Modern witches are often adherents of Wicca, which was recognized by a 1986 Court of Appeals as a legitimate religion. Though Wiccans believe in magic, the form of witchcraft they practice has little or nothing to do with Satan.
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An official in Bahrain has demanded that his government take steps to warn its citizens about the dangers of witchcraft and crack down on its practice.
Bahrain is hardly alone in its embrace of, or perhaps belief in, witches and black magic, as places such as Saudi Arabia, Africa and Papua New Guinea have long tossed accusations of dark arts' practices at purported sorcerers. In fact, a Gallup poll in 2010 found that half of respondents in sub-Saharan Africa said they personally believe in witchcraft. That number varied across Africa, ranging from 15 percent in Uganda to 95 percent in Ivory Coast. Such beliefs in witchcraft have led to horrific murders and mutilations, as well as dangerous medical practices (as carried out by so-called witch doctors).
The newest claim came from parliament member Mohammed Buqais, who blasted his government for its failure to raise awareness about the threat of black magic to Bahraini citizens, and especially its children. "I studied in school for 12 years and worked as a teacher for 15 years, but never came across any subject that addresses sorcery or witchcraft," said Buqais, as quoted by The Gulf Daily News. "This means the government is failing to raise awareness." [What's Witchcraft? 6 Misconceptions About Wiccans]
As an example of the power of sorcery, he related a story of a wife who consulted a witch doctor for help in making her husband obedient. The sorcerer gave her a magic ritual to follow — one that included contaminating his meals with her blood. The result, Buqais claimed, was that the man became paralyzed and has remained so since 2006. Despite a presumable lack of verified medical documentation proving that magic did, indeed, cause the man's paralysis, the parliament member asserted that "families have been broken apart" because of such practices.
Buqais requested that law-enforcement authorities crack down on practitioners of black magic. In response, a justice minister suggested that even though Bahraini police do arrest and prosecute accused witches, the country's religious leaders should make more of an effort to denounce sorcery.
The practice of witchcraft became a criminal offense in Bahrain in 2010, with those convicted facing fines, imprisonment or both. Though witchcraft arrests and trials are rare in Bahrain itself, they are more common in Saudi Arabia, its large and influential neighbor located just off the small island nation's shores. Last year, a Saudi Arabian man was beheaded for practicing sorcery; he was allegedly found with an occult apparatus, including "books and talismans from which he learned to harm God's worshipers," according to a statement released by the Saudi Interior Ministry.
A year before, in December 2011, an accused witch was beheaded after being convicted of practicing "witchcraft and sorcery," according to the Saudi Interior Ministry. Across the Persian Gulf in Iran, associates of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were accused in 2011 of being sorcerers and even summoning genies by influential clerics in that country.
Many Muslims — like many fundamentalist Christians — consider fortune-telling and witchcraft occult practices and therefore evil. Making a psychic prediction or using magic (or even claiming to do so) is seen as invoking occult and diabolical forces.
These accusations may seem to some like antiquated superstitions, but belief in black magic and witchcraft is widespread in many parts of the world. Accusations of witchcraft are not unheard of, and — just as happened in the Salem Witch Trials in the 1600s — are often used as a pretext for personal and political attacks.
Benjamin Radford, M. Ed., is deputy editor of "Skeptical Inquirer" science magazine and author of six books, including "The Martians Have Landed! A History of Media Panics and Hoaxes." His website is www.BenjaminRadford.com.