On Monday 1st March 2010, The New Vision (the government newspaper, and one of the countries leading dailies) published a story about how charms and other accessories related to witchcraft were found at the headquarters of the National Forestry Authority:
Fear gripped the National Forestry Authority headquarters in Bugolobi in Kampala yesterday when fetishes were discovered in a senior manager’s office.
The juju, as the stuff is locally known, was stacked in a plastic bag in the ceiling. The offices house the acting director of finance and administration, Hajati Aidat Nandutu.
It was not clear who hid the fetishes in the ceiling and for how long they had been there.
What exactly was it they found?
On close scrutiny, the plastic bag contained mysterious herbs, coffee beans wrapped in dry banana leaves, brown powder, dead fireflies and bats.
At first I was impressed by what I thought was a display of rational skepticism by the acting executive director, Hudson Andrua:
Andrua said he was not bothered by the juju.
But then he said:
“Being a God-fearing person, I cannot be scared by the witchcraft”
OK, so he actually does believe that witchcraft works, only that he believes that ‘God’ magically ‘protects’ him from its effects.
Ugandans generally believe that witchcraft works. To be clear – many, especially Christians, will claim they would never partake of it because to them it is ‘Satanic’. However most are almost certain that it is able to yield effects.
His next statement said it all:
Andrua said the management would invite pastors and bishops to hold prayers at the premises to exorcise any demons there.
The majority of Ugandans are Christians. Christian doctrine holds that there are forces of good and evil, with ‘God’ and his ‘angels’ representing the goodside, and ‘Satan’ and his ‘demons’ representing the evil side. It is believed that that demons are constantly attempting to thwart Good and the will of ‘God’ by demonic possession, demonic harassment, by attacks on a person’s thoughts, relationships, or life with ‘God’. This struggle between the good side and the evil side is called ‘Spiritual Warfare’ elaborated upon by Paul in Ephesians 6:10-12:
To Ugandans, the very existence of witchcraft affirms the belief that this is true. Every Sunday Christians (mainly in ‘Born Again’ churches) are told that witchdoctors are agents of ‘Satan’, and ‘demons’ are the evil spirits witchdoctors use to place curses and inflict suffering upon believers. Many a church service is devoted to exorcisms and other rituals intended to ‘protect’ the flock from ‘demonic possession’ resulting from witchcraft. Why? Because believers have been told repeatedly that it is only by ‘accepting Jesus’ that they will obtain ‘protection’ from witchcraft.
Different Christian denominations in Uganda place varying degrees of emphasis on the tenets of ‘Spiritual Warfare’ (in Uganda, the current Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, is on record to have said many people in the country were consulting demons). Out of all the Christian denominations, however, it would seem that it is the Pentecostals that place the greatest emphasis on it.
One would think a rational person would easily dismiss witchcraft, and other fancy stories of ‘Spiritual Warfare’, as childish superstition. Astonishingly, many university-educated Ugandans believe that these things are real. They do so not primarily because they have encountered any good evidence, but because their religious beliefs require them to accept such claims as true, if not highly possible.
So, to answer the original question, does Christianity reinforce the belief that witchcraft works?
YES – and so does any other religion (e.g. Islam) that posits the existence of ‘evil spirits’.