Why Do We Believe in Witchcraft and Magic?

A basic human need

You may have met people wasting a fortune on going to mediums with the purpose of high-lightening their ways towards happiness and finding the ideal mate. Or you may have known an educated lady going to a gypsy witch to 'regain' the love of her boyfriend / husband who cheated on her. The main issue is that, especially in Africa, witchcraft requires the use of organs of endangered animals, like cranes, leopards, monitor lizards or pythons.

"People believe in magic for all sorts of reasons, including a deep-seated human desire for equality. Halloween is a time for children to dress up as witches, ghouls and goblins, but historically witchcraft was serious business. Though people today might view witchcraft as mere superstition, it's evident from anthropological literature that, for some people, the practice has served a basic human need", says Anne-Maria Makhulu, an assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University who investigates the ongoing practice of witchcraft in Africa.

Many people resort to witches and magic in desperate situations - be they medical or emotional - but for others, it is a way to find a balance in a world in which they do not get access to wealth and happiness.

"We live in a bewildering world where we don't have a lot of control. And we can imagine doing things through magic that we can't do as ordinary human beings. People believe in magic for all sorts of reasons, including the desire to accrue wealth or advance in life, but the belief also says something about a deep-seated human desire for equality. When people say they believe in magical forces, they believe in magic that can make the world equal and just in circumstances where it's not. Witchcraft is about recuperating what is ethical, just and moral.", said Makhulu.

She also underlines another aspect of magic: the scientific advances have been decoding all phenomena around, leaving no space for a needed mystery to keep us "alive". This explains the existence of Dracula fun clubs and other associations of this type. "We need enchantment in our lives because our world has become disenchanted. We need faith that promises something bigger and better than what we have.", said Makhulu.

Halloween, a pagan rooted tradition, was integrated into Christianity as the veneration of saints, while today it is associated with a horror fantasy about ghosts and monsters.

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