Sarah Palin voo doo doll? Image: Psychology Today.
At the dawn of the Tech Revolution, it is easy to believe that we have become Postmodern, or post-Postmodern. There is less understanding of what that might mean if change that is too rapid. There is a lot of talk floating around that we 'are already living in the amazing future.' The gadgets confirm this; and where they leave off, the glossy ads pick up. They congratulate us on our multi-tasking attitudes, our sleek looks, our breathless, ever-new pace of life, our subterranean Web addictions, and our mass narcissism, funneled into our machines and mirrored back at us. Occasionally, something reminds us that there is a spiritual cost to all of this frenetic activity. Super-science sometimes walks hand in hand with the most primitive philosophies. Some evil practices we thought forever relegated to the 'barbaric' past reappear. Thus, we see the spread of modern slavery and piracy. When such phenomena reappear, we have to ask why. For example, why have witchcraft accusations been revived?
1991-2001 - Richard Petraitis reports in 2003 (here) on a decade's worth of witchcraft accusations and related violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania:
2005 - A child from Angola was almost killed in London after her family members suspected her of being a witch. BBC:"In June of 2001, villagers of Congo's northeast provinces began a bloody witch eradication campaign, sparing neither neighbor, nor friend. Alleged witches were unceremoniously hacked apart by machete-wielding vigilantes, bringing about a scene of carnage unmatched since the machete killing-sprees of the Rwanda Crisis. The innocent victims were first 'smelled out' (identified by tribal healers as witches) before they were savagely beaten into incriminatory confessions about others allegedly engaged in the black arts. After the unsuspecting parties were identified, the executions started in earnest throughout the rural areas. Three hundred villagers were killed in the first days of the witch paranoia. ... Not only the Congo, but also much of Sub-Saharan Africa remains a bastion for tribal healers, sorcerers, and wizards of every stripe. Sweeping across Africa's Horn, magic practitioners number in the thousands. So called 'tribal healers' hold great sway over millions in Central Africa's rural and urban centers. ... In one decade alone, (1991 to 2001), Tanzania had 20,000 persons accused of witchcraft, murdered by her citizenry--a disproportionate number of the suspected witches were female octogenarians. Tanzania's Ministry of Home Affairs claimed that 5,000 victims of witch lynching were murdered between 1994 and 1998, all suspected by fellow Tanzanians of magical high jinks. Red eyes, believed to be the mark of a witch, sparked many of these tragic neighborhood witch-hunts. Apparently, many Tanzanian women possess red eye color due to the smoke of their cooking fires. If the execution of grandmothers isn't horrific enough; trials by ordeal are making a comeback as the means of identifying a person as either a witch or sorcerer."
2005 - BBC: This is the kind of report that denigrates Africa in comparison to the developed world, by finding witchcraft and ancient spiritualism still at work there. The twist in this assessment is that witchcraft operates in the name of anti-witchcraft and anti-spiritualism. There is less discussion in the report of the civil war, the poverty, the crippling hardship endured by the people of the country that lead them to indulge in deadly, quasi-medicinal practices. There is no comment here on why aid workers in Angola must have failed. A veiled criticism in this report in fact takes aim of evangelical Christianity. In other words, this report is only superficially a critique of African traditions and their failures to harmonize with modern life and medical treatments; but it's also about western political debates."An eight-year-old girl was tortured and about to be killed after being accused of being a witch, the Old Bailey heard. The court was told the Angolan girl was put in a bag and was to be thrown into a river before the attack was stopped. ... Charges against the four defendants allege that chilli peppers were rubbed into the girl's eyes, she was beaten with a belt, slapped, cut with a knife and starved. ... The girl's father had died in the fighting in the African country's civil war and her mother was also feared dead. ... She told the court the aunt and Ms Kisanga put the girl in a laundry bag, zipped it up and were about to throw it into the New River in Hackney, east London, until Mr Pinto stopped them."
2008 - An angry mob attacked a woman accused of being a witch in India. Digital Journal:"The conviction in Britain of three Angolans for the abuse of a girl they accused of being a witch has turned the spotlight on customs in Angola. Angus Stickler of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme went to Angola to investigate the links between witchcraft, poverty and the rapid growth of churches preaching a powerful blend of traditional African beliefs and evangelical Christianity[:] I visited the compound-cum-church of Avo Kitoko, a prominent, government-registered traditional healer. He says he has the power to identify and deliver people from bad spirits. 'Well, I can say that inside a patient we may find different types of sickness, sometimes they have bad dreams, sometimes the patient thinks a wizard is putting a curse on them, someone is wishing bad things on them,' he said.Stepping inside Mr Kitoko's 'clinic' was like entering Bedlam. Many of the so-called patients were chained to the walls and floor. A boy of 15 had been shackled here since January. There were nursing mothers, women and children. Many, we were told, had mental health problems - 'sickness' caused by evil spirits. In a darkened room, six men were chained to the walls and floor. A fight broke out over food. One man tried to stab another with a shard of glass."
"A woman in India was tied to a tree and beaten by a mob after being accused of being a witch. A journalist in the area who filmed the mob beating reported the incident to the police. When Nishant Tiwari, a police official in northeastern India arrived at the scene he found the woman with her hair partially cut and her face reddened by the slaps of the mob. Thankfully her injuries were not serious. Six people were arrested including a man who had hired her for her services as a witch. They are due to appear before a magistate on Friday. Ram Ayodhya had hired the woman to improve his ailing wife's health. When his wife's condition worsened he accused her of black magic. The police were disturbed that the journalist called only after filming the incident instead of before."
"An Indian woman accused of witchcraft was beaten, gagged and burnt to death in a remote eastern village, police said on Friday. The woman was dragged out of her home, her hands and legs tied and taken to a crematorium where she was set on fire in front of the village which ignored her screams for help. The incident took place in a tribal village in Orissa and occurred last week, but came to light on Thursday with the arrest of three villagers. The victim was murdered by the husband and relatives of a neighbour whose death was blamed on her witchcraft."
2008 - International criticism over Saudi Arabia's plans to behead woman convicted of witchcraft. Daily Mail:
2008 - Papua New Guinea: an accused witch gives birth while hanged from tree. The National, via Religion News Blog:"Saudi Arabia's religious police plan to behead a woman accused of being a witch, a human rights group said yesterday. Human Rights Watch has asked the country's king to intervene over 'absurd charges that have no basis in law'.
Fawza Falih was arrested and interrogated in the northern town of Quraiyat two years ago and was sentenced to death. The judges who convicted her relied on her forced confession and the statements of witnesses who said she had 'bewitched' them. One man claimed that he became impotent after Falih cast a spell on him. Witchcraft is considered an offence against Islam in the conservative kingdom.
Falih retracted her confession in court, saying it was extracted under duress and that she could not understand the document because she is illiterate. The death sentence was lifted on appeal, but reimposed in the name of 'public interest' shortly afterwards.
Joe Stork, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said: 'The fact that Saudi judges still conduct trials for unprovable crimes like 'witchcraft' underscores their inability to carry out objective criminal investigations.'"
"A pregnant mother who was hanged to die alongside her husband after being blamed for sorcery delivered her baby prematurely while struggling to free herself. This inhuman experience was reported two weeks ago at Kilip village near Banz in Western Highlands province. The woman and her husband related the experience to The National yesterday at the Mt Hagen General Hospital where mother and baby were keeping fine. Husband Paul Yekum said he and his wife Nolan were accused by his tribesmen over the death of his neighbour."
Video caption from poster: "In this new video, available only as of today (September 23, 2008), Sarah Palin is shown accepting a special supernatural protection from witchcraft from Thomas Muthee, who also promoted Palin's campaign for Governor as a way to infiltrate the government with the right wing religious agenda of the Assembly of God. Really crazy stuff!"
2008 - In autumn 2008, when the American Presidential campaign was at its height, past footage of Sarah Palin circulated in which she was pictured consulting with an African Christian pastor who, critics claim, fights witchcraft. See the Youtube caption from nyprogressive (above). The subtext in the criticisms of Palin appearing with Muthee, a witch-hunter, is that there is something paradoxically witchy in all of this. On September 18, 2008, Altnet.org carried a piece attributed to The London Times:
Thus, evangelical premonitions of Palin envisioned her placed in a position of much greater power. The implication in this article is that there is a whiff of sorcery in the prophetic aspect, that Palin was supported by hocus pocus religious nutjobs, who expected her to go further than the gubernatorial race. Palin's secularist critics might toss evangelical Christianity, anti-witchcraft and witchery, together into the same basket."Sarah Palin Linked Her Electoral Success to Prayer of Kenyan Witch Hunter. ... The pastor whose prayer Sarah Palin says helped her to become governor of Alaska founded his ministry with a witch hunt against a Kenyan woman whom he accused of causing car accidents through demonic spells.At a speech at the Wasilla Assembly of God on June 8 this year, Palin described how Thomas Muthee had laid his hands on her when he visited the church as a guest preacher in late 2005, prior to her successful gubernatorial bid. In video footage of the speech, she is seen saying: 'As I was mayor and Pastor Muthee was here and he was praying over me, and you know how he speaks and he's so bold. And he was praying 'Lord make a way, Lord make a way. And I'm thinking, this guy's really bold, he doesn't even know what I'm going to do, he doesn't know what my plans are. And he's praying not "Oh Lord, if it be your will may she become governor," no ... [h]e said, "Lord make a way and let her do this next step. And that's exactly what happened."' She then adds: 'So, again, very, very powerful, coming from this church,' before the presiding pastor comments on the 'prophetic power' of the event.An African evangelist, Muthee has given guest sermons at the Wasilla Assembly of God on at least 10 occasions in his role as the founder of the Word of Faith Church, also known as the Prayer Cave. Muthee founded the Prayer Cave in 1989 in Kiambu, Kenya, after 'God spoke' to him and his late wife, Margaret, and called him to the country, according to the church's Web site. The pastor speaks of his offensive against a demonic presence in the town in a trailer for the evangelical video 'Transformations,' made by Sentinel Group, a Christian research and information agency."
2008 - It is troubling when American evangelicals mix ardent religion with politics. But American secularists are not free of the affliction either. In the same period, a crop of pro-Democratic Websites put up images of Sarah Palin voo doo dolls. This was done in the spirit of ironic criticism of American right-wing evangelical fervour. It was also meant to poke fun at Palin's assertions that her critics are out to demonize her, when her critics argue that she deserves all the criticism she gets. There was an odd satirical piece on Psychology Today about this that took the pro-Dem view; but the tone was self-effacing in a way that suggested that on a meta-level the piece was meant to illustrate some mass psychological trait (here). One blog, Razblint, did a post in that spirit and has Palin voo doo dolls for sale on Etsy (here). The Etsy rundown on the doll: "Here she is, Sarah Palin with big hair, those glasses and slightly psychotic eyes, and a set of Red, White and Blue stick pins to be used as you wish. She is bouncy, huggable, a good dancer, and she will not resist if you voodoo her. She stands just under a foot and a half tall - with a sizable portion of that being her vertical shot of hair - and is made of repurposed materials. ... This Sarah Palin Voo Doo doll was hand designed and custom made in Pittsburgh, now she is ready to be unleashed upon the wider world!"
It's just a bit of fun. But at what point does one find oneself merrily making voo doo dolls in the name of clever, ironic criticism, and selling them far and wide, only to discover a second level of irony? It reads like a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story about one of those haunted New England towns in the seventeenth century. Who is courting evil? Who is wielding witchcraft? Is it the person accused of witchcraft, or the person's accusers? It comes down to your opinion about current affairs. Yet those opinions are now intermingled with views on spiritualism and domestic American matters - on both sides of the political spectrum. A discourse about witches should never have popped up around Sarah Palin at all.
So why did it? One of the bloggers at Cinema Suicide, Bryan White, has been putting up scary stories all month leading up to Hallowe'en. In one entry (here), he comments on how witchcraft accusations inevitably settle over someone who breaks the common rule of conformity in society:
"The human race has always been a tribal culture. From the humble beginnings of Early Man, gathering into groups to survive became vital to the perpetuation of the species. These days most people claim they want to be left alone but we tend to group ourselves based on our tastes and interests and we form the same kind of feudal rivalries of earlier iterations of human tribalism. As a result, those of us who walk on the outside, genuinely by ourselves, living according to our own plan, are often ostracised and treated with suspicion. If you don’t fall in line with the pack, there must be something wrong with you. I mean, who actually wants to be an outside, right? Most outsiders these days just get nasty looks and sideways comments about the way they dress but back in the day, choosing your own path and not living among the tribe often left you saddled with a public stigma, the sort of brand that made you most likely to be lynched by an angry mob. It was always the same old line, too. If you lived alone, were not married and had no children, then you must be in league with whatever malevolent being opposed your culture’s primary deity because who doesn’t want to be a part of the group?"
2008 - Again in the same period, during the 2008 presidential race, an October 8 report from Digital Journal covered a story about a Michigan teacher, who was teaching The Crucible to adult education students, and was accused by one of them of being a witch:
Miller's play was written during another period of American political divisions, and is commonly taken to be a comment on McCarthyism. You can read The Crucible online here."Now that October is here thoughts turn to Halloween and witches. A good time for teachers to talk about the Salem witch trials in 1692. But does that mean the teacher is a witch? An adult education student at Taft Education Center in Ferndale, Michigan has been charged with threatening to burn his English teacher the day after he asked her if she was a witch. The class Darin Najor was in had been studying the 1953 play by Arthur Miller, The Crucible. The play is based on the 1692 Salem Massachusetts witch hunts that was the cause of about 20 people being hanged.
On September 10, 20-year-old Najor asked the teacher if she believed in witchcraft. She told him the the play was about unjust persecution and she didn't believe in witchcraft. Ferndale Detective Ken Denmark told the Daily Tribune, 'The suspect threw his homework papers on the floor and declared it was all blasphemy.'
Denmark added, 'The next day he came up behind her chanting what sounded like religious verses while she was working at her desk[.]' He poured some type of liquid on her head and holding a cigarette lighter he said he wanted to, 'burn the witch.' Najor had some kind nonflammable liquid in a Gatorade bottle and said he was trying to purify the teacher with holy water. After Najor fled from the classroom he was confronted in his car by another teacher and a security guard. A 93-day misdemeanor assault and battery arrest warrant was issued and Najor was arrested Monday. He posted a $250 cash bond Tuesday, officials at 43rd District Court said."
2009 - Amnesty International reports hundreds accused of and persecuted for witchcraft in Gambia:
2010 - Accused witch murdered in Gaza. From Providentia:"18 March 2009 - Up to 1,000 people in The Gambia have been taken from their villages by 'witch doctors', taken to secret detention centres and forced to drink hallucinogenic concoctions. The liquid they are forced to drink has led many to have serious kidney problems. Two people are known to have died of kidney failure after having been subjected to the ordeal. The incidents are part of a 'witch hunting campaign' spreading terror throughout the country.
Eyewitnesses and victims told Amnesty International that the 'witch doctors', who they say are from neighbouring Guinea, are accompanied by police, army and national intelligence agents. They are also accompanied by 'green boys' – Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s personal protection guards.
According to victims and their relatives, 'witch doctors' have been visiting villages with armed security and taking villagers they accuse of being 'witches' – many of them elderly – by force, sometimes at gunpoint. They are then taken to secret detention centres. Some have been held for up to five days. They are forced to drink unknown substances that cause them to hallucinate and behave erratically. Many are then forced to confess to being a witch. In some cases, they are also severely beaten, almost to the point of death."
"A 62-year old woman who had been accused by her neighbours of practicing "witchcraft" was shot and killed at her home in Gaza City. Jabreya Abu Qeinas was sitting with her husband in her garden on al-Jalaa' Street on August 17 when an unknown assailant opened fire from a parked car in front of her house. According to eyewitness, Abu Queinas was wounded with several bullets in the chest. Relatives brought her to al-Shifa hospital where she was pronounced dead on arrival. ... It is not known at present whether this murder has been linked to a series of recent extremist attacks in Gaza targeting music stores, internet cafes, and other businesses deemed to be in violation of Islamic law. Witchcraft is punishable by death in many Islamic countries."
2010 - Children accused of witchcraft in Nigeria on the rise. Zimdiaspora:"Noel Daley, an experienced criminal lawyer originally from Newfoundland, was in court last week to see Vishwantee Persaud plead guilty to four counts of fraud. Persaud fooled Daley into believing she was a law student, defrauding him in the process of at least $27,000, although he claims the real figure is much higher. ... Justice Ford Clements of the Ontario Court of Justice ... indicated she should consider herself lucky her offences took place in Canada. 'It is fair to say in this country we have not yet taken these types of offences as seriously as they do in other jurisdictions,' he said. 'If the offence was committed some place else, in the United States, for example, you would be looking at a considerably different disposition.' Clements noted he was struck by the extraordinary sophistication of Persaud’s fraud, which he said hinted at her potential. 'Had you chosen to use your God-given talents in another way, you may have made significant contributions to people’s lives instead of destroying them.' ...
Persaud ... convinced Daley that Sony, a client from her previous marketing career, had approached her about developing a touch-screen remote control system. Later, she would claim to have set up a deal for the pair to represent film stars at the Toronto International Film Festival. ... 'What made me continue was probably an element of greed,' he says. 'I thought I was going to score big on this and I admit that.' ... The witchcraft charge came after Persaud gave Daley a tarot card reading and claimed to be inhabited by the spirit of his deceased sister. Daley says he rejects the occult but believed her reading represented a 'genuine overture to comfort me,' something he accepted in the context of his Catholic faith."
"Blamed for all manner of misfortune, in Nigeria, children as young as a few months old can be branded 'witches' and rejected by their families or much worse—some are doused in acid baths, buried alive or poisoned, others are chained and tortured in churches in order to extract 'confessions' of sorcery. Belief in witchcraft runs deep in Nigeria as in other African countries. This belief coupled with an increase in tragedy from amorphous social ills like poverty, AIDS, and the loss of community to urbanization, has created a deadly situation for a growing number of children scapegoated for a world gone wrong."
In response, O'Donnell came out with a strange campaign advertisement in early October, which opens with the line, "I'm not a witch."
This prompted Elvira (actress Cassandra Peterson) to post the following parody on October 18 (hat tip: Cinema Suicide).
This is the dark side to technological advance and globalization, where the rapid spread of ideas and modes of living never before seen in human history suddenly engulf traditional societies ill-equipped to modernize, let alone think in Ray Kurzweil's terms. Sometimes, the frenetic reality we now inhabit takes a trip down memory lane, and ends in a witch hunt.