Language like culture is dynamic. The term ‘witchcraft’ (or witch) is a controversial one. Since different cultures hold different meanings and share different opinions about it. In modern usage, ‘witch’ is the root word of ‘witchcraft’ and the designation for female initiates. their male counterparts are called ‘wizards.’ Meanwhile, it is a compound noun from ‘craft’ and ‘witch.’ Originally, craft means skill, power, strength and force.
Semantically, the word “witch” is synonymous with the Latin vincere which means ‘to conquer.’
For more clarifications, the modern English word “witchcraft” has three principles or connotations: It signifies the practice of magic or sorcery in all cultures; it connotes the beliefs associated with the western witch-hunts of the 14th to the 18th century, and it connotes the varieties of the modern movement called “Wicea” which means “to conquer.” There is no clear-cut distinction between witchcraft and sorcery, witch and sorcery. Therefore, sorcery or witchcraft is the attempt to influence or control the surrounding world through occult or esoteric means. It entails the invocation of alleged supernatural powers to control people or events. However, there is a subtle difference between them (witch and sorcery). While witches operate through a compulsive power, or spirit possession, the sorcerers is moved through an elemental diabolic bent. Behaviourally, they are vindictive, oppressive, capricious and sadistic; spiritually, they have advantage over their victims. In fact, witchcraft itself is a complex combination of various negative elemental forces.
As regards its existence or reality, it is worthy to note that witchcraft is immune to any objective, or scientific investigations; that scientific explanations are incompatible with witchcraft claims. And since science accords with reality, it therefore becomes difficult to attribute reality to witchcraft. However, on the question of its existence, Idowu, the first indigenous Nigerian professor of religion and late patriarch of Methodist Church of Nigeria confirmed: “In Africa today it is ‘real’ that the majority of the people believe that there are witches and there is witchcraft. Witches and witchcraft are sufficiently real as to cause untold suffering and an innumerable death… witchcraft is an urgent and very harassing reality; it is a diabolic and soul-enslaving presence…” He further expressed the certainty; “I will assert categorically that there are witches in Africa; that they are as real as are the murderers, poisoners, and other categories of evil workers, overt or surreptitious.” (Idown B, ‘The challenge of witchcraft,” in Orita, Ibadan journal of religious studies, vol. IV, June, 1970). Lending credence to this, Offiong in his witchcraft sorcery, magic and the social order among the Ibibio of Nigeria, traced the prevalence of witchcraft in Africa to the disintegration of traditional structures and systems occasioned by European conquest and forceful occupation of Africa. And as a result of this, poverty is interpreted as the outcome of witchcraft persecution. (Offiong D. A, Witchcraft sorcery, magic and social Order among the Ibibio of Nigerial, Enugu: fourth dimension 1991). And superstitiously, business failure, poor harvest, protracted illness and natural disasters are attributed to witchcraft.
The proof of its existence is not actually limited to Africa, Burns noted that witchcraft in England was viewed as a voluntary act which involves the selling of one’s soul to Satan in exchange for diabolic supernatural powers, and that those who acquire such powers have the ability to use it against their neighbours to cause their cattle to get sick and die, cause crops, cause crops to fail and harm their children. There is also the power to blind husbands to their wives, misconduct and vice-versa or cause women to give birth to idiots or deformed infants (Burns, E. M., Western Civilization: Their History and Culture Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1973). Since the belief in the existence of witchcraft is not limited to African mentality alone but also to western civilization, the mere fact that it is not scientifically proven is not sufficient enough to totally reject its reality. Besides, not everything that exists, is scientifically proven. Thus, in our next series we shall discuss how witchcraft is not limited to African mentality alone.