suspicion by those who profess a religious faith from one of the three great religions, who will often confuse many of these practices with others, purely religious, coming from paganism. On the other hand, it can be seen as attractive due to its aesthetics and its secrecy, as the number of practitioners has progressively increased, partly due to the participation of magic in neopaganism, and in the battle that it and witchcraft wage against the imposition and punishment to which they have been subjected by the majority religions; a battle that, to a large extent, a good part of modern society at the sociocultural level is carrying out for many other reasons. However, outside of these westernized and religiocentric margins of Western esotericism, it can be seen that the role of magic and witchcraft still have a much deeper connotation, and therefore also more rooted in its worst facet. Being able to speak freely of beliefs of this type, practice them, study them or even make fun of them is a privilege that is rarely observed as such in the West.

In this brief essay we are not going to deal with the matter in the way that the brief news that appears in the media would do, about the fact that in public parks Santeria and voodoo rituals are carried out at midnight, which can disturb to the population, we are not going to talk about inquisitive anniversaries, but about real bloody rituals and atrocious persecutions that take place in various parts of the world continuously, not only when the media needs to fill an information space with something morbid. Here again we find the differences between magic and witchcraft, and we will only talk about witchcraft, since both the accusations and the terrible acts that are carried out within superstition and belief belong to a world marked by cruelty, blood and the idea of damage the surrounding.

The cause of the accusation of witchcraft is always the same, fear. But the horror of these accusations lies in the inability to prove guilt or innocence, due to the immaterial nature of the matter. The belief in supernatural forces is communal, and a blessing and a curse at the same time. The defendants are forced to flee their own homes and families to avoid being lynched or set on fire, if not worse endings, as will unfortunately be listed below. But they are accepted by those same accusers if, as long as they wear the usual paraphernalia that surrounds the esoteric business -clothes and flashy objects-, they need them to find solutions to some evil. A double standard that merges, in addition, to the religious invasions that took place in Africa and Asia, the main sources of these persecutions, with Christianity and Islam, which cause confusion and cultural identity problems, since, despite the belief in a single God to serve, regardless of professing an external religion -since it affects the cultural and social environment- traditional sacrifices to minor and family gods take place, festivities presided over by shamans and a multitude of amulets and talismans, even medicinal recipes that at any time could be considered, despite the diffusion they have throughout their social group, objects of witchcraft.

A separate issue is the gender dimension of this same problem, where women lose out. In most cases there are women who are persecuted and murdered, being by themselves counted as less in society. Those who practice respectable magic are usually men, and despite the fact that they are not spared from open persecution either, it is true that most of the deaths are female, and that the accusations always look for blame in elderly, widowed or marginalized women. People who, on the other hand, are not only exposed, but also have no one to turn to. In addition, another focus is women who do not need men to fend for themselves: women with money or work, who by living alone and independent, break the usual social schemes.

Two distinctions are going to be made, since it would be bad not to analyze the two sides of the coin. The first of these is witchcraft as an agent or motive, that is, when witchcraft is the actual crime committed. Most cases occur in rural areas of the African continent, but not exclusively. Some of the most notorious and well-known examples are cited below, to avoid falling into the morbidity and redundancy of horror.

Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, albinos must emigrate from their homes to avoid being dismembered alive and having their body parts used as amulets. In this case, it can be said, it is ignorance and superstition, fanaticism, and it seems obvious that those who have a different genetic characteristic that in no way defines the fortune of those around them should be protected. But it is not easy to alter a culture where the ills can come from something as physical as appearance, an element that is and has been common in many cultures, including the western one, with misgivings about one-eyed people or redheads.

In order not to tell a complex story about witchcraft through tradition and colonization, which requires its own space, without going any further, in October 2017 the Malawi police had to take action against what they called "vampires", a group of people who apparently sought to extract blood for a series of rituals, although organ trafficking was not ruled out either. In Nigeria, a young woman was kidnapped while working and beheaded for ritual purposes.

At the beginning of 2018, the murder of two children took place in Massachusetts, whose mother cut their necks and arms and set them on fire. His act was associated with a voodoo ritual, although the Haitian community pointed out that it only allows ritual animal sacrifice, and that it was demonic. In December, in Tanzania ten children were kidnapped and murdered, selling their body parts for rituals related to obtaining money, and not long before, in Mozambique, graves of albino people were raided to steal their bones, since legends say that they are filled with gold - and gold attracts gold. At the beginning of the year (2019), a child was kidnapped and dismembered in Njombe, Tanzania. Also in 2019, in London, a woman originally from Uganda who was engaged in female genital mutilation had several sour fruits in the fridge, inside which she had kept papers with names written on them to "silence" her accusers and continue with her business: a simple ritual but that alerted almost more than clandestine mutilation. In recent years in Europe, cases of immigration of minors have been studied to prevent them from ending up being used for ritual purposes, which include abuse of all kinds.

The second distinction is that which refers to the accusations of witchcraft and which ends in terrible persecutions and deaths. Those accused of witchcraft, men or women, can be treated with indifference until something goes wrong and all the blame falls on that person. The sorcerer or witch is forced to leave his community, being exposed along with his/her family, and knowing that they will be outlawed for it, unless they emigrate. In some cases, this emigration is internal, since they "transform" to please tourists with the same acts for which they have been convicted, further proof of the diversity of points of view. But when the indicted are children, there is not much hope left for them.

Sometimes, the shamans or spiritual leaders themselves, not too far removed from the magical issue either, are who define that the problem is due to the presence of a demonic entity or a witch in the population. This causes witch hunts as remedies to problems that usually originate from social inequalities or simple weather issues. It is not necessary to even imagine what can happen when it is an institutionalized religious leader who incites these persecutions, having a voice not only over his community, but also those surrounding it and over believers in general.

The punishments applied to those accused of witchcraft are simply unimaginable: lynching, burning, torture, rape, poisoning, dismemberment, burial alive. All of them understood as effective treatments that only confirm sadism towards a different practice or belief, which in most cases does not even take place. From the outside, one sees savagery, from the inside, the salvation of the community from a strange and unmanageable entity that has revealed "signs", often rooted in folkloric tradition, that it is. Returning to the subject of African albinos, for example, their dismemberment must take place while they are still alive, since the more they scream in pain, the greater their power: one cannot imagine the situation without being horrified, and realizing that, to top it off, the ends that are pursued -the creation of talismans and fetishes-, does not stop being, in turn, a practice of magic similar to that of which it is being accused.

In 2012, in Nepal, a forty-year-old woman was burned alive for being considered a witch. Not long after it is discovered that burning someone is the more "humane" substitution for burying them alive, as it was discovered to be done. In 2013, a sixty-year-old woman was tied up, shaved, covered in excrement and beaten, accused of witchcraft. Several murders and gang rapes took place in India under this pretext in June 2015, and the same is true in Papua New Guinea today, with men and women being persecuted and executed. In this country, in 2017, a six-year-old girl was tortured to death for five days, having been accused of witchcraft. At the end of this same month of January 2019, the murder of a mother and her two children took place in a rural region of India.

The regulation of these issues leaves no doubt that witchcraft exists, at least in the human subconscious. In more than half of the world the expression resonates, medieval for us, of: if it is feared, it is that it works. In Kenya, the law can imprison a suspected witch - the suspect! Again the impossibility of defense. Tanzania outright prohibits the practice of witchcraft in its laws, thus getting rid of "non-legal" charges. Similar regulations and beliefs can be found in Liberia, Nairobi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Rwanda. In Indonesia the laws prohibit accusing of witchcraft "without proof". What is this "proof"? The possession of objects considered for that purpose, which are also used by ordinary people, so... how can the use and intentionality of the same be demonstrated? In the Middle East, the most notorious accusations took place barely a decade ago. These entailed unprovable accusations, but the defendants were assigned prison terms of up to fifteen years. These legal measures really cover up the other large number of accusations that are made and that do not reach the courts.

In India, until the end of last year (2018), laws that punish the very fact of accusing witchcraft have not come to light, after protests that the average death toll, especially in rural areas, was almost two hundred accused -and consequently murdered without defense- per year.

Although there are multiple rituals to "exorcise" and free the community -when the evil is not expelled from it- or the person from the evils of witchcraft, these rarely allow the victim to remain alive. Who would, after being kept without food or water for days, exposed naked to be beaten, or having acid thrown at him? In the case of women, there seems to be specific treatment understood as worse than death: rape and humiliation, such as exposing their naked bodies, cutting or burning their hair, being urinated on, and all this as a public spectacle.

And yes, also in our "civilized" world, the Western world, cases of witchcraft continue, cases that, on the other hand, apparently do not materialize, but do remain. They are usually treated as mental and psychotic illnesses, paranoia, towards the murderers, and never as witchcraft towards the victims. But that the defendants defend themselves by claiming that they had been bewitched further confirms the underlying idea that this is possible.

It should also be said, without offense, or with third intentions, that a large part of these cases occur in groups called "racial", that is, immigrants who preserve their traditions and beliefs, sometimes not very syncretic with the Western world. This does not mean that prosecution and liberation murders continue to be despicable and condemnable, but it is often a perfect excuse for the "civilized ones" to continue to be so and immigrant communities can be marginalized and depersonalized. But, as it has just been said, and as proof of lack of offense, there are also religious groups, especially Christians, who insist on their purification and liberation capacity through exorcisms. The incitement of these towards rejecting witchcraft and interpreting strange cases, generally psychic, as effects of the devil or a spell, with the consequent pseudo-sacral acts - sometimes almost magical, although it is not admitted, such as potions, ablutions and even impressions of symbols - and improper exorcisms, also cause a false revival of faith through fear and dependence, which ends in psychiatric and physical problems, if not death, for the victim.

To this has also been added the horrible fact of child abuse in supposed rituals, which leads to another social dimension of the problem, which is very difficult to deal with in itself. These abuses, carried out by closed groups, stain the entire community, which, due to its beliefs, is also turned into a pedophile criminal. Religion is not exempt from such examples either.

With this small sketch it can be seen how the western world enjoys a privileged position as far as the question of magic is concerned. Orders, individual practices, even literatures, regardless of the many disastrous flashy characters, troublemakers, and swindlers that cloud the landscape, are quite a privilege.

Since 2017 the United Nations formally condemns as hate crimes for religious reasons, since magic is framed, as has been said since the beginning of this web page, within beliefs. Awareness of this fact is necessary, in the same way as instilling human rights, among which is freedom of belief, above the opinions that arise from them.

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada


-Badela, Mfundo; Why witches are still flying in Africa? Partridge Publishing, 2015
-Spence, S. Witchcraft accusations and persecutions as a mechanism for the marginalisation of Women. Cambridge Scholar Publishing, Newcastle,2017.
-Stewart, P., Strathern, A. Brujería, hechicería, rumores y habladurías. Akal, Madrid, 2008
-Pavanello, M. (Ed.) Perspectives in African Witchcraft. Routledge, NY, 2017

Related posts:

Magic and witchcraft in tradicional black Africa (notes)

> Magicology (II):a a distorted picture

Licencia de Creative Commons
Este obra está bajo una licencia de Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial-CompartirIgual 4.0 Internacional.