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Witchcraft In Fiction - Any Limits Or None?

July 05, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 207

WHY BOTHER?

Does witchcraft work? Does it matter? For many centuries, story books have been populated by Giants, Monsters, Ghosts, Spirits, Vampires, Werewolves and all the rest. Why ask the question now? What value would any answer have?

In writing books that include witchcraft I have wondered when the acts of my witchdoctor heroine were just credible and when they wee ridiculous. Speculating may help me, and possibly others, in writing about 'things unseen' and extraordinary events.

THE KALILOZI GUN

The spark that ignited my interest was a real world event. In 1957 there was an outbreak of witchcraft in Barotseland - now part of Zambia, but then Northern Rhodesia. It was written up by an anthropologist named Barrie Reynolds. I witnessed one trial, which centred on the use of a Kalilozi Gun. This was an inefficient firearm constructed by witchdoctors as an improvement on the old-fashion pointed stick, powered by magic and spells (which were still included in the action). The trial was all about uncertainty. Was the wound inflicted sufficient to cause death? Was death due to practical violence or to witchcraft? Does witchcraft work?

WITCHCRAFT EXISTS

Witchcraft as an abstract force certainly exists. It exists because of belief. There are many countries where people carry out rituals aimed at harming others, and where others believe that dangerous action has been taken against them. Offensive acts and defensive actions are taken. The effect may be psychological but the actions are real. They have an observable effect.

Is it only a matter of psychology and belief? Or is there some other force that is neither seen nor understood? In medieval times radio waves were in that category. Does some sort of thought wave exist? Is it understood by everybody, or only a few? If an early Christian missionary took a photograph of an African villager, this was witchcraft to the one but not to the other. So, in order to qualify, the force must be both unseen and not understood by anybody, anywhere. Is there any reason to postulate such a force - apart from Hamlet to Horatio - "there are more things in heaven and earth, etc?" Yes, there is.

  1. Poltergeist activity is sufficiently documented to show that mental activity can affect physical objects. There has to be some force at work.
  2. Hypnotism allows a therapist to give instructions to a willing subject while he is unconscious. On waking, he will carry out those instructions. This is non-physical manipulation of actions.
  3. There are states of mind in which the world is perceived in an 'unreal' manner. The most common examples are dreams and drugs. They contain images and ideas of which we are not normally aware. These are a new input to our thinking. The poet Coleridge used drugs at times and says, "A damsel with a dulcimer in a vision once I saw." She was playing and singing, but when Coleridge came out of his trance he could not remember the song. At other times, people can remember.
  4. Shamans claim that they can enter 'other world' states at will. Statements about what they did in these states are not evidence, but powers related to control of their own physical bodies have been demonstrated. The most dramatic effect is fire-walking - crossing hot coals without damage to the flesh of the foot. Such mind-over-matter control is real.
  5. Shamanic accounts of their other-world doings have two points of significance. One is the consistency of the claims across many geographic areas and cultures. The other is their comprehensive world view. It is believed by shamans that the universe is a single unity, every part being connected and inter-dependent, and ordered by a principle of harmony.
  6. The concept of an integrated universe where the spiritual and the physical co-exist is similar to ideas current in the field of particle physics. In that field there is a school of thought that at the sub-atomic level all matter is indeed inter-connected. There are also physicists who postulate the existence of alternative realities. This derives from the fact that some sub-atomic particles change their nature between one observation and another - as if they were presenting one face to this universe and another to that one.

CONVERGENT IDEAS

This coming-together of spiritual and scientific views is comparatively recent. For some centuries western science was regarded as the sole means of discovering truth and the demand for physical, verifiable evidence has caused spiritual knowledge to be despised. But two things have happened to change this. Science has brought us particle physics, as mentioned, and the western world has discovered psychology. Work in that field has made many shamanist ideas look credible. There is now talk of the Cartesian Divide, a point in history at which science and logic triumphed over intuitive experience. Einstein was hoping to discover the single underlying principle that governed the universe. Shamans believe they know it.

So belief in some of the practices described as 'witchcraft' need not be regarded as stupid and unscientific. Rather, they should be seen as possibilities to be investigated. Sadly, there are barriers. One of these is exclusive dedication to 'the scientific method'.

Language is also a barrier, because it so often makes other-world tales look ridiculous. Consider the fact that a shaman may talk of observing a 'spirit' interfering with a patient. The image created in a western mind might be a story-book devil whispering in the ear of the patients. Not credible. But we might well describe a greedy person as having a 'greedy spirit' and the inference would only be psychological. Wholly credible

PROOF? PROOF OF WHAT?

None of the arguments for the existence of a mind-matter link adduced above constitute proof. The effects described are often intermittent, uncertain and unpredictable. But suppose that a unique person in a unique situation triggered by accident some link in a causative chain. It might be ages before the effect was remarked on, and ages more before it was linked back to a putative cause. Possibly some historical events have been caused by witchcraft, but nobody has ever made the connection. An imaginative writer could exploit some of those to advantage,

When a link was postulated, attempts to demonstrate it might fail. This would be because the mechanism was not understood: not because it did not exist.

And we don't always apply our rules. We accept as 'real' various relationships that don't always 'work'. Psychology, for instance, has many uncertainties. We accept a degree of patchiness when our knowledge fails. So what is 'witchcraft' and what is not? If the effects are erratic and unpredictable - but sometimes effective, does this make a supernatural link impossible? One of the harder tasks for a witchdoctor is causing his victim to see a terrifying image. Can this be done by psychological means? Children, read a terrifying tale at bedtime, sometimes wake up screaming because they have 'seen' the ghost/monster/spirit described before the light was turned off. Given strong mental projection by a witchdoctor, and an impressionable subject, this might just happen in the adult world.

THE POWER OF THOUGHT OR THE POWER OF PROPS?

If an evangelical preacher exhorts his audience to make an obvious gesture of commitment, some will do so and some will not. Is this witchcraft? He is performing certain actions aimed at a specific, measurable result and is succeeding sometimes. The results are patchy.

When a beautiful woman toys with her admirers and makes them do things for her that they would not otherwise do, is this witchcraft? Well, the mechanism is not understood and the results are patchy.

In both these cases there are physical factors at work that may or may not explain the effect without any mind-matter link. The preacher has a background, music, microphone, pulpit, visual aids and a well-trained voice. The woman has personal appearance and bearing, perfume, jewellery and an understanding of male psychology. Do these explain the whole matter - including the patchiness of the outcome?

What about this paraphernalia of witchcraft? What about the wax image of the victim with pins stuck into it? What about the evil-working object insinuated into the possession of the victim? There are several possibilities.

  1. It may have no influence on the result at all - the mind-matter link accounting for everything.
  2. It may have no direct influence on the result, but serve as a major aid to the concentration of the witchdoctor.
  3. It may have a direct psychological effect once the action is known to the victim.

All these options provide exciting opportunities for the writer.

Chris Elgood. MA(Cantab). Retired Management Consultant. Author of The Handbook of Management Games and Simulations. Author of Accidental Assassin and He Only Died Twice and The Eager Apprentice. Compulsive wordsmith. "Magic, Divination and witchcraft among the Barote of Northern Rhodesia." Barrie Reynolds 1963 University of California. "Witchcraft, Violence and Democracy in South Africa." Adam Ashforth 2005.University of Chicago.http://www.chriselgoodbooks.co.ukhttp://www.thingsbelieved.com

Source: EzineArticles
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