Modern times are not want for witch tales nor are they lacking in some of the cruel punishments that go along with such occult claims.
The latest comes from Saudi Arabia where, according to the Saudi Arabian news agency SPA, a man was recently executed by beheading for practicing sorcery. The man, identified as Muree bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri, was allegedly found with occult apparatus, including "books and talismans from which he learned to harm God's worshipers," according to a statement released by the Interior Ministry, which added that he'd also confessed to adultery with two women.
Many Shiite Muslims — like many fundamentalist Christians — consider fortune-telling an occult practice and therefore evil. Making a psychic prediction or using magic (or even claiming to do so) is seen as invoking diabolical forces.
International humans rights agencies such as Amnesty International have long questioned whether Saudi law technically outlaws witchcraft, though fortune-telling and witchcraft have been condemned by Saudi Arabia's powerful religious leaders.
This is not the first time that accused witches have been killed in modern times. In 2010 a Lebanese man named Ali Sabat, who for years dispensed psychic advice and predictions on a television show, was accused of witchcraft. Sabat was arrested in Saudi Arabia by the religious police, the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Sabat was originally condemned to die in April 2010, though his execution was stayed after international pressure from Lebanon and human rights groups.
Another accused witch, Amina bint Abdulhalim Nassar, wasn't so lucky; she was beheaded in December 2011, convicted of practicing "witchcraft and sorcery," according to the Saudi Interior Ministry. Nassar's sentence was appealed — and upheld — by the Saudi Supreme Judicial Council. Nassar, who claimed to be a healer and mystic, was arrested after authorities reportedly found a variety of occult items in her possession, including herbs, glass bottles of "an unknown liquid used for sorcery," and a book on witchcraft.
Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and author of Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries. His Web site is www.BenjaminRadford.com.