In this sensitive and personal investigation into Benin's occult world, Douglas J. Falen wrestles with the challenges of encountering a reality in which magic, science, and the Vodun religion converge into a single universal force. He takes seriously his Beninese interlocutors' insistence that the indigenous phenomenon known as àze ("witchcraft") is an African science, credited with fantastic and productive deeds, such as teleportation and supernatural healing.
Although the Beninese understanding of àze reflects positive scientific properties in its use of specialized knowledge to harness nature's energy and realize economic success, its boundless power is inherently ambivalent because it can corrupt its users, who dispense death and destruction. Witches and healers are equivalent to supervillains and superheroes, locked in epic battles over malevolent and benevolent human desires. Beninese people's discourse about such mystical confrontations expresses a philosophy of moral duality and cosmic balance. Falen demonstrates how a deep engagement with another lived reality opens our minds and contributes to understanding across cultural difference.
Jeanne Favret-Saada is arguably one of France’s most brilliant anthropologists, and The Anti-Witch is nothing less than a masterpiece. A synthesis of ethnographic theory and psychoanalytic revelation, where the line between researcher and subject is blurred—if not erased—The Anti-Witch develops the contours of an anthropology of therapy, while deeply engaging with what it means to be caught in the logic of witchcraft. Through an intimate and provocative sharing of the ethnographic voice with Madame Flora, a “dewitcher,” Favret-Saada delivers a critical challenge to some of anthropology’s fundamental concepts.
Sure to be of interest to practitioners of psychoanalysis as well as to anthropologists, The Anti-Witch will bring a new generation of scholars into conversation with the work of a truly innovative thinker.
These days, development inspires scant trust in the West. For critics who condemn centralized efforts to plan African societies as latter day imperialism, such plans too closely reflect their roots in colonial rule and neoliberal economics. But proponents of this pessimistic view often ignore how significant this concept has become for Africans themselves. In Bewitching Development, James Howard Smith presents a close ethnographic account of how people in the Taita Hills of Kenya have appropriated and made sense of development thought and practice, focusing on the complex ways that development connects with changing understandings of witchcraft.
Similar to magic, development’s promise of a better world elicits both hope and suspicion from Wataita. Smith shows that the unforeseen changes wrought by development—greater wealth for some, dashed hopes for many more—foster moral debates that Taita people express in occult terms. By carefully chronicling the beliefs and actions of this diverse community—from frustrated youths to nostalgic seniors, duplicitous preachers to thought-provoking witch doctors—BewitchingDevelopment vividly depicts the social life of formerly foreign ideas and practices in postcolonial Africa.
In the rural areas of south-central Mexico, there are believed to be witches who transform themselves into animals in order to suck the blood from the necks of sleeping infants. This book analyzes beliefs held by the great majority of the population of rural Tlaxcala a generation ago and chronicles its drastic transformation since then.
"The most comprehensive statement on this centrally important ethnographic phenomenon in the last forty years. It bears ready comparison with the two great classics, Evans-Pritchard's Witchcraft Among the Azande and Clyde Kluckhohn's Navaho Witchcraft."—Henry H. Selby
In 1631, at the epicenter of the worst excesses of the European witch-hunts, Friedrich Spee, a Jesuit priest, published the Cautio Criminalis, a book speaking out against the trials that were sending thousands of innocent people to gruesome deaths. Spee, who had himself ministered to women accused of witchcraft in Germany, had witnessed firsthand the twisted logic and brutal torture used by judges and inquisitors. Combined, these harsh prosecutorial measures led inevitably not only to a confession but to denunciations of supposed accomplices, spreading the circle of torture and execution ever wider.
Driven by his priestly charge of enacting Christian charity, or love, Spee sought to expose the flawed arguments and methods used by the witch-hunters. His logic is relentless as he reveals the contradictions inherent in their arguments, showing there is no way for an innocent person to prove her innocence. And, he questions, if the condemned witches truly are guilty, how could the testimony of these servants and allies of Satan be reliable? Spee's insistence that suspects, no matter how heinous the crimes of which they are accused, possess certain inalienable rights is a timeless reminder for the present day.
The Cautio Criminalis is one of the most important and moving works in the history of witch trials and a revealing documentation of one man's unexpected humanity in a brutal age. Marcus Hellyer's accessible translation from the Latin makes it available to English-speaking audiences for the first time.
Marcus Hellyer is the Dibner Fund Assistant Professor for the History of Science at Brandeis University.
In Colonial Transactions Florence Bernault moves beyond the racial divide that dominates colonial studies of Africa. Instead, she illuminates the strange and frightening imaginaries that colonizers and colonized shared on the ground. Bernault looks at Gabon from the late nineteenth century to the present, historicizing the most vivid imaginations and modes of power in Africa today: French obsessions with cannibals, the emergence of vampires and witches in the Gabonese imaginary, and the use of human organs for fetishes. Struggling over objects, bodies, agency, and values, colonizers and colonized entered relations that are better conceptualized as "transactions." Together they also shared an awareness of how the colonial situation broke down moral orders and forced people to use the evil side of power. This foreshadowed the ways in which people exercise agency in contemporary Africa, as well as the proliferation of magical fears and witchcraft anxieties in present-day Gabon. Overturning theories of colonial and postcolonial nativism, this book is essential reading for historians and anthropologists of witchcraft, power, value, and the body.
On the little-known and darker side of shamanism there exists an ancient form of sorcery called kanaimà, a practice still observed among the Amerindians of the highlands of Guyana, Venezuela, and Brazil that involves the ritual stalking, mutilation, lingering death, and consumption of human victims. At once a memoir of cultural encounter and an ethnographic and historical investigation, this book offers a sustained, intimate look at kanaimà, its practitioners, their victims, and the reasons they give for their actions.
Neil L. Whitehead tells of his own involvement with kanaimà—including an attempt to kill him with poison—and relates the personal testimonies of kanaimà shamans, their potential victims, and the victims’ families. He then goes on to discuss the historical emergence of kanaimà, describing how, in the face of successive modern colonizing forces—missionaries, rubber gatherers, miners, and development agencies—the practice has become an assertion of native autonomy. His analysis explores the ways in which kanaimà mediates both national and international impacts on native peoples in the region and considers the significance of kanaimà for current accounts of shamanism and religious belief and for theories of war and violence.
Kanaimà appears here as part of the wider lexicon of rebellious terror and exotic horror—alongside the cannibal, vampire, and zombie—that haunts the western imagination. Dark Shamans broadens discussions of violence and of the representation of primitive savagery by recasting both in the light of current debates on modernity and globalization.
In this intriguing volume, Gerhild Scholz Williams explores the roles of magic and demonology in France and Germany in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. She guides the reader through a variety of texts--many of them popular and influential in their day--to illuminate how magic came to shape people's perceptions of a changing world. This comprehensive study looks at magic as an intellectual and cultural language, as an attempt to explain the world, and as a means to control and confine women, whose propensity for satanic dalliance threatened not just their own souls but the health of the larger society.
". . . Williams has done an exemplary job of analyzing the intersection of the discourses of magic (as related to women and witchcraft), discovery, and religious diversity/dissidence to explain how the confluence of these discourses eventually 'determined who occupied society's center and who was forced to move to, or remain at, its margins.' . . . Gerhild Scholz Williams is no dilettante grazing in the greener pastures of other disciplines. She has been laboring assiduously in these neighboring fields for years now, and it is breathtaking to see how all of her disparate projects have come together so elegantly articulated in this one volume." --Susan L. Cocalis, German Studies Review
Gerhild Scholz Williams is Professor of German and Comparative Literature, Washington University, St. Louis.
On September 20, 1587, Walpurga Hausmännin of Dillingen in southern Germany was burned at the stake as a witch. Although she had confessed to committing a long list of maleficia (deeds of harmful magic), including killing forty—one infants and two mothers in labor, her evil career allegedly began with just one heinous act—sex with a demon. Fornication with demons was a major theme of her trial record, which detailed an almost continuous orgy of sexual excess with her diabolical paramour Federlin "in many divers places, . . . even in the street by night."
As Walter Stephens demonstrates in Demon Lovers, it was not Hausmännin or other so-called witches who were obsessive about sex with demons—instead, a number of devout Christians, including trained theologians, displayed an uncanny preoccupation with the topic during the centuries of the "witch craze." Why? To find out, Stephens conducts a detailed investigation of the first and most influential treatises on witchcraft (written between 1430 and 1530), including the infamous Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches).
Far from being credulous fools or mindless misogynists, early writers on witchcraft emerge in Stephens's account as rational but reluctant skeptics, trying desperately to resolve contradictions in Christian thought on God, spirits, and sacraments that had bedeviled theologians for centuries. Proof of the physical existence of demons—for instance, through evidence of their intercourse with mortal witches—would provide strong evidence for the reality of the supernatural, the truth of the Bible, and the existence of God. Early modern witchcraft theory reflected a crisis of belief—a crisis that continues to be expressed today in popular debates over angels, Satanic ritual child abuse, and alien abduction.
Harry G. West University of Chicago Press, 2007 Library of Congress DT3328.M35W46 2007 | Dewey Decimal 305.896397
According to the people of the Mueda plateau in northern Mozambique, sorcerers remake the world by asserting the authority of their own imaginative visions of it. While conducting research among these Muedans, anthropologist Harry G. West made a revealing discovery—for many of them, West’s efforts to elaborate an ethnographic vision of their world was itself a form of sorcery. In Ethnographic Sorcery, West explores the fascinating issues provoked by this equation.
A key theme of West’s research into sorcery is that one sorcerer’s claims can be challenged or reversed by other sorcerers. After West’s attempt to construct a metaphorical interpretation of Muedan assertions that the lions prowling their villages are fabricated by sorcerers is disputed by his Muedan research collaborators, West realized that ethnography and sorcery indeed have much in common. Rather than abandoning ethnography, West draws inspiration from this connection, arguing that anthropologists, along with the people they study, can scarcely avoid interpreting the world they inhabit, and that we are all, inescapably, ethnographic sorcerers.
Europe's Inner Demons is a fascinating history of the irrational need to imagine witches and an investigation of how those fantasies made the persecutions of the middle ages possible. In addition, Norman Cohn's discovery that some influential sources on European witch trials were forgeries has revolutionized the field of witchcraft, making this one of the most essential books ever written on the subject.
Through an examination of caste in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Mexico, Hall of Mirrors explores the construction of hierarchy and difference in a Spanish colonial setting. Laura A. Lewis describes how the meanings attached to the categories of Spanish, Indian, black, mulatto, and mestizo were generated within that setting, as she shows how the cultural politics of caste produced a system of fluid and relational designations that simultaneously facilitated and undermined Spanish governance.
Using judicial records from a variety of colonial courts, Lewis highlights the ethnographic details of legal proceedings as she demonstrates how Indians, in particular, came to be the masters of witchcraft, a domain of power that drew on gendered and hegemonic caste distinctions to complicate the colonial hierarchy. She also reveals the ways in which blacks, mulattoes, and mestizos mediated between Spaniards and Indians, alternatively reinforcing Spanish authority and challenging it through alliances with Indians. Bringing to life colonial subjects as they testified about their experiences, Hall of Mirrors discloses a series of contradictions that complicate easy distinctions between subalterns and elites, resistance and power.
In Darkness and Secrecy brings together ethnographic examinations of Amazonian assault sorcery, witchcraft, and injurious magic, or “dark shamanism.” Anthropological reflections on South American shamanism have tended to emphasize shamans’ healing powers and positive influence. This collection challenges that assumption by showing that dark shamans are, in many Amazonian cultures, quite different from shamanic healers and prophets. Assault sorcery, in particular, involves violence resulting in physical harm or even death. While highlighting the distinctiveness of such practices, In Darkness and Secrecy reveals them as no less relevant to the continuation of culture and society than curing and prophecy. The contributors suggest that the persistence of dark shamanism can be understood as a form of engagement with modernity.
These essays, by leading anthropologists of South American shamanism, consider assault sorcery as it is practiced in parts of Brazil, Guyana, Venezuela, and Peru. They analyze the social and political dynamics of witchcraft and sorcery and their relation to cosmology, mythology, ritual, and other forms of symbolic violence and aggression in each society studied. They also discuss the relations of witchcraft and sorcery to interethnic contact and the ways that shamanic power may be co-opted by the state. In Darkness and Secrecy includes reflections on the ethical and practical implications of ethnographic investigation of violent cultural practices.
Contributors. Dominique Buchillet, Carlos Fausto, Michael Heckenberger, Elsje Lagrou, E. Jean Langdon, George Mentore, Donald Pollock, Fernando Santos-Granero, Pamela J. Stewart, Andrew Strathern, Márnio Teixeira-Pinto, Silvia Vidal, Neil L. Whitehead, Johannes Wilbert, Robin Wright
The tale of Paul Stoller's sojourn among sorcerors in the Republic of Niger is a story of growth and change, of mutual respect and understanding that will challenge all who read it to plunge deeply into an alien world.
The First Complete Account of the Largest Supernatural Crisis in American history, and How Ordinary Citizens Brought It to a Close
By July 1692, the witch hunt surrounding the town of Salem and Salem Village had been raging for four months. The Massachusetts Bay colony’s new governor, William Phips, had established a special court to try the suspected witches and the trials were well under way. No new arrests had taken place for nearly six weeks and residents had every reason to believe the crisis soon would be over. However, a middle-aged woman in nearby Andover lay gravely ill. Her husband suspected witchcraft as the cause and invited some of the afflicted girls from Salem Village to the town, thinking they could determine whether his suspicions were valid. Not surprisingly, they confirmed his supposition. The first person these girls accused in Andover—a frail and elderly widow bereaved by a series of family tragedies over the previous three years—not only confessed, but stated that there were more than three hundred witches in the region, five times more than the number of suspects already in jail. This touched off a new wave of accusations, confessions, and formal charges. Before the witchcraft crisis ended, forty-five residents of Andover found themselves jailed on suspicion of witchcraft—more than the combined total of suspects from Salem Village and the town of Salem. Of these, three were hanged and one died while awaiting execution.
Based on extensive primary source research, In the Shadow of Salem: The Andover Witch Hunt of 1692, by historian and archivist Richard Hite, tells for the first time the fascinating story of this long overlooked phase of the largest witch hunt in American history. Untangling a net of rivalries and ties between families and neighbors, the author explains the actions of the accusers, the reactions of the accused, and their ultimate fates. In the process, he shows how the Andover arrests prompted a large segment of the town’s population to openly oppose the entire witch hunt and how their actions played a crucial role in finally bringing the 1692 witchcraft crisis to a close.
On the Mueda plateau in northern Mozambique, sorcerers are said to feed on their victims, sometimes "making" lions or transforming into lions to literally devour their flesh. When the ruling FRELIMO party subscribed to socialism, it condemned sorcery beliefs and counter-sorcery practices as false consciousness, but since undertaking neoliberal reform, the party—still in power after three electoral cycles—has "tolerated tradition," leaving villagers to interpret and engage with events in the idiom of sorcery. Now, when the lions prowl plateau villages ,suspected sorcerers are often lynched.
In this historical ethnography of sorcery, Harry G. West draws on a decade of fieldwork and combines the perspectives of anthropology and political science to reveal how Muedans expect responsible authorities to monitor the invisible realm of sorcery and to overturn or, as Muedans call it, "kupilikula" sorcerers' destructive attacks by practicing a constructive form of counter-sorcery themselves. Kupilikula argues that, where neoliberal policies have fostered social division rather than security and prosperity, Muedans have, in fact, used sorcery discourse to assess and sometimes overturn reforms, advancing alternative visions of a world transformed.
Madumo, a Man Bewitched
Adam Ashforth University of Chicago Press, 2000 Library of Congress BF1584.S6Z7 2000 | Dewey Decimal 299.64
No one answered when I tapped at the back door of Madumo's home on Mphahlele Street a few days after my return to Soweto, so I pushed the buckling red door in a screeching grind of metal over concrete and entered calling, "Hallo?"
So begins this true story of witchcraft and friendship set against the turbulent backdrop of contemporary Soweto. Adam Ashforth, an Australian who has spent many years in the black township, finds his longtime friend Madumo in dire circumstances: his family has accused him of using witchcraft to kill his mother and has thrown him out on the street. Convinced that his life is cursed, Madumo seeks help among Soweto's bewildering array of healers and prophets. An inyanga, or traditional healer, confirms that he has indeed been bewitched. With Ashforth by his side, skeptical yet supportive, Madumo embarks upon a physically grueling treatment regimen that he follows religiously-almost to the point of death-despite his suspicion that it may be better to "Westernize my mind and not think about witchcraft."
Ashforth's beautifully written, at times poignant account of Madumo's struggle shows that the problem of witchcraft is not simply superstition, but a complex response to spiritual insecurity in a troubling time of political and economic upheaval. Post-apartheid Soweto, he discovers, is suffering from a deluge of witchcraft. Through Madumo's story, Ashforth opens up a world that few have seen, a deeply unsettling place where the question "Do you believe in witchcraft?" is not a simple one at all. The insights that emerge as Ashforth accompanies his friend on an odyssey through Soweto's supernatural perils have profound implications even for those of us who live in worlds without witches.
How is the slave trade remembered in West Africa? In a work that challenges recurring claims that Africans felt (and still feel) no sense of moral responsibility concerning the sale of slaves, Rosalind Shaw traces memories of the slave trade in Temne-speaking communities in Sierra Leone. While the slave-trading past is rarely remembered in explicit verbal accounts, it is often made vividly present in such forms as rogue spirits, ritual specialists' visions, and the imagery of divination techniques.
Drawing on extensive fieldwork and archival research, Shaw argues that memories of the slave trade have shaped (and been reshaped by) experiences of colonialism, postcolonialism, and the country's ten-year rebel war. Thus money and commodities, for instance, are often linked to an invisible city of witches whose affluence was built on the theft of human lives. These ritual and visionary memories make hitherto invisible realities manifest, forming a prism through which past and present mutually configure each other.
What role does ritual play in the everyday lives of modern Africans? How are so-called "traditional" cultural forms deployed by people seeking empowerment in a world where "modernity" has failed to deliver on its promises?
Some of the essays in Modernity and Its Malcontents address familiar anthropological issues—like witchcraft, myth, and the politics of reproduction—but treat them in fresh ways, situating them amidst the polyphonies of contemporary Africa. Others explore distinctly nontraditional subjects—among them the Nigerian popular press and soul-eating in Niger—in such a way as to confront the conceptual limits of Western social science. Together they demonstrate how ritual may be powerfuly mobilized in the making of history, present, and future.
Addressing challenges posed by contemporary African realities, the authors subject such concepts as modernity, ritual, power, and history to renewed critical scrutiny. Writing about a variety of phenomena, they are united by a wish to preserve the diversity and historical specificity of local signs and practices, voices and perspectives. Their work makes a substantial and original contribution toward the historical anthropology of Africa.
The contributors, all from the Africanist circle at the University of Chicago, are Adeline Masquelier, Deborah Kaspin, J. Lorand Matory, Ralph A. Austen, Andrew Apter, Misty L. Bastian, Mark Auslander, and Pamela G. Schmoll.
In the period domoninated by the triumphs of scientific rationalism, how do we account for the extraordinary success of such occult movements as astrology or the revival of witchcraft? From his perspective as a historian of religions, the eminent scholar Mircea Eliade shows that such popular trends develop from archaic roots and periodically resurface in certain myths, symbols, and rituals. In six lucid essays collected for this volume, Eliade reveals the profound religious significance that lies at the heart of many contemporary cultural vogues.
Since all of the essays except the last were originally delivered as lectures, their introductory character and lively oral style make them particularly accessible to the intelligent nonspecialist. Rather than a popularization, Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions is the fulfillment of Eliade's conviction that the history of religions should be read by the widest possible audience.
Popular Witchcraft: Straight from the Witch’s Mouth, inspired by the British Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today, was the first book to be published on popular American witchcraft and remains the classic survey of white and black magic. Newly revised and updated for twenty-first-century readers, the author—an ordained but marvelously fallen exorcist—tells all about the evil eye, the queer eye, women and witch trials, the Old Religion, magic Christianity, Satanism, and New Age self-help.
Jack Fritscher sifts through legends of sorcery and the twisted history of witchcraft, including the casting of spells and incantations, with a focus on the growing role of witchcraft in popular culture and its mainstream commercialization through popular music, Broadway, Hollywood, and politics. As seriously historical as it is fun to read, there is no other book like it.
Rebellions broke out in many areas of South Africa shortly after the institution of white rule in the late nineteenth century and continued into the next century. However, distrust of the colonial regime reached a new peak in the mid-twentieth century, when revolts erupted across a wide area of rural South Africa. All these uprisings were rooted in grievances over taxes. Rebels frequently invoked supernatural powers for assistance and accused government officials of using witchcraft to enrich themselves and to harm ordinary people.
As Sean Redding observes in Sorcery and Sovereignty, beliefs in witchcraft and supernatural powers were part of the political rhetoric; the system of taxation—with all its prescribed interactions between ruler and ruled—was intimately connected to these supernatural beliefs.
In this fascinating study, Redding examines how black South Africans' beliefs in supernatural powers, along with both economic and social change in the rural areas, resulted in specific rebellions and how gender relations in black South African rural families changed. Sorcery and Sovereignty explores the intersection of taxation, political attitudes, and supernatural beliefs among black South Africans, shedding light on some of the most significant issues in the history of colonized Africa.
Sorcery in the Black Atlantic
Edited by Luis Nicolau Parés and Roger Sansi University of Chicago Press, 2011 Library of Congress BF1584.B7S66 2011 | Dewey Decimal 133.4308996
Most scholarship on sorcery and witchcraft has narrowly focused on specific times and places, particularly early modern Europe and twentieth-century Africa. And much of that research interprets sorcery as merely a remnant of premodern traditions. Boldly challenging these views, Sorcery in the Black Atlantic takes a longer historical and broader geographical perspective, contending that sorcery is best understood as an Atlantic phenomenon that has significant connections to modernity and globalization.
A distinguished group of contributors here examine sorcery in Brazil, Cuba, South Africa, Cameroon, and Angola. Their insightful essays reveal the way practices and accusations of witchcraft spread throughout the Atlantic world from the age of discovery up to the present, creating an indelible link between sorcery and the rise of global capitalism. Shedding new light on a topic of perennial interest, Sorcery in the Black Atlantic will be provocative, compelling reading for historians and anthropologists working in this growing field.
Philip A KUHN Harvard University Press, 1990 Library of Congress JQ1508.K84 1990 | Dewey Decimal 951.032
Midway through the reign of the Ch'ien-lung emperor, Hungli, mass hysteria broke out among the common people. It was feared that sorcerers were roaming the land, clipping off the ends of men's queues (the braids worn by royal decree) and chanting magical incantations over them in order to steal the souls of their owners. In a fascinating chronicle of this epidemic of fear and the official prosecution of soulstealers that ensued, Philip Kuhn opens a window on the world of eighteenth-century China.
In The Specter of Salem, Gretchen A. Adams reveals the many ways that the Salem witch trials loomed over the American collective memory from the Revolution to the Civil War and beyond. Schoolbooks in the 1790s, for example, evoked the episode to demonstrate the new nation’s progress from a disorderly and brutal past to a rational present, while critics of new religious movements in the 1830s cast them as a return to Salem-era fanaticism, and during the Civil War, southerners evoked witch burning to criticize Union tactics. Shedding new light on the many, varied American invocations of Salem, Adams ultimately illuminates the function of collective memories in the life of a nation.
“Imaginative and thoughtful. . . . Thought-provoking, informative, and convincingly presented, The Specter of Salem is an often spellbinding mix of politics, cultural history, and public historiography.”— New EnglandQuarterly
“This well-researched book, forgoing the usual heft of scholarly studies, is not another interpretation of the Salem trials, but an important major work within the scholarly literature on the witch-hunt, linking the hysteria of the period to the evolving history of the American nation. A required acquisition for academic libraries.”—Choice, Outstanding Academic Title 2009
A popular new image of Witches has arisen in recent years, due largely to movies like The Craft, Practical Magic, and Simply Irresistible and television shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Charmed. Here, young sexy Witches use magic and Witchcraft to gain control over their lives and fight evil. Then there is the depiction in the Harry Potter books: Witchcraft is a gift that unenlightened Muggles (everyday people) lack. In both types of portrayals, being a Witch is akin to being a superhero. At the other end of the spectrum, wary adults assume that Witches engage in evil practices that are misguided at best and dangerous at worst.
Yet, as Helen A. Berger and Douglas Ezzy show in this in-depth look into the lives of teenage Witches, the reality of their practices, beliefs, values, and motivations is very different from the sensational depictions we see in popular culture. Drawing on extensive research across three countries--the United States, England, and Australia--and interviews with young people from diverse backgrounds, what they find are highly spiritual and self-reflective young men and women attempting to make sense of a postmodern world via a religion that celebrates the earth and emphasizes self-development.
The authors trace the development of Neo-Paganism (an umbrella term used to distinguish earth-based religions from the pagan religions of ancient cultures) from its start in England during the 1940s, through its growing popularity in the decades that followed, up through its contemporary presence on the Internet. Though dispersed and disorganized, Neo-Pagan communities, virtual and real, are shown to be an important part of religious identity particularly for those seeking affirmation during the difficult years between childhood and adulthood.
In March 2009, in a small town in Malawi, a nurse at the local hospital was accused of teaching witchcraft to children. Amid swirling rumors, “Mrs. K.” tried to defend her reputation, but the community nevertheless grew increasingly hostile. The legal, social, and psychological trials that she endured in the struggle to clear her name left her life in shambles, and she died a few years later.
In The Trials of Mrs. K., Adam Ashforth studies this and similar stories of witchcraft that continue to circulate in Malawi. At the heart of the book is Ashforth’s desire to understand how claims to truth, the pursuit of justice, and demands for security work in contemporary Africa, where stories of witchcraft can be terrifying. Guiding us through the history of legal customs and their interactions with the court of public opinion, Ashforth asks challenging questions about responsibility, occult forces, and the imperfect but vital mechanisms of law. A beautifully written and provocative book, The Trials of Mrs. K. will be an essential text for understanding what justice means in a fragile and dangerous world.
Witchcraft Dialogues analyzes the complex manner in which human beings construct, experience, and think about the “occult.” It brings together anthropologists, philosophers, and sociologists, from diverse social and cultural backgrounds, to engage the metaphysical properties of “witchcraft” and “sorcery” and to explore their manifestations in people’s lived experiences.
While many Africanist scholars shun the analysis of “witchcraft” as an appropriate domain of investigation, the experiences, thoughts, activities, and powers that “witchcraft” encompasses have become increasingly the source of interest and debate. Concepts of witchcraft and the phenomena to which they are applied express something fundamental to the human condition and have their equation in the logic of other human practices such as racism and its various crafts. Thus, the focus on “witchcraft” is not just a concern with the occult, but a manifestation of the convergence of interest in mediating and transcending disciplinary domains.
The contributors to this volume embrace the challenge of exploring “witchcraft” as a mode of experiencing and explaining human circumstances as well as confronting the limitations of their own intellectual traditions and paradigms. The range of their explorations takes us in new directions, making use not only of their academic training but also of their personal experiences, to reframe the conceptual terrain of the “occult” and the epistemological orientations of their various academic fields of inquiry.
In Dante’s Inferno, the lowest circle of Hell is reserved for traitors, those who betrayed their closest companions. In a wide range of literatures and mythologies such intimate aggression is a source of ultimate terror, and in Witchcraft, Intimacy, and Trust, Peter Geschiere masterfully sketches it as a central ember at the core of human relationships, one brutally revealed in the practice of witchcraft. Examining witchcraft in its variety of forms throughout the globe, he shows how this often misunderstood practice is deeply structured by intimacy and the powers it affords. In doing so, he offers not only a comprehensive look at contemporary witchcraft but also a fresh—if troubling—new way to think about intimacy itself.
Geschiere begins in the forests of southeast Cameroon with the Maka, who fear “witchcraft of the house” above all else. Drawing a variety of local conceptions of intimacy into a global arc, he tracks notions of the home and family—and witchcraft’s transgression of them—throughout Africa, Europe, Brazil, and Oceania, showing that witchcraft provides powerful ways of addressing issues that are crucial to social relationships. Indeed, by uncovering the link between intimacy and witchcraft in so many parts of the world, he paints a provocative picture of human sociality that scrutinizes some of the most prevalent views held by contemporary social science.
One of the few books to situate witchcraft in a global context, Witchcraft, Intimacy, and Trust is at once a theoretical tour de force and an empirically rich and lucid take on a difficult-to-understand spiritual practice and the private spaces throughout the world it so greatly affects.
How does democracy fare when the people governed insist they live in a world with witches? If the government of a people afflicted by witchcraft refuses to punish witches, how does it avoid becoming alienated from the perceived needs of its people or, worse, seen as being in league with witches? In Soweto, South Africa, the constant threat of violent crime, the increase in black socio-economic inequality, the AIDS pandemic, and a widespread fear of witchcraft have converged to create a pervasive sense of insecurity among citizens and a unique public policy problem for government.
In Witchcraft, Violence, and Democracy in South Africa, Adam Ashforth examines how people in Soweto and other parts of post-apartheid South Africa manage their fear of 'evil forces' such as witchcraft. Ashforth examines the dynamics of insecurity in the everyday life of Soweto at the turn of the twenty-first century. He develops a new framework for understanding occult violence as a form of spiritual insecurity and documents new patterns of interpretation attributing agency to evil forces. Finally, he analyzes the response of post-apartheid governments to issues of spiritual insecurity and suggests how these matters pose severe long-term challenges to the legitimacy of the democratic state.