Occultism in Africa has a variety of forms and has been displayed in different ways over the ages, i.e. witchcraft and magic. Any diseases or troubles in Africa can be explained by witchcraft. Even the intensive approach of civilization has not overcome the beliefs of African people. African magic is a reflection of the society which practices it. There are lots of gloomy, confused, and frightening things in witchcraft. Black magic is widely practiced by women. It is one of the most widespread motives of religion and mythology. Practically in every village in Western Africa, you can hear stories about witches who live in this part of the continent.
In this research paper, I examine such occult forms as witchcraft and shamanism and their influence on social life and politics of the African continent. The essay opens the meaning of many occult rituals. It tells about the infringement of human rights by modern witch hunting and describes how it can destroy people's life. The paper helps to understand the mentality of African people. It shows the great influence of the occult not only on modern Africa but on the whole world.
Beliefs of African Tribes and their Impact on the History and Culture
Beliefs of African tribes are an important part of the continent history and culture. The existence of veneration towards the dead, belief in the afterlife, idolization of animals and animism (belief in spirits) is typical for African Occultism. Inhabitants of Black Africa believe that mysterious forces are hidden in nature. The Ashanti people (Ghana, Togo, Côte d'Ivoire) consider that some animals, for example, spiders are allocated with unique abilities, and humans can control these forces by making definite rituals. The followers of all African cults believe in the world of spirits. They think that a person has two souls: mortal and immortal. Ancestral spirits live among people bringing happiness or troubles. They are honored and idolized by mortals. "Spirits of dead chiefs were believed to live in particularly sacred groves; others in the mountains, in pools and in streams" (Mashau, 2007, p.642).
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Traditionally, magic is divided into white and black. White magic is approved by the society. However, there is also a black magic which is forbidden by law. Representatives of black magic are witches and shamans. The main purpose of black magic is to kill and inflict serious harm. Africans believe that there is no death in nature because death is the result of witchcraft. In black magic, witches and shamans offer the invocation by using the powder made of the parts of the animal or human body. It is one of the reasons of cannibalism in Africa. The inheritance of magical abilities is the feature of African Occult tradition. It is impossible to become a witch or shaman if there were no witches or shamans in person's family as well as to refuse the gift of inheritance. Africans believe that such gift can be passed the father to son or from mother to daughter. This is the essential difference from the Voodoo cult, where the path to the priesthood is open to all comers.
There also exists the pantheon of spirits in African witchcraft worshiped and struggling by shamans, witches, and healers. Africans believe that spirits can enter any human or animal body and control their mind.
Beliefs of African peoples in witchcraft had a great impact on the history and culture of the Black Continent. Actually, all African cultures are based on religion. The history of Africa consists of different beliefs which have a huge impact on Africans' social lives. All traditional religions have a lot in common regarding the system of beliefs. It is primarily a belief in mystical changes associated with magical powers of individuals. Magical pictures printed on the things of daily use, ritual objects, masks, sculptures which are often considered by other nations as decorative items are an integral part of the culture, history, and traditions of the African community.
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African Rituals and Traditions
In tribal cults, special attention is paid to rituals. The rituals are very complicated. Their main goal is to reward or appease the gods, to obtain from them strength and health. The rituals of passage associated with the stages of life such as the birth, wedding, rite of initiation or funeral are of great importance.
African mythology is based on the institution of healers, witches, and shamans as well as on the well-developed system of "secret societies" whose members are engaged in witchcraft, magic, fortune telling, prophecies, ritual killings, and even practicing cannibalism. All countries of the continent have their own often directly related to witchcraft rituals, which are the "privilege" only of the initiated. "There are certain rituals for communicating with the ancestors. If an individual is offended by his ancestors and he wants to communicate with them, the makhadzi can perform the ritual of spitting. The makhadzi is the sister to the head of the lineage and is entrusted with the task of the "priest" of officiating the service of offering to the ancestors, the vhula. In this regard, the traditional beer, mufhoho, is offered to the ancestors." (Mashau, 2007, p.645). There are also certain objects associated with rituals within the tradition of some people. A sacred bull known as makhulu, for grandfather, is regarded as the embodiment of all the ancestral spirits. On the other hand, a female black goat, also known as makhulu, is said to represent the ancestors of the mother's lineage. Other objects related to the rituals include river pebbles, spears, copper rings, sacred stones, etc. (Mashau, 2007, p.638).
In many parts of Africa, witchcraft is still closely connected with the life of tribes, and it is an integral part of their traditions.
Shaman for a modern African is a wizard who knows all the secrets of healing and uses the charms and spells. He is able to identify instinctively where to find the lost or stolen things; he performs a dual role of a healer and a prophet at the same time. He can recognize a witch and can break her evil spell. For example, in Nigeria, people still believe that witches can turn into fireballs and fly through the night sky to their Sabbath. Witches of Ghana often boast of their ability to kill their enemies using different occult rituals known only to them.
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African shamans and witches have found their place in today's rapidly changing world. There is nothing strange or ridiculous because the history of our civilization in many aspects is related to the activities of the witches and shamans who live around the world; however, they prefer to call themselves the followers of the occult sciences. Wizards and witches still have a powerful force and are often stronger than the authority of the civilized African rulers seeking to involve their country into the Western enlightened world.
Modern Day Witch-Hunt
As well as many years ago, people who are suspected of being witches are blamed for spreading disease and the organization of natural disasters. In Africa, mostly women and children suffer from the witch-hunt. People used to blame witches for all their troubles when a child is sick or someone dies. The women accused of witchcraft were treated very badly, people killed them or chase them away from the village to the bush dooming a painful death or they were eaten by wild animals. At the end of the XX century, with the efforts of Christian missionaries, in Ghana, Togo and Benin, there were created so-called Witch Camps, the special settlement where dumped women and men from the whole region got a new home. Here, they found shelter and work; many found love and created families. The local priest conducted the right expulsion of the evil spirit of the new arrivals, thereby clearing the last of the witchcraft that allowed local residents to communicate freely with them. Such camps still exist. There are six of them around Northern Ghana. Near 300 deported men and women, the former "witches" and "wizards" live there. They are usually innocent people who were expelled from their homes by their relatives (Huck, 2009).
The problem of witchcraft is inseparable from the community. There is a system of measures and military means to fight the witches in each African village. Sometimes, such a system becomes nonsense, and many people suffer or even die because of the ancient tradition. Very often, congenital cripples, old women, lepers, paralytics, albino, and even twins can be suspected in witchcraft.
Politics and the Occult in Africa
In many parts of Africa, ritual magic is still a part of the policy. Speaking of witchcraft, white and black magic in Africa, there is a significant fact that they are increasingly becoming a tool for achieving political goals. Among those who dare to use witchcraft for politics, there is one of the most bloodthirsty tribes, Mau Mau, who tried to overthrow the government of Kenya in mid-fifties. After a tiring magical ceremony, during which each of the Mau Mau gave seven vows and rubbed his forehead with the blood of the sacrificed goat, all tribe members were convinced that they sufficiently filled themselves with the magical power to challenge the authorities and storm the presidential palace in Nairobi. However, their venture failed, and the rebel sorcerers were dispersed by the troops of the British security forces. A similar case occurred after a few years in the Congolese province of Katanga. The local sorcerer convinced the members of the tribe Shimbashi that they could win freedom using witchcraft. With the help of potent potions, they were put into the trance and were told that they are immortal invisible soldiers and the bullets cannot kill them. It is difficult to say whether the witchcraft influenced that political events or not, but the restless province of Katanga really was separated after that. However, the impact of magic was fleeting, and after some time, with the UN peacekeeping force, the Katanga was returned to the Republic of Congo.
After a careful studying of such phenomenon as witchcraft in some parts of the African continent, this essay can clearly explain the mentality essence of African peoples, the meaning of their religion and culture for the world. The world image that emerged in the archaic strata of African culture is reflected in mythology as well as in sign systems, rituals, beliefs, and magic. It does not lose its relevance and is still the basis of the world conception. Occultism in Africa is a part of ancient and modern history. Today, this mysterious culture is very exciting for the whole world, because such form of occultism as witchcraft has a significant impact on politics and social life of Africa and is of great importance for the world culture.
- Huck, N. (n.d.). Life in a witch camp: the exile of women in Northern Ghana. (2009). 1-3.
- Lynch, P. A., & Roberts, J. (2004).African mythology a to z. (2 nd ed.) New York, NY: Chelsea House.
- Mashau, T. D. (n.d.). Occultism in the African context: A case for the Vhavenda-speaking people of the Limpopo province. (2007).AOSIS OpenJournals, Vol 41, 637-654.
- Melton, J. G. (2001).Encyclopedia_of_occultism_and_parapsychology. (5th ed., Vol. 1, p. 949). New York, NY: Gale Group Staff.