Saturday, February 20, 2016

Helping "Witch Children"

As I mentioned in yesterday's article, I used to post a lot of African witchcraft stories and have backed off on those, mostly because they tend to be so depressing. But one of my readers asked me to write more about the problem of "witch children" and highlight the African Children's Aid Education and Development Foundation (DINNødhjælp - deres overlevelse), a Danish organization that is helping African children cast out by their families for being witches.

No, I don't know how to pronounce their name in Danish either. Still, they seem to be doing good work.

Here in America, we have the freedom to engage in our spiritual practices in large part because there is little widespread belief in magick. In parts of Africa, people are so scared of "witchcraft" they attribute all sorts of things to magick that have nothing to do with it. This is one reason I think that attempts to "prove magick" to skeptics are profoundly misguided.

I am strongly in favor of investigating magick scientifically, but it seems like so much of parapsychology is more wrapped around the idea of "proving it" rather than figuring out how it works. One we can verify the properties and limitations of magick, we can demystify it. Once that's done, it will be easy to say whether magick can accomplish a particular thing or not, which will help insulate those of us who practice from flat-out nonsense.

A couple weeks back I got into a discussion about this at lodge, with someone who thought it was a mistake to try and work out the limits of magick. But the thing is, when you say "it has no limits, I just get what I want" I think that you are setting yourself up for a world in which people start freaking out because of the profoundly flawed idea that "if you can do anything, you should be able to do everything." It leads to some pretty sad conclusions - like the idea of witch children.

Back in 2009, I posted an article about how children in the Democratic Republic of Congo were being persecuted as witches. And anybody who understands anything about magick knows that's just plain ridiculous. Magical powers take years of study and practice to develop, and working with them is one of the most difficult cognitive skills there is to develop.

At the time, it was reported that children as young as seven were being accused. Unfortunately, it's only gotten worse since then. Recently a story has been circulating on the Internet (including the new Watchers of the Dawn) of a two-year-old boy who was abandoned by his family for being a witch and was starving in the streets of Nigeria. Two years old! A two-year-old can't even spell, let alone cast spells. But apparently his family was frightened enough to banish him anyway.


This story finally got some media attention because there was a picture and a video to pass around, but how many other young children have died over the years because of this nonsense? I don't know the numbers, but I do no it's far more than just this one boy. And this whole trend shows no signs of stopping any time soon. In addition to ignorance of how magick works, it is being fed by evangelists who charge money to "exorcise" the witchcraft out of these children.

But it seems that parents who can't afford the fees charged for "exorcisms" are simply casting these children out, because that doesn't cost anything. Like I said, really depressing. The one bright light is that humanitarian groups like DINNødhjælp are trying to make a difference for these children who have been victimized over nothing more than rampant superstition and opportunistic hucksterism.

We need to address a problem this big from multiple angles, and I think one of those has to be figuring out how magick really works and educating people to that effect. The skeptic approach - "you all believe in witchcraft because you're idiots" - strikes me as pretty counter-productive. Anybody who's personally experienced magick is never going to accept that, because it goes against their first-hand experience.

But if we can work out a comprehensive, demonstrable list of things that magick can and can't do, we can point out, for example, that there's absolutely no possible way a two-year-old kid could be a witch, and that any evangelist who tries to say otherwise is a confidence artist looking to make a quick buck. That way, the problem can be addressed without trying to tell people that their experiences with magical phenomena never happened.

Obviously I can't say for sure that this will work either, but I'm pretty sure it hasn't been tried yet. And from the accounts I keep seeing, what we currently are doing isn't working so well.

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1 comment:

Damon Leff said...

I completely agree with the need to rationalize discourse on the subject. A little more science and a little less superstition would help, but it has to happen in classrooms and in family homes in communities where witchcraft accusation are most prevalent.

I wrote something about rationalizing discourse on witchcraft a while ago... still relevant.

Challenging superstition, reinforcing faith
http://www.penton.co.za/challenging-superstition-reinforcing-faith/