Wednesday, 21 February 2007

9:2 Why not believe in witches?

People in the majority of human societies both today and in the past believe that much of the pain and trouble in the world is caused by witchcraft. The effects of the stars, of random chance or of God’s punishment, are less appealing as explanations largely because there is less we can do as a result of such beliefs. The stars are mindless and unapproachable, chance is uncontrollable and random, God is inscrutable and acts on a plan which often runs counter to our wishes. Yet witches are detectable and can be fought. They think like us, but with evil intentions. To find them we can turn to diviners.

Divination, using various kinds of oracle or shamanic ritual, is a technique to discover the cause for a misfortune. A sign in a mirror or glass ball, throwing of dice, bones or stones, footprints in ash or sand or the voice of a summoned spirit, points us to the offending witch. We can then take action and eradicate him or her. We can set up anti-witchcraft devices such as special substances or sacrifices to ward off the evil or treat the afflicted. All such divination uses devices which prevent it from being shown to be false. If a cure fails, it is because the witch was too strong or the counter-magic used against her was wrongly performed. If the wrong person is accused of witchcraft it is because the real witch has laid a false trail.

Witchcraft is a closed world. It is impossible to challenge its basic premises from within. In the past, almost everyone believed in the power of witchcraft. A sceptic, if such existed, would be accused of being a witch or in the power of one. It is very like many other closed systems which you will have heard about, for example communism. It explains much of the suffering in the world. Every new event adds to its strength. It is very attractive to human beings who live a pain-filled existence.

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