Witch Hunts Are Now An International Epidemic

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 24, 2009 — 21 Comments

Yesterday a coalition of U.N. officials, NGOs, and representatives from affected countries addressed the United Nations asking for governments to face the full extent of witch hunts across the world. Far from being a localized phenomenon in “primitive” or isolated villages, witch hunts and witch killings are now global in nature and spreading.


(Trigger Warning!) An Indian “witch” being beaten and paraded through her village.

“Murder and persecution of women and children accused of being witches is spreading around the world and destroying the lives of millions of people, experts said Wednesday … “This is becoming an international problem — it is a form of persecution and violence that is spreading around the globe,” Jeff Crisp of the U.N.’s refugee agency UNHCR told a seminar organized by human rights officials of the world body.”

According to some U.N. experts tracking the issue “at least” tens of thousands have died due to witch hunts, while millions have been beaten, abused, isolated, and turned into refugees. While economic hardship is given as a reason for the recent escalation in witch-related violence, experts at the UNHCR also claim that the rise can also be attributed to”religious practitioners” who exploit local fears and superstitions.

“Some religious practitioners make a living from exorcising alleged witches and charging exorbitant fees to those who request the ritual. In Foxcroft’s experience, the most vulnerable members of society children and the elderly are often the victims of these accusations.”

Who, exactly, are these “religious practitioners”? The IHEU is far more specific.

“Witchcraft is still widely practiced in many countries in Africa by witchdoctors who often use human body parts in their spells. Some witchdoctors employ gangs of young men to attack and kill victims, often young children, for their body parts, which are frequently removed while the victim is still alive. An estimated 300 people are killed each year in South Africa alone as a result of this practice. But horrific though this practice is, it is only part of the problem. In Nigeria, in both the Muslim North and the Christian South, witch hunts are not uncommon and this has led to a second form of abuse. Some unscrupulous pastors, many linked to Pentecostal churches, have a lucrative trade in making unfounded accusations of witchcraft against young children. [The pastors then agree to “cure” the witches for a substantial fee. Many children are being ostracized and abandoned by their parents as a result of these accusations.]“

These Christian pastors aren’t isolated to Africa, they tour churches in America bragging about their battles with the occult, and have established ministries in Ireland and the UK. Commingling with an increasing anti-occult fervor among some Western Christian groups. Meanwhile, actual modern Pagan communities in places like India and South Africa are facing the possible ramifications of intensifying witch-hunts and witch persecutions.

If this trend isn’t seriously addressed soon, we may find this madness turning its eye towards “safe” occultists and Pagans in places like America, the UK, Australia, Brazil, and Canada. Don’t think it could happen? All it takes is a pseudo-militant occult-fighting Christian movement cross-pollinating with a reviving “Satanic Ritual Abuse” movement, stir in some anti-government populist anger and frustration, and you have all the makings for an American witch-lynching.

“When Bill Sparkman told retired trooper Gilbert Acciardo that he was going door-to-door collecting census data in rural Kentucky, the former cop drew on years of experience for a warning: “Be careful.” The 51-year-old Sparkman was found this month hanged from a tree near a Kentucky cemetery with the word “fed” scrawled on his chest, a law enforcement official said Wednesday, and the FBI is investigating whether he was a victim of anti-government sentiment.”

The anger and hardship that cries out for a scapegoat is right here in our backyard. Right now “socialism” or “the government” may be the popular/populist nightmare,  but that can change. A global epidemic of witch-hunts is our issue, not because we share some theological bond with a “witch” killed in Nigeria, or imprisoned in Saudi Arabia, but because we don’t live in an enlightened vacuum, free from the troubles of the “third world”. Nor will outraged Internet petitions stem the tide, what we need is a concerted international campaign of education, aid, and better policing in the “hot” spots like Nepal, Kenya, India, and Nigeria. Those who have grown powerful on witch-hunting rhetoric won’t go quietly, and only the surety of secular law can ensure some semblance of safety. Meanwhile, those of us who are “safe” need to realize that what happens to “witches” in India and Papua New Guinea is no longer a string of  isolated incidents that will always stay “over there”. A “global” problem means it could indeed happen here, and perhaps sooner than any of us would want to admit.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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