Some say witchcraft is an African magic, an African spirit, or demonic powers present on our continent. But Paul speaks of it as satanic powers that are dominant in the present world. Look at Ephesians 6:12, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

We must consider what God says about the world we live in and the powers of darkness at work in it.

In the light of the transforming power of the gospel, we must consider God’s self revelation, as well as what he says about the world we live in and the powers of darkness at work in it. A better understanding of this cosmic struggle of satanic influence known as “witchcraft” is an important consideration for all who call themselves Christian and live throughout Africa.

What is Witchcraft?

Witchcraft is a common practice in many cultures across the world, but especially common in Africa. It is a broad term of beliefs and has hierarchical levels. Possession of satanic or demonic powers and the practice of magic are all types of witchcraft. Overall, it’s the belief that some people have spiritual powers and are able to control and influence others—positively or negatively.

Witchcraft is the belief that some people have spiritual powers and are able to control and influence others.

Witchcraft involves a service provider who provides medicine namely a traditional healer (witch-doctor, also called Sangoma), or a diviner (someone with the ability to do divination); a person assisting the witch doctor (the agent or helper); and then a person in need of assistance (the patient). Senior witches with high supernatural powers are called “kings” or “queens” and they give the agents tasks to perform like assisting the needy (if they are meant to do good) or to negatively manipulate (causing damage and disaster). The latter may be considered as evil spirits or demons.

Witches and Sorcerers

Further definitions on this subject describe witchcraft as a feminine noun, ‘employment of the witches’, while the substance obtained from or through a witch is a masculine noun, which is something done by an art of magic or witchcraft. However, there is often a differentiation between witches and sorcerers due to the fact that their spiritual powers come from inside and not through instruments or objects. It implies that witches can curse someone without using a stick, while a sorcerer must use an instrument or object.

However, there is no witch doctor who is not a witch – all witch doctors have an altar or a source from where they receive their spiritual powers. Furthermore Witchcraft can be understood as a demonic power – similar to spirit-possession, a “condition in which one or more evil spirits or demons inhabit the body of a human being and can take control of their victim at will.”

Instead of promoting harmony and peace, witchcraft spreads terror, superstition, division, envy, and confusion.

In some cases, those who are possessed by spirits are considered as helping their communities by giving spiritual direction (divination), or by providing medicine. But there are those who use witchcraft with evil intention: destruction, subjection, and death. The fact remains that instead of promoting harmony and peace, witchcraft spreads terror, superstition, division, envy, and confusion.

Is Witchcraft Ever ‘Good’?

When we look at the social impact of witchcraft, we see that it is not a belief system working in isolation, but rather a working system affecting a wider, integrated and shared belief system.

For some, witchcraft is a source of misfortune, disease and death while for others it is a source of life and protection. This is because there are also “good” witch doctors. They are able, through magic, to manipulate a situation for someone’s benefit. Consequently, it can cause others to envy that person’s success. They may try to block this good fortune through witchcraft, which would cause the prospering person to seek protection from a “good” witch doctor.

Many Africans, when in need of protection or resources, will trust a witch doctor.

Most witch doctors have an animist mentality. This means that they believe everything in life happens a a result of invisible forces – be that success or failure; an accident or disease. Sometimes it goes to the extent of physical and psychological diseases, even death, forcing victims to seek help from a witch doctor. While a handful of witch doctors might refer someone to the church, the majority will, instead of providing a vital solution, lead a person into ‘bondage’ by taking total control of their life.

So many Africans, when in need of protection or resources, will trust a witch doctor instead of living an honest and rational life or working hard to achieve success.

Witchcraft in Mozambique

Witchcraft is a common practice in Mozambique. Although many people do not speak of their involvement openly because they fear how they will be perceived by others. There is a wide range of interpretation regarding what witchcraft involves in Mozambique. Yet there two primary words used.

Although common practice, many people do not speak of their involvement in witchcraft.

Firstly, “curanderismo”. This refers to the process of receiving healing through a spiritual intervention provided by a witch doctor. Whenever a medical doctor cannot cure a sickness people will run to a witch doctor. They believe that someone is witching the patient and that’s why the doctor can’t heal them. Secondly, “fetiçaria”. This is the spiritual action perpetuated by bad spirits. A person with a bad spirit is called “feticeiro”. It implies therefore that “witchcraft” has both a physical and a spiritual side.

The “curandeiro/witch doctor” is seen as a person who does good; they provide medicine or cure the sick. But still, they use witchcraft, causing spiritual and emotional manipulation, which leads to depression, misfortune, poverty and sickness.

Where do Sangomas Come From?

Some individuals recognise qualities in a certain witch doctor and ask them to train them. They then become a witch doctor in their own right. A person can also be instructed through a dream to go for a training. There are even cases where certain spirits call a person to take over the work of a predecessor.

The time of training differs from person to person. It could range from a couple of days to a couple of months. The person will usually come home healthy (from physical point of view). But from a spiritual point of view, they’ll be filled with evil spirits. When their training is done, the person comes back with the skills and materials to perform the work of a witch doctor.

Passing on a Witching Spirit

Some people are born with a witching spirit, others are consecrated at an early age. But most of the time a family member who has a witching spirit passes it on – training a child or a close relative to replace them.

A witching spirit is sometimes passed on in a deceitful way. The person looking for help will approach a Sangoma or witch doctor for help. The witch doctor will lie to the person, passing on the witching spirit to the patient. In this way he will then control and manipulate them for personal gain or spiritual interest. So the patient becomes the witch doctor’s victim.

It is important to mention that jealousy often motivates a witching spirit. Witchcraft, sorcery or superstition are all satanic influences and therefore outside of God’s will for humankind. The impact of witchcraft is immense in our society today, both in the cities and smaller villages. Technological advancements and globalisation have now reached many rural areas. But it does not stop people from committing their lives to witchcraft.

What Form Does Bewitching Take?

As mentioned, witchcraft works through various satanic or demonic activities. Firstly, there is demon oppression. This can cause someone to experience negative physical or emotional symptoms. For example, feeling ill or sad and troubled. Not all oppressions are results of demonic influence. Yet there are certain sicknesses which seem to manifest as a result of witchcraft.

Secondly, there is demon obsession. Here mind binding spirits, mind bleeding spirits and mind confusion spirits fill the mind of the victim with fear or false ideas. They experience unpleasant scenes and mental pictures so that they become continually depressed. Self-accusation and self-condemnation are some characteristics of the obsessed person.

Thirdly, demon subjection. This is a form of control that a malevolent spirit brings to an individual through the power of darkness. It is so severe that the victim loses all control and the evil spirit assumes total control. This subjection manifests itself as a form of slavery to anything that can destroy a life. It could include things like drugs, sexual impurity, violent temper, uncontrolled thoughts, resistance to divine things, religious disillusion, self-pity and many others.

Lastly, there is demon possession. This is a condition by which one or more evil spirits or demons inhabit the body of a human being. These can then take control of the victim at will.

Does Witchcraft Affect Everyone?

Witchcraft is not limited to specific cultures or religions. It does not only affect poor, indigenous or uneducated people. The rich, owners of big companies, politicians or even churchgoers and pastors are also victims. It can affect all those who have not fully put their faith in Jesus Christ. Indeed any who, when their circumstances are out of their control, will turn to witchcraft.

When there is no true trust in the living God, people will turn to witchcraft or other demonic spirits.

The truth is, when there is no true trust in the living God, people will turn to witchcraft or other demonic spirits that deny the lordship of Christ.

What Does the Gospel Say About Witchcraft?

The issue of witchcraft must be tackled with the understanding that the great commission directs us to disciple people so that they grasp the new life we have in Christ Jesus. Often, our poor understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit hinders us to grasp how evil spirits work. So as Christians, we should ask for discernment from the Holy Spirit to clearly understand the manifestation of evil spirits (Acts 16:16-18).

Our first step in dealing with witchcraft is to lead people to acknowledge Jesus Christ in their lives. Everyone who receives Jesus in their heart becomes a child of God (John 1:12). For Jesus alone has the power to set people free (John 8:32). No matter how deeply someone might be involved in witchcraft, confessing Jesus as Lord and Saviour is the key to true salvation (Romans 10:9). 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old is gone and the new has come.” This implies that to be in Christ is a turning point.

Often, our poor understanding of the  Holy Spirit’s work hinders grasping how evil spirits work.

In conclusion, Paul sets up an approach to Christian ministry when he says the following: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).