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Witchcraft Essay, Research Paper

Anthropologists have investigated and discussed religion and society for years. These two elements have been the focus of numerous ethnographies and articles written by a variety of anthropologists. Since Levy-Bruhl and Durkheims statements that religion and society are varied, numerous reports on various cultures throughout the world have shown the close relationship between religion and society. In many cases, religion acts as a social regulator for behavior toward your neighbors. Furthermore, belief in certain religions has been used to improve things such as working conditions. Religion has, in many cases throughout the world, served to guide people on social behavior as well as provide societies with a code of conduct. With the ever-increasing presence of capitalism, which is creating one big monoculture more and more every day, religion still maintains a very important relationship with societies. It helps to explain many of life s questions, as well as helping to define a person s position in life and provides them with guidance. While there have been numerous reports showing this important relationship, the most convincing examples can be found by observing the five elements of Leviticus, spirit possession, witchcraft or sorcery, millenarianism, and rites of passage.

In Mary Douglas s book Purity and Danger, she discus s the notion of wholeness, or pureness, in relation to Leviticus. In this section of the Bible, it is said that there were things made by God and those that were not. Devoutly religious people use this section of the Bible to guide them on things that can be eaten and those that are tabooed. The act of following the strict rules of Leviticus is one step towards being completely pure. Remaining holy and pure is explained in relation to socially acceptable behavior by observing chapter XIX of Leviticus; Theft, lying, false witness, cheating in weights and measures, all kinds of dissembling such as speaking ill of the deaf, and hating your brother in your heart. These examples show different aspects of how religion is related to society and the way people conduct themselves in various spheres of life. Whether it s socially tabooed foods, or social behavior, rules must be followed according to ones religion in order to remain pure and whole.

Asen Balicki s report Shamanistic Behavior Among the Netsilik Eskimos is an excellent example of how the Eskimos belief in shamans and spirit possession has had an effect on their society. Shamans are people who claim they can be possessed by spirits and in Eskimo life, they have the ability to manipulate the social life of the people. One of the aspects of social life that the shaman can manipulate is the environment. When there is no game and hunters are having a hard time finding food, shaman s can find out the location of game with the help of his spirits. A shaman and his helping spirits (tunraq) would direct game towards the hunters. Furthermore, the shamans could also control the weather, which is done to aid the hunters in finding game and travelers who will be going for long distances. Shamans also help their society by aiding in individual and group crisis that usually results from a breach of taboo, which angers the spirits and usually results in someone getting sick. An individual who gets sick is a group crisis because, for example, if the father becomes ill, no one will be available to hunt for game except for the mother. If she leaves no one will be around to cook and sew. Every person in this society has an integral role in the smooth operation of day-to-day activities.

Therefore, it is important that shamans heal illnesses promptly. A third aspect of social life that shamans help to maintain is interpersonal relations. This category involves

aggressive acts by the shaman. Most often, jealousy is the motivation behind aggressive shamanizing or the intention of improving your social position. Finding a wife in Eskimo society is very hard because of a high level of female infanticide. Therefore, many aggressive acts or even murder are directed towards husbands in hopes of stealing another mans wife. The final aspect of social life that the shaman acts to improve is his own position in society. With the great wealth of powers that shamans possess, it s no surprise that they often perform acts to enhance their own prestige. It s quite apparent that the Eskimos religion and their belief in spirit possession had shaped their society in a number of ways. While it appears that spirit possession is mostly done to help or aid any aspect of society, there is a great deal of suspicion within the society that results from their religious beliefs. Because everyone understands that spirits can attack him or her at any time, there is a high level of fear of attack. This fear also ensures that people are always treated well on the exterior regardless of what one thinks inside their head. If a person breaks one of the many taboos, they understand that this will anger the spirits, therefore, the taboos act as a sort of social controller of daily life. It is evident that the Eskimos strong religious beliefs play an integral role in society and have a profound relationship to each other.

To further elaborate on the aspect of spirit possession, we can look at Aihwa Ong s article entitled Spirits of Resistance. This article took an in depth look at the free trade zone in Malaysia where young, unmarried female workers were employed in factories run by large multinational companies. To maximize profits, salaries were extremely poor and working conditions were no better. While a variety of methods were engaged to protest the working conditions, the one of relevance to this paper is of spirit possession. Their religion involved spirit possession and the women would claim to be possessed by spirits who were angry at the working conditions. Often flailing their arms and becoming violent, the women were consequently unable to work and frequently, the possession engulfed more than one woman. These women, while unable to protest publicly in the form of a union, have found a way to protest by using their religion and the belief in spirit possession. Regardless of whether they actually are possessed, the important fact is that they have managed to improve their social position by using religion.

Witchcraft is the third example, which provides an excellent representation of the relation of religion and society. Evans-Pritchard s article Sufferers from Misfortune seek for Witches among their Enemies explains how the Azande tribe uses their belief in witchcraft to explain various calamities in life. For example, if a man falls ill, he will execute a variety of procedures that will help him to eliminate possible perpetrators of witchcraft. After he has figured out who it is, he or someone close to him will consult the person guilty of witchcraft and tell him that so and so is ill because of sorcery you have committed. It is important to note that the witchcraft occurs at night and comes from a person s belly, unbeknownst to him or her, and attacks the intended victim. Because no one is aware of the witchcraft they have committed, they will almost always apologize and say that it was not their intent to do any harm. For the Azande, their belief in witchcraft and its presence in their community act to regulate social relations between

people. No one will intentionally agitate another person because they understand that it can lead to bad things happening to them. Therefore, while the religious beliefs of the

Azande may create a high level of tension between people for fear of being a victim of witchcraft, it also helps to level social relations ensuring that everyone in the community is treated well since cooperation is so important in their society.

Harry D. Eastwell s article Voodoo Death and the Mechanism for Dispatch of the Dying in East Arnhem, Australia is another solid example of the relationship between religion and society in regards to witchcraft or sorcery. Eastwell observes the Murngin tribe and their belief in sorcery and how it has affected the tribes society and their belief in death. If a person commits an awful act, incest for example, it is likely that the person will fall victim to sorcery. The person will quickly become ill and often end up dying. The tribe believes that when a person becomes sick it is because an evil spirit has entered their body and is making them sick. When this happens, the tribe will often consider you dead, and begin to perform unique ceremonial dances around you. As a result, the victim will refuse water because he or she believes that drinking water will only give the spirit more life and that once you fall ill, your time has come and you will die. Despite the fact that Mr. Eastwell clearly displays that most of the illness s these people get are easily curable by modern medicine, their strict belief in sorcery is the reason they deny offerings of water. As you can see, the Murngin tribe s strong religious beliefs in sorcery, regardless of whether it is real or not, is so inbred in their society that when you fall ill, most often you will die because you believe that drinking water will only aid the evil spirit in your body.

One of the best, and also contemporary examples of religion relating to society is millenarianism. In Eric J. Hobsbawm s article Millenarianism he explains this concept as the true followers of Christianity who expect the return of Jesus Christ. Upon his return, all of his children will live in a perfect society for 1 000 years of bliss, while the rest of the population dies off. One of the main characteristics of modern revolutionary movements as explained by Hobsbawm is specific and direct social change. These movements have definite plans as to the course of action regarding societal structure upon the return of Christ. Furthermore, believers in millenarianism also critique the existing world and will change their habits in society in prediction of Christ s return. This was the case in Sicily, where followers refused to marry until the new world has been established. Millenarianism, clearly displays the strong relationship that exists between religion and society.

Finally, we turn to Victor Turner s article Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage for the last example showing the relationship between religion and society. In his article, Turner describes rites of passage as incorporating not just important times of birth, puberty, marriage, and death but any defining moment where a transition occurs in ones life. This transition is explained as the liminal stage where in indigenous tribes, one is removed from society or given masks to disguise them. Turner uses the example of the Omaha Indians to display how the passing through this liminal stage helps to define a man or woman in society. The Omaha religion says that a boy must go into the forest alone to fast and pray. This experience represents the transition from boy to man. If a boy has a dream that they receive a woman s burdenstrap, they will feel compelled to live and dress as a woman in society. It is quite

evident that their practice of going into the forest to have a vision is an act that helps to define a man s position in society. In the Ndembu tribe, the mystery of the three rivers

is explained to neophytes, in riddling songs and also directly, in terms of what each river signifies using the three colors red, white, and black. The explanations serve as lessons of life values, ethical ideas, and social norms, to grossly physiological processes and phenomena all of which explain to the trainee, life s mysteries and lessons on social conduct. Both of these tribes display the integral relationship between religion and society. These religious rituals help to guide a person through transitional stages in their life and also aids in defining who they are in society.

There have been numerous reports that display a relation between religion and society. However, the anthropologists who wrote these articles dealing with the five elements of Leviticus, spirit possession, witchcraft and sorcery, millenarianism, and rites of passage show with convincing evidence the strong relationship that these two elements have with each other. Religion serves the purpose of explaining a series of questions; what is my position in society? How am I supposed to conduct myself in society?. Although it is true that it is becoming increasingly common for people not to observe any religion at all, for millions throughout the world religion remains a very important part of their life and helps them every single day in their respective society.

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