Halloween many American children will dress up as witches. And we’ll
hear their laughter and see their smiles as they joyfully go from
here and in some places across the globe, children would never pretend
to be witches because the consequences are not only dire but they
can also be deadly.
example, Nine-year-old Nwanaokwo Edet of Nigeria was accused of
being a witch by the family pastor. Nwanaokwo’s father forced acid
down his throat as an exorcism, burning away his face and eyes.
Nwanaokwo died a month later.
And, eight-year-old Shilua Salifu of Ghana now lives with her grandmother
after being accused of being a witch. Shilua’s mother tired to saw
off the top of her skull to let the demons fly away.
the Democratic Republic of the Congo nearly 50,000 children live
on the streets of Kinshasa, the capital, because they were accused
of witchcraft and rejected by their families. In Nigeria, the Child
Rights and Rehabilitation Network reports that nearly 25,000 children
have been abandoned or persecuted on the belief they were witches
like the United Nations Children’s Fund, Africa Unite Against Child
Abuse, and Save the Children have stepped in where they could to
stop the witch-hunt. But the phenomenon of “witch children” is so
widespread throughout Africa these organizations have set up “witch
camps” as shelters for children who cannot be safely place with
a relative like Shilua.
history, people described as witches have been tortured, persecuted,
and even murdered. And it is usually society’s most vulnerable who
the HIV/AIDS epidemic leaving many children orphaned, and poverty
ensued from crop failure and decade-long wars, the excising of Africa’s
children from their familial communities with the charge of witchcraft
becomes an acceptable way for poor families to abandon their children.
rapid growth of Evangelical Christianity throughout African has
exploited the problem. With these churches in competition
for parishioners, some clerics establish their unique godly credentials
by claiming to have special powers in recognizing and exorcising
these “child witches” for, of course, exorbitant fees.
role religion has played in witch hunts is not new and has always
targeted children, the most defenseless, before targeting marginalized
example, residing a stone's throw from Salem, Massachusetts I am
reminded of one of this nation's earliest examples of home-grown
domestic terrorism - the Salem Witch Trails of 1692.
haunting history of the Puritan's execution of innocent women, and
certain men, is a window into how their religious fanaticism, misogyny,
and homophobia destroyed not only the moral fiber of their town,
but how it also decimated its own Christian zeal all to become a
"city on the hill."
sanctioning of Exodus 22:18 "Thou shalt not suffer a witch
to live," not only gave men biblical legitimacy to control
women, but it also gave them a legal license to kill them.
circles of women threatened the Puritan's paradigm of male dominance,
giving rise to the charges of witchcraft, because of the theological
belief that women ought not be in the company of each other without
the presence of a man. And without the presence of a man, of course,
women could not help but engage in sorcery, paganism, and lesbianism.
was identified with witchcraft... she could not form a household
of her own apart from church and family... Her relations with a
man were apt to be moral to the point of martyrdom, but not romantic.
Puritanism does not seem to have been any more personally fulfilling
to women than the slavery that they had willingly submitted to in
previous times," historian Ellwood Johnson points out.
today new light is being shed on the Salem Witch Trials little is
still known about the first woman accused of witchcraft that sparked
the trials - Tituba, a black slave.
the house slave of the Rev. Samuel Parris, minister of Salem Village,
Parris’ daughter and her cousin accused Tituba of witchcraft. Allegedly,
while assisting Tituba in preparing a "witch cake, " the
girls experienced unexplained "fits" and "symptoms."
to confess that she was a witch, Tituba was known throughout Salem
to tell tales from her African folklore tradition that both frightened
and fascinated children and adults alike, stories later seen as
evidence of her personal witchcraft.
in later years, Tituba's confession gave many historians the belief
that her race and low status as a slave in the community were enough
to accuse her of being a witch.
Houses” are today’s contemporary form of witch hunting. Created
in the late 1970’s by fundamentalist pastor, the Rev. Jerry Falwell,
“hell houses’ are religious alternatives to traditional haunted
houses. They are tours given by evangelical churches across the
country design to scare people away from sin. And one of those sins
2006 the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) put out a report
titled "Homophobia at ’Hell House’: Literally Demonizing Lesbian,
Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth" explaining how hell houses
specifically targets youth.
of spooking youth with ghosts and monsters, Hell House tour guides
direct them through rooms where violent scenes of damnation for
a variety of "sins" are performed, including scenes where
a teenage lesbian is brought to hell after committing suicide and
a gay man dying of AIDS is taunted by a demon who screams that the
man will be separated from God forever in hell," the NGLTF
study published in the Journal of Psychology stated that a strong
belief in Satan is directly related to intolerance of lesbian, gay,
bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people.
leaders who support Hell Houses believe that by scaring LGBTQ youth
into “heterosexual” behavior they are saving their souls. However,
the message that “homosexuals” are going to hell can have a deleterious
impact on our youth. For example the NGLTF report tells the story
of Bobby Griffith, a gay teen who wrote in his journal that he was
afraid he was going to hell and committed suicide.
have always created moral panic, mass hysteria, and public lynching
of society’s most vulnerable and marginalized.
Halloween, as I think of the children in African and of LGBTQ children
here at home, I am reminded of our present and past witch-hunts.
Editorial Board member, the Rev. Irene Monroe, is a religion columnist,
theologian, and public speaker. A native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe
is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary
at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African-American
church before coming to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate
as a Ford Fellow. She was recently named to MSNBC’s list of 10 Black Women You Should Know. Reverend Monroe is
the author of Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible
Prayers for Not-So-Everyday Moments. As an African American feminist theologian, she speaks for
a sector of society that is frequently invisible. Her website is
to contact the Rev. Monroe.
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