Every culture comes with a distinct flavor to its witchcraft and demonology folklore. European Witchcraft folklore appears to have been largely influenced by the Christian cultural demonization of the pre-Christian fertility cult. Witches in European folklore were persons (mostly elderly ladies) in covenant cahoots with the Devil who uses his "brides" as vehicle-agents for afflicting innocent society.
What appears common to all cultural traditions about witchcraft is a pronounced social-cultural paranoid complex which seeks to personalize misfortune, embodying it in the person of the witch. Why witches tend, cross-culturally, to be women is a moot question. But significant is the fact that the elderly virago is prime candidate for witchcraft accusation (and in many cultures, senile women with culturally conditioned delusions associated, usually, with old age "dementia").
Among the Yoruba of West Africa, the phenomenon of culturally induced paranoia which fuels fantasies of witchcraft and demon affliction is as evident as it was in the seventeenth century Puritan American culture which produced the Salem Witch-Trials.
In the Yoruba Odu Ifa, the verses of Ose-Meji are the scriptural authority on witchcraft. Ose-Meji portrays witches as demi-god entities somewhere in a hierarchical limbo between the Orisa (gods) and mortal humans.
The elevation of witches to demi-god status in Ose-Meji, of course, allows these mostly feminine persecutors of mankind to be invested with practically unlimited powers in consonance with the dimensional magnitude of the paranoid delusional state of their victims. Witches, being demi-gods, are feared and revered. Ose-Meji prescribes to the orthodox medicine-man a conciliatory approach in dealing with witches. No orthodox Ifa priest confronts witches in a contest of supernatural powers because witches are higher than mortals. Thus, when a medicine man diagnoses his client-patient as afflicted of witches, he consults Ose-Meji for prescriptions of conciliatory offerings; that is, witches in orthodox practice are propitiated in the same manner as are the gods.
Even the gods fear witches!
A verse in Ose-Meji tells a curious story of the high deity Obatala beset upon by the scarlet ladies of the night. He flees in panic and attempts to take refuge in the homes of various powerful deities who all refuse to grant him asylum being wary of incurring the displeasure of the "Eleiye" or "Bird-Spirits" (nocturnal birds are the favorite animal familiars of Yoruba witches).
Obatala finally comes to the home of Orunmila (the god of divination and wisdom) who hits upon a clever stratagem for dealing with the ladies. He prepares a banquet of some sticky magical broth and persuades the ladies to avail themselves of his hospitality before he hands over their prey. The ladies, after much cajoling (witches are especially relentless in pursuit of their prey), agree to refresh themselves before leaving Orunmila's home with their latest captive. But alas! Orunmila's hospitality turns out an entrapment. The magical concoction glues their lips and feathers and holds them down, and now at the mercy of the willy Orunmila, they plead to be set free. And Orunmila agrees on the condition that they give up pursuit of the hapless Obatala. The witches have no choice but to grant Orunmila's demand.
Orthodox medicine men of the Ifa divination school follow the example of their patron Orunmila. The never attempt to confront witches in pitched battle. They employ, rather, conciliatory tactics to their entrapment.
The cross-cultural tendency for the myriad of malevolent forces which persecute us tirelessly to assume unlimited powers to diabolical ends is largely a tribute to the dimensions of the megalomania innate to our paranoid obsessional state tendencies.
Continue to Part 2: Witchcraft and Demon Affliction Paranoia in Pre-Christian Africa
JohnThomas Didymus is the author of "Confessions of God: The Gospel According to St. JohnThomas Didymus" (Read a Free Three Chapters Excerpt)