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Witchcraft & Sorcery F14 SOAN181

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Julie Jenkins

on 6 November 2014

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Transcript of Witchcraft & Sorcery F14 SOAN181

Hocus Pocus: Witchcraft & Sorcery
Church reformers (16-17th C) identified certain people as 'witches' -- meaning they were adversaries of the Church
--pact with the Devil
inversion of what was holy and civilized
--fly at night to nocturnal, orgy filled meetings
--sacrifices of infants
but this is a historical construction
--charged words and powerful when labeling certain actions negatively
witchcraft - an inherent quality of a person, with a psychic action
sorcery- a ritual activity of manipulating objects for an end
--problem of translation:
sometimes these categories aren't as clear cut in local context
Geschiere argues that we should use an umbrella term, like "occult forces" to
--capture a wider range of phenomenon
-- recognize both positive and negative actions associated with term
--localized ideas about good/evil, theory of causation
--means to make sense of the world and act within it (divination, healing)
What are some ways in which we can understand 'witchcraft'?
E.P. Pritchard & the Azande
1920s-30s
--mangu is a substance found in the body (inherited)
--distinct from ngua (learnt)
activated by greed or envy
--although often an unconscious act
--'witchcraft' understood as not empirically real, but that accusations themselves 'do' something
If you are experiencing a misfortune, how do you know if you are a victim of mangu or the ritual actions that need to be taken?
--accusations appear within the context of tension in social relations
--accused can take ritual actions to stop mangu from becoming active
--reinforce moral standards
What do anthropologists means when we use the term?
Middleton-1960s
--universal distinction between witchcraft & sorcery
--all definitions are going to be historically & culturally specific
--perhaps most useful to use the localized term, rather than translate
'conservative' aspects of accusations
--express tension and conflict
--provide a way to ventilate and resolve
--but accusations can lead to fragmentation, rather than mediation
"Witchcraft resonates strongly in the Western imagination" (Moore 1999)
What is Evan-Pritchard's argument concerning witchcraft?
divination also reaffirms social hierarchies
Is it "rational"?
Why have practices and beliefs around witchcraft not died out?
"there is need for massive public education and enlightenment in Africa to teach Africans that witchcraft is superstition and that people engage in witchcraft accusations out of fear and ignorance."

"UNICEF needs to answer these questions: Do children have magical powers? Do children fly out at night as birds or spirits to meet in covens where they suck blood or plot harm? Can a child be possessed by the spirit of witchcraft (whatever that means)? Can a child cause accidents or inflict harm or misfortune on anyone using "magical" means? Last year, UNICEF released a report on witchcraft accusation of children in Africa. The study focused on the complexity and diversity of the problem of witchcraft accusation in the region. But is that the issue? No.

I drew the attention of the representative of UNICEF and other participants to the fact that as long as we refrained from challenging and ascertaining the veracity of witchcraft claims, we were only treating the symptom, not the disease. But I must say that one of the child rights groups at the event, Stepping Stones Nigeria was in agreement with me on this. They stated in their presentation that challenging the belief in witchcraft was one of their strategies to combat this cultural scourge."
According to Geschiere, is witchcraft "dying" out with the expansion of capitalism and "modernity" in Cameroon? Is it "traditional" obstacle to development?
practices, accusations, discourses engaged with processes of "modernity"--
--experience of inequality (leveling, accumulation)
--illicit accumulation
--illicit power
In Shaw's work in Sierra Leone, how has ideas about witchcraft changed over time? What relationship does it have with accumulation, power, and inequality?
"discourses, beliefs, and practices of witchcraft are manifestations of real social, political, and economic conditions" (Moore & Sanders 2001)
"neither a return to 'traditional' practices nor a sign of backwardness or lack of progress; they are instead thoroughly modern manifestations of uncertainties, moral disquiet and unequal rewards and aspirations in the contemporary moment" (Moore & Sanders 2001)
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