Witchcraft : A Reality Beyond African Space and Time. Vol. 3, No. 23

Research has revealed that allusions to the practice and reality of witchcraft dates back to time immemorial. Belief in magic, soothsaying, necromancy, psalmistry and sorcery was universal in antiquity. It is not just limited to African mentality or superstition. It seems to be a universal belief.
According to the Egyptian records, there are reports of conjurers, and soothsayers who derived their power from alien gods. Even in the Scripture, King Saul consulted the witch of Endor, who was a necromancer (1 Sam. 28:3). He intended to sought answers to his problems.
Indications therefore emerge that from time immemorial, people lent so much credence to the reality of witchcraft and it became so devastating that different cultures prohibited every belief in it and punished all those who claimed to be witches in manners that do not exclude death penalty. The universality of such punishment is such that the code of Hammurabi and the Bible spoke against belief in witchcraft. This could be confirmed in Exodus 22:18 “Thou shall not allow a witch to live.” It was this universal rejection of witchcraft that necessitated the witch-hunts that took place in Europe. Be that as it may, we can testify to a universal recognition of witchcraft which predicated the fact of a negative attitude towards it in all parts of the world.
Meanwhile, the first outstanding witch-hunt took place in 367AD by the order of the Roman Emperor, Valerian, but the greatest witch-hunts were between the 14th and the 16th centuries. During that period, those believed to be witches were hunt and killed.
Furthermore, during the late medieval and early modern period, it could also be recalled that the Church treated belief in witchcraft and witches as a form of heresy and those who hold such belief were punished as heretics. Moreover, what is not clear about these heretical teachings on witchcraft which was condemned by the Church is whether it is the belief in its existence that is condemned as heresy or the unnecessary superstitions that accompany their modes of operations and manipulations – whichever one it might be, we are quite sure that the belief in witchcraft was condemned as heresy. Not only the Church, even the civil society condemned belief in witchcraft.
In the eighteenth century, St. Boniface declared that belief in the existence of witches is unchristian. Emperor Charlemagne declared the burning of witches as a pagan rite while king Coleman of Hungary held that witch-hunts should cease because witches do not exist. In 1080AD, Pope Gregory VII condemned belief in witchcraft as superstitious in the letter to king Herald of Denmark. This condemnation was re-affirmed in 1310 by the synod of Treves.in these teachings, the Church and European societies held witchcraft as wanton phantom, that is an unrestrained illusion. It is also on record that belief in witchcraft gradually decline in Europe from the renaissance period so much so much so that witchcraft became almost non-existent only to continue to grow and develop in Africa even in our own times. African, like the ancient Europeans believe that witches are more operational in the night. They consort in animals like owls, dogs, bats and cats and cause all sorts of havoc. This belief has created job opportunities to some religious experts and has made many people slaves of their own thought, confused and horribly terrified.
One thing that has seemed contradictory in this historical reviews is the fact that witchcraft is held as unreal whereas at the same time, witches are condemned by being burnt and killed. Now, the confusion is this, if we hold tenaciously that witchcraft does not exist, why were some persons proven to be witches beyond every reasonable doubt, to the point of condemning them to death? The historical scenario here cannot withstand the law of non-contradiction or the law of identity. That is to say, if we accept that witchcraft does not exist in the real sense of the word, then the practice of burning witches is unjust and should be condemned as man’s inhumanity to man. But if we appreciate the fact of condemning witches to death on the ground that they earlier confessed to be witches or that they have been proven as such, then we cannot stand tall to defend the non-existence of witchcraft. Indications therefore emerge that our historical knowledge on witchcraft cannot give us a definite answer about the existence or non existence of witchcraft. Well, time shall tell the truth in this analytic series.

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