Belief in Witchcraft and Its Effect on Society

Belief in witchcraft, spells and other superstitions are widespread. In some places, it is not just something used to entertain children during Halloween; it is big business and it can be life and death.

Belief in witchcraft is a common phenomenon in some developing nations, particularly, Sub-Saharan Africa. This belief has a very pronounced effect on the day to day lives of the believers. Again, it burdens the economies of the societies where the belief is endemic.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, some of the ways belief in witchcraft affects lives include:

  1. How individuals treat one another for fear that evil spirits, spells or witchcraft might be invoked against the offending partner
  2. How people accept or shirk responsibility for mishaps. There is always the witch to blame for any situation even when individuals have literally been irresponsible.
  3. The value people put on their lives. Believers in spells and witchcraft perpetually expect the worse to happen and consider their lives of less value than non believers.

A Gallup study recently conducted in Sub-Saharan Africa shows that individuals who believe in witchcraft rate their lives worse than those who don’t. On a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the best possible life, those who believe in witchcraft rate their lives at a 4.3 on average, while those who do not believe or don’t have an opinion rate their lives higher on the scale, at 4.8 on average.

Generally, the lower the education level and household income, the more likely it was for a person to believe in witchcraft. Even among the most educated those who say they believe in witchcraft rate their lives worse than those who don’t. The poll also showed that on the average 55% of all residents in Sub-Saharan Africa believe in witchcraft.

It is important to remember that while the repercussions of the belief may be severe in some parts of the world, belief in witchcraft is a worldwide phenomenon. In the US, 21% believe in witchcraft, 23% believe in ghosts, 25% believe in astrology. Approximately 33% Americans believe in unidentified flying objects and ghost.

Belief in witchcraft has diverse societal implications. A couple of months ago, an elderly Ghanaian woman was burnt by some young men for suspicion she was a witch ( ). Women, especially the elderly, are taunted and abused indiscriminately for any concerns they might be witches. There are several local and international non-governmental organizations fighting on this front in several African countries to defeat this social stigma. We will look at specific examples of these efforts in Part 2 of this series.