1692, Massachusetts: A series of hearings were held before local magistrates, followed by county court trials in Essex, Suffolk and Middlesex Counties, led to 150 people being tried, arrested and imprisoned for crimes related to witch craft. The lynchings, which lasted more than a year, led to the deaths of 14 men and five men, all hanged, as well as one convicted felon being crushed to death by heavy stones.
The series of supposedly supernatural claims, and the subsequent hearings, are what has been referred to historically as the Salem Witch Trials. These charges, however, would seem innocuous today, given the fact that rational thinking has largely taken precedence over superstition. As much as witch craft is concerned, the idea that witches are responsible for causing malicious events has as much validity as Jesus flying through the clouds on board an UFO.
That said, Christianity has had a long and unbroken history of hysterical fear and hatred towards practitioners of witchcraft, especially those of the female variety, i.e the witches.
The Holy Bible on Witchcraft
Interestingly, the holy bible does have something to say about witches, and like the homosexuals, there is but one punishment for devious women who practice the dark arts: Death.
"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." -Exodus 22:18 (KJV)
Such a clear, unambiguous statement of authority, as issued by the holy bible, is highly indicative of Judaism's intolerance and hatred towards witchcraft, and this intolerance and hatred was later passed on to the pious leaders of Christendom, who wasted little effort in meting out violence towards people who were suspected of practicing what was thought to be the devil's little act.
The Hammer of Witches
What is seldom mentioned in Churches all over the world is the presence of this little book, "The Hammer of Witches", or "Malleus Maleficarum" in latin.
This obnoxious book spells out, amongst other things, the susceptibility of women to the devil, as they are more inclined to learn the dark arts (In the world of Judaism and Christianity, women are often referred to, implicitly or explicitly, as the harbinger of temptation and great evil, beginning with the Fall from Paradise and Eve), methods to discern real witches, and punishments to be meted out against witches.
Whether or not real witches exist is highly subjective; what is real is that many women, particularly of the elderly, wrinkled-face variety, were often singled out and accused of practicing witchcraft and wrecking havoc on the masses. These unfortunate women invariably became the primary victims of witch hunts, and suffered ignominious, and often very painful deaths for their accused crimes (Accused victims of witchcraft are often burned and barbecued at the stake).
This wretched book from the Dark Ages was to sit in every courtroom in Europe for at least 3 centuries: By most accounts, 40,000 to 100,000 people, mostly women, were condemned to ignominious deaths based on the ludicrous doctrines of this erstwhile book by European courts.
Modern Day Witchcraft?
In the 21st century, accusations and lynchings against the practice of witchcraft in most parts of the world are sporadic at best: People are less susceptible to hysterics when faced with disasters, say, an outbreak of SARS, and the advent and success of modern day medicine means that people are less likely to fall for malevolent beliefs of the witch craft variety and blame the supernatural for such ill tidings.
That said, superstition and myths are still rife in third world countries, where people still believe that a sprinkle of holy water can dispel all manner of diseases, and children and adults alike drop dead like flies from the atrocious living conditions brought about by a succession of wars, natural disasters and petty politics.
In Africa, Churches have seized upon the gullibility of ignorant folks to spread their devious lies of witchcraft and heap blame upon kids as witches. It is as if these pious Christians are somehow attempting to throw Africa back to the Dark Ages.
Nigerian children branded as witches in deadly purge
"EKET, Nigeria (AFP) — Jeremiah, 10, stares blankly at a window, tears rolling down his burn-scarred cheeks recounting how his father doused him with petrol and set him ablaze accusing him of witchcraft.
He is just one of hundreds of children in southern Nigeria's Niger Delta oil region thrown out of their homes, tortured or even killed after they are branded witches by a new crop of self-styled religious leaders.
Around a dozen phony pastors have been arrested -- one on murder charges after he confessed in a documentary film to having killed 110 child witches. He now says he killed only the witches inside the children, not the children themselves.
At a centre in Eket, Akwa Ibom's oil town, Jeremiah and over 170 other children -- aged between 18 months and 16 years -- have sought or been brought to emergency shelter. Many bear scars of physical torture -- machete cuts, burns or a nail drilled into the head.
It has been more than a year since Jeremiah fled from his home, but he suffered months of abuse at the hands of his parents after he was accused of sorcery.
"We were having a revival at church one night when from nowhere, the pastor's wife stood up to say I was a witch," recounts Jeremiah.
He was immediately locked up at the pastor's house, starved and assaulted with clubs as part of the exorcism exercise.
When he moved back home his father tied a noose around his neck and led him to a nearby school grounds, but apparently developed cold feet.
In minute detail he recounts how over several weeks, his parents locked him up in a room and starved and flogged him. That was before the father torched him, accusing him of being behind his losing a job with an oil firm."
While the crimes of the father cannot be exonerated in this case, the churches which propagate such accusations are largely to blame: By playing on the insecurities of the masses, the churches have become mass abusers and murderers of children who are innocent victims of unnecessary, superstitious fear.
It is very difficult for rational-minded folks to understand the absurdity of such accusations, let alone understand the atrocity of dousing a child with petrol and lighting him up for a grisly barbecue session. This, however, is what will happen in a nation where people are steeped in the beliefs of the supernatural: They can be easily manipulated by hucksters who will not hesitate to cause the death of innocent children simply to make a quick buck or two.
Is Christianity the Scourge of Africa?
It has been argued that Christian missions have done Africa a whole lot of good by feeding the masses, setting up schools to educate children, and so on and so forth.
I don't wish to belittle the charitable work of Christians: Clearly they have done good works, and yes, most of them are carried out with good intentions.
Unfortunately, Christianity has also managed to cook up quite a slew of problems for Africa too. Accusations of witch craft aside, Christianity's vehemence against the usage of condoms and its own brand of sex education has also inhibited secular institutions who are facing an uphill task in their quest to stem the spread of STDs, particularly the HIV virus.
It is quite clear, at least to me, that Africa does not need Christianity to be involved in already a complex potpourri of religions. What Africa needs is clean water, food, sanitation, education and jobs, not more superstition and unnecessary fear.
Witch Hunts: A Barbaric, Misogynistic Act
"During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after doing its duty in but a lazy and indolent way for 800 years, gathered up its halters, thumbscrews, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood. Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry."