Witchcraft, The Money-Spinner

charismatic worship

God is BIG business. If you don’t believe me, ask any preacher or prophet or son of God in any charismatic denomination and you’ll have your answer. You can also look no further than Mfonobong Nsehe’s profiling of the Five Richest Pastors in Nigeria . Theirs are religious franchises- think Chris Oyakhilome’s Christ Embassy, David Oyedepo’s Living Water World Outreach Ministry, etc.

The former reminds me of my varsity years when fellow-students had a knack for doing that distinctive hairstyle that looked like an entire jar of gel was used on the hair (to mimic Oyakhilome’s, I suppose) and with the latter I recall the period just before Y2K when some were happy to swap their frilly Sunday skirts for jeans to church.

The age of men and women of the cloth living near-pauper existences seems to be a thing of the past. Nsehe sums it up nicely by writing, “…while the Bible expressly states that salvation is free, at times it comes with a cost; offerings, tithes, gifts to spiritual leaders…”

For me, this brings memories of sitting in church a few months ago with about twenty Rand in my purse-my last money- wondering if it would be enough to pay for the second of two offerings in one service (plus tithe). There were also subtle threats that one’s blessings would be locked up somewhere if tithe is not paid.

On about two occasions that I sat in that church, one couldn’t help but feel as if we’d just switched on to a sales channel as the prophet brought out the big guns: A bottle of ‘holy’ perfume that he endorsed for being able to help one attract a divine partner and any other opportunity one desired. He also brought out a bottle of anointed oil, originally bottled as a combination of olive & other essential oils from Checkers. Yep, that green bottle behind the pew. No less than R 100 a pop.

As the witchcraft trilogy comes to conclusion, I am reminded of Newton’s third Law of motion; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In this instance, the belief in witchcraft, -while for years has filled the coffers of traditional/witch-doctors through individuals who sought to ‘protect’ themselves and/or cause harm to others- also created a gap in the spiritual “market” which continues to be exploited by charismatic evangelists.

Sitting among a group of people during deliverance and hearing some bizarre testimonies, as well as a conversation with a very religious friend of mine proved just how seriously witchcraft is taken. Since I couldn’t point a finger at anyone specific for my apparent ‘misfortune’ (nobody had been killed by my prayers) I had to wonder if witchcraft mechanics fear big city lights; whether they prefer to roam around in the still darkness that characterizes most villages instead.

An article by BBC Africa Live states that witchcraft has, for many years played a role in rebellions, fighting wars and possibly found its way into every nook and cranny of society. This has made the success of charismatic churches an easy one, as they laugh all the way to the bank for commodifying God and identifying a spiritual gap that conventional churches seemingly can’t fill.

Most importantly, the charismatic movement continues to appeal to the need for instant gratification that a lot of people have. For some, money is no issue if they can get their divine partner, marriage, money, or if they can get those haters off their backs. Many are attracted by the idea of attaining things they haven’t worked a day in their lives for; many are desperate for miracles. Are they any different to a person who visits a traditional doctor to achieve the same result? Is it a case of the kettle calling the pot black?

I believe that a lot of people cannot deal with their reality, especially if it turns out to be less than desirable. I also believe that one’s overall perception can be affected by that. Some resort to extreme measures, others look to faith and others remain despondent. In all situations every action has consequences.

It would be naïve for anyone to assume that there aren’t things bigger than us-(good or bad) or people who always stand to gain from others’ misfortune – yet we must always remember that the universe works in our favour once we learn to be the masters of our individual destinies.

In closing, consider this Bible verse: Matthew 7:15

 

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Witchcraft, the Scapegoat

Despite the infamous Oscar Pistorius murder trial gradually shifting out of our collective psyche because we’ve just generally grown weary from all the waiting, it has served as an interesting lesson in-among other things- scapegoating.

Having browsed some texts where commentators posed the hypothetical question on what would have been had Oscar been Black; would he get the same kind of media coverage? Would he get a TV channel dedicated to him? Would he even be allowed to undergo psychiatric evaluation as an out-patient? Hell, would he have been able to afford the million bucks bail? I’d have to say that those are interesting but not particularly useful questions.

It has been rather intriguing how Pistorius has shifted the blame to everyone but himself for some of the events that have occurred in his life; from estranged friends, to the burglar in the toilet and his hand (God forbid it has a mind of its own!) for pulling the trigger. Never himself. Still, one can’t help but wonder whether a black Pistorius would have at least one more avenue to exploit. Perhaps he would believe in a third force, supernatural elements? Would he also blame witchcraft for his ‘misfortune’? Who knows!

Dwight D. Elsenhauser once said, “The search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions”. Indeed it is easier for most people to shift blame to someone/thing else when backed up against a corner or when the heat gets turned up. While the assumption of responsibility forces one to take a hard look in the mirror and to confront the ugly truth, scapegoating on the other hand lends a comfortable cushion that allows the user convenient ignorance and denialism.

Human beings are interesting creatures, we love taking responsibility for all the good things that occur in our lives but rarely do the same with the undesirable, bad stuff. My last post discussed how deeply entrenched witchcraft belief is in our society (and in many other African countries as well). If you’ve been following the Farlam Commission into the Marikana massacre of 2012 you would have heard Mr “X”’s testimony about the extent to which supernatural belief played a role in the occurrence of gruesome and sadistic rituals carried out by miners in the run-up to the tragedy.

Not only did those beliefs prove fatal for security guards and policemen killed before, but ultimately for the miners themselves in believing they were invincible- a double-edged sword. There are many reasons why people believe in witchcraft, if we define witchcraft as acts of evil done purposely with the intent to harm others.

blame

However, there are two overriding factors that make the top of the list, that is, one is either successful or not. Success defined in terms of material, the reverence of community members, social status, etc. The former will believe that there are people who aren’t happy with that success and therefore will work towards causing harm or reversing this. The latter will believe that their lack of progress in life is a result of some supernatural conspiracy.

I can neither confirm nor deny. However, I can relate a personal story about being taken to a Nigerian prophet known for assisting people with these “things”. I clearly remember the look on my old man’s face as he told us of other-worldly things-stuff beyond us. It was shortly after my cousin dropped by to show us his new car.

There we were, my sister and I, in our mid-twenties (okay, late twenties in my case). Willing and able post-graduates. Unemployed. Stuck. Like hundreds of thousands of other graduates in this country. Somebody was panicking and it wasn’t either of us. I suppose witches were/are working over-time then? Never mind the socio-economic milieu or the level of corruption in our midst, there was something new we could seriously consider as the root and cause of our stagnation. It was someone else; someone close, the prophet said on our first meeting. Great!

Nervous conditions can create fertile ground for suspicion and paranoia, which may prove dangerous for people who are wrongfully accused of committing witchcraft. In the article “Victims of witch-hunts in South Africa are ignored, DamonLeff writes, “South Africa faces a growing refugee crisis as many victims of witchcraft accusation who survive assault are forcibly expelled from their communities by community leaders, traditional leaders and traditional healers, sometimes after being tried in traditional courts and found guilty through divination alone…

It is during the state of panic that a man’s character is revealed. When faced with the option of fight or flight, a lot of people choose the latter; which means we do not get the opportunity to explore the depth of our resilience…