Witchcraft Killings Become a Pagan Issue

As modern Paganism and religious Witchcraft spreads around the world, it is more likely that cultural clashes will develop over different ideas of what “witchcraft” means. One issue that has been mostly outside the modern Pagan consciousness, witchcraft slayings in India and different parts of the African continent, is more and more becoming a modern Pagan concern. For example: In India, where legislation seems to have little effect on curbing witchcraft slayings, an Indian Wiccan and British Pagans started an education campaign to reframe witchcraft to communities that are hardest hit by these killings.

“In the past five years, police say they have reports of more than 700 women being killed as witches or witch doctors in eastern India alone. But the real figure could be many times higher, they say..Now, followers of the Wicca faith from the United States, Britain and India plan to introduce their religion in the eastern city of Kolkata to promote awareness of witchcraft and provide support for harassed witches…Around 100 people have already signed up to take a training program in Wiccan philosophy, literature and psychology and the students will also set up a grievance cell where persecuted women can register their complaints…”

Different tactics are being taken in the country of South Africa, where witchcraft killings are also a tremendous problem. A controversial new bill is being proposed that tries to eliminate witch-killings by suppressing activities connected to witchcraft. Unsurprisingly, a coalition of South African Pagans (including the South African Pagan Council, and the South African Pagan Rights Alliance) along with traditional healers from across the country are opposed to the bill saying it would effectively criminalize their faith.

“…Witches themselves need protection from violent attack, Sapra said. “Practitioners of natural magic (witchcraft) throughout the country have rallied together to oppose the passage of the proposed Mpumalanga Witchcraft Suppression Bill on the grounds that the bill will criminalize men and women who practice witchcraft or who claim to be witches,” Sapra convener Damon Leff said. Sapra has even submitted an alternative bill – the Mpumalanga Witchcraft Protection Bill – for the Mpumalanga Legislature to consider instead … Potgieter said those who attacked people they accused of being witches were the criminal element that needed addressing, not witches themselves. She warned that the bill also affected traditional healers and “disempowered” them.”

So far, it appears that the government has been receptive to these complaints. The provincial department that authored the bill is holding a closed-door meeting with traditional healers and modern Pagans to discuss re-wording the bill so it wouldn’t criminalize the innocent. For some, this meeting is the first instance that traditional South African healers have met European-style modern Witches.

“There was confused silence when Luke Martin told a group of traditional healers this week that he is a witch. Phephisile Maseko, the national coordinator of the Traditional Healers’ Organisation (THO), quickly had to explain that some white people consider witchcraft to be a religion and were open about practising it. There was still some apprehension, however, because the healers come from communities where witchcraft is considered evil and where people have been evicted from their villages or even killed because they were suspected of being witches. Now here was someone standing up and admitting to being one … He and 40 traditional healers and leaders were attending a closed meeting with officials from the provincial department of local government and housing on Monday to discuss the draft Mpumalanga Witchcraft Suppression Bill.”

SAPRA has also proposed an alternate Witchcraft Protection Bill that they feel better addresses the problem of witch killings in South Africa. But no matter what solution (or lack of a solution) that arrives from these proceedings, the modern Pagan community in South Africa is now in dialog with traditional healers and have involved themselves in the politics of witch-slayings. These developments, along with the spotlight on modern Paganism in India, and the growing global presence of our faiths, means that witch killings are no longer a problem isolated from Western Paganism but have become a “Pagan issue”. What remains to be seen is how the larger Pagan community will react to these developments.