Everybody remembers the many thousands of people put to death in Europe for witchcraft and the Salem Witch Trials, but did you know that belief in the supernatural is still leading to the persecution of innocent people who are thought to be creatures of supernatural evil?
In parts of Africa, the superstitious routinely discriminate against or assault people with the misfortune to have albinism, a non-supernatural medical condition that results in abnormally pale skin. Some people there believe that afflicted individuals are devils. People with albinism are even killed by witchdoctors who use their victim’s body parts as ingredients in magic spells for which they charge fees.
There is always somebody looking for a way to make a buck off human misery.
In Papua New Guinea, and, I stress, in the present day, we have reports of several superstition-driven atrocities:
“In February, the world was shocked when graphic photographs circulated on the Internet of a 20-year old mother being burnt alive in Mt Hagen in Papua New Guinea’s northern highlands. Kepari Leniata had been accused of sorcery (also called sanguma or puripuri) and blamed for the unexplained death of a six-year old local boy. More horrific incidents were to follow. On March 28, six women and one man were branded with hot irons as part of an Easter “sacrifice” in the Southern Highlands. Their fate is still unknown. A graphic image was also circulated of a woman from Wa village, outside Mendi town in the Southern Highlands Province. She was accused of practicing witchcraft and villagers stripped her naked and tortured her. Christian pastors reportedly took part in the torture. In April, two elderly women were beheaded after being tortured for three days. Four women were also kidnapped—one of them a teacher and women’s rights advocate, Helen Rumbali, was beheaded by a mob in Lopele in southern Bougainville. “
Just in case anybody thinks “it can’t happen here” take at look at this story about an airport screener working for TSA, Carole Smith, who was accused by a co-worker of putting a spell on her car’s heater.
The accuser filed an official complaint about being bewitched that caused Ms Smith serious trouble with her job and her relationships with her coworkers. I am not making this up.
I don’t think there is any danger of Ms Smith being burned as a witch on the tarmac at Albany International Airport, but it might be instructive to look at the last time, as far as I know, that someone was arraigned for witchcraft in the United States.
The following incident in Fentress County, Tennessee is taken from Carolyn Sakowski’s book Touring the East Tennessee Backroads:
“In 1835, an old man named Stout, who lived a reclusive life, did not attend church, and sat up late at night reportedly reading strange books, was accused of being a witch when a young girl became violently ill with a disease that the doctor could not diagnose.
“A large posse armed with guns loaded with silver bullets—as it was thought that nothing else would kill a witch—went to arrest Stout. An array of witnesses at his arraignment hearing testified that they had seen him ‘escape from dwelling houses through the keyhole in the doors, and that he had thrown people and animals into strange spells by his influence when they were miles away from him.’”
Despite such irrefutable evidence, the presiding judge and the prosecuting attorney (possibly the only other two people in the area besides Mr. Stout who read books besides the Bible) refused to indict Mr. Stout. It probably took considerable courage to go against local majority opinion like that. Good for them!
As someone who sometimes writes horror stories with a supernatural bent, this makes me wonder if perhaps I should stop. Credulous and ignorant people are far too eager to seize on these myths as an excuse to reach out and hurt someone.