Saturday, July 27, 2013

Malawi's Flying Witches Remain Elusive

Some paranormal claims are remarkably easy to test, or would be under the right circumstances. In the African nation of Malawi, many people believe that witches are capable of flying great distances in small baskets. This claim would be just about the easiest thing in the world to authenticate. All you would have to do is find somebody who can do it and observe them, since there's nothing subjective about a basket rising into the air and flying off - either it happens or it doesn't. But as German student Kristin Droop discovered when she set out to do exactly that, it's that first part where you run into difficulties.

As Droop writes in an article published in the Maravi Post, her search for real flying witches uncovered plenty of people who believed in the phenomenon but found no one who could actually do it. That's a shame, because with a per capita GDP of only $857, anybody who managed to win the Randi Challenge could live like a king. And I have a hard time believing that the Randi Foundation would be able to weasel out of paying off somebody who could actually make a basket fly using magical powers.

Droop goes on to explain that she went so far as to track down a practicing witch doctor recommended to her by a friend. The man confirmed many of the stories she had heard, but nevertheless provided no proof of their veracity.

I started to ask my questions in English, those questions were translated by my friends to the witchdoctor since he could not understand the language. I asked him if witchcraft was real. If it was true that babies could be taken on a flight during the night. And; again, he said it was. He even had medicine for parents who want to protect their children from witches and wizards. He showed the medicine. To me, it looked like some mere pieces of wood.


I did not stop there. I shared a story that someone had told me the previous night at Kaka Motel; a story about two men who wanted to watch a football match in South Africa but had no money. So, the person had told me, they built a plane out of some 'rubbish' and flew to South Africa within two seconds where they watched the match. But, on their way back, they had an accident and died.

The witchdoctor told me such stories too are real. He added that the African planes cannot fly above tall buildings and electricity masts saying should they fly in such conditions they are likely to have horrible accidents. I wanted to see the planes but he told me that he did not have one because those who possess the plane are evil and that he was not one.

Knowing how magick really works has always prompted me to question tales like those of the flying baskets. While it's possible that the story is some sort of metaphor for astral work, a physical effect of that sort would require probability shifts so massive that any magician who could do it would have powers practically beyond imagination. So suffice it to say I'm not surprised that no proof was forthcoming.

Droop never did find any proof that flying witches are real. She concluded that it is unlikely witchcraft in Malawi exists, but as a practitioner I wouldn't go that far. I agree that the more wild paranormal claims are most likely the equivalent of urban legends in our culture, stories that are passed from person to person without evidence and which are magnified in the telling. Such stories, though, often begin with a kernal of truth.

As I see it, Malawi's magicians may not be able to physically fly, but that doesn't mean they completely lack magical abilities. My guess is that they can cast spells just like Western ceremonialists can using their own set of techniques. They simply live in a culture that is more fearful of such practices, and as a result I expect that imaginations tend to run wilder about them.

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2 comments:

V.V.F. said...

Mere pieces of wood! How magic really works! I have to chuckle.

Scott Stenwick said...

I imagine a conversation between myself and the author of this article would be pretty funny, or at the very least surreal. We're both skeptical regarding the flying witches, but for completely opposite reasons.