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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 20:41 GMT
Religion and witchcraft: What's the difference?
Magic and religion exist side by side in Cameroon, as they do in most other countries.

Committed church goers consult diviners when they are ill, when they want a job, and when they are in love.

But this has angered the religious establishment, and last week a Cameroonian archbishop issued a pastoral letter castigating Christians for indulging in what he described as satanic practices.

Should Christians be forbidden from seeking the advice of witches, diviners and other mystical people? Do priests and diviners play similar roles in society? Is there any real difference between religion and witchcraft?

A Focus on Africa debate on this subject will be broadcast on BBC World Service Radio on Saturday 22rd December at 1706 GMT. A selection of your emails will be read out during the debate.

This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.

Your reaction:

The basic necessary fuel for witchcraft is fear, and fear is not from God

Muungo, USA
The basic necessary fuel for witchcraft is fear, and fear is not from God. All I need to know from all those who insist on balancing the two, in whom do you trust? "Some trust in chariots, some trust in horses but we trust in the name of the Lord our God (Psalms 20:7)."
Muungo, USA

This is a question I have asked myself many times. Coming from a Cameroonian village where Christianity arrived over 100 years ago, I am amazed that to this day, church-going Christians, whose forebears abandoned traditional religious practices long ago, have not been able to overcome the fear of witchcraft. From what I have noticed, witchcraft is based on fear, fear of death, fear of illness, fear of failure. When you have a dispute with a village elder, he may kill your soul while you sleep. Such are the beliefs of the village people, and many western-educated villagers as well. Religion, as I know it, is hope based on faith; witchcraft, as known in Cameroon, is fear based on superstition and a twisted logic.
Epie Ajebe, Cameroon

Witchcraft is a religion. I say this because religion is the belief in a deity and believing that it is superior and has control over certain things concerning you. The many witch doctors consult their lords to give them power to do all sorts of things. However those of us who call ourselves Christians do not see it as a religion per se but as a relationship and fellowship with a Father, a Saviour and a Friend.
Faruk, USA

Religion is based on faith which is the substance of things hoped for but not seen. Witchcraft is based on superstition which in essence is the substance of evil things hoped for in a magical world and manifested weirdly in the physical world. Witchcraft in all its forms is based on wickedness and there is no way it can be equated to true religion. Those who practice it and then pretend that they are religious, do so at their own peril.
Jonathan Mbuna, Malawi

First of all, we should define what exactly is magic. In our African societies, magic/magicians/diviners play the role of the psychologists/shrinks in the West. When you consult a magician/diviner, etc. for a job, love, travel, you are just giving yourself a boost of confidence and self esteem. However, we should know that witchcraft and sorcery do exist, and when used to kill, poison, or eliminate someone, are definitely evil and no Christian should think of practising it. Anyone should feel free of going either to his parish for confession and moral support or to his village "juju man" to fortify himself for a job interview.
Anthony Fonebi, USA

The line between religion and witchcraft is very thin indeed

Charles Gachuhi, Kenya
I believe that the line between religion and witchcraft is very thin indeed. This is because both have to do with faith, believing. However it is saddening for Christians to consult diviners and witchdoctors since we should all put our faith in God alone. In Africa these beliefs are so entrenched that it is not surprising to find that even some church ministers themselves carry talismans and amulets around their waists, so that they get promoted or get more followers or anything. maybe this is what is happening in Cameroon.
Charles Gachuhi, Kenya

Witchcraft is a term with many interpretations and suggestions. There are many realms of practice, that cannot be understood by scientific means, that have great benefits for healing, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. However, there are many wannabe practitioners out there, especially in the western world, and the damage than can be done through mistaken practices is considerable. All the peoples of the world have their unique knowledge of these practices, and if done correctly, they are highly beneficial.
Canoemark, New Zealand

Don't mix-up witchcraft with African religion. Witchcraft to the traditional African is deplored. African religion is religion just like any other but for the fact that it has been in existence longer than any other religion. Religion to the traditional African doesn't mean going to church on Sundays or buying gifts for family on Christmas, it is an everyday affair of how s/he conducts life and treats other people. Christians judge our religion based on their own beliefs - that's wrong. African religion was in existence millions of years before Christ and it will be here millions of years from now.
Yanick Mbandi, USA

In its purest sense religion and witchcraft are identical. It is the same, the only difference is in the organisation. If witchcraft were organised it would be considered a religion.
Mzilikazi, Canada

What should we expect, when our so-called leaders have created so much misery, in populations that are largely illiterate? Isn't it the case that even the "churches" that are in existence today in much of our continent are nothing other than fraudulent organizations, preying on this misery?
UE, UK/Nigeria

There is no question that Christians should not go to witches


There is no question that Christians should not go to witches. These are two antagonists, for those of you, who are going to the witches for help. Please trust the Lord, He is the creator of everything on the earth, so He can provide you with what is important for your life. Above all with his peace.

What kind of historical documents support this witchcraft? If there are such documents are there any artefacts that prove their witchcraft to be true? Let's say you have a successful product on the market. The competitors will take your idea and steal it, then change it just enough not to infringe on copyright. Then the competitor will say their product is just as good or better. This is why all Christians are attacked. Every religion has something to say about Jesus Christ. In this world of good and evil, only the truth will be attacked.
Joseph Runfola, USA

All religion says that they are the one true path; denouncing all other religions as damnation. What all churches seem to forget is that these different beliefs are still the basic concept of good and evil instead of a business's dogma to sell religion.
Amaury, USA

I do not see any difference between witchcraft and religion. All of the above are for cowards who simply refuse to realize that they are buckets of biochemical soup that will one day fail to function, and so they must believe in "something beyond". Live life to the fullest while you're here, take responsibility for your individual actions, and help each other in the interest of advancing the human race. Maybe then as you pass away you might feel some satisfaction, as opposed to worrying about eternal paradise.

I agree with the comments made by anonymous above. The only difference between religion and witchcraft is that religion is better organised and promoted and mostly by the same self serving type of individuals that take advantage of people using witchcraft. With all the recent advances in science and technology, we would be better served if we concentrated on learning more about the natural universe then we would dealing in the realm of the supernatural, which can never be proven.
O.W., USA/Nigeria

Christianity and various native religions have long existed hand in glove in Africa. I do believe that no matter how hard some of those more conservative elements in the Church try to, this unique and vibrant relationship will continue to grow and evolve.
J Ighile, Nigeria

My two initial reactions to this story, the details of which I know nothing, are first, that what is "satanic" is almost inevitably what somebody in the hierarchy determines is contrary to the interests of the church. Clearly, there are people with vested interests in maintaining the authority of any church, and this case, on its face, seems no different. Second, orthodoxy and heterodoxy are always relative, and are always determined from a position of power, to the extent that they are. But all the dogmatic religious traditions fight an ongoing battle to maintain an orthodoxy that, in the final analysis, is likely to change over time in any case. While I understand the desire to resist, history will probably be unkind to those outraged by what is, apparently, a widespread practice.
John, USA

All those pesudo-prophets Jesus warns about, many (not all) coming in His name will deceive many, and they will glorify themselves. By just saying forbidden is not very descriptive, but seeking crystal ball types of "spiritual mediums" is forbidden by man out of love, not to be confused with pride. So God Bless and know nothing can be hidden from God.
Ryan, USA

God is full of mercy and love. He has given man the intellect to decide and choose what is right and leave what is wrong. Those who practice their true faith in their religion, by practicing pro-life actions, and embracing virtues of love and truth, positively help shape this world to be a better place to live in. Those who practice and embrace superstition and witchcraft oppose these virtues, thus practicing anti-life actions that do not promote existence and the true purpose of man on earth. I have heard and seen people and families differing because of witchcraft activities. This is what we see in most parts of Africa; people suffer, children do not go to school, children are not taken to the hospital when they are sick, people don't want to work hard and attain what they desire because of superstition. Among the things that hinder our countries from development, this is one of them.
Lucas Ogutu Oganje, Tanzania

Christians are not forbidden from seeking the advice of witches, diviners and other mystical people. They are at liberty, either to please God or not. God's Word, the Bible, plainly warns that anyone doing such things is a detestable to Him. (Deut. 18:10-12).
Martin Makina, Malawi

I do really wonder how come people refer to God as "he". On this point, I will like a discussion on the "Gender of God". You may call it witchcraft or divine, every African believes in an African deity. Some do pretend a lot. Let us face the fact and accept our ancient believes; "religion" you may call it. Let us go back to the roots of our ancestors and ignore imported religions! Why is the imported god a He? Could "it" not as well be a She? *?
Basil, Austria

I think there is at least one huge difference between religion and witchcraft: faith versus certainty. When I practice my religion, I'm on a journey to discover the mystery of my faith. I wouldn't know what the future stores for me, and reply on my faith to guide me. I think when people turn to witchcraft, they want definite answers, roadmaps, or reassurance for their quests. I myself wouldn't want to see the "blue-print" of my life. Also, I don't think that religious leaders should always tell their people what to do and what not. Instead, they could have put more efforts in educating their people more about their religions, and the people make their own choice.
Linda, USA

Listen now
... to both sides of the debate
See also:

21 Jun 99 | Africa
Tanzania's deadly skin trade
13 Oct 99 | Africa
Child witches in the Congo
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