MOST Zimbabweans conceptualise their life experiences in a spiritual context through which they usually ascribe misfortunes to a form of witchcraft, a local study has revealed. The findings were drawn from a research paper titled “Exploring the religio-cultural beliefs and practices of witchcraft in contemporary Zimbabwe” by Dr Sophia Chirongoma.
Dr Chirongoma is a lecturer at in Midlands State University’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies. The research is part of a project which encompasses study of four other African countries entitled “African Spirituality and Hope: A Study of Five African Countries. Based on empirical study of a sample of fifty interviews, observations of people’s daily activities, reflections on media reports on witchcraft, magic and miracles ascribed to religious leaders in the local media, the paper explores Zimbabweans’ religio-cultural beliefs and practices which reflect their perspectives on witchcraft.
In this regard the paper reiterates that the fear of or the belief in witchcraft is a present reality among most Zimbabweans.
This it says is also testified in the emergence of African Independence Churches, the sprouting of Pentecostal ones as well as traditional healers. Dr Chirongoma found that the majority of participants affirmed the existence of the spirit world.
Asked their response if a person said they encountered spiritual beings — either familial or alien — the majority suggested following “proper procedures” to embrace the spirit if it was positive for instance healing, divination, prophetic or hunting. “But if negative for example a witchcraft spirit, stealing spirit, spirit of promiscuity, the general consensus was that such spirits must be exorcised. Responses were ambivalent, depending on the nature of supernatural powers being appealed to or ritual/sacrifices to be performed.
“Most Christians reiterated that if only it has to do with God or Christian traditions, then they would appeal to such forces. Otherwise, generally, the feeling was that most rituals/sacrifices have negative repercussions, especially the ones which involve shedding of blood. “Most respondents indicated that some of the rituals/sacrifices usually start off as very harmless/innocent procedures for example sacrificing the blood of a chicken or livestock. However, as time progresses; they might be required to sacrifice human blood,” the study said.
It was noted that adherents of African Traditional Religion were more accommodative of rituals or sacrifices.
“However, they also emphasised that these rituals must be life-giving and life-enhancing and in no way should they be detrimental to the individual’s or community’s well-being.” Upon asking people about divination, spirit possession, witchcraft and rituals, 70 percent of respondents expressed familiarity with witchcraft or knew someone who was bewitched; while 28 percent — particularly among young urban residents — expressed ignorance. “The age groups ranging from 25 and above, from all the religious backgrounds particularly Pentecostal Christians, members of the African Independent Churches and adherents of African Tradition Religion tended to have more to say about experiences of witchcraft.”
The study said 47 percent acknowledged believing in spiritual possession, knowledge of anyone bewitched while 38 percent agreed on the possibility of consulting diviners due to spiritual challenges, social problems, unemployment, wanting to know about the future, etcetera. “Most respondents also expressed familiarity with spirit possession. Christians belonging to churches that are inclined with spiritual possession (Pentecostal Christians and members of AICS) were more affirming and tolerant as well as adherents of ATR.
“Eighty-two percent of the respondents said no to seeking help from supernatural power(s) while 18 percent said yes to seeking help from supernatural power(s). The overarching factor is that only God or positive/constructive supernatural powers should be appealed to.”
The study also discusses that the performance of traditional rituals/ceremonies is still part and parcel of the majority of the population’s lives although these are being constantly modernised. These rituals/ceremonies she said are mainly intended to safeguard individuals against witchcraft. In its conclusion therefore is the point that Zimbabwean Christians and non-Christians hold very similar beliefs on witchcraft with some highly educated individuals holding on to the spiritual realm.