Keith Suter’s Global Insights

What on earth is going on?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Witches Today

Witchcraft is now on the agenda of the United Nations. The UN itself - as a secular organization on the church/state split of the United States Constitution -cannot get involved in the official propagation of witchcraft or any other sort of religion. But witches who are persecuted for their religious belief may become "refugees" and so very much a matter for the UN. Like all other humans, they have basic human rights.

In my current radio interviews I am making three points

1. Witches as Victims

The current media interest (September/ October 2009) comes from discussions at the UN refugee relief agency (UN High Commission for Refugees) on the need to stop the murder and repression of innocent people (mainly women and children) accused of being "witches". The spread of anti-witch violence was particularly notable in Africa and India.

Part of the motivation for the anti witch violence is the declining economy of some countries and the desire to find scapegoats to "blame" for the increasing poverty and economic problems. "Witches" also get blamed for a person's ill-health.

Meanwhile some Christian preachers in Africa claim to be able to identify witches and they can - for a fee - cleanse these people of their wickedness. Identifying such "witches" has become a profitable sideline.

The UN High Commission has said that there no reliable statistics on the numbers of victims each year.

2. People Killed by Witchcraft

Ironically, "witches" elsewhere in Africa are also implicated in the deaths of other people. Albinos lack melanin pigment in their skin, eyes and hair. This makes them very white (even in Africa). This lack of melanin endangers their lives because melanin protects people from the sun's ultraviolet rays.

They are also in danger because people like to kill them for their body parts. Some Africans believe that albinos have magical powers that bring fortune and good health. It is not unknown for dead albinos to be dug up at night and parts removed from their bodies to be used in magic potions. Parents sometimes kill albino babies at birth to save them from all the problems the child could experience later on in life.

In December 2008 the UN High Commission for Refugees and UNICEF the UN's Children's Fund both called for more to be done to stop the killing of albinos.

This video report comes  from The Independent newspaper. Feb 26th 2009. Sourced from YouTube.


3. Witchcraft is Not Just a Matter for Africa and India

We should not assume that witchcraft is simply a matter for developing countries. The most well known case of "witchcraft" in recent decades took place in the United Kingdom - and it is still the subject of debate. Even wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill expressed an opinion on the matter.

In May 1941 - a particularly bad time for the UK in World War II - a woman at a séance held by spiritualist materialization medium Helen Duncan was told that her husband had been killed in action on HMS Barham. An enquiry was made to the Admiralty on whether this was true. Yes the ship had gone down. But it was a state secret and so no one outside official circles knew it.

The Police were then alerted to the apparent special powers of Helen Duncan, a housewife and mother of six living in near poverty in Portsmouth (a very important naval town). The Allied invasion of Europe was approaching and the Government feared that this unusual woman could somehow learn about the plans and give the game away. (She was hardly likely to be disloyal - her father and two sons were in the British defence forces)

The problem for the Government was to find a legal way of isolating her. She was first charged with vagrancy (easily done given her limited resources) and put in prison. But imprisonment could only last for four days (vagrancy was not a major crime). She had to be put away for a much longer period - if not permanently.

The English Witchcraft Act of 1735 was thought to be the ideal law. Britain never burned its witches at the stake (like the Europeans) - they were hung. This 1735 legislation could certainly keep her quiet!

The trial was held in public and caused a sensation. She was found guilty and put in prison for nine months.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill was outraged but could not do anything about the conviction. When he returned as peacetime prime minister in 1951, one of his first acts was the abolition of the 1735 legislation. But he could not arrange a pardon for Mrs Duncan.

After her release from prison she went back to living an obscure life and she died in 1956 (still being watched by the police).

There is a continuing campaign for her posthumous pardon. The British Government recently apologized for the British role in slavery 300 years ago - but it continues to refuse to apologize for the treatment of Mrs Duncan.

Keith Suter

Posted by: Webeditor at 7:28 PM

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