Witchcraft and Magical Thinking

What is religious ritual except witchcraft? You are performing rites with no practical purpose, in an attempt to influence the future outcome of earthly events by either begging from a god (or angel, or demon, or saint, etc) – or else by symbolically replicating the outcome you want by dropping blood where you want rain or dressing up as the animal you want to kill – or else by sacrificing (“making sacred”, i.e. killing or destroying) an animal, child, or other valuable object.

Not all circumcisions are successful

So Abraham hears voices in his head. God tells him to sacrifice his son. He’s ready to do it, when he sees a ram caught in a bush, and the voices tell him to kill that instead. Lucky for the boy. Then God says he’ll make a deal with Abraham: worship Him only, and He’ll favor Abraham’s descendants as the Chosen People. (Seems like a good deal. It’s not being offered to anyone else. Except somehow every people on earth seems to think it’s more special than the others.)

And to prove they’re still committed to the deal, all Abraham’s descendants – forever – have to have their foreskins cut off. Which is a better blood-offering than actually killing yourself or one of your family. But this God is definitely one of the gods that likes to see a bit of blood.

And Abraham, being the first, circumcised himself. Nowadays we would just assume he was insane.

And then there are people like this man in British Columbia who figured things weren’t going right with the family because he hadn’t had his son circumcised. The doctors wouldn’t do it now that the boy was four. The man botched it. The son was hospitalized and is damaged for life. The father was convicted and jailed, and it was noted by the court that he had tried to circumcise himself a couple of years earlier.

So he’s just a lunatic, you say. (But not that different from Abraham.) You can’t apply that criticism to trained religious practitioners, you say.

Strictly speaking, the father is meant to do the circumcision if he’s able, but there’s always someone willing to be paid to do it for you. So there’s the Jewish practitioner, the mohel. Orthodox Judaism prescribes circumcision as a religious ritual, to be performed according to strict Talmudic laws. According to those laws, the mohel must suck the infant’s bleeding penis with his mouth. (How Abraham achieved this isn’t explained.) So when a mohel has a sexually transmitted disease like herpes, might there be a risk? Here’s a report of a two-week-old boy who died in New York, thanks to his mohel.

It’s not just uneducated people whose magical thinking leads to witchcraft and deaths. A religious education can be just as dangerous.

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Modern European Witchcraft – not pleasant

Witchcraft, and accusations of witchcraft, with all its horrific tortures and murders, is coming back to Europe after centuries of quiet. The media find it difficult to deal with the issue systemically, and only go case by case, because of the racism aspects that get brought out when you acknowledge that all the problems stem from non-European immigrants, especially Africans.

Magical thinking - witchcraft, exorcisms, etc - lead to torture and murder

March 5th, 2012: a Congolese couple (Eric Bikubi and Magalie Bamu) are given life sentences in London.

Background: in December 2010, five children come from Paris to visit their older sister, aged 29, and her boyfriend, 28. The man, backed by the woman, accuses three of the kids of using witchcraft and of coming to kill them. Two girls are let go after admitting to witchcraft, but their 15-year-old brother is severely tortured for several days, and finally killed on December 25th.

Not just tortured and killed: the irony is that having accused the boy of witchcraft, the couple use witchcraft exorcisms and all kinds of other magical thinking to justify their attacking him “with knives, sticks, metal bars, ceramic floor tiles, bottles and a hammer and chisel by Bikubi and Bamu who also used a pair of pliers to twist his ear. He drowned after he was placed in a bath for ritual cleansing.” (Per the BBC report.)

Eradicating such “magical thinking” in adults might have saved the boy’s life. Perhaps the man would not have behaved in that way.

Or perhaps the man is genuinely insane, and he would have tried to behave in this way even if he had not been brought up to believe in witchcraft and to think in those terms when solving problems. But if his girlfriend didn’t think in witchcraft terms either, she might have worked to prevent to insane attacks, might have listened to the pleas of her sisters.

But in any case, there needs to be an organized effort to educate the most primitive immigrants out of their preliterate thinking. And to punish them in such a way as to deter other from such crimes. And if that means targeting a racial or national minority as the best means of achieving such education, so be it.