For people in the western world, witchcraft and sorcery are relegated to magical fairy tales, fictional forms of entertainment in movies such as “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of The Rings” installments, and TV shows like “Sabrina The Teenage Witch” and “Once Upon a Time.” But we may not realize that these stories have a basis. They’re derived from real events that happened in centuries past.
The most infamous case of witchcraft recorded in western history was the Salem witch trials during the 1690s in Salem, Massachusetts. This period was marked by putting on trial dozens of women who were thought to be practicing witchcraft and executing them for it. This makes us indignant for all the women who unjustly lost their lives, no thanks to paranoia and religious extremism and it makes us feel relieved that these inhumane customs are no longer being tolerated. But apparently, we couldn’t be more wrong.
There still exist people in the 21st century that participate in witch hunts and persecute folks who are believed to be guilty of dabbling in sorcery. Most of these countries are in Africa, the Pacific, and Latin America. So which countries still severely condemn to death those who practice the occult?
11 Saudi Arabia
Believe it or not, Saudi Arabia’s government actually has an Anti-Witchcraft Unit. According to care2.com, the law was put in place to hunt down and incarcerate people (women, in particular) suspected of performing witchcraft and doing away with them. One suspect was executed in 2007 and another perished in prison, awaiting the verdict of her so-called crime. Many of the accused are female foreigners who work as domestic helpers in Saudi Arabian households and it’s unfortunate that witchcraft as a crime seems to be used as a means to propagate discrimination.
Tanzania is a land of some very different beliefs. One such belief of so-called witch doctors in this east African nation is that albino body parts are good ingredients for the magical potions the witches concoct. As a result, albinos in Tanzania face widespread persecution. According to reports by BBC, one woman with albinism was found hacked to death in May 2014 in a village called Gasuma. Two witch doctors were suspected of performing the heinous crime and were promptly arrested. Prior to this incident, an article on care2.com mentioned the deaths of around 600 women in 2011, all charged with witchcraft.
How can a country rise above the inhuman practice of witch hunting when its very own president orders the gruesome acts himself? Gambia’s faith-healer-turned-dictator Yahya Jammeh, has taken to eradicating citizens who get in his way and uses witch hunting as a front for his actions. Articles appeared on The Telegraph in 2012 and care2.com in 2013 stating similar accounts of the goings-on in Gambia. Purportedly blending statecraft with witchcraft, Jammeh had 1,000 so-called sorcerers arrested and drink a hallucinogenic potion to exorcise their supposedly possessed bodies and minds. At least six died in this torture ritual.
Nope, humankind didn’t leave murder by burning in the seventeenth century. It still happens sporadically and unsurprisingly, one of the many accounts reported was due to witchcraft. In a CNN news story in February 2012, a woman was reported to have been burned alive in central Nepal after she was branded as a witch. What’s worse, the persons responsible for her brutal death were family members after a shaman hurled accusations at her for casting a spell to make one of her relatives ill. The Nepalese government has strongly urged the public not to let shamans and faith healers cloud their judgment and decisions, especially if these result in innocent lives being lost.
As recent as last year, horrific news reached the public of some violent killings in India due to witchcraft. In October 2014, BBC reported that an Indian woman from the Bemetara district was murdered by her family after she was believed to have made her nephew ill through sorcery. As if that wasn’t bizarre enough, a report surfaced from The Daily Mail last December 2014 about a boy who was mutilated as a sacrificial lamb in a witchcraft ceremony done by his neighbor in the belief that the boy’s death would help get his wife pregnant. Experts say that this zealous belief in witchcraft is rooted in superstition or simply used as an excuse for crimes of passion.
6 Papua New Guinea
Burning women accused of witchcraft has been so alarmingly prevalent in Papua New Guinea that a law was passed by the government to prohibit burning those suspected of performing dark magic, according to the ABC News online site. As reported by Vice News, women have taken to fleeing their homes in fear of being captured and condemned for acts they didn’t perform. Four women in Enga province left their village posthaste after a witch hunter accused them of causing a measles outbreak, which killed several of the villagers. In 2013, one woman was burned alive and another beheaded in public for purportedly practicing witchcraft, marking the alarming increase of atrocious murders due to sorcery.
It’s not just women who are accused of being witches. As stated in an article on care2.com, a man in Uganda was believed to be dabbling in dark magic and he was promptly tied up and beheaded for it. There have been several more cases like this, all due to the fact that the locals firmly believe that witchcraft is being practiced by some of their fellowmen. Then there are the wily ones who simply use witchcraft as an excuse to get rid of people they hold a grudge against.
As if it weren’t bad enough that Colombia is known to have one of the biggest drug trafficking operations in the world, it’s also had a problem in dealing with deaths due to sorcery. As reported by Fox News in 2012, a woman was murdered and her body burned for allegedly practicing witchcraft. She was said to have rendered young people sick and three women even accused her of appearing in their dreams, which apparently, is a form of sorcery in those parts. Needless to say, the woman’s pleas to the authorities that her life was being threatened weren’t heeded and she ended up losing her life shortly after she asked for protection.
According to a news article by The Guardian in 2010, there’s a new rise in punishment due to witchcraft in the African nation of Ghana, where sorcery forms part of the country’s mythology. A 72-year-old woman was burned to death by six people who suspected her of being a witch, claiming she fell from the sky and under a tree because she ran out of witch flying gas. Medical experts claimed that the elderly woman may have simply been suffering from dementia and her strange behavior was misinterpreted as that of a witch’s.
2 Democratic Republic of Congo
Perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of the loss of lives due to witchcraft is the fact that many of its victims are children. In a 2013 report by International Business Times, a staggering 50,000 children were accused of sorcery in Congo and as all horror stories go with regards to little ones, many of them have suffered abuse at the hands of their captors. And what are these people’s indication that the children are allegedly possessed by demons? Being disabled, wetting the bed at night, and suffering from nightmares!
The president of Indonesia is one of the only world leaders that has publicly admitted that he believes in witchcraft. That’s not to say that he isn’t all for eradicating its practice, according to a 2014 report by The Washington Post. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recounted his first-hand experience with black magic in his very own residence, where he claimed there was a thick, black cloud of smoke that was trying to permeate his bedroom through the ceiling. Because of the incident and his religion being against sorcery, Yudhoyono’s government proposed to make amendments to the Criminal Code, wanting to add the clause that the practice of black magic would be a criminal offense.