7 things you don’t know about witchcraft in Africa

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Although Heidi Holland will probably be known for her eye-opening book Dinner with Mugabe in the years to come, she also left a mark in several other aspects that make Africa a distinctive country, including magic and witchcraft.

Such traditions, while based on non-scientific information, is an irreplaceable part of the African culture and should still be considered as such despite advances in technology and science.

Holland understands this very well. In fact, she crafted a book to honor this aspect of the continent’s culture in African Magic: Traditional Ideas That Heal A Continent. This 211-page paperback published in 2001 by Penguin-South Africa encompasses multitudes of true stories from real people who experienced African magic first-hand.

In the book, Holland discussed beliefs in African nations such as prophecies, prophets, and witchcraft. As a South African-born writer, she took it upon herself to shed some light on one of the continent’s fascinating facets.

African Witchcraft: 7 Things You May Not Know

After her book was released in 2001, Holland brought another aspect of Africa and its Sub Saharan natural philosophies front and center for the world to try to comprehend.

Since the subject is widely considered a myth, there remain very few people who are aware of the deeper meanings of every practice and ritual involved therein. In a quest to explain this Heidi Holland compiled true stories of people who were tangled with witches or accused of being one.

1.      The Birth of Twins is Based on Witchcraft is Fueled by Symbolism

In her book, Holland made an interesting claim that witchcraft is fueled by symbolism. But as you read on, you’ll find that her claims are actually founded on facts.

Citing common instances that result in accusations of witchcraft, Holland unveils the reason why townsfolk under the Karanga culture throw stones at people they barely know and why even these women themselves are swayed to believe so.

Giving birth to twins, for example, is deemed a sign of witchcraft because of the notion that only one soul is granted upon the conception of an unborn child. Since twins are two different people with two different souls, their conception is therefore not from the hand of God.

2.      Handicapped Children are Born Out of Witchcraft

Still covered under the above-stated premise, one more example of witchcraft-based belief is the birth of handicapped children.

In the Karanga society, it is believed that there should only be normal infants as God doesn’t make mistakes in his creation of mankind. Thus, babies with deformities or extra limbs tend to be a product of witchcraft.

3.      Most People Accused of Being Witches Are Mentally Ill

In the book, Holland revealed that people who are allegedly witches don’t live a happy life as they are often ridiculed and blamed for almost every mishap that occurs in the village. And with this traumatic experience comes risks to their mental health.

The accusations eventually transform into the person’s reality. The more people that point fingers and accusing them of witchcraft, the higher the chance that they believe it is true.

Psychiatrists explained that the alleged witches who are swayed to embrace the role of instruments of destruction eventually behave accordingly. They also believe that this may be the cause of some schizophrenic episodes as it encompasses a familiar sequence of events for these mentally ill patients.

4.      Why People Accused of Witchcraft are Mostly Women

In South Africa, people classify individuals who use magic into three types: the sangoma, inyanga, and thakathi.

 Sangoma, also called shamans or diviners, are people who employ magic to predict fortune, diagnose illnesses, or identify criminals in the society. Inyanga, on the other hand, are those referred to as witch doctors who use naturopathy and herbalism to cure diseases and other disorders.

Finally, thakathi, which is improperly translated into “witch” in English, are those who use magic to cause others to harm or pain out of spite. It is believed that the thakathi are mostly female, similar to beliefs in other parts of the world.

This, based on an Encyclopedia account, is mostly due to the variance made by informants themselves in their general statements.

5.      People Use Witchcraft to Explain the Inexplicable

Witchcraft is akin to religion in a sense that people use it to explain what they don’t understand. Although science has taken most of the veil from the mysteries of human existence, natural phenomena, and life itself, there remain some things that cannot be comprehended by the human mind. During these instances, people tend to turn to magic or divine intervention.

6.      African Witches Also Use Animals as Familiars

As in most legends around the world, African witches are also believed to be using animals as familiars. However, they prefer owls, hyenas, and baboons over common domesticated pets like cats, dogs, and weasels in Europe, according to Encyclopedia.

7.      The Debate About the Types of Witches Continues

One interesting witchcraft belief that is common in African communities is the distinction between different types of these magic users.

Sotho-speaking natives of South Africa, for example, differentiate day sorcerers from night witches based on their gender and manner of magic use. According to Witchcraft and Witches, the former (mostly men) through harm infliction using herbs and medicines while the latter (mostly women) go about bewitching the unfortunate.

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