Guest Post: Being an Atheist in the midst of Malawian Witchcraft
This is a fascinating account of someone I met on facebook who has interesting things to say with regard to religion and society in a part of the world which is easy to misunderstand for someone like me. I found mention of sleep paralysis interesting as I have suffered a few times with this and my sister had it badly for years. It is prevalent in African folklore and I can see how it must contribute to ideas of the supernatural.
Anyway, here is an insight into being nonreligious in a very religious and superstitious context:
My Christianity was one filled with fear. Fear of the forces of evil and darkness. You must understand that Africa with it’s rich customs and traditions come with a lot of superstitions. Mix that with Christianity and you get a totally messed up reality. Witchcraft being the paramount superstition. We often heard of confessions from ex-witches that speak of things that made me not sleep at night. This is not a my deconversion story but a summary of the things I believed and what other’s still believe from my friends to my family till this very day. I will provide many examples of how these superstitions are mixed with religion.
Let me start with the witches. It wouldn’t be an African tale of superstition without the witches. They said that all witches are in league with the devil. The devil gives them orders to terrorize Christian families and convert kids to witchcraft at a young age before they have a chance to question what is wrong. There were outbreaks of stories about kids reporting being taken at night by all sort of creatures. Some kids said it was tall people with glowing eyes, some said a ladder would just appear in their room and when they climb it they would be in a witch airplane ready to travel to the UK, USA or Indian ocean (where a majority of Christians in my country think the devil lives) in the blink of an eye.
Till this day I haven’t been able to make sense of why these kids confessed to these things and would have gladly dismissed them completely if one of my little nieces had not told us she was taught witchcraft and experienced these things. I wouldn’t have given it a second thought had not 3 out 4 of my aunts kids (the other was a baby at the time) confessed to be taken out at night in a witchcraft airplane through magic to learn how to do scary things. I never would have given it a second thought had my neighbour’s kid not confessed to the same that people come through a hole in their living that no normal person can see and they go out at night through magic to learn these scary things. I really would have never given it a second thought had our guard’s daughter who not confessed that at night she gets taken by witches and they land in a tall tree just outside our house where a the tall people get off and come collect her through the window and fly her off to learn magic.
Overall I believe witchcraft, magic or whatever is not real because as usual these claims cannot be substantiated but I still search for an explanation as to why these kids confessed. It baffles me till this very day. I guess I will never know. But till this day no evidence of tall people, flying planes and invisible holes and ladders has ever been found.
And the newspapers reported stuff like this. Spreading the propaganda and reporting it as fact. Telling Malawians we have no reason to doubt witchcraft is real and the power of the Devil is at work and God is the only one that can protect us and our children. Even my sister till this day refuses to walk with her baby around the neighbourhood fearing the baby will get targeted as a potential witch. I’m not kidding. I know this may sound a little too fictional to be true but I kid you not. Every word I’ve told you is true. Not about the magic, obviously, but what stories about witches we hear on a monthly basis and the fear it has caused me and even my family.
The other scary thing in my Christian days were the satanist. These we were told were in the business of causing Christians to falter in there faith. They had the power to turn into all sorts of animals, or even humans. Most Christians in my country believe (as I believed at one point) that these people can turn into accidents! They cause accidents in order to draw blood of victims of for the devil. There is a popular myth around here that if the accident was caused by satanists, you won’t find any blood at that site. I’ve heard this from pastors, the radio and news papers. This is all taken from accounts from ex-satanists. We heard accounts of human sacrifice, blood drinking. And the clinger: all satanists fear the name of Jesus Christ!
I remember quite recently my mom told me that my neighbour’s daughter, Emma, had been expelled at her school for being a satanist. And she went on to describe how – she heard – it happened. Apparently one of her friends got sick and said it was her, Emma, who cursed her through satanism. A priest came over and prayed for the friend and when she got better – from the prayer – she said Emma cursed her and is a satanist. So the preacher started to pray for her and at mention of Jesus, Emma would scream and turn into all sorts of animals.
Yes, to my mom Emma was a satanists and I was not to hang with her or she will curse me too. But Emma is my friend and the reason she left the school was because she got bad grades and the school suggested to her parents she return to lower class but they refused and it turns out that the story about the satanism came out because she had a quarrel with a preacher who had come to pray for her friend. That was all. But my mum would not hear these explanations. She was a satanist and shape shifting evil minion of the devil. She heard the story from someone who heard from someone and so on and so forth and my little brother while listening to the story asked her “How does someone go about turning into an animal? That is physically impossible?” and I was like, good point. There is hope for him yet!
In my Christian days I was told by these people that the witches and satanists will attack me from everywhere and with everything and I could easily defeat them by calling on Jesus Christ. I believed all this as many in my country do (including my mother and sister and many friends still do). I could not sleep at night for every little sound I heard was them coming to curse me or cause me suffering and pain for my sticking with Christ. I prayed everyday and commanded them not enter my home in the name of Jesus Christ as I was told that would work but I still couldn’t get peaceful sleep knowing what was out there…
The thing to understand here is that as long as I believed these stories Christianity was true. I did not consider people could be liars or delusional. To me these people told the truth and why would the forces of darkness be fighting against Christianity if it was not true? There is a secret war going on. It was real. I lived in a demon haunted world like the one from the movie Hell Boy or Constantine…
But this was not all. We were told Hollywood was rife with satanism. And movies like The Matrix or Superman where meant to undermine Jesus because only Jesus saves. Not Superman or Neo. Satanist had their own clothes lines with demon infused fibre that once worn would cause you to sin. Not doubt the major labels like Adidas where satanic also. These satanists even made video games and of course music is all demon infused. I even had a friend of mine who made his father dump Milo, cornflakes, and all sorts of brand products because a brochure at their church labeled them as satanic.
People here believe this stuff. You can’t tell them it sounds too fantastical. You will be considered the insane one.
I became born again when I was 9 years old. My older cousin who had recently become a youth minister came to visit. At that time I only knew the kiddie version of God that if you do bad things he will punish and when I die I will go to heaven but my cousin told me it wasn’t that simple. He told me about Jesus and hell and the only way to make it into heaven is to be born again. He told us about the evil satanists and the war we must now fight and that we must preach to our friends in order to save them.
At school my friends and I would buy a certain bubblegum that had Action Man stickers inside. My cousin told me this gum was satanic and the next day I went to school and started telling all my friends. Some were scared, others furious. But I didn’t care. I was fighting the war against the evil satanists. I read Revelations (from the Good News Bible) and told them all about 666 and how it was about to happen soon. This was 1998 and my cousin assured us Jesus will arrive next year so I had to earn my place in heaven now or burn forever. Needless to say 1999 came and went. No Jesus and those who remembered me saying this mocked me the next year for quite a while.
But I was a kid so interests came and went as I had to fit in and the Christianity wasn’t helping. But I would go periods without giving Christianity a second thought then I would hear some scare about witchcraft or satanism and I would snap back to it like “oh, shit… The war” then it would be church until I forgot this nightmare. This went on unit I became superserious about Christianity in my adulthood.
Now as I grew up with these superstitions I was scared whenever night came. This sadly ended only recently. I could not sleep. My brothers and sisters all went to school and it was just me, my mum and my dad and I was alone and I couldn’t sleep at night. For so many years till recently I could not sleep in my own room with the lights switched off. So I stayed up until 5 am except on days when my brother’s came on holiday or I had a guest in my room or was extremely tired to be scared. I never slept before 12 am though. When the fear got so bad I’d wait till the sun rose and then go to sleep. So this meant I was mostly asleep during the day. This is what Christianity did to me for many years.
I couldn’t get a good nights sleep because I was afraid the devil and his minions will kill me or torture me in my sleep. I was afraid I would wake up to a floating head in the middle of the night or a something scary. And this is because I heard stories in the media, from my friends, priests, my mum that these things are real and they haunt us and hate Christians specifically and I was Christian so I was target. They told me they never rest. Every night at midnight the witches were coming and at 2am the satanists where coming. Where they got these times were from books and confessions of ex witches and satanists. When I closed my eyes at night I would imagine scary demons hovering above me trying to possess me or worse. Christianity was terrifying.
The Christian environment here is hyper superstitious as I’ve explained above. At church kids were brought in all the time that confessed to be witches and they were prayed for. They would cry, scream and mention seeing scary people in the room that no one else could see but them. These as we were told were the demons leaving and putting up a fight. It was all quite scary. I remember having nightmare where I was in my bed and I couldn’t sleep. So I struggled to move and I felt as if someone was sitting on and I wrestled this person until I shook him off. I grabbed him on the back of the neck and he disappeared. Next thing I knew I was wide awake and I’m still in my bed and hadn’t moved. I told my friend who was a youth leader at my church and he said “That was without a doubt a witchcraft attack!” (I Googled this years later and found out it is called Sleep Paralysis and hallucinations are part of it sometimes). So I dove deeper and tried to live a righteous to have the power to fight them off and win. I went to youth service, went to normal church service, I went to a night of prayer and we heard about the love of God and Jesus added with a little fear of hell and, of course, the war.
Christians here don’t hide the horribleness of hell. They flatout brag about it and use it as a fear tactic to convert people. They don’t just focus on the good stuff they get to ugly side and tell you “You will burn if you don’t accept this”. No intelligent arguments needed here. If you told them about the Kalam Cosmological Argument, they would say “Nde chani chimenecho??” Translation: “What is that??”… So I stayed Christian. More fear for me as a reason to stay Christian. But I remember thinking throughout this whole ordeal why would God bother creating such a messed up world were satanists were torturing his people and childhoods were ruined by witchcraft. I remember wondering why he put me in this scary world and why he would force me to do whatever I could to please him just so I caould escape hell. And I hated fighting this supernatural war. I really hated it even though I could not see my enemies. They were there.
Of course, I can’t blame it all on Christianity. Even if I wasn’t Christian I would have been superstitious one way or the other. But I blame Christianity for most of it. I was frightened, terrified and dreaded the night. I hated staying up late till 5am when I knew the witches the satanists are back in there beds or at least reviewing their game tapes of the night. How could I have been so stupid as to lose sleep over these delusions? It’s just where I was born and where I was raised. I was raised in an environment where everyone believed these things and I’ve met a lot of people in my life and only a handful have expressed doubt in these things but my entire family believes, from my mother’s to my father’s side, that we live in a goblin filled world.
One man in my country is the voice of reason. He speaks out publicly in his disbelief of witchcraft. He offered a huge sum of money to any witch who can curse him and prove to him witchcraft is real. Many witches have stepped forward but none have been able to bewitch him. After seeing this man openly challenge witches in public, something people called stupid and many swore to curse him yet still see him go and seek them out and come out unharmed opened my eyes that just maybe it isn’t real after all. Of course, the so called witches – after failing to curse him – claim that he is a stronger witch than them and protects himself while putting up a front that witchcraft is not real. That is the only way people can explain why the magic doesn’t seem to work on him but everyone else. I concluded that it just isn’t real (because these stories of witchcraft started back with our ancestors. Both my parents grew up in a village but have never seen a witch nor has my grandmother or most of the people we talk to from the village where they say witchcraft is rampant. All they have is stories that they heard, and have wondered why that is. Why they have just heard and why none of them have seen. Could it be they just didn’t run into them or are the stories just not real?
This man’s name is George Thindwa. He is an atheist and runs an organization call Association of Secular Humanists (ASH) which aids the elderly people who have been accused of witchcraft find their feet after being abused by the public. Being accused of witchcraft is no laughing matter here. People get burned alive, beaten and the kids get thrown out or taken to the witchdoctor or priest to be exorcised. George Thindwa comes to the rescue!
Something as silly as talking in your sleep or as serious as sleepwalking in the villages can get you an accusation of witchcraft. And it doesn’t take long for people to mobilize and descend upon your house to hurt you. The lucky ones get rescued by police before any harm is done and that is when George Thindwa and his organisation show up to talk reason to the village chiefs (who are part of the mob), to tell the people that there is a rational explanation for their sleepwalking etc.
His organisation is not registered. When he tried to register it he got denied and the Justice minister who was supposed to sign his papers proudly said “it is against my beliefs”. His Christian beliefs. I could not believe it. Here is an organisation trying to help people accused of witchcraft and he refused to register it because it was against his views. I wonder how the more developed countries would handle this but over here this man was praised for his standing up against the evil satanist George Thindwa trying to blind people to the existence of witchcraft and God. We non-believers mourned our country for this and I was angry. This is unacceptable but he (The Justice minister) is untouchable (and retired now).
The Christianity I was exposed to was mixed with a whole lot of superstitious crap. And like I said, a majority believe this stuff. I was one of them and I’m glad I can sleep now at anytime I want knowing this things aren’t real. Even as we speak, these stories are still being heard and Christians are using them as a scare tactic to assert that “The Devil did it! He is alive and breathing!” “Come to Christ and repent, get protected”. I have a sister in law who would leave her TV on all night tuned in to Emmanuel TV which is owned by a famous Nigeria Christian prophet known as TB Joshua. I asked her why she does this (as it wastes a huge amount of electricity for no reason) and she told me it protects the house from witches and satanists and she had heard some amazing things from people that happen when you leave the TV on tuned to this channel.
I also had a friend name Teresa who was catholic. One night I was at her house late. Don’t remember what I was doing there that late but it was around 6pm and the sun had started to go down. She came in with holy water she had gotten at church and started spraying it in the corners of the house. She saw the look of confusion on my face and said that the corners is where the satanists sit and spy on Christians for the Devil and the holy will chase them (and the witches and demons) off. I believed her, of course.
Like I said this may sound a little too unreal. But this is how Christianity itself affected me mixed with the superstitions of my people. It was one scary view of the world I was glad to escape. Once I broke free from religion I looked at these things rationally and employed reason and science to continue to break free from the superstitions. I have tried to convince family and friends to employ reason and science as well but it has fallen on deaf ears. Save from a few people the rest remain in this goblin-filled world.
By The Malawian Freethinker, someone who must now remain anonymous