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Home » News » Letters » CHARISMATIC WITCHCRAFT!

CHARISMATIC WITCHCRAFT!

Publishing Date : 23 February, 2016

Author : MOGOTSI D BALOYI

Most people associate prayer with moral good: benevolence, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. Yet in some cases, people deliberately pray against others in forms of what are called in these parts, "dangerous prayers,” that aim to harm or remove another party. These cases raise interesting questions about the shadow side of prayer.

Attention to dangerous prayers and to the unspoken, negative aspects of prayer reveals interesting insights into how we might more fully understand prayer as a part of lived religion. Take a blatant and public example of dangerous prayers. In January of 2012, the speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives, Mike O’Neal, forwarded an email message urging his Republican colleagues to “Pray for Obama: Psalm 109.8.”

That scripture reads, “May his days be few; may another take his office.” This is hardly a prayer offered for Obama’s flourishing, and the next line is even more malicious: “May his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.” What? Are you kidding me! No, sir! I kid you not. That indeed happened. And, Psalm 109 is real. You may want to crack open your Bible and have a read. But, be warned.

Reader discretion advised for strong and graphic language that might upset the sensitive. This speech form is known as imprecatory prayer, from the Latin, imprecate, “invoking evil or divine vengeance; cursing.” The use of scripture as a form of imprecatory prayer has long been covertly practiced by both Christians and non-Christians.

But the slogan to “Pray for Obama: Psalm 109.8” circulated openly on t-shirts and bumper stickers during the 2008 presidential race. Similarly, Reverend Wiley Drake, the second vice-president of the First Southern Baptist Church, issued in 2006 a statement claiming that his prayers for the death of a slain abortion provider George Tiller had been answered. Here in Africa, there are numerous of such accounts.

Testimony times in many Churches are filled with rejoicing believers testifying about how their enemies have died after messing with them. These instances give us a rare display of imprecatory prayer not only in the public sphere, but also constitute prime examples of the use of negative prayer in political circles and beyond. These bizarre cases caught my attention, since cursing and imprecation are usually associated in the popular imagination with my longtime area of fascination: the traditional Afro-Haitian religion called Voodoo.

The negative image of Voodoo as sorcery is one that many have worked to dispel as part of a project of ethnographic re-description. They have worked to humanize Voodoo and portray its full role in Haitian society, writing of elaborately developed prayers, liturgical rhythms, and songs, dances, and ritual that serve to mediate between life and death, to construct family, and to heal.

In this non-dualistic Afro-Caribbean philosophical system, good and evil are not understood to be essential absolutes. When one develops the ability to heal, one automatically learns the way to harm. While priests in the Voodoo tradition focus on healing, there is a branch of disreputable specialists - disavowed by Voodoo priests - who practice a set of prayer rituals and wanga (material “working” objects) that purport to impose the will of the religious or shamanistic actor onto another person.

The Haitian ritual expert who performs this is called a malfaiteur, (literally: “evil-doer”) and the term for this form of prayer is “malediction” (lit: “speaking evil”). One form such prayer can take - as in the Kansas case - is the reciting of Old Testament psalms for a specific malediction against a person or group. Here are two very different religious formations - evangelicalism and Afro-Haitian religion - both using Psalms to pray against others.

They force us to consider dangerous prayers as a part of lived religion. I have employed the term “dangerous prayer” as a conceptual, second-order category that encompasses both spoken addresses to the Christian God (or other deities and spirits), and ritual actions that aim to harm, debilitate, stop, remove, or weaken another party or to impose the speaker’s will onto another party or series of events.

This umbrella term allows us to compare groups that are ordinarily kept quite distinct, such as Christians and self-identified sorcerers. Just as sorcerers are famous for their deployment of malediction, evangelical Christians are well known for a branch of thought and practice known as “spiritual warfare,” which is also a form of aggressive prayer. Here in Africa, especially with the strong Nigerian influence on the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement, this warfare has been taken to wild excesses. It is not uncommon to see an entire hour of prayer dedicated to "killing enemies" through prayer.

The catchphrase is, "Back To Sender!" This is similar to how witches and warlocks engage in exchanges of spell casting, often resulting in the demise of one or both parties under strange circumstances. Well, the Church has joined in! We have also entered into the ring and if witches can make incantations and hexes, we too shall fight fire with fire! Except that sometimes these "enemies" are imaginary. Consequently, there are bound to be casualties of "friendly fire." Prayer was never intended to settle personal scores or even as a defense mechanism against enemies, whether real or perceived.

Sadly, it is not uncommon in our day to receive chilling warnings of, "I'll pray!" Traditionally, such a statement has been a positive one. It's good that someone should pray.

However, in these interesting times, it carries both overtones and undertones of, "Watch your back! I'll kill you through praying for evil to befall you." How is this threat from a Christian different from the warning of a warlock? Shouldn't the Police now consider "I'll pray for you!" as a case of threat to kill? That would be interesting. It's not uncommon in our Churches today, as earlier stated, to see teary-eyed devotees testifying about how God killed their enemies after they prayed! What? Yes, sir! Licensed to kill and with no evidence to warrant an arrest on a criminal charge.

Talk about the perfect crime! Spiritual warfare is a precise term in the evangelical and neo-Pentecostal networks known as the Third Wave Evangelical Movement, or the Revival Movement, whose best-known theologian is C. Peter Wagner of Fuller Theological Seminary. Spiritual warfare is the aggressive prayer needed to fight evil directly in the invisible realm. This can take the form of “casting out evil” through “deliverance prayer,” in which the Christian casts out evil or actual demons from another person under the authority of Jesus (as depicted in Matthew 10:1, for instance).

More ambitiously, warfare prayer also enables Christian “prayer warriors” to “pray down” more powerful demons - those who have taken over entire areas of geographical territory such as the Islamic world, or propagate widespread sinful activity such as alcoholism - and allow for revival and Christian flourishing to surge in a given area or place.

A group of divinely “anointed prayer warriors” understand themselves to be doing battle in the “spiritual realm” with Satan’s high ranking demons, and take their understanding of this war from Ephesians 6:12: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Prayer warriors believe we are in a new age in which God is calling prophets and apostles to become intercessors and to usher in the Kingdom of God through warfare prayer.

Spiritual warfare evangelicals have elaborated a complex theology and prayer practice with a highly militarized discourse and set of rituals for doing “spiritual battle” and conducting “prayer strikes” on the “prayer battlefield.” Warfare prayer may take place in Church, in large revival events, at semi-public conferences in hotels, or in private spaces such as homes.

Prayer warriors may pray openly in “prayer walks” through public spaces, often in cities where poverty and crime are rife. Warriors may also do covert actions in public spaces when they are “on assignment” from the Holy Spirit, in which case they might pray in small groups at key “demonic strongholds,” such as massacre sites, neopagan temples, or abortion clinics.

Is warfare prayer a form of negative prayer? Well, it does seek to impose “God’s will” on others, in specific detail. Muslims are meant to convert to Christianity, Masonic lodges (seen as long standing demonic institutions) are meant to close down, and bars and strip clubs to go bankrupt. In some evangelicals’ narratives, warfare prayer ends with God killing people who are working for demonic causes, such as an Alaskan woman who protested the use of prayer in school board meetings and then died of a heart attack. In such cases, violence or death are God’s judgment, and are part of the overarching cosmic system of perfect justice that evangelicals long to help bring about.

Evangelical prayer warriors the world over teach vehemently against taking a course of physical violence in the material world and becoming actual vigilantes. But in a tragic trend, witchcraft killings and related incidents are on the rise worldwide. United Nations reports show that in locations as diverse as New York City, London, Congo, and Papua New Guinea, people are accusing others of being witches and attacking or murdering them, including Christians! Often the violence is gendered, with male witch-hunters attacking female “witches.”

Sometimes people are brutalized or killed during exorcism ceremonies, in which the demons are beaten out of the accused witch. Studying prayer as it is actually lived in the world means paying attention to such aggressive forms of prayer, and exploring how ideas about dangerous and aggressive prayers change over time in a given society.

We must also open up questions about the negative implications of prayer. Logically, even if one prays for positive results in a certain area, it is possible that if it came to pass it would be harmful for someone else.

For instance, praying for victory for one side - in war, or in sports - is necessarily to pray for defeat of another side. A prayer for one person to be chosen for a job is a prayer for the other applicants to be rejected. Researchers might ask whether the people praying in any given tradition take into account any possible negative effects of their prayers.

Studying aggressive forms of prayer may mean asking how religious actors engage with supernatural forces they perceive to be destructive, such as in exorcisms, or magic, and how they control the ritual so they are not themselves harmed. It means figuring out how explicitly negative prayer is rationalized or even justified by the person praying.

Does someone praying negatively imagine themselves to be partnering with destructive or evil forces for their own gain, or do they imagine themselves to be neutral, or even righteous? Perhaps they imagine themselves to be in alliance with forces of ultimate good, which demands an aggressive form of prayer. How is negative prayer tied to conceptions of justice? More and more studies are considering the positive effects of intercessory prayer and healing, and some argue for tangible results that positive prayer can facilitate medical recovery.

It bears considering whether negative prayer has similar negative effects. While it is tempting to imagine that the religious people of the world are all praying beneficently for peace and love, the fact is that all are not. As you read this, someone may be praying against you, wishing you to fail, hoping to be hired in your place, that you convert to their religion, or that “your days be few, and another take your office.” As things stand, you either learn how to fight back or risk dying young. Interesting times!

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