Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Witchcraft Fears Part 2: Shunning, Jail, and Death

I posted below about how modern witchcraft fears include the idea of physical paraphernalia and patterns of material culture left behind at supposed ritual sites as a form of folk archaeology.

These investigations can have deadly serious consequences. I have already mentioned the West Memphis Three, three men sent to prison for a brutal multiple murder and convicted in part due to supposed Satanic tendencies. Recent legal action has resurrected a WWII-era case of imprisonment for witchcraft in the UK. Helen Duncan, a medium, was imprisoned for nine months after intelligence authorities heard she had materialized the spirit of a sailor from a ship that had not been officially declared lost. Philadelphia this year has begun shutting down psychics, fortune tellers, and other related businesses. While arrest for crimes with supposed occult overtones does occur and can be serious business (see previous post), fear of magic can also run to the ridiculous extreme of trying to ban Harry Potter books. In fact, paganism (included in the occult by Christians concerned with the subject) is still on the rise in Britain (Scottish Christians are complaining they aren't getting treatment equal with Pagans) and Australia, to the point that it is more a question of etiquette.

But elsewhere in the world, witchcraft fears and accusations can carry much more weight. Malaysia closed a museum exhibit on supernatural beings because of concern from Muslim government officials. Nigeria's president is accusing rivals of witchcraft. Magicians and other practitioners have been banned in Indonesia from trying to magically seal a mud volcano issuing from a failed gas exploration.

But the time-honored final stage of witchcraft accusations, murders, continues to occur. Three women were burnt as witches in East Timor in January, while an elderly couple were accused of witchcraft and burnt to death in India at the beginning of this month. Zambian police had to use tear gas to save an elderly man from a mob that accused him of witchcraft, while a Ugandan mob attacked the house of an accused (and confessed) witch.

EDIT: A witch is leaving Halifax, British Columbia because of attacks on her and her friends, including a stabbing, beating, and rock throwing.

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