Photograph by Jean-Leo Dugast in The
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Some years ago Christians from the Sotit congregation among the Kipsigis tribe of Kenya enacted a drama about the use of magic. The drama depicted three young men who had studied together in secondary school and were later competing for the same job. Each, however, was using a different source of power to obtain this employment.
The first said in his heart, "I will go to the traditional practitioner. He will give me the power to get the job." After much divining, the practitioner gave him a pebble containing magical powers to hold in his mouth during the interview. He was confident that this magic would force the interviewers to grant him the job. However, to his amazement the pebble popped out of his mouth during the interview, and he was, with disgrace, ushered out of the conference room for trying to get a job by means of magic.
The second said to himself, "I am educated and self-sufficient. I need no power but my own to get this job." This man, although educationally qualified, did not receive the job.
The third went to the church and asked all to pray for God's guidance. The elders gave him instruction concerning how he was to speak and conduct himself. Then the whole church prayed for the success of the job interview. With confidence this qualified young man went to the interview and was granted the job.
This illustrates three options people employ in dealing with everyday problems of life: the magical, the secular, and the religious. Westerners, who have unquestionably accepted the second option, are shocked by the plot of this African drama. They believe that personal status can be changed only through human initiative. Through their own ingenuity they determine how to manipulate social relationships or laws of nature for their own benefit. Generally they reject reliance on spiritual powers. However, most third-world peoples realize that not all who are qualified for a job get it. They assume some superhuman power enables one to succeed while another fails. Magic is required to manipulate spiritual powers to do their will. Paradoxically while the secular and magical options are vastly different in their concept of spiritual power, they both are manipulative. Secularists manipulate nature; those using magic manipulate impersonal spiritual powers. Christianity by its very nature objects to all kinds of human manipulation and calls both the secularist and the magician into a relationship with sovereign God. The three options of this drama--the magical, the secular, and the religious--are in philosophical opposition to one another; yet sometimes they are concurrently held by the same person.
An impersonal spiritual force is a power which "does not have a will of its own" (Burnett 1988, 24). Such power operates impersonally like electricity or the law of gravity. Although it may originate with an personal spiritual being, it operates without his control and direction. Such spiritual power is thought by the animist to be manipulated by magic, not by supplication or propitiation of a spiritual being.
This chapter studies the nature of impersonal spiritual power in relation to Christian proclamation. Types of impersonal spiritual powers are discussed and the Christian perspective toward each analyzed. Magic--the manipulation of impersonal spiritual powers--is then described. Finally, missiological implications are given.
Concepts of impersonal spiritual forces can be classified according to their supposed function in society. Some forces are helpful, used for the benefit of society; others are used for both good and evil; still others are always harmful, employed malevolently against enemies or competitors. Most societies have more than one concept of spiritual power. One type may be beneficial and another type harmful.
Benevolent Impersonal Forces
Numerous impersonal powers are thought to be beneficial: baraka in the Muslim world, berakah among those of a Judeo-Christian tradition, and concepts of universal life energy among contemporary New Age practitioners.
Animistic Baraka. Baraka, translated as "blessing" in English, is more than "divine favor" or "benediction" to the Muslim (Lenning 1980, 9). It is "a mysterious and wonderful power, a blessing from God," granted to certain people, places, and things (Parrinder 1973, 40). Muslims think of baraka as divine blessing, grace and mercy (as opposed to justice), protection from danger and trouble, charisma for leadership, and power to protect and heal (Lenning 1980, 22-24). Once this power is obtained it can be transferred to other people, places, and things.
Baraka is always seen as benevolent because its ultimate source is Allah (Lenning 1980, 39; Barth 1982, 10). Nevertheless, orthodox Muslims and folk Muslims view baraka differently. Orthodox Muslims believe blessings flow directly from Allah and cannot be manipulated and passed on to others. Folk Muslims consider baraka as a magical force which can be induced by ritual and manipulated for human benefit. Folk Muslims make what orthodox Muslims consider a personal spiritual power based on a relationship with Allah into an impersonal force.
For example, folk Muslims see Muhammad as a prophet to whom Allah gave much baraka. Although the Qur'an shows Muhammad to be a humble messenger, "a human being chosen by God to bring renewal of faith in the One True God," folk Muslims look on him as the prophet who has been given great baraka (Lenning 1980, 28). His conception and birth were permeated with baraka, which enabled him to perform miracles (Lenning 1980, 29). Those with access to the baraka of Muhammad have great power. Numerous Muslim religious leaders, from the founders of religious orders to the Sultan of Morocco, believe that their baraka is derived from their direct descent from Muhammad.
Ordinary people seek contact with religious leaders who have baraka in order to accrue this power for their own lives. Mystical religious leaders called pirs are especially venerated because they possess powerful baraka. Thousands of these mystical guides serve as mediators between God and man in the Sufi movement, which emphasizes mystical love for Allah. They frequently trace their ancestry back to Muhammad, who is thought to be the source of their baraka. Because of their ancestry and intimate contact with God, pirs become bearers of the baraka of God.
In one initiation into a Sufi order a pir breathed into a glass of lemonade in order to induce his baraka into the liquid. The pir then put his finger into the lemonade, touched his finger to his tongue, and dipped his finger into the lemonade again. This process was done three times with increased volumes of baraka thought to be induced into the liquid. Finally, assistants took the empowered liquid into the crowd to give each devotee a drink. In such a way the baraka of the pir was conveyed to his followers (Parshall 1983, 57).
The Qur'an is thought to be charged with powerful baraka. Every Muslim considers the Qur'an infallible and, therefore, endued with baraka. The orthodox Muslim believes that baraka is derived from following the Qur'anic message. The folk Muslim, on the other hand, believes that baraka comes from the ritual use of the words of the book or the magical use of the book itself. The mere reading of the Qur'an often sends the mystical Sufi Muslim into ecstasy (Parshall 1983, 66). Donaldson says, "Among the masses there is probably more faith in the magical uses of the book than there is understanding of its contents" (1937, 254).
"Cutting the Qur'an" is a methodology used by folk Muslims to make decisions. After much ritual an animistic practitioner who can read a few Arabic letters randomly opens the Qur'an. The first sentence he reads provides him with information about the source of an ailment, what should be done in a business enterprise, or who should marry the client's daughter (Donaldson 1937, 256-257). Some folk Muslims make use of "divine liquid" to cure the sick. Holy words from the Qur'an are written on a wooden board. These words are washed off with water which is collected in a cup and given to a sick person to drink. This Qur'anic liquid, charged with baraka, is thought to heal the sick (Lenning 1980, 61). Such practices illustrate a conception that the Qur'an is a book containing magical baraka.
Taking a pilgrimage to Mecca, entering the Ka'ba, and touching the Black Stone of the central shrine of Islam are also thought to convey baraka (Woodberry 1988, 3).
These Muslim illustrations of baraka are all highly animistic. Qur'anic rituals are enacted to gain power to solve life's problems, with little devotion given to sovereign God. Yet devotion to Allah, the source of true baraka, is the major tenant of Islamic faith. Larry Lenning in Blessing in Mosque and Mission (1980) rightly says that animistic baraka must be differentiated from baraka which is seen as originating from God and under the control of God. For example, an orthodox Muslim would utter the first words of the Qur'an, the bismillah, "in the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful," with adoration and worship. The folk Muslim would frequently use the phrase as a charm against evil powers. These two uses of baraka must be differentiated: One is animistic; the other is close to the Judeo-Christian conception of blessing.
According to Lenning, evangelism to Muslims must be considered a ministry of imparting the baraka of God in Jesus Christ. He believes that because the orthodox concept of baraka is very similar to the Jewish concept of berakah, baraka could become a theological bridge--a redemptive analogy--through which Muslims might be drawn to the gospel (Lenning 1980, 13, 66, 115-132). There is indeed a similarity between baraka and berakah. However, for such a transformation to take place the Muslim concept of baraka would have to be divested of its animistic meanings. Baraka would have to be understood as "holistic spiritual blessing that comes from God" (1980, 14) rather than an impersonal power to be ritually employed to achieve human purposes (Lenning 1980, 113). The danger of this approach is that the process of conversion might lead the animist to become an orthodox Muslim, believing that baraka comes directly out of a relationship with Allah rather than as a disciple of God in Christ. Communicating baraka as the Judeo-Christian concept of berakah might revitalize Islam rather than bringing the Muslim to Christ.
Because of common Semitic heritage and the extent to which Muhammad borrowed from Judeo-Christian sources, the ancient Hebrew concept of berakah (sometimes rendered baruk) is similar to that of baraka but generally without its animistic trappings. The stem for both words is brk. This Hebrew concept of power will now be analyzed.
Animistic Berakah. Berakah in the scripture is a power-laden word designating a positive spiritual force radiating from God as he cares for his covenant people. The verb form barak means "to endue with power for success, prosperity, fecundity, [and] longevity" (Harris 1980, 285). In a similar vein, Lenning says that berakah includes the power behind fertility and prosperity, shalom, holiness, and praise and thanksgiving (1980, 75-80). The term may refer to the power inherent in spoken words, to the words themselves, or to the effects they have on the hearers (Lenning 1980, 74). For the purposes of this study berakah, like baraka of Islam, is only an impersonal spiritual power when it is divorced from God, its true source, and understood animistically as a power to be manipulated. For example, Balak, king of Moab, thought that blessing was a magical formula or power (Num. 22:6). But as the story unfolded, blessing was shown to be a prerogative of God. Balaam did not possess a magical power to be used with no regard for God. Lenning concludes that "blessing is not magic, but it is power, power that is given to man by God" (1980, 75).
"True" berakah is a manifestation of God's steadfast love. It always flows from the person of God and operates in terms of his nature. God's nature is that of steadfast love (hesed). He defines himself as compassionate and gracious, "slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished. . . ." (Exod. 34:6-7). Because of his love, he chose Israel and brought her out of Egypt with a mighty hand (Deut. 4:37). God did not choose Israel because of her size or significance. He chose her rather because of his love for her (Deut. 7:7-9).
God's blessings are related to his love. Moses described this relationship to Israel before his death: "And He will love you and bless you and multiply you" (Deut. 7:13). Moses expressed his confidence in God's steadfast love in his blessing given to the Israelites: "Indeed, He loves the people" (Deut. 33:1-3). Out of his steadfast love God blesses his people.
Berakah is also closely related to God's covenant. Covenant describes a relationship in which two parties belong to one another. Israel in this case belonged to God. He personally and intimately cared for Israel when Israel was faithful to him. Covenant can be pictured as a marriage relationship between God and his people (Mal. 2:13-14) or the relationship of a caring father to his son (Deut. 1:31; 32:6, 18). Because of God's steadfast love, he did not forget his covenant with Israel (Deut. 4:31), even though Israel rejected it (Lev. 26:40-45). He is the "faithful God, who keeps his covenant and his lovingkindness to a thousandth generation" (Deut. 7:9, also 7:13).
The Creator God, who brought Israel out of Egypt and loved her as a child, instituted a covenant of blessing with Israel. However, alongside the blessings, God instituted certain curses which would come upon Israel if she forsook him (Deut. 28). Because of God's special relationship with Israel, blessings were given for faithfulness and curses for unfaithfulness. Moses proclaimed to Israel:
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known. (Deut. 11:26-28)
God is shown to be behind both blessings and curses. His blessings show favor toward a chosen people. His curses demonstrate his discipline in bringing a covenant people back to himself. God's covenant with Israel can therefore be called a "relationship of blessing" (Tenney 1975, 625).
When Israel is faithful, God gives her blessings. These blessings are related to promises of the covenant. Kaiser writes that the covenant promise and the blessing "were so closely intertwined" that scholars should not try to "segregate their origins and concerns" (Kaiser, 1978, 57-58; Note Deut. 1:11). Israel receives blessings out of her relationship with Yahweh (Deut. 28:1-14). It is a covenant of blessing.
Between 1910 and 1930 Sigmund Mowinckel, J. Hempel, and Johs. Pedersen introduced the concept that blessings and curses originated in magical practices without recourse to God. As developmental theologians they believed that "highly developed God-concepts" had not yet developed in Israelite culture. God was even thought to "be strengthened by human blessing" (Mowinckel 1923, 225). Pederson, who perhaps provided the philosophical and theological constructs for Mowinckel and Hempel, wrote that "the soul is a whole saturated by power . . . called by the Israelites berakha, blessing" (1926, 182). "If the soul is strong, then it must leave its impress on all his undertakings" (1926, 40). King David was thought to be stronger than any of his contemporaries because of this soul power (1926, 184). Although this power originates in God, it serves as a magical "power of the soul" (1926, 194-195).
From a conservative biblical perspective the God of Israel was always at war with the magical view of life. Israel was not to go after foreign gods (Deut. 5:6-10; 6:12-15). If she did so, she would be cursed (Deut. 27:15). Israel was rather to believe that "the Lord is our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:4-5). Animistic practitioners were also contrasted with the Prophet who was to come. Moses said, "Do not imitate the detestable ways of the nations. . . . The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him" (Deut. 18:9-18). Mowinckel, Hempel, and Pederson remake Creator God in the image of animistic religion rather than understanding God's confrontation with animistic religion.
Universal Life Energy among New Age Practitioners. According to a recent religious survey, 25 percent of all Americans believe in "nonpersonal . . . life energy but not in a personal God" (Padilla 1989, 149). New Age practitioners commonly call such power "universal life energy." Universal life energy is considered an "invisible, unmeasured, yet infinite energy which is the basis of all existence" (Reisser 1987, 33). It is unlike physical energy, whose power is derived from material sources like the sun, crude oil, or atoms.
Belief in universal life energy pervades New Age medicine. This belief is evident in Reisser's list of five basic concepts of New Age healing (1987, 35-40). First, New Age adherents hold that universal energy is the basis of all life. It is not merely a form of energy; it is the energy which flows from the universe into living creatures and circulates within them in an orderly manner. Second, New Age therapists assert that disease occurs when there is an imbalance or blockage in the flow of universal energy through the body. Removing the blockage or restoring balance brings renewed health to the ill. Third, a healer is said to activate and channel universal energy. Almost all New Age therapies involve the transfer of universal energy from healer to patient. This may be done by direct physical contact or by mystical transfer. Fourth, New Agers see miracles as caused by changes in universal energy. They believe that miracles will become commonplace when people use the energy available to them. Fifth, universal energy is equated with God by New Age practitioners. This is the fundamental undergirding of New Age thinking. One New Age adherent, Rosalyn Bruyere, has said, "For me, the terms God and energy are interchangeable. God is all there is, and energy is all there is, and I can't separate the two" (Reisser 1987, 39).
Therapeutic Touch, a favorite New Age cure for the misfortunes of the body, epitomizes therapies based on universal energy. Dolores Krieger, one of its chief promoters, describes Therapeutic Touch:
Conceive of the healer as an individual whose health gives him access to an overabundance of prana and whose strong sense of commitment and intention to help ill people gives him or her a certain control over the projection of this vital energy. The act of healing, then, would entail the channeling of this energy flow by the healer for the well-being of the sick individual. (Krieger 1979, 13)
The healer using Therapeutic Touch does not generate energy but directs it to where it is needed. He follows four steps in healing. Step one is called "centering," developing a state of inner equilibrium through meditating and becoming quiet and relaxed. In step two, "assessment," the healer places his hands two to three inches from the patient's body and scans his energy field. His purpose is to detect subtle sensations, such as temperature changes, tingling, pressure or pulsation, which are said to indicate variations in the energy field. "Assessment" is not to be equated with a medical diagnosis. Assessment is a supposed analysis of an energy force field, while diagnosis is a complex evaluation of numerous vital signs of the patient. If, while scanning the body, the healer perceives a sense of pressure, he is said to be bumping against stagnant energy. He must then perform step three, "unruffling the field," in which any resistance because of stagnant energy is swept away. "Transfer of energy," step four, moves energy from the healer to the patient or from one place to another in the patient's body. The sensations felt in step two guide the healer in treating the patient. An area which felt hot needs to be cooled or an area of tingling quieted. The healer accomplishes these changes by creating the desired feeling (cool in place of warm) in his mind and directing this image to the patient through his hands (Reisser 1987, 46).
Acupuncture as a medical treatment is not new; however, because of its association with internal energy forces, it has become accepted as one treatment in the holistic approach of the New Age movement. Acupuncture is based on the ancient Chinese belief that yin and yang are the "two fundamental forces which generate all the transformations in the universe" (Reisser 1987, 54-55). The interplay between yin and yang is thought to influence all of life. Acupuncture aims to correct imbalances in yin and yang by draining excesses of energy or restoring deficiencies. This is done by using needles or some other form of stimulation at specific points to cause energy to flow more smoothly. Americans hear mostly about how acupuncture is used to alleviate pain and thus believe that needles are used to stop messages of pain from travelling to the brain. They have little knowledge of the philosophical orientations that stand behind this practice. They view the end result and ignore the fact that acupuncture is based on the belief that all of life is controlled by energy flowing through the body.
New Age adherents also believe that meditation is a way of accessing, activating, and transferring life energies. They hold that when many people focus their minds on a particular subject, power is generated which affects the matter on which they are focusing. A few years ago several New Age groups in the Seattle area sponsored the "World Peace Event." The goal was to bring about world peace through collective meditation. They believed that if enough people from throughout the world would simultaneously harmonize their positive energy, they could bring tranquility to the entire planet (Groothuis 1988, 1-3). In Washington, D.C., a Pentagon Meditation Club has been set up "to link enough individual `peace shields' to protect humanity by their unified force" (Peace Shield 1988, 42). Edward Winchester, a Pentagon financial analyst and the originator of this club, says, "Millions of people the world over may be unconsciously generating coherent force fields when they enter deep prayer and mediation" (Peace Shield 1988, 42). These perspectives on universal life energy have even invaded Christian universities. A sign posted on a bulletin board at Abilene Christian University read: "Starting now: Wherever you are, perform a silent meditation for world peace every day at 12:00 noon for one full minute."
These beliefs on life energy are pervading American society in subtle, seemly innocent ways. Ten years ago these beliefs were confined to American counterculture; today their effects are seen in almost every aspect of life. Robert J. L. Burrows, publication editor of the evangelical Spiritual Counterfeits Project in Berkeley, has said,
. . . you can see the rise of the New Age as a barometer of the disintegration of American culture. Dostoyevsky said anything is permissible if there is no God. But anything is also permissible if everything is God. There is no making any distinction between good and evil. (Friedrich 1987, 72)
While New Age adherents equate universal life energy with God, the Christian perspective drawn from the scriptures portrays God as separate yet sovereign over his creation. New Age adherents seek help "from within"; Christians seek help "from above" (Groothuis 1986, 168). Universal life energy does not receive its current from Creator God since it denies his separate being; it is an attempt to make gods of humans. If this energy is a reality, it is demonic, having its origin in spiritual beings who have rejected the sovereignty of God.
Impersonal Forces Used for Both Good and Evil
Some impersonal powers are thought to be used for both good and evil depending on the disposition of the person or group employing them. Like electricity, these impersonal forces are unseen yet powerful. If harnessed and channeled, they can be used for great human benefit. If these powers are unharnessed and unchanneled, however, they become like lightning--both unpredictable and destructive. Examples of impersonal spiritual powers used for both benevolent and malevolent purposes are mana in Melanesia and bugota among the Sukuma of Tanzania.
Mana. R. H. Codrington made the first in-depth study of impersonal spiritual powers when he described the Melanesian phenomena called mana in his comprehensive text The Melanesians (1891). He believed that without some conception of mana the outsider could not "understand the religious beliefs and practices of the Melanesians" (1891, 191). Codrington described mana as
a supernatural force which operates behind all human activity in the world, . . . a force altogether distinct from physical power which acts in all kinds of ways for good and evil and which is of the greatest advantage to possess and control. (Codrington 1891, 119)
Mana is considered the power behind success or failure. Insufficient mana is thought to be the cause of failure; great mana, the cause of success. A man is successful at fighting not merely because of powerful arms, quickness of eye, and innovative weapons. He is, rather, successful because of mana. This mana may have been received from an ancestor, from a warrior killed in battle, from an amulet which once was in contact with a mana-filled person or spirit, or from a distinctive tooth or rock which, when worn, placed in one's house, or planted in one's field, has power to bring success. Likewise, the speed of a well-made canoe does not depend upon its design but on the mana it possesses. A farmer's pigs multiply and his fields are productive, not because of his initiative in caring for them, but because of the mana he possesses. When a yam is planted it will naturally grow but will not become large and tasty unless it possesses mana. Without mana, an arrow cannot inflict a mortal wound nor can a net catch many fish (Codrington 1891, 118-20). Ahrens, in describing present-day Melanesia, comments, "The main religious question in Melanesia is how to gain access to power and how to control it in order to make life successful" (1977, 142). Mana provides the Melanesian with the power to be successful; the absence of such power explains failure.
Influential people hold their positions due to mana. Ancient Hawaiian kings were thought to be so charged with mana that the common man would die if he came into contact with what the king had touched. His touch automatically made things taboo to the commoner. Consequently, the king was carried to minimize his contact with the world of the commoner. Codrington writes that a son in Northern New Hebrides does not necessarily inherit his father's chieftainship since such a position is due to powerful mana. However, the father will attempt to pass on to his son the mana which has made him chief. Charms, magical songs, mana-laden stones, and secret knowledge are passed from father to son in an attempt to transfer the mana (Codrington 1891, 56). Mana also serves as the power to enable Melanesian men to join and rise to levels of influence in the Suqe, a type of men's club in Melanesian societies. Rising from level to level in the Suqe necessitates feasts requiring the expenditure of great wealth for pigs, yams, and other products. No one could conceivably acquire such great wealth without mana. Therefore, mana helps a person get into the Suqe and also aids him to become a person of authority within the institution (Codrington 1891, 103). Those in authoritative positions in Melanesian society are considered people of powerful mana.
Sometimes objects are assumed to possess mana because of their distinctiveness. For example, a man may find a stone resembling some fruit of his garden. He says to himself, "This stone is so unusual that it must possess power to make my garden productive. Let me put it to the test." He lays it at the foot of a tree whose fruit it resembles. An abundant harvest proves that the stone possesses mana (Marett 1914, 109).
There are many presuppositions inherent in the concept of mana in the Melanesian context (Hiebert 1983). First, mana can be found in objects (rocks, bushes, and trees) and in personal beings (people, ancestors, and spirits). Second, mana is qualitative. A person can gain more of it or lose some of it. It can be stored until it is needed. The more mana a person accumulates, the more power he has. Third, mana is amoral. It is a power which in and of itself is neither good nor bad. It can, however, be used either to help or to harm depending on the motivation of the possessor. Typically mana is employed publicly as a positive social power. It is used to bring rain, to make fields fertile, or to help win a war. When used secretly by individuals, mana is almost always used for malevolent purposes--to maim or kill an enemy. Fourth, mana is controlled by ritual. Sometimes ceremonial invocations are thought to build up the reserves of mana (Tippett 1967, 353). When mana is used malevolently, ritual may be used to reverse the power of mana so that it works against the sender. Rituals must be enacted perfectly. If a ritual is wrongfully enacted, "the mana might rebound against the person seeking its help" (Tippett 1967, 7). Fifth, mana provides the power to produce wealth and gives rise to what are generally called "Cargo Cults." To the Melanesians there is no dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual realms; they deduce that all material goods originate in the spiritual realm. They have no traditional categories to fathom products which are manufactured by machines due to human ingenuity. Europeans, who have wealth, are frequently assumed to have hidden the rituals to induce wealth. This cargo mentality was amplified by airplanes unloading massive amounts of cargo among animistic people during the major world wars. They deduced that such massive amounts of cargo could come only from powerful mana-ladened rituals. Sixth, specialists instruct the people on how to handle mana. While these specialists are respected because of their knowledge of mana, they are feared because they might use this knowledge for personal advantage. This is especially true when there are problems, like drought and epidemics.
Within the Melanesian context "taboos" are culture's rules for using mana. Taboos are to mana what insulation is to electricity, a protection against its power. Taboos are thus prohibitions protecting the careful observer from wrongly using mana. For example, the Hawaiian king possessed so much mana that whatever he touched became taboo. Among the Kisii of Kenya it is taboo for a son to enter the house of his father or a father to enter the house of his married son. A comparable illustration is a non-Christian belief in the taboo of certain banyan trees in the Solomon Islands . These trees were thought to contain so much mana that anyone touching them would immediately be killed. When about thirty Christians cut down a banyan tree and erected a cross in its place, the non-Christians were forced to determine whether the tree had lost its mana because traditional rites had been neglected or because a greater mana had overcome the tree's mana (Tippett 1967, 100-102).
Communicating Christ within a mana-oriented culture poses significant problems. First, the people tend to look at the missionary as a possessor of mana rather than as one who carries a delegated message. From the perspective of the people, the missionary's immense wealth testifies to his possession of mana. Second, Christianity is frequently understood as a religion containing rituals used to induce mana. The Bible is frequently viewed as a manual on obtaining cargo if only the secret rituals of obtaining mana can be deciphered. This mentality makes the Melanesian especially susceptible to fringe cults which appear to give immediate formulas for success. Third, the mentality of "power" behind mana is in many ways opposed to the Christian view that all human power must be given up and our whole lives laid before God.
How is the Christian message to be communicated within this context? First, basic biblical presuppositions (the nature of God, the sinfulness of man, what God has done in Jesus Christ, and how man responds to God in Christ through faith and obedience) must be communicated. A Christian worldview must take the place of a pagan worldview. Second, biblical conceptions of power must be described. Although God possesses all power, he does not use that power malevolently. In the incarnation of his son he became flesh, humbling himself to the point of death, in order that those bound by the power of death might live. Christians therefore must not seek power for selfish purposes but die to self that they might live (Gal. 2:20). Coming to Christ entails giving up personal desire for power and accepting the Lordship of Christ. Third, only when one gives up these human desires for power and comes under his Lordship does God begin to bless him. A radical discontinuity between the Christian conceptions of power and blessing and the Melanesian concept of mana must be taught. One should not come to Christ believing that by so doing he will receive the mana of God.
Emic Concepts Similar to Mana. After studying Codrington's ground-breaking analysis of mana, anthropologists soon found similar concepts in other world cultures. R. R. Marett found similar concepts among North American Indians. The Sioux speak about wakan or wakanda, and other North American Indians speak of orenda, qube, manitu, and oki, reflecting the belief in an impersonal power used "to bless or to curse." African pygmies recognize a similar power called oudah (1914, 108-113).
A similar but somewhat different type of impersonal power, called toh, is found in Indonesia. Toh is very much like mana, except that it is self-activating. For example, when a thief breaks into a compound, toh is automatically energized to thwart the thief. Although mana is passive like electricity, toh is like sensor lights, which automatically come on when there is movement in the yard (Hiebert 1978, 13; 1983).
Many emic types of impersonal spiritual powers tend to be classified under the general heading of mana because of Codrington's formative study. The term mana has therefore escaped its Melanesian moorings and become an etic term encompassing all of the above-mentioned terms. Frequently, mana is used as the generic term for impersonal spiritual power used for both benevolent and malevolent purposes.
Bugota. Bugota is a type of impersonal spiritual power used for both good and evil among the Sukuma of Tanzania. Its attributes are representative of impersonal spiritual power in Africa. This impersonal power is preferred to using personal spiritual powers like ancestors. While ancestral power can be used only when it is made available by the ancestors and is useful only for the problems about which ancestors themselves are concerned, bugota can be focused on a particular task and can be immediately employed to deal with one's everyday problems.
Although translated as "magical medicines," or simply "medicines," bugota is much broader than the Western conception of medicine (Hatfield 1968, 83). Hatfield says, "Headache powders, injections for bilharzia, protections against evil-doers, and medicines for revenge are all called bugota" (1968, 83). No distinction is made between medicine and magic. Bugota can be used assertively to gain success or popularity. For example, if a person wants to be popular, he may be instructed to carry a piece of alum "to clear the air." When a person seeks love, he may consume a concoction made with the dried and ground heart of an elephant (Cory 1949, 18). Sukuma also use bugota to increase fertility in humans, livestock, and fields (Cory 1949, 20). A barren woman might be treated with bugota made from the afterbirth of a goat which has borne twins. Monkeys multiply rapidly, and a splinter from a tree where they sleep can be used to increase fertility in livestock (Cory 1949, 20).
Bugota can also be used to harm or kill. This aggressive, antisocial subcategory of bugota is called bulogi. A person wishing to avenge a wrong prepares bulogi from ingredients connected to both the intended victim and the desired result (Tanner 1956, 438). Anything that has touched the intended victim is sufficient to provide magical contact. Fingernail clippings, pieces of hair, and dust from a footprint are frequently used. Sukuma wishing to kill an enemy might mix fingernail clippings with grass from a grave, place this mixture on a path where the victim is expected to step, and recite an incantation to activate the bulogi. When the victim steps on the mixture, his death is imminent. If he suspects that his enemies are planning his death, he can protect himself by using lukago, or protective medicine. For example, he might carry the scale of a pangolin, a very shy animal rarely seen by humans, which is thought to make one invisible and thus immune to bulogi (Cory 1949, 16).
Sukuma believe that although the cosmos is held together by a great power, "man's individual achievements and his adjustment to other men are dependent upon his acquisition and use of medicines" (Hatfield 1968, 86). This belief leads the Sukuma to "engage in rituals involving impersonal supernatural powers and pay scant attention to Mungu [God] and the Great Ones [prominent ancestors]" (Hatfield 1968, 86).
Malevolent Impersonal Forces
Such impersonal powers as witchcraft and sorcery are used to bring harm upon enemies and their enterprises by spiritual and magical means. Because the practitioner of these arts is a cultural insider who has malevolently turned against his own neighbors and friends, witchcraft and sorcery are feared above all impersonal powers. The witch or sorcerer is "the hidden enemy within the gate" (Mayer 1954, 61). As the Lovedu of the Transvaal say, "You eat with him, yet it is he who eats you" (Krige and Krige 1943, 263). So prevalent are these malevolent forces that Stevens could write: "Those who profess not to be believe in witchcraft constitute a tiny minority of the world's peoples" (Stevens 1989, 213).
The motivations prompting people to use malevolent powers are jealousy, spite, and a desire for revenge. For example, when one farmer's crops produce abundantly while those around appear anemic, a jealous neighbor might bewitch the prosperous field. Or when some man fails to receive love and adoration from a woman he desires to marry, he might maliciously direct harmful spiritual power to disrupt all of her future romantic relationships. Negative spiritual power is also frequently used when a businessman feels that his partner has caused their business to fail. The angry partner might "close his path," as Brazilian Spiritists say, so that all endeavors of his ex-partner fail.
Definitions of Witchcraft and Sorcery. The writings of Evans-Pritchard (1937, 21) have been formative in defining witchcraft and sorcery. He viewed witchcraft as an internal, psychic power and sorcery as an external power using magical rites and paraphernalia. Witchcraft may be used either consciously or unconsciously by its practitioner; whereas sorcery is always a conscious endeavor. Witchcraft and sorcery are both carried out with malicious intent. However, sorcery is the evil use of magic, which might also be used for benevolent purposes. While sorcerers use magic for malevolent purposes, shamans use it benevolently. The power to perform witchcraft is almost always inherited; sorcery is consciously learned. Witchcraft is frequently considered a nonhuman power inherent in certain people. Sorcery, on the other hand, is not an intrinsic power, but a malicious use of magic. Witchcraft and sorcery, though contrasting phenomena, are classified together because both use spiritual power for malevolent purposes and are motivated by malicious intent.
Witchcraft, therefore, can be defined as an inherent
psychic or mystical power used either consciously or unconsciously to harm
other people. Sorcery is the use of magical paraphernalia and rituals to
harness spiritual powers to maliciously and premeditatively harm other
* Is an internal psychic act * Is an external use of magic
* Used either consciously * Used consciously or unconsciously
* Done with malicious intent * Done with malicious intent
* Inherited * Learned
* Uses superhuman power * Uses magical power
A clear-cut distinction between witchcraft and sorcery cannot be made in all societies and is not made by all anthropologists (Turner 1964, 319-324). Many African languages use one word for both concepts since only a witch is evil enough to practice sorcery (Shorter 1985, 99). Marwick found that among the Cewa, sorcerers use rituals and medicines and consciously employ their trade and, like witches, are permanently evil (1965, 81-82). Russell defines witchcraft as encompassing all of magic (1989, 203). Even among the Azande, whom Evans-Pritchard studied, witchcraft was not always an inherent condition. Like the power of sorcery, it could be attained by a practitioner under certain circumstances (1937, 26; Macfarlane 1970, 42).
Early anthropologists saw sorcery as encompassing the whole realm of magic--magic used to harm as well as magic used to help (Frazer 1922, 22-23). However, because of the negative connotations associated with "sorcery" and "sorcerer," a distinction should be made between magic used harmfully and magic used helpfully. All practitioners of magic can be classified under the general term "magician." Diviners or shamans are those who use helpful magic for productive and protective purposes. "Sorcerers" are personalities who use magic for destructive purposes. Since the shaman and sorcerer use the same magic for different purposes and motivations, the shaman frequently is suspected of being a sorcerer and lives in a precarious position. The shaman possesses special knowledge that could be dangerous if used malevolently.
Cultural Stress and Manifestations of Malevolent Impersonal Power. Cultural stress creates an environment conducive to the use of malevolent impersonal power. For example, the use of witchcraft and sorcery increases among first generation migrants to cities who have not yet become fully integrated into the urban context. While traditional methodologies of resolving crises have been disrupted, new social mechanisms for problem resolution have not yet been adapted. The migrant resorts to using malevolent powers he would have seldom used in his original rural context (Stevens 1989, 213). "Tension and competition are sharpened, but traditional explanations go unchallenged" (Shorter 1985, 96). Stevens shows how these manifestations of negative spiritual power tend to remain covert because there is "little sympathy for such belief systems within `mainstream' [urban] institutions" and because practitioners fear "anti-witchcraft and curative mechanisms" which are operative in these contexts (1989, 214).
During the Middle Ages witchcraft and sorcery were always present. However, unparalleled change precipitated by the Renaissance and amplified by the Industrial Revolution and Reformation, created cultural tension so great that the use of witchcraft and sorcery reached epidemic proportions (Marwick 1970, 14-15). It is estimated that between 1450 and 1700 a hundred thousand were executed after being accused of witchcraft (Russell 1989, 208). Malevolent manifestations of spiritual power increase during times of cultural tension.
Human Response to Witchcraft and Sorcery. Most people are desperately frightened when they suspect that witchcraft or sorcery might have been used against them. An informant among the Kisii of Kenya testifies about fear of witchcraft during a cattle plague:
Nearly all of my cattle die, but my neighbour loses
only a couple of
Sorcery is feared as much as witchcraft. Shorter, a Catholic missiologist, relates this personal experience:
Towards the end of August 1975, when I was teaching in
Those fearing witchcraft and sorcery desperately search out a shaman who will divine the cause of their misfortune. If witchcraft is deduced as the cause, the witch is typically killed or banished, especially when the action is understood to be premeditated. If sorcery is understood as the cause, the animist typically chooses between two options. He may either seek "(1) to have it voluntarily withdrawn by the perpetrator, or (2) to nullify it, deflect it, or return it directly to its source" by counter-magic (Stevens 1989, 217). Stevens, a secular clinician working in a North American context, proposes a third way: to convince the client that the magic directed toward him is ineffectual (1989, 217).
Christians must propose still another alternative to the animist: Evil powers, whose source is Satan, must be encountered and defeated by the power of Jesus Christ. Christians should never "retaliate in kind" by attempting to use counter-magic or by reflecting magic used against them back on the perpetrator. This is contrary to the injunction of Jesus, "Do to others what you would have them do to you" (Matt. 7:12). Christians are called to stand before God in trusting faith in his care and protection and to seek good where evil has been activated.
Animists believe that all impersonal power (whether used only benevolently, for both good and evil purposes, or malevolently) can be manipulated by magic. Magic is the use of rituals and paraphernalia to manipulate spiritual powers. By means of magic people attempt to project human control over spiritual forces.
Magic and Religion
Anthropological writings frequently contrast magic and religion (Malinowski 1954, 19; Frazer 1922, 56-69). While magic seeks to manipulatively control spiritual powers by human dictum, religion seeks to supplicate the powers. The religionist, realizing his own impotence, seeks through prayer and worship to gain blessings from spiritual beings. The magician uses impersonal spiritual power to control both impersonal forces and personal spiritual beings; the religionist supplicates and propitiates personal spiritual beings. While magic might be used for helpful or harmful purposes depending on the motivations of the practitioners, religion is almost always used benevolently. Figure 7 illustrates how David Burnett views magic and religion as opposite ends of a continuum.
* Is manipulative * Is supplicative
* Concerned with power * Concerned with personal relationships
* Has specific goals * Has general aims
* Employed by individuals * Emphasizes groupness
* Is impersonal * Emphasizes worship of personal beings
* Used for both good and evil * Considered benevolent
* Adapted from David Burnett, Unearthly Powers (Eastbourne, England:MARC, 1988),20. Used by permission.
Uses of Magic
Raymond Firth describes three uses of magic according to its function in society (1956, 155-156). First, productive magic insures the fertility of fields, guarantees success in hunting, stimulates clouds to produce rain, secures profitable trade, and produces romantic love. Second, protective magic helps to guard property, assists in the collection of debts, averts misfortune, cures the sick, insures safety while travelling, and, most importantly, counters the power of destructive magic. These two types of magic are performed both privately and publicly for the common good and are therefore categorized together as "helpful magic" or somewhat ethnocentrically as "white magic." Helpful magic is socially acceptable and is a force of social control. Third, destructive magic is used to bring storms, destroy property, produce sickness, and cause death. This type of magic is consistently categorized by cultures as "harmful magic" or ethnocentrically as "black magic." Harmful magic is used privately for personal ends and is socially disruptive. In most societies concepts of helpful magic dominate. Magic is used to cure, protect, and profit rather than to hinder, harm, and destroy (Shorter 1985, 140). Only in tension-filled, disintegrating societies does harmful magic reign supreme over helpful magic.
In certain traditions harmful magic is understood as the inversion of the good. The Catholic Mass is thought to bestow blessings; to the animist the Mass said backward is considered harmful magic. To many animists the cross is perceived as a powerful, protective charm, but the inverted cross becomes a destructive fetish. To folk Muslims a saddle rightfully placed on a horse is a good omen; an upside down saddle at the door of the village mosque becomes a conditional curse called an `ar thrust upon the community to force the people to grant a request (Westermarck 1933, 69). The Mass of Saint Secaire is a classic example of harmful magic considered the inversion of the good:
The priest comes at night to a ruined or deserted
church, peopled by
Types of Magic
James Frazer in The Golden Bough first introduced terminologies which have been formative in the study of magic (1922, 12-14). According to Frazer, the principle of sympathy, the assumption that "things act on each other at a distance," undergirds the whole concept of magic. The affinity of objects to a person is used in transmitting either good or evil from one to another "by means of what we may conceive as a kind of invisible ether" (1922, 14). Objects are sympathetic (1) if they have at some point been in contact with each other or (2) if they are alike. Frazer defines the first characteristic of sympathy as the Law of Contact and the second as the Law of Similarity. Contagious magic is based upon Frazer's Law of Contact and imitative magic on his Law of Similarity.
Contagious Magic. Contagious magic is based on the belief that objects which have been in contact exert an influence on each other even after they have been disconnected (Frazer 1922, 12, 14). For example, if a Brazilian spiritist desires the love of an estranged boyfriend, she might take his photograph and write her name on the back. She would then burn the picture so that his face and her name are ritualistically united in the smoke. Because of such contagious magic, they will soon be married (St. Clair 1971, 142). In contagious magic "things which have once been in contact with each other" (in this case the boyfriend and his photograph) "continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed" (Frazer 1922, 12).
Contagious magic most frequently employs things which were once a part of a person's body. For example, teeth ceremoniously extracted from Australian Aborigine initiates are carefully guarded lest they come into contact with magic substances and injure those from whom they have been extracted (Frazer 1922, 43-45). Among almost all African peoples the umbilical cord and placenta of a newborn baby are carefully disposed of so that they will not be used in sorcery. A person discovered collecting hair cut from another person is immediately accused of sorcery, especially if there is animosity between the two. Placing excrement of a hated family member at a joint in a tree will cause him severe pain when the tree limbs rub together. Finger and toe nails are frequently buried so that they cannot be used maliciously. Anything once connected to a person's body might be used in contagious magic.
In Sudan when a Nuer youth wounded another from an adjoining village, the spear which had inflicted the wound was sent to the injured person's compound to help effect a cure. The point of the spear was bent and placed point downward in a pot of cold water to cool the pain of the wound. The treatment of the spear was seen as instrumental in the healing of the injured (Evans-Pritchard 1956, 111). Similarly, among Melanesians if the friends of an injured person gain possession of an arrow which has wounded him, they treat the arrow as well as the wound. The enemies of the injured, on the other hand, might seek to aggravate the injury by strumming the bow which launched the arrow in a type of imitative magic (Frazer 1922, 47-48). Clothes and jewelry which have been worn, pots and utensils which have been used, and personal names possessed, all of which have been connected with a person, can be used in contagious magic.
Beliefs concerning contagion impact even Christians who have an animistic heritage. Among Churches of Christ in Kenya there has been much discussion concerning Christian wedding ceremonies. The African Inland Church and Roman Catholics imported Western ceremonies and labeled them "Christian." When the first couples desired to be married in the Church of Christ, they asked how they were to marry. We suggested that marriage rites be devised which would be appropriate for the Kipsigis context and not import a ceremony from the West. When asked how traditional Kipsigis conducted their ceremonies, they described extensive rituals, including the spitting of beer as an ancestral blessing and the tying of the segutiet, a grass band used much like the exchange of rings in a Western ceremony. After much discussion the church decided to adapt the traditional ceremony rather than to borrow the Western one. After the ceremony the question "What should be done with the segutiet?" troubled the participants. As Christians they could not dispose of it according to traditional pagan customs, yet they continued to fear what would happen if it fell into the hands of some enemy who would use it with malicious intent.
Imitative Magic. Imitative magic is based on the principle "like produces like": Imitating a desired outcome causes it to happen. When the Nuer of Sudan desire to cross a crocodile-infested river, they bend a metal bracelet until the two ends overlap, tie the ends together with grass, and press the ring into the mud by the riverside. Such imitative symbolism closes the mouths of the crocodiles, and the people are able to safely cross (Evans-Pritchard 1956, 67, 74). Egyptians wrote the names of their enemies on pottery and shattered the pots to symbolically destroy their enemies (Wright n.d., 79). Imitative magicians believe that they can produce any desired effect "merely by imitating it" (Frazer 1922, 12).
Imitative magic is used for many purposes. Hunters draw pictures of game with spears thrust into their hearts to imitate a feat they wish shortly to accomplish. Fishermen induce fish to come by putting an image of a fish into the water. Drought-stricken people imitate rain by spewing water into the air or by creating clouds of smoke to induce rain clouds. A barren woman carries a doll in order to become fertile. The ill paste spots on their body to mimic an illness and then wash them off to imitate healing (Parrinder 1976, 113-114). A rejected lover connives to punish his former sweetheart by drawing her figure in sand, ashes, or clay, or by carving an image of her body and then stabbing, kicking, or burning the effigy in order to bring about infertility, injury, or death.
Imitative magic was a crucial component of Palestinian Baalism (Wright n.d., 79-81). Agrarian Canaanites desperately needed the rains for the fertility of their crops, and the imitative magic of Baalism provided a ready and sensual answer. Worshippers of Baal involved themselves with cult prostitutes believing that sperm entering these prostitutes would induce the heavens to give rain. Israelite daughters became prostitutes before the shrines of Baal, and the men "consorted with harlots and sacrificed with shrine prostitutes" (Hos. 4:14). The sin of cult prostitution became so insidious that Hosea wrote, "A spirit of prostitution has led them astray" (Hos. 4:12).
The Philistines, after being afflicted with tumors for capturing the Israelite ark of the covenant and putting it in the temple of Dagon their god, sought to appease the God of Israel by making imitations of the disease that afflicted them. They then sent the ark back to Israel with their imitation guilt offerings (1 Sam. 6:1-5).
Imitative magic continues to be part of contemporary cultures. Joseph Arap Lang'at, a Christian evangelist among the Kipsigis of Kenya, told the story of a woman who had lost her husband's love. She went to a traditional practitioner, who told her to make an image of her husband. Speaking warmly to the figure and giving it special food and care would insure her husband's love. Joseph concluded by saying, "We Christians have knowledge. We know exactly what the shaman is doing. She is getting the woman to practice loving her husband." He then began to speak powerfully about how Christians must overtly analyze their marriage relationships in light of the reality of God's love and begin to practice his love in their lives. They must never use imitative magic to induce love.
Not all magic falls neatly into the categories of
contagious and imitative. A Malay charm uses qualities of both:
The use in antiquity of divine names to coerce deities also cannot be neatly classified as either contagious or imitative; it partakes of both. It was believed that the magical use of divine names could coerce gods to do human bidding. Many therefore hid the names of their gods for fear of their misuse. This is likely the meaning of the Davidic statement made to Yahweh: "They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name" (Ps. 139:20). God gave express command that his name should not be used with malicious intent (Deut. 5:11). Because names were thought to hold sacred power, the Jews wrote the personal name of their God in such a way that it could not be pronounced. While the unpronounceable tetragrammaton YHWH was transcribed in the documents, at most times the word donay, "my Lord," was substituted in the readings. The personal name for God was considered too sacred to pronounce (Douglas 1962c, 478).
Both contagious and imitative magic are based on a common understanding of the use of symbols. Magic turns a "symbol into an objective power--something which exists and acts on its own" (Shorter 1985, 143). While religion says that forms have no power in and of themselves, magic makes these symbols into power objects.
Means of Magical Manipulation
Animistic people use many different means to manipulate spiritual power. The most used of these methods are curses, oaths, mantras, amulets and charms, and evil eye.
Curses. Curses are verbalizations calling upon spiritual forces to harm a person. Animistic people believe in the power of words. They would give a literal interpretation to Prov. 18:21: "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." The curse, then, is the activation of the power of witchcraft and a spoken element in the use of sorcery.
Curses use the power of words to activate malevolent power. An old Kipsigis man became very angry when neighbors cut branches from his trees for posts to build their fences. Believing he had no power to stop his neighbors other than the curse, he yelled irately, "Meok konyek" ("May your eyes die") and "Labok oik" ("May the spirits touch you"). The neighbors smiled nervously. All believed that such hard words might bring severe illness. In other situations Kipsigis might use the worst of all curses: Mein mat (literally, "May your fire die"), meaning "May your family die out" or "May your seed die." Continuity from generation to generation is of utmost importance. Therefore a curse which challenges this continuity causes great fear. Most curses are not planned or premeditated but spoken in anger with little forethought.
The curses of some people are considered stronger than those of others. Among the Moors of Morocco the most horrible of all curses is one hurled by parents at their children. A Moorish proverb says, "He who has been broken by his parents will not be repaired by the saints, [but] he who has been broken by the saints will be repaired by his parents" (Westermarck 1933, 60). The curse of a husband, however, is as powerful as that of a father. One proverb says, "The woman who is cursed by her husband is like her who is cursed by her father" (Westermarck 1933, 61). The curses of powerful personalities, like pirs or shereefs, are more dangerous than those of the average person. The curses of women are considered more potent than those of men because women are often ceremonially unclean. A proverb relates, "The curse of an unclean person is sharper than a knife" (Westermarck 1933, 62). One's guilt or innocence also influences the impact of the curse. An undeserved curse has no power according to the proverb: "A curse without cause does not pass through the door" (Westermarck 1933, 62). Even the Bible recognizes this generally held perspective: "An undeserved curse does not come to rest" (Prov. 26:2). In fact, an undeserved curse is likely to rebound upon the invoker's own family: "He who curses the parents of others is like him who curses his own parents" (Westermarck 1933, 63).
Some curses are conditional. Among the Muslims `ar is used to compel someone else to grant your request. A refugee, seeking help from the owner of a tent, might grasp the pole at the entrance of the tent and say to its owner, "I am in your `ar." The owner then is compelled to help him, or the power of `ar will harm him (Westermarck 1933, 68). Other examples of `ar include placing one's saddle upside down at a person's door or at the village mosque and slaughtering an animal at the entrance of one's tent or house (Westermarck 1933, 69-70). Because `ar forces one to do another's bidding, the frequency of `ar in a culture determines the extent to which social relationships are based on compulsion.
Oaths. While `ar is a conditional curse directed against someone else, an oath is a conditional curse directed toward oneself (Westermarck 1933, 68). An oath is taken voluntarily to prove innocence or loyalty to a cause. An oath, therefore, is a ritualistic declaration based on appeals made to spiritual powers which guarantees that secrets will be kept, compels one to act in a prescribed way, or affirms one's innocence. Whatever the purpose, the oath-taker swears by some power or power object in order to give efficacy to his sworn oath. Muslims swear by something which has baraka--by Allah, the Qur'an, holy books, a pilgrim who has recently returned from his pilgrimage to Mecca, some saint or pir, or some angel (Westermarck 1933, 64-65). Jews swore by heaven, God's throne, the earth, Jerusalem, or one's head (Matt. 5:34-35). While the Old Testament designated that all those who took oaths must speak the truth (Num 30:2; Deut. 23:21), followers of Christ are enjoined not to take oaths since all objects involved are related to God. As speakers of truth, they need not invoke oaths (Matt. 5:33-37; Jas. 5:12).
Oaths are frequently used to guarantee that secrets are kept. In the pre-independence resistance movement in Kenya, called the Mau Mau, fighters took various oaths of secrecy to protect the identity of leaders and secrets of the organization. While planning a coup in Kenya in 1982, military leaders from the Luo tribe administered oaths to participating soldiers. Soil from the Luo area of Nyanza and water from Lake Victoria bordering on the Luo tribal area were used in the oathing rituals. Each participant was forced to place his bare right foot on the soil, mix his blood with the water, and drink the mixture. While holding a copy of the Luo New Testament, he recited the following words in Luo: "With this blood and water from my land I take this oath. I swear I will not disclose this secret, and if I do so, may everything that belongs to me perish and misfortune follow me. May God help me" (Kuria 1984, 1, 2).
Oaths are also used to compel people to act in a prescribed way. When the first democratic elections were held in Kenya, numerous oathing ceremonies were used to compel people to vote for certain candidates and parties. Before a national election in 1983 a major headline in the Nairobi Daily Nation read "Thousands in Oath-Cleansing Ceremony." Twenty years earlier thousands of the Kamba tribe had been bound by an oath, called "the oath of seven walking sticks," to vote for a certain candidate and party. An estimated ten thousand Kambas participated in the cleansing, supervised by the local government administration. Government chiefs were the first to be cleansed in a ritualistic ceremony involving stepping over seven walking sticks, spitting into a common container, and using the spittle to cleanse the walking sticks (Daily Nation, 21 September 1983, 1-2).
Oaths are also used to affirm innocence or guilt in ordeals. In Levitical law a jealous husband could bring his wife to a priest to force her to declare her innocence of immorality under oath. While the jealous wife stood "before the Lord," holy water was mixed with dust from the tabernacle floor and given to her to drink. The woman was to affirm that her abdomen would swell and her thigh waste away if she was guilty. Nothing would happen if she was innocent (Num. 5:11-31).
Both curses and oaths are related to the mantras because of the emphasis on the power of spoken words.
Mantras. Mantra, literally meaning "voice" or "sound" in the Hindustani language of India, is the attachment of spiritual power to certain types of sounds. It is believed that certain sounds and words have power and that the use of these in prescribed ways produces inevitable results. Loewen recounts how a South American Indian interpreted Christianity as a system of mantras to manipulate life:
"It is wonderful to be a Christian," he said. "Now we
have ever so many
Verbal symbols thus become instruments of imitative magic to manipulate reality.
The most frequently used mantra is the syllable om. Om, the first and last letters of the Indian alphabet, is believed to be the condensation of all power. It was understood as the first sound that Brahma made when he came into the universe (Hiebert 1983). This syllable is so frequently used in the New Age that some call om "the final word on the New Age" (Friedrich 1987, 72).
Paul Hiebert tells the story of an Indian mantra practitioner, called a mantrakar. One day a snake that bit a person was later found and killed. To heal the one bitten the mantrakar intoned a mantra seven times for each stripe on the snake's back. Hiebert questioned the practitioner: "What if the snake had not been found and killed?" The practitioner replied, "I would then use another mantra to call the snake out of its hole." This practitioner learned his art by living three years with an established mantrakar and then being initiated on a night when there was a lunar eclipse. While the moon was in eclipse, he was lowered into a well, dipped three times, and required to say the proper mantra. These rituals empowered him as a mantrakar (Hiebert 1983; 1982, 37).
In the scriptures, disciples healed the sick and cast out demons in the name of Jesus. The crippled man at the Beautiful Gate of the temple was healed in the name of Jesus (Acts 3:1-6). The seven sons of Sceva, non-Christian Jews of Ephesus, invoked the name of Jesus over the demon-possessed (Acts 19:13-17). Should such use of the name "Jesus" be considered a mantra? To what extent is there a relationship between the sound of the name and the power of Christ?
From a Christian perspective the name should not be understood as having any intrinsic power. Unlike the sound om, pronounced similarly in every language, the name of Jesus is an arbitrary symbol pronounced differently in various languages. The New Testament disciples understood that the name Jesus only symbolized the power of God; the name had no power within itself. Healing and casting out of demons was rather based on the reality of the nature and power of Jesus.
Amulets and Charms. Amulets and charms are visual symbols which carry spiritual power for protective purposes. Among the Kipsigis of Kenya an amulet made from goat's skin is placed around the waist of a newborn male child to protect him if older male siblings have died. Muslims of North Africa have long feared the evil eye and have designed amulets to protect themselves from it. The symbol of a hand, a charm frequently used to protect against evil eye, is inscribed on almost all houses and shops in Morocco. Pentagrams, the cross, a crescent, and a drawing of a pair of eyes are also used as amulets against the evil eye (Westermarck 1933, 29-55).
People of a Judeo-Christian heritage often use Christian symbols as magical amulets. Jews wear scripture amulets called phylacteries. These phylacteries, based on a literal interpretation of certain Old Testament passages (Exod. 13:9, 16; Deut. 6:8; 11:18), are worn both to protect from danger and to pridefully express religiosity (Matt. 23:5). Many Christians believe that when the cross is worn on the body, it will protect them from harm, and when drawn on the side of their house will guard it from danger. The Bible is treasured, not as a guidepost pointing to God but as a magical book having power to heal and bless.
Yantras is the Hindu name for powerful drawings, inscriptions, or decorations. For some Indians, yantras are "abstract geometrical designs intended as a `tool' for meditation and increased awareness" (Khanna 1979, 11). However, many yantra meditators begin to look upon the drawings as forms containing magical properties. Hiebert describes four magical yantras used for relieving headaches, assuring conception, curing malaria, and generating power and providing protection by the god Narasimha (Hiebert 1982, 38). Seldom are yantras used alone but are combined with symbolic rituals and mantras to bring about the desired result (Hiebert 1982, 37-38).
The use of amulets and charms is a negation of trust in God, who provides ultimate protection against evil forces. The household of Jacob was told to put away their household gods and "the rings in their ears" (Gen. 35:2-4). These earrings were most likely protective amulets associated with pagan gods (Douglas 1962b, 766-767). Flaunting their charms for protective or decorative purposes was rebuked (Isa. 3:18-23). God, rather than amulets and charms, must be relied upon for protection.
Evil Eye. Evil eye is projecting malevolent power upon a person or object by gazing at it. Such glances of evil are typically caused by envy. The envious eye is thought to cause a luscious crop to wither, a grade cow to go dry, a handsome newborn son to become severely ill, a groom to become impotent, or his bride to have a headache. Westermarck says, "[Evil eye is] rooted both in the expressiveness and the uncanniness of the look, which make the eye appear on the one hand as an instrument of transmitting evil wishes, and on the other hand as an original source of injurious energy emanating from it involuntarily" (1933, 24).The use of evil eye, especially prevalent in Muslim lands and India, also occurs in other world contexts.
Folk Muslims greatly fear the evil eye. Moorish proverbs say, "The evil eye empties the houses and fills the graves"; "One-half of mankind die from the evil eye"; "The evil eye owns two-thirds of the graveyard" (Westermarck 1933, 24). In Morocco people with an uncanny look, deep-set eyes, and eyebrows which come together over the bridge of the nose are suspected of evil eye. Suspicion of evil eye is amplified when these eye characteristics are accompanied by words of praise. While compliments in the United States are thought to encourage, among Muslims "admiration of something good readily recalls its opposite" (Westermarck 1933, 25). One is jealous of that which he compliments and is likely to use malevolent power against it. According to the Muslim Mishkat, the prophet Muhammad was a great believer in evil eye. He said, "If there were anything in the world which would overcome fate, it would be an evil eye" (Zwemer 1920, 170).
The power of evil eye is countered in various ways. The easiest way is to avoid exposure. For this reason many women in the Muslim world are veiled and secluded. The Moroccan bride is traditionally taken to her new home in a box or cage to avoid contact with evil eye (Westermarck 1933, 26-58). Evil eye is also countered by distraction. A beautiful gourd is placed in the middle of a luscious field to absorb the power of evil eye and save the field. If the gourd breaks, the owner recognizes it as the power of evil eye. Or a blemish is placed on the forehead of a handsome baby so that one with evil eye will not jealously harm it. The curse is also used against those with the power of evil eye. A folk Muslim points all fingers of his right hand toward the possessor of evil eye and says, "Five in your eye," thus reflecting the power of the evil eye back to the one emitting it (Westermarck 1933, 27-28). Amulets and charms are also used to protect people and objects from evil eye. Muslims use an image of hands and a drawing of a pair of eyes as amulets to counter evil eye. The famous Hand of Fatima combines these symbols by placing an eye in the palm of an outstretched hand (Burnett 1988, 151-152).
Although prevalent in India, evil eye is most frequently considered a minor malady which affects only people who are in fragile states of existence. Little children, pregnant women, and brides and grooms are especially susceptible. If evil eye is thought to have harmed older children, a family might dress a boy in girl's clothes, give him an unattractive name, or do something to blemish him. Hiebert tells of being asked to photograph a friend and his son. He was surprised to hear that his friend had a son and equally astonished to learn that the boy had been dressed as a girl so that he would not be touched by the power of evil eye (Hiebert 1983). Food receiving glances of the evil eye cannot be digested. Believers in such powers of the evil eye eat alone. Visitors arriving at mealtime are told, "Wait a little. We are still eating" (Hiebert 1983).
Evil eye is also practiced in some Western contexts. Michael Buonanno describes two categories of victims of evil eye among Italian-Americans in and around Buffalo, New York (Buonanno 1989, 239-246). The first category is people in transitional states of life: the unbaptized child, the preadolescent, and the bride and groom. As shown by the following illustration, these beliefs, prevalent in various parts of Italy, were brought by immigrants from their home country.
The finding of godparents proved a difficult problem
to the Maturo family
Because the child had been "`separated' from his mother's womb, but not `incorporated' into the Christian community" (Buonanno 1989, 241), he was understood to be very susceptible to evil eye. The second category of victims is people making the transition from Italian to American society. However, there is a basic similarity between these two categories. Like the unbaptized child, the immigrant is between statuses. He has been separated from the womb of his motherland yet not acculturated into the new society. Buonanno thus attempts to prove that the ambiguity of the immigrant's condition provides an atmosphere conducive to evil eye.
Buonanno vividly describes how Lucia, an Italian Comare ("Godmother") divines and cures evil eye:
Lucia traces a cross in olive oil on the foreheads of
both her patient and
Hail Mary full of grace
With each recitation she shakes a drop of oil into the
water. With her
These cultural depictions of evil eye demonstrate that evil eye is a widely held belief in the world, that the fear of evil eye forces many to find means to counter it, and that those most susceptible are people in transitions of life. Christians have no need to fear evil eye because they are confident that "the eye of the Lord is upon them" (Ps. 33:18). They rather proclaim deliverance from all fear because of the reality of God's sovereignty.
The Source of Impersonal Spiritual Power
The animist views impersonal forces as having a power of their own which can be controlled by ingenious rituals and religious paraphernalia. The Christian, on the other hand, might say there are no impersonal spiritual powers. All such powers--whether benevolent, used for both good and evil, or malevolent--have their origins in personal spiritual beings. Behind all these "impersonal" powers, he believes, stand personalized sources. Consequently, release from impersonal powers demands defeat of Satan, the source of evil powers, and his legion of angels. Fighting the forces of impersonal spiritual power is battling Satan himself.
Human Response When Magic Fails
The animist looks at his world functionally. He is always seeking the right magic to remedy his immediate problem. When magic fails, the animist does not automatically question the system. Rather, he may reason that the wrong paraphernalia or medicines were used while the magical rituals were being performed. Perhaps he might determine that the rituals themselves were wrongfully employed. A contemporary parallel is the Western view of medicine. Westerners do not question the validity of medicine just because one drug fails to effect a cure. They go back to the doctor to seek another medicine which might cure the illness. Likewise, the animist does not reject magic because one type fails; he seeks a new type of magic or a new implementation of ritual using his old magic.
The Christian evangelist must realize that at least two things will likely have to occur before an animist will reject his magic and consider an alternative way of looking at the world. First, he must conclude that his old system of looking at the world does not appear to be working or is not based on true presuppositions. Perhaps his magic continuously fails or he realizes that the continual use of the magic only leads to greater bondage. Secondly, the positive proclamation of an alternative worldview challenges his animistic perspectives, and he sees demonstration of this new worldview in his life. Turner describes how a Christo-pagan Chontal Indian of Mexico came to question and reject his magical worldview:
I wondered about the ritual customs . . . and had them
performed for my
God and Impersonal Spiritual Power
God by his very nature is a personal God. He created humans to live in communion with him. He is the God who walks in the garden calling out to fallen humankind to come to him. His continual use of prophets testifies to his desire to relate personally with humans. God in the person of his Son became involved in human life through the incarnation of Christ. His indwelling Spirit testifies that God continues to live in this world and indwell his people. All use of impersonal power stands in opposition to God who is a personal being.
The Bible testifies that God in Christ is in charge of this world. All things were created to live in relation to Christ, and all fullness must dwell in him (Col. 1:15-23). However, when magic is employed, humans are forcing deity to act rather than allowing deity to act through them. Magic reduces God from an enthroned Lord to a human servant.
The Bible, therefore, continuously stands in opposition to the use of impersonal spiritual power. Magical practitioners in the Old Testament were not allowed to live (Exod. 22:18). In the New Testament Paul struck blind an opposing sorcerer (Acts 13:6-12), and Peter forcefully taught a converted sorcerer to seek a relationship with God instead of picturing the gifts of God as the source of some power which might be employed by human practitioners (Acts 8:9-25). The true God is one who cannot be manipulated, coerced, or forced for he is the source of all power. Therefore, the use of impersonal spiritual power is a negation of the ultimate power of God in Christ.
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