What are the chances of finding a human society that has no other-worldly beliefs?
For billions of people across the world, whole movements of philosophy and arts spring up due to beliefs about spirits and what they do. And Africans are no different when it comes to witchcraft.
Witchcraft is supposed to be esoteric arts, an evil shamed into obscurity. But this does not mean the phenomenon is rid totally out of the people’s consciousness.
They want to know who and where witches are. They want to know those things witches can do for and against them; it is fair to say that many Africans are obsessed with witchcraft.
Indeed, among some peoples on the continent, there is a belief that there are ways to tell if someone is a witch.
Witchcraft may be used for good. But if there is an attempt to know who is a witch, this is essentially an uncovering of that evil spirit that may hurt the wellbeing of another or the community.
Polish philosopher Helmut Danner explained the mysticism quite well for those alien to the phenomenon in Africa: “[African] Witchcraft rituals are practiced in secrecy and often at night. Typically, sorcerers or healers do not speak about their doings, which makes it even more difficult to understand them or even reconcile their attitude with our Western world view.”
Take some of the peoples of southern Malawi and parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
They resort to the powdered bark of the nkasa tree, a tropical plant. It is believed that the only reason the tree has to be cut is so that a witchdoctor or an nganga can use the bark to identify witches.
The accused witch has to consume the powder. If he, or usually she, vomits the powder and lives, they are deemed innocent and if they die, they are guilty.
The locals believe that the nkasa itself is edible but if its purpose is to reveal witchcraft, it would do its job. Usually, when a person passes the test, there is merrymaking but if they do not, there is very little mourning for what is perceived as a wicked soul.
But if you were not one to buy the idea that a traditional witchdoctor could successfully hunt a witch, Africa’s multimillion-dollar Christianity “industry” might be your alternative.
From West Africa down to the south, many of the continent’s over 600 million Christian contribute financially and faithfully to a gospel-sharing business that sells the promise of revealing who is behind your misfortunes.
It is the witches and other like-spirited things who are believed to be powered by the biblical Lucifer.
Massive prayer festivals and conventions are held, almost every other day of the week in addition to Sunday. At these programmes, preachers instruct congregations on how to deal with spiritual problems, especially witchcraft.
And then evil spirits are cast out of some people who are willing to step up for what is known as a deliverance session. Other times, these people are identified by the preacher by virtue of “spiritual sight”.
The deliverance sessions witness confessions on the part of the delivered who claim to have done evil under some maleficent spirits.
Both the traditional and Africanised Christian methods of witch-hunting can exist simultaneously in the same community.