Thursday, April 28, 2011

Modern Day Witch-Hunts: Azande pt. 3

“To the Azande the question of guilt does not present itself as it would to us.” This is a notion that is brought up when talking about whether the witches confess to their crimes or not. There is a question then of morality among the Azande and whether they really understand what is right and wrong. To explain this lack of morality they ultimately blame witchcraft. These notions of a moral compass being off track are side effects of witchcraft. So for example if a man commits adultery he is said to be a witch (Evans-Pritchard 56).

So are these witches dealt with? Well that is a very complicated question in which Evans-Pritchard spends a good third of the book trying to explain. See to first find out who the witch was, the victim has to go to a “poison oracle” who then goes through different rituals (yep all involving poison) to find the witch and bring them to justice. Now there are charts and examples out the wazoo of different types of rituals and the aftermath of the rituals (Evans-Pritchard 57). Once again if you want to get the full story read the ethnography (which I can’t stress enough is incredibly fascinating) but what it comes down to is this. Witchcraft is blamed for everything in the society but the witches aren’t burnt at the stake like we see in Europe and other parts of the world. This whole cycle of retribution through these oracles is a normal part of the Azande society. Think of it as our system of law, well sort of.

Out of all the different views of witches and witchcraft there are some among the Azande that are just plain, well weird for lack of another word. First I have to mention that the Azande believed that many animals were actually witches or dead witches inhabiting animals. The Azande then feared many of the wild animals but none more than the wild cat that they called adandara. The Azande describe the adandara: “It is witchcraft; they are the same as witchcraft” (Evans-Pritchard 237).

It is believed that the male of the adandara have sexual relations with women of the villages. The women then give birth to kittens and breast feeds them like human children (oh don’t worry it gets weirder). These cats are supposed to be avoided at all times and it is believed that even hearing their cries in the brush are fatal. To drive off the adandara, one has to get a magical whistle from an oracle. One blow of the whistle will scare away the adandara (Evans-Pritchard 237).

In addition to the cats being evil and associated with witchcraft, so is Lesbianism. In fact sexual relations between two women is given the same name as the wild cats: adandara. “They say ‘it is the same as cat.’ This comparison is based upon the like inauspiciousness of both phenomena and on the fact that both are female actions which may cause the death of any man who witnesses them.” Because Lesbianism is considered evil, the women who were caught engaging in it were punished. Now, one would think that they would be punished similar to the witches, with the oracles involved. It is interesting though that many of the women who were engaging in homosexual activity were executed, for it was considered the highest evil among witchcraft (Evans-Pritchard 238).

I mentioned in the previous post that women and men were equally responsible for witchcraft, but that didn’t mean that men and women were treated equally. As we can see just from the accounts of Lesbianism, women were more likely to be punished than men. In fact the women in the society could be punished for many different things most of with were blamed on witchcraft (like everything else in the society). Then any “unusual” function of the woman genitalia in general was considered to be unlucky and evil which goes back to giving birth to cats and homosexual tendencies. In fact even menstruation was considered to be an agent of witchcraft (Evans-Pritchard 239).

Okay and then we get even weirder. If a man is the possessor of bad teeth he is called an irakörinde and is thought to be extremely bad luck. Also if when he was born the man grew his top teeth before his bottom teeth he was also considered an irakörinde. The irakörinde were then kept away from new crops and anything that was being built since they caused things to break or crops to die. The problem is then how can the villagers tell who has bad teeth? Well that is hard to tell, so once again they relied on the oracles to provide them with magical charms and guidance against them (Evans-Pritchard 240).

Hopefully you have learned a lot from this study on the Azande and their bizarre notions of evil and witchcraft. What you should take away from this is that this is all going on now, this is not an account from thousands of years ago; it is the 20th century. That is what the 30 days of advocacy against witch-hunts has strived to do, expose the atrocities that are plaguing our world. Just because these 30 days are now up does not mean that we stop spreading the word. We have to continue to open people’s eyes up to this because (once again sounding like a broken record) most people don’t know and don’t want to know that this is something that is still alive and well today. I hope that you pass the information that you learn in my blog, as well as other participants in this movement, along and that you take something away from it all.


E.E. Evans-Pritchard. Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande. Oxford University Press, 1976.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Modern Day Witch-Hunts: Azande pt. 2

The first part of this look at the Azande I gave you some background on Evans-Pritchard and his ethnography Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande. Hopefully that background on author and the Azande people will give you a better of understanding when it comes to how the Azande view witchcraft. This post I will now be focusing on those views of witchcraft and how it falls in this society.

“[All] death is due to witchcraft and must me avenged” (Evans-Pritchard 5). This was the line that I ended the last post with and it pretty much summed up the core of the values of the Azande and witchcraft in their society. What it comes down to is that whenever anything happens in the community whether it is death, sickness a child running away, etc witchcraft is always to be blamed for it (Evan-Pritchard 6).

What is interesting though is that if the “culprit” of the sickness or death is found not only do they have to pay (usually literally with money) but their family also. The reason the family has to pay is because like I mentioned in the last post, the “witchcraft-substance” is considered an inherent part of them, thus the whole family is responsible for it (Evans-Pritchard 7).

Another thing that is unique to the Azande look on witchcraft is this idea that the witch-craft substance grows as you age. With this growing of the psychical substance the “power” that a person has also grows with them. This is why many of the Azande fear the elders in the society and they get blamed for the majority of the problems that are witchcraft related, which among them is everything. With that said, children that have the witchcraft substance aren’t seen as a threat because it is thought to be very small inside of them and practically harmless (Evans-Pritchard 8).

Among the Azande men and women are equally accused of being witches. Like mentioned in the previous post the witchcraft-substance is passed from an ancestor of the same sex and thus a man is just as likely to be a witch as a woman (which of course is much different than a lot of the western ideas of witches). What is interesting though is that among the Azande it is more likely for a man to use witchcraft against a man and a woman against another woman. There are some cases where woman were accused of using witchcraft against a man but never a man against a woman (Evans-Pritchard8).

So we’ve talked about this concept of the “witchcraft-substance” which is inherently biological but there is another part to witchcraft. The actual action of the witches is something that is psychic and is known as mbisimo mangu which is the soul of witchcraft. It then comes down to the idea that the soul of witchcraft can leave the corporeal body of a witch at any given time to carry out the duty of the witch, but especially when they were asleep. This is how the Azande explained how some witches who were accused were sleeping at the time of the attacks/death/etc (Evans-Pritchard 10).

When the witchcraft leaves the body it is said to leave a trail of light behind almost like a fire fly, but the only people that can see this light is other witches or oracles. Sometimes men can see it because sometimes it will light other things like branches and things like because “witchcraft is like fire, it lights a light.” If a man does see this light he has to pick up a piece of charcoal and throw it under his bed otherwise misfortune will fall on him (Evans-Pritchard 11).

It is important to note though that this light is not the witch itself but more of an emanation from the soul. On the flipside the witchcraft soul is said to take part of the victim’s organs or what the Azande call mbisimo pasio. This basically means the “soul of his flesh” which than the witch will devour and share with his/her fellow witches. This whole act is very similar to the notions of vampirism but the difference? Among the Azande this whole process is one that is incorporeal because the soul of witchcraft is eating the soul of the organ or flesh (Evans-Pritchard 12).

So once again it is easy to see that the Azande’s look upon witchcraft (every part of it) as an evil thing. Their ideas are much different that the Europeans had on witchcraft or really any other culture’s feelings towards witchcraft. Now you have to remember that I’m sort of summarizing these ideas for if I mentioned every single little notion they had on witchcraft I’d have to right my own book. So I strongly urge you to go out and read Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande.

Now that you have more of an idea on how the Azande felt about witches and that they blamed witches for any problems that they had in their society we can next talk about how the society dealt with these witches. I will outline that in part three which will be the last part of the Azande witchcraft study as well as the last post in my witchcraft series. Once again I leave you with a line to help you anticipate what you will learn in the next section: “To the Azande the question of guilt does not present itself as it would to us.”


E.E. Evans-Pritchard. Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande. Oxford University Press, 1976.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Modern Day Witch-Hunts: Azande pt. 1

So we have been discussing witch-hunts that have been happening in modern day times and the numbers are numerous. Now that I have shared with you the details surrounding the deaths of many we can safely day the majority of them are a result of the this “fear of the unknown.” The need to blame a group of people for sickness, misfortunes and the like which like I have mentioned has been going on for thousands of years. Now though it’s time to discuss what people of different cultures really think of witch and the practice of witchcraft and sorcery.

Now obviously I am foremost a writer who is objectively looking at these cases but also I am an aspiring anthropologist who looks at things through an anthropological lens at time. Then I would me remise if I didn’t pull information from perhaps one of the most helpful pieces of writing when it comes to getting at the core of a culture. This of course is an ethnography. Now I never assume that people know what I’m talking about when I get into “technical” speak so for those out there who don’t know ethnographies are the writings of an anthropologist who immerses themselves in a culture for an extended period of time. The ethnography then chronicles the time that they’ve spent and can be anywhere from the size of a short novella to a large book reminiscent of encyclopedias.

My favorite ethnography and one that I actually own falls into this whole series of witch-hunts perfectly is Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande. This ethnography was written by Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard who was a professor of Social Anthropology at Oxford University from 1946 until 1970. During the late 20s Evans-Prichard and a team of researches journeyed to the Southern Sudan and lived among Azande and learned all they could about them. The ethnography was originally published in 1937 but no one really seemed to care about these villages in Sudan and their practices. It was until the 1950s that it became talked about in anthropological circles. To this day ones cannot take a class or have a detailed discussion on sorcery or witchcraft beliefs without mentioning Evans-Pritchard’s work.

Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande is a very detailed look at the beliefs among the Azande and their views about witchcraft and the implications of it on their lives. It is so detailed though that I can only mention so much of it without practically quoting all 265 pages of it. For these last couple of days of the 30 Days of Advocacy Against Witch-Hunts I will be discussing the ethnography with an emphasis on how the witches are treated in the society and specifically the outlandish and bizarre views that the community has on the subject. I urge you all to go and read this ethnography on your own since it is a beyond fascinating read.

For this first post on the Azande I just want to give some background and their ideas of witchcraft. Once again I feel better quoting Evans-Pritchard directly to get the full feel of what he experienced when he first entered the community:

Azande believe that some people are witches and can injure them in virtue of an inherent quality. A witch performs no rite, utters no spell, and possesses no medicines. An act of witchcraft is a psychic act. They believe also that sorcerers may do them ill by performing magic rites with bad medicines. Azande distinguish clearly between witches and sorcerers (Evans-Pritchard 1).

So right away with his first paragraph in his ethnography we already get the sense that these notions of witchcraft are a lot different than many other witchcraft practices around the world and thus have much different implications to the society.

Throughout the ethnography Evans-Pritchard stresses that there is no problem finding information about witchcraft among the Azande. They talk freely about it and will tell him and the rest of his researches whatever they want to know about the subject. He talks about how the first word he ever heard uttered in the village was “Mangu” which in the Azande language means witchcraft.

Evans-Pritchard then explains the concept of what a witch is after talking to one Azande village man:

[They] believe that witchcraft is a substance in the bodies of witches… it is difficult to say which organ Azande associate with witchcraft. I have never seen a witchcraft-substance, but it has often been described to me as an oval blackish swelling or a bag in which several various small objects are sometimes found. When Azande describe its shape they often point to the elbow of their bent arm and when they describe its location they point to just beneath the xiphoid cartilage which is said to ‘cover witchcraft-substance.’ They say: “It is attached to the edge of the liver. When people cut open the belly they have to only pierce it and witchcraft-substance bursts through with a pop (Evans-Pritchard 2).

So already we have this picture in our heads of what exactly this witchcraft substance is and the way it is describes isn’t an appealing one. So one could argue that it is something that is considered bad in the society just from the way it is described by the villagers, like it is a tumor or a disease of some kind.

The question then becomes, where does this substance come from? Does it grow within the person or is one born with it? Well the answer is the Azande believe that the witchcraft-substance is inherited. It is passed “…by unilinear descent from parent to child. The sons of a male witch are all witches but his daughters are not, while the daughters of a female witch are all witches but their sons are not.” Evans-Pritchard then goes into more detail about how this biological transmission is one that complements the beliefs of sex among the Azande which is another study all in itself (Evans-Pritchard 2).

So hopefully now you have a better grip on what exactly makes a Azande witch a witch in the eyes of the people. In the next couple of posts I will be outlining how the society views these witches and what happens to them. I then leave you with this notion that the Azande have “[all] death is due to witchcraft and must me avenged” (Evans-Pritchard 5).


E.E. Evans-Pritchard. Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande. Oxford University Press, 1976.

Cover of the Book pictured above

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Modern Day Witch-hunts: Spreading the Word

In the last post I touched on how little information there is out there on these atrocities going on in this day and age. I probably run the risk of sounding like a broken record but the majority of the world’s population just doesn’t believe that this is a problem or that it’s even happening. Through this whole series I went around to some of my friends and mentioned a few words and told them to tell me the first things that came to their minds. The first phrase was “witch-hunts.” Most immediately said the Salem Witch trials, a couple said the French Witch trials and one brought up McCarthy and communism. Still that gives you an idea of what people think of when they hear these words.

The fact of the matter is this is something that is not just limited to the past; it is something that is happening more and more around the word and the media just isn’t covering it. Now I had mentioned before that I had only found a few articles that even mentioned the witch-hunts and the ones that did had extreme biases. Well I found this one great article that was written in 2006 by a woman named Phebe A. Durand.

Durand’s article is titled appropriately “The Burning Times – A History of Persecution” in which she exposes many of the horrible acts that have happened in modern times. The first part of this article is brilliantly written so instead of trying to sum it up I’ll just quote it so nothing is lost. Durand writes:

The words burn into my eyes like gruesome headlines: 2 Women Killed By a Mob in Ghana. 1 burned alive at Verkhnesadovye. And, finally, a 55 year old woman doused with gasoline and set afire at Hammanskraael, South

Africa. These people, condemned as witches, were not persecuted in the 16th or 17th century. The "unknown" 55 year old woman was murdered on 19 July, 1996.

The 20th century death toll is as ridiculous as it is long. In November, 1925 a person was shot in Germany as a suspected werewolf. One was killed for sorcery in France, 1977. And between the years 1986 and 1996, over 300 people suspected of witchcraft were killed in South Africa. Not chilled to the bone yet? Listen closely to the last entry on the Witch Killings database: Tikambai Sahu, killed by a mob, Nagpur India, 27 June, 2000 (Durand 2006).

Couldn’t have said it any better, she really got at the heart of what is really going on. This is not something that is limited to the past; I can’t drill that home enough. These are real people not characters in a movie or a novel; real live people who are now dead.

Durand goes on to talk about the “Witch Killings Database” that she got this information from. The database is called “The Burning Times” and is a comprehensive list of almost every accused witch that was executed in our modern times. She points out that this list is not run by a pagan group but by a group of people who are “devoted to recording acts of inhumanity- in every religion” (Durand 2006).

This group of people released this statement about their list, “Some were guilty. Most were probably innocent and Christian. A few were "satanists", most were not. Some were just senile. Or too ugly. Or too pretty. Or just in the wrong place at the wrong time. At least one was subsequently made a Saint... We present this list as historical data... and as an object lesson in the ultimate results of intolerance, superstition, and hate-mongering” (Durand 2006).

Once again I couldn’t have said it any better myself. This just shows people’s need to accuse something/someone for their problems even if in reality they make no sense what so ever (like in the political cartoon above). This is the only article that I found (well besides those who like me who are participating in the 30 Days of Advocacy against Witch-hunts) that actually exposes these witch-hunts for what they are and strives to educate people about what is happening.


Phebe A. Durand. The Burning Times - a History of Persecution. Feb 8, 2006

Political Cartoon Courtesy of