African witchcraft and western psychology

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There are those who believe that Oprah is a prophet of Satan, spreading a message against Christianity. Then there are a growing group who similarly to Oprah, or maybe even because of her, are keen to explore alternative ways of connecting with divinity, not by dismissing the teachings of Jesus but by understanding them in conjunction with other spiritual leaders and their messages.

It will be interesting to watch the evolution of health care as increasing amounts explore spiritual lifestyles where the physical and meta-physical are linked. When it comes to medical treatment, the west, as a leader in modern pharmaceutics has focused chiefly on the body. As a result, science and faith have led separate institutional lives. But this one-dimensional view of healing is increasingly seen as a limited way of treatment. A psychosomatic approach, which sees health treatment as a multidisciplinary integration of biological, psychological, behavioral and social factors is gaining momentum.

It is interesting that Africans, amongst others, have been using psychosomatic strategies to cure disease for millennia. African shamanist specialists have been labelled everything from Black Magic priests to Devil Worshippers to Primitive practitioners. However, the fact is that these guys knew something that modern science is only beginning to understand, namely that if you can access the deep rooted fears in a patient then you are in a better position to cure the physical tensions and emotional disturbances often caused by these fears.
In the attempt to devalue the ancient knowledge of African shamans; ritual and ceremony and the tools associated with these were classified as evil. Such claims are not only untrue, but actually miss something highly relevant to medical philosophy, namely that the paraphernalia is not by far as interesting as the master-minded psychology performed by many a ‘witchdoctor’. In fact, what may take a modern day psychologist months or even years to cure, African shamans, thanks to their hypnotherapeutic skills and to the worldview of their societies, could cure in hours.

Don’t take my word for it. There is documentation even by western doctors who travelled to Africa in the early 20th century recording, with astonishment, how so called witchdoctors cured all kinds of ailments from bone fractures to malaria to dysentery. For example Harry Wright, an American orthodontist and member of the Explorer’s Club who travelled to several African regions noted in 1957 after twenty years of field study:

I have watched uncivilized and semi-civilized man in the jungle depths, it is impossible to avoid one rather startling conclusion: the word ‘coinicidence’ is not broad enough to encompass all these sights I have witnessed… I can only say with Shakespeare, to civilized people: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy!”

Disturbingly, there continue to be prejudices against African spiritual philosophy even amongst Africans ourselves. We don’t recognize the wisdom in our ancient practices as a complement to modern day philosophy. I use the word complement’, because I think that when it comes to medical science in particular, a complementary practice of western pharmaceutical technology and the spiritual philosophy of African, Australasian, Indian, Oceanic and ancient-day Europe (and so on) could produce previously unknown results.

What do you think, can science and sorcery work together in fellowship? Let’s discuss.

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  • Usen

    What appalls me most is the sheer scale of the ignorance that has eclipsed Africa.Yours is one of the few voices in the savannah.
    Our religion has been invaded and we have all abandoned all our spiritual roots and are now a race without an identity. How can we move forward as a people without an identity?

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for that, for your generous comment. I miss what we could be, if we were modern on our own terms, with strong roots in the history of our ancestors. I don’t want to romanticize it, as of course there would be other issues but this lack of ‘identity’ as you say, it’s crippling us

  • http://blog.bearphace.com Mbeng Ngassa

    So true, We got so caught up in being moder, bought up all the hype and preach even louder than our colonisers now.

    I don’t know if you’ve seen this before but you should : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kl-K5pN4P3Q

    What’s sad for me is going to Cameroon/Cote D’Iviore and seeing so many people right up to the villages looking down on their own traditions/cultures and calling it backwards.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Did you hear about this guy, Oyibo, being a fraud? When I listened to that I wonder if it’s true. Because I really don’t get what he’s on about! lol. What do you think?

      *sigh* the ‘backwards’ statement..

  • L

    Many of us are steadily moving further and further away from our roots, sadly. Please check out this article on The Atlanta Post about how African traditions are under attack:

    http://atlantapost.com/2011/06/06/timeless-taboo-new-attacks-on-african-spirituality/

    • MsAfropolitan

      Great article, thanks. Speaking about African spiritual systems, rituals, shamans and such brings out such incomprehensible reaction from people.

  • Divinemessages

    This is indeed a very interesting article. It is irrefutable, in my opinion, that Africans can and do heal via alternative means. After all, medicines derive from plants. And Africans are scientific in many ways. History proves that. The argument is not whether Africans are able to heal using natural medicines. The real question is the place of Witchcraft in medicine or any other form of healing.

    As we all know witchcraft is: The practice of magic, especially black magic; the use of spells and the invocation of spirits.

    Let’s be clear. Witchcraft is fundamentally about using demonic powers to serve the desires of its practitioner. It can never be deemed as good. Can we agree on that? If you disagree, I challenge you to prove to the readers’ instances where witchcraft has had lasting benefits on its community.

    Now, compared with the Christian healing practices as taught by Jesus – is to rely on the Holy Spirit of God, who fundamentally, wants to help man and draw him closer to the Almighty God through Jesus Christ. This is not to disregard physical medicine. After all, it is God that gives us the ability to discover and learn. Rather, I am talking about the power of God to set us free from all infirmities by confessing our sins to Him, forgiving others of their wrongdoings against us; and accepting Jesus as our Saviour.

    I am not saying that all sicknesses are due to unforgiveness. But I am saying that healing can be accelerated when we deal with the spiritual principal of loving one another, forgiving one another and serving one another with a gentle and humble heart. This is the teaching of Jesus Christ. Can witchcraft bring lasting deliverance from sickness without teaching the patient about the spiritual bondage of unforgiveness? Let’s explore the root cause of sickness rather than the superficial conclusion that Witchcraft has any place in medicine and healing.

  • http://www.mwanabaafrika.blogspot.com MBA

    I think we also have to distinguish between the witchdoctor and the village healer. So many herbal remedies have been lost because we have turned to strictly western medicine after being made to believe we know nothing. We were able to survive malaria for millenia and now we are dying from it unnecessarily because we turned from our ways. I always believe everyone has something to offer and there is strength in combining knowledge from the far reaches of the earth. You should never discount anything.

    Whenever anyone tries to tell me that African traditional healing methods are outdated, obselete or ineffective I tell them the story of how I swapped earrings with a friend and had a terrible allergic reaction that cause my ears to grow what I can only call little anthills. I was given all these western ointments by the doctor that did nothing to heal my ears. So my grandmother travelled down from the village with straw dipped in a healing ointment and I wore them like earrings and the anthills disappeared. My ears have not a scar on them.

    And I absolutely believe in the occult and how it can be used for good and bad. I have witnessed it myself on the continent. Even stories in the bible have an element of fantasy to them. So why is it that we can only believe in Jesus and not in demonic and angelic forces beyond the stories from Christianity?

    • Divinemessages

      “The argument is not whether Africans are able to heal using natural medicines. The real question is the place of Witchcraft in medicine or any other form of healing.”

      “As we all know witchcraft is: The practice of magic, especially black magic; the use of spells and the invocation of spirits.”

      Witchcraft by it’s very definition is evil.

      “I challenge you to prove to the readers’ instances where witchcraft has had lasting benefits on its community.”

      Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me…” Reference: Holy Bible. (John 14:6)

      There is NO other way that leads to God Almighty but through the believe on Jesus Christ.

  • POTO

    To be honest, I do not think witchcraft or black magic every really existed in Africa until recent (aside from western fiction). All I have seen in Africa were some adults who took their frustration out on some inanimate object or basically toys instead of people (just like children do). This was somehow a gratifying enough alternative to violence. It seemed more like a tactic to avoid hurting a real being. I see 5th graders doing this all the time now more than ever in video games and with toys. I never seen anyone isolate this activity and relate it to a real person suffering. I think African were maybe the first to invent toys but never got credit. Instead they were called evil but today toys are everywhere. Our kids can’t live without them. Africans I think were way too innocent minded.

    Now in the West I have seen the forces of nature being conjured to create atomic bombs that vaporize everything in site. Is this not the craft of a witch; the act of creating devices that incapacitate people by the mere thought? For example, events like the crusades seemed more like the act of witchcraft to me. I mean, those crusaders p’ed a lot of people off with all that mumbo jumbo trying to demonize people. And then women were mainly told they were witches? I cannot sentence a person to death (burn them at the stake) for taking their frustration out on a toy (instead of beating somebody up) while sentencing a person to just a couple of years in prison for attacking and possibly killing someone for real. Basically, I never saw someone isolate in a laboratory some person playing a video game or barbie dolls having any effect outside the lab. The message seems to be instead of playing with toys play with guns?

    As for shamanism which I never really associate with witchcraft I know for a fact is now called quantum physics. And has to do with all the concepts Einstein studied and became famous as a result of. I mean he was called a genius for his work. So how can their be such a double standard? For something to be classified as black magic shouldn’t their be like a yellow magic or an orange magic to compare? I won’t even address herbal healing being evil because it’s obvious have to demonize that too in order to take ownership and make a profit selling expensive drugs. Quite possibly a learned helplessness.

  • POTO

    Sorry for typos was writing fast it’s way too hot! Basically I need to get to the ac!

  • Umanyano

    I don’t think this great post should be left with that last post.

    Jesus is the only way – what are we like ten years old. The person who wrote that did not engage with the post.

    You say witch craft is evil. Well there are a few issues here – witch craft is an English term imposed upon traditional African healing and spiritual practices. The translation of meaning as it currently stands is ambiguous at best.

    The bible is littered with overt tones of similar activity which you associate as evil; human sacrifice, offerings to the gods, magic healing etc etc. What makes your belief in this some how superior to what is being discussed.

    You are condeming the practices of a culture which have shown you don’t understand.

    Fix up

  • MsAfropolitan

    @Umanyano, gratitude for your thoughts and for sealing, for now anyway, this post with your sensible thoughts. You made me chuckle out loud re being infantile. It strikes me as such too.

  • MsAfropolitan

    So many interesting comments here – how did I miss all this? TBC! Thanks for stopping by folks

  • http://www.longbelly.co.uk Dalian

    Indeed, in this day and time a complementary approach will be best suited because of modern-day western lifestyles which cause damage to the body and as such modern medicines may help, even then their original herbal sources should also be encouraged and not just their chemicalised extractions as pills.
    The West is perhaps only know begining to understand the potency of shamanistic healing practices but because it cannot be turned into an ‘industry’ will they ever make it acceptable…let’s look at the illegalisation of marijuana in comparion to tobacco as a cue? hmmmm….

    Love the article, will love to share on my page at some point if you don’t mind?

  • Iyanifa 32

    Thank you MsAfropolitan for this neeeded article to stimuliate some clarification on this subject.As mentioned in some comments,we all have been exposed to Western thoughts,living and being exposed to ideas having not been exposed to African culture.Our forefathers and mothers thousands of years ago did not have the presence of doctors and pharmacys.They utilized herbal remedies from the earth combined with spiritual prayers to promote healing ranging from various common ailments,broken bones,to mental illness.It was the tradition of their culture.Have been fortunate to witness some of these healing methods in Africa and abroad. I find it helpful to avoid the given names to lessen the acheivements and intelligence of the African continent.The African herbal remedies stands in the ranks of Indian and Chinese although not acknowleged.Blessings to all.

  • MsAfropolitan

    Hi folks.
    I just listened to this podcast and had to share it with those of you who commented on this post ‘Holy Hustlers’, Freud, and African Wisdom Diviners

    It’s exactly what this blog was about and here they are discussing the link between Freud and African diviner healers. Although the tone is somewhat condescending at times, as though it’s a surprise that African spirituality or so called “witchcraft” was full of psychological wisdom way before Freud, it’s worth a listen.

    Holler!

  • http://somethingweafricansgot.blogspot.com.au/ Rumbie

    I think that question is so hard to answer, Western people might not entirely believe in sorcery because psychology is just the way that people explain things. Whereas Africans, Asians and other indigenous people might have alternative views which might work and that can’t be dismissed either.

    Some of the stories that I have heard from family and friends about witchcraft have scared me into believing that this had to be true but after studying Psychology for a year, I also realized that maybe there was a way to explain these spells, witch craft and different ways of sorcery. Maybe it was bipolar or schizophrenia and people just didn’t know what to call them so they just said it was witch craft.

    I came to a realization that unfortunately we cant explain African cultures or any other for that matter and we all have different ways of explaining things. Even though some may not like science or some may not like sorcery there is not much we can do but coexist with what we don’t always understand.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for reading. If I understand you correctly this is what I’m actually saying – that what gets dismissed as “witchcraft” actually is of profound psychological value.

      • http://somethingweafricansgot.blogspot.com.au/ Rumbie

        Thank you for commenting back. I do agree with what you are saying. I also think there are some things that psychology or science cannot explain. Have you heard of the Tokoloshe, I have been told many stories about this since birth and I dont think many have seen it or can explain it, have a read of this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tikoloshe

        I also have started a blog and I would really like your opinion on it http://somethingweafricansgot.blogspot.com.au/

        Thank you

  • Lesley Agams

    Yes. Great post. I agree and words like ‘witchcraft’ ‘shamanism’ ‘magic’ are the names of denigration. This is our African psychology, psychiatry, pharmacology and medical practice. If these fields of study are demonized it is as much because of the lack of transparency and openness to empirical study by its practitioners as dismissal by the ‘superior’ white man. The insistence by our practitioners of guarding their secrets and creating superstition and awe is itself a feature of who we are and our world view.

    Likewise Chinese medicine would have remained ‘voodoo’ medicine if it hadn’t standardized and codified its processes and started teaching it as a full 5 year course in their universities.

    African medicine needs to be institutionalised for you and I to have confidence in it in the 21st c. So long as its practitioners continue to hide behind smoke and mirrors and abracadabra we will continue to have romantic or uninformed notions about it and it will likely remain in the realm of the magic.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Your last sentence made me laugh. “abracadabra” ;)

      V true regards institutionalising African medicine. A treasure for would be practitioners.

  • http://asanempokasghanaway.wordpress.com Asanempoka.Zebra

    I have no problem with my husband’s animist background coupled with his new vigor for TB Joshua. I am a Buddhist.
    However, in our tribe their is a focus on juju for jealousy and bringing people down. I really appreciate, Minna, that you write about the power of the mind and this aspect of healing. I managed it last year in reference to my potential cervical cancer. I went home to Ghana for a few weeks and maintained a positive mindframe and the issue went away. I didn’t even see any spiritual healer, though my husband saw many regarding other issues.
    I think so long as it’s to build a strong family and maintain positive mind frames it’s okay. If it’s to do with bringing others down or hurting other beings it is not (that being said I cannot stop my family engaging in animal sacrifice for ceremonial purposes). When my husband fears those things I won’t hear it but he can do as much as he likes if he feels it will help us maintain a sense of connectedness and togetherness.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for sharing, wonderful that you were able to heal a potential disease this way. The psychological is truly linked to the physical.

  • Salem Ononokpono

    Science and sorcery is like a parallel line=they can never meet.