This is our archive of news items tagged Witchcraft.

 memo You'll find articles about that subject in each of the items listed, even if the term does not necessarily occur within the headlines or descriptive text.

Scientology critic updates critique; Beard cutting cult sentenced

In today’s edition of Religion News Briefs: a man who quit his job because of the number ‘666.’ How the Scientology cult wants to charge you an arm and a leg for a piece of blue sky. And in Papua New Guinea superstition again leads to the savage murder of a woman accused of being a witch.

Also: Russia jails an ‘extra-terrestrial’ who claims he came from the planet Sirius. The Pope resigns, and the leader of a beard-cutting cult (huh?!) gets 15 year in prison.

Jon Atack was a Scientologist for nine years. He left the Church of Scientology when he discovered the criminality which put eleven members, including the founder’s wife, in prison.

After he left he spent years research Scientology, talking with former members, and documenting the false claims of Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard before writing A Piece of Blue Sky: Scientology, Dianetics and L. Ron Hubbard Exposed.

Written over 20 years ago, the book has stood the test of time — a standard work that is still considered a must-read for anyone researching the controversial movement.

Now Atack, who is at the center of what cult defender J. Gordon Melton refers to as an anti-Scientology network in the UK, has vastly updated his book.

Let’s sell these people a Piece of Blue Sky is the new, unexpurgated, unabridged version of the classic history of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology.

Jon Atack discusses his new book with cult expert Steven Hassan

Pope Benedict XVI says he will resign

Pope Benedict XVI was one of the oldest new popes in history when he was elected in 2005. He is currently 85 years old.

Frail, but in good health, the Pope told a meeting of Vatican cardinals today that he “had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

Previously known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he is known to have said he never wanted to be Pope.

He took the leadership of the Catholic Church just as the child abuse scandal started to break — what the BBC terms “one of the fiercest storms the Catholic Church has faced in decades.”

Catholics consider the Pope a successor to the apostle Peter. Protestant and Evangelical Christians do not see him as such, just as they reject many extra-Biblical and un-Biblical doctrines of the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI reportedly is only the second Pope ever to resign.

Live coverage at The Guardian

Live coverage at the BBC

Pope Benedict XVI resigns: Journalistic resources for covering the historic development


Renegade Amish Beard-Cutting Cult Leader Sentenced

Samuel Mullet, a renegade Amish cult leader whose followers engaged in beard- and hair cutting attacks against fellow Amish they disagreed with, was sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison.

Mullet and 15 of his followers were convicted last September of federal conspiracy and hate crimes.

Prosecutors had asked for a life sentence for Mullet.

The 15 other clan members received prison terms ranging from one to seven years.

Amish believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards once they marry. Cutting it would be offensive to Amish.

Prosecutors believed the attacks on those who had rejected Mullet’s edicts were motivated by religious differences, which is the reason they charged Mullet and his clan with hate crimes.

Former members of Mullet’s clan say he ruled the group with an iron fist. They claim he forced some followers to sleep in a chicken coop for days, and allowed members of the clan to beat other members who disobeyed him.

They also claim Mullet has been “counseling” married women in his clan, taking them into his home “so that he may cleanse them of the devil with acts of sexual intimacy.”

These accusations were not part of Mullet’s trial.

A number of Amish had asked the judge not to release the cult leader.

In the media Mullet’s group has been referred to as the Bergholz clan, a reference to their location.

‘Extra-terrestrial from Sirius’ Jailed

Konstantin Rudnev, a Russian cult leader who described himself as an “extra-terrestrial from Sirius,” has been jailed for 11 years for sexually abusing his followers.

The 45-year-old, who called himself Great Shaman Shri Dzhnan Avatar Muni, was convicted of rape, drug trafficking, sexual assault and “creating an organisation that infringes on people’s personality and rights”.

The cult he created in 1989 was called Ashram Shambala. At one time it had garnered as many as 30.000 followers at ashrams across Russia, making it one of the country’s largest religious cults.

Followers were also located in Denmark, Greece and Ukraine.

Members of the cult were told to abide by Rudnev’s book, “The Way of a Fool,” in which he gobbled together teachings gleaned from a mixture of books by Carlos Castaneda, fragments of eastern religions, esoterism, pagan cults, shamanism, yoga and Tantrism.

The book told believers to reject traditional lifestyle choices such as having a family, bearing children, studying and working

Russian news agency RIA Novosti says “Video records found by investigators showed some Ashram Shambala followers had been subjected to violence and sexual abuse.”

It also writes that followers “often lost their money and property and abandoned their relatives and friends, and many of them were reported missing.”

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 Russia has seen a proliferation of home-grown cults.

Woman Accused of Witchcraft Is Killed in Papua New Guinea

A woman accused of witchcraft was burned alive in front of hundreds of witnesses in Papua New Guinea yesterday.

Relatives of a 6-year-old boy who died the day before had accused 20-year-old Kepari Leniata, a mother of one, of sorcery.

Witnesses said several assailants stripped the woman and tortured her with a hot iron rod, before she was bound, doused in gasoline and thrown on a heap of tires and rubbish that was then set on fire.

Police officers says they could not intervene due to the large crowd that watched the barbaric act.

Kepari’s husband, a prime suspect in her murder, is believed to have fled to a neighboring province.

In 2010 an Oxfam research project concluded that legal reform and education are essential to reduce the damaging effects of sorcery beliefs in Papua New Guinea.

Oxfam said, “Many people in Papua New Guinea do not accept natural causes as an explanation for misfortune, illness, accidents or death. Instead, they attribute them to supernatural causes called sorcery or black magic – sanguma in the local pidgin.”

Several years ago authorities in Papua New Guinea said they would toughen laws against murders based on accusations of sorcery.

But Oxfam’s report explains that “because the fear of sorcery is greater than the fear of breaking the law, people believed to have committed black magic have been subject to shocking ‘payback’ murders, torture or punishments.”

The report also points out that “belief in black magic is so ingrained the government recognizes it under the 1971 Sorcery Act. This punishes those practicing black magic with up to two years’ imprisonment. Murderers can reduce penal sentences by alleging black magic was involved.”

Last year the U.N. Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, said accusations of sorcery are also commonly used to take away women’s land and/or their property.

Man quits job after third run-in with ‘666’

A 52-year-old maintenance worker resigned from his job at a company in Tennessee after his W-2 tax form was stamped with the number 666.

The Book of Revelation, in the Bible, identifies the number ‘666’ as the “mark of the Antichrist” or “the Beast.” The number often seen as a reference to the Devil.

Walter Slonopas, a born-again Christian, says that after getting the W-2, he could either go to work or go to hell.

What makes the story extra strange is that this is not the first ‘666’ incident Slonopas experienced at the company:

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UK Government tackles abuse of children accused of witchcraft

The UK government has announced plans to tackle the “wall of silence” around the abuse and neglect of children accused of witchcraft, following the brutal murder of Kristy Bamu, who was tortured to death in London in 2010 by his sister and her partner after they said he was a witch.

According to The Guardian

Key charities say many cases of “ritual abuse” are under the radar and that the belief in witchcraft is on the increase in the UK.

Under the new plans, the government aims to identify and prosecute more offenders by raising awareness of faith-based abuse and its links to trafficking, missing children and sexual exploitation or grooming. The goal is also to help the victims give evidence.

Tim Loughton, the children’s minister, said: “Child abuse is appalling and unacceptable wherever it occurs and in whatever form it takes. Abuse linked to faith or belief in spirits, witchcraft or possession is a horrific crime, condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths – but there has been a wall of silence around its scale and extent.

“It is not our job to challenge people’s beliefs but it is our job to protect children. There can never be a blind eye turned to violence or emotional abuse or even the smallest risk that religious beliefs will lead to young people being harmed.”

Last March a couple convicted for torturing and murdering 15-year-old Kristy Bamu, whom they accused of using witchcraft against them, was jailed for life.

BBC Newsnight report on the torture murder of teenager Kristy Bamu, accused by his family of involvement in witchcraft.

Football coach Eric Bikubi, 28, has been ordered to serve at least 30 years. His partner, Magalie Bamu, 29, will serve a minimum of 25 years.

The pair was convicted for murdering the boy in what has been referred to as a ‘completely feral’ attack.

Believing that Kristy was trying to bewitch them, the couple beat and tortured him for three days, using used knives, sticks, kitchen tiles, metal bars, a pair of pliers, a hammer and a chisel. Then they drowned him in their bathtub.

National action plan to tackle child abuse linked to faith or belief PDF file

The Telegraph says

There is very little information available about the scale of such abuse.

In London there have been 81 recorded cases of children being abused as part of religious practice over the past 10 years but police and church groups are convinced it is under-reported.

Previous research suggests that the practice is not confined to African communities and exists in different forms across southern Asia and parts of Europe within some Christian sects but also some Hindu and Muslim communities.

Mr Loughton announced a new action plan drawn up after discussions between police, child welfare charities and faith groups including churches.

It calls for new social workers and teachers to be taught about the issue as part of their training as well as new measures to spread awareness within religious groups.

Police are being given guidance drawn up by specialists at Scotland Yard setting out some of the possible warning signs, including certain types of injuries children may bear.

Mr Loughton said it was clear the full extent of the abuse was being underestimated. […]

Cases investigated in London so far this year include one in which a boy was assaulted because his parents believed he was bringing bad luck and another forced to drink a noxious substance supposedly to rid him of evil spirits.

The BBC reports that

Scotland Yard says it has conducted 83 investigations into cases of faith-based child abuse in the past decade including those of Victoria Climbie who was eight when she was murdered in 2000 and the headless torso of “Adam”, a five or six-year-old boy, which was found in the Thames in 2001.

Ministers are concerned that although the investigations number just a few dozen, other abuse is going on, “under-reported and misunderstood”.

The National Action Plan to Tackle Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief was drawn up with faith leaders, charities, the police and social workers.

It urges closer engagement with local communities and churches, better training for social workers and police and better psychological and therapeutic support for victims.

It also aims to secure prosecutions through supporting victims to give evidence in court and more awareness of how faith-based abuse links with other crimes such as child trafficking and sexual exploitation.

The government admits more research is needed before it can act effectively to protect children – the last study was in 2006 and looked at 38 cases involving 47 children from Africa, South Asia and Europe, all of whom had been abused in the name of possession or witchcraft. So a key element of the action plan is to conduct further research.

Other measures include greater efforts to listen to the voices of young people in the affected communities and to build up networks of faith leader and community “champions” against this kind of abuse.

The Daily Mail writes

According to police and migrant advisory services, witchcraft ceremonies are spreading because of the increasing number of unregulated back street churches and mosques that have broken away from the mainstream places of worship to cater for millions of new immigrants from Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean countries, providing a link to their birth countries, cultures and customs.

Many of these horrific events are filmed and can be found on videos selling for a couple of pounds in ethnic shops and market stalls in London. What they show is terrified children, accused of witchcraft, being freed of ‘demons’. In one video I bought, a white-robed pastor is shown hitting a five-year-old boy with a long stick as the congregation chants approval.

His mother cries, but is held back from freeing her son because it is thought — by the prayergoers — to be the best thing for the family and their child. They are scenes which police believe are being repeated week after week in cities such as London, Birmingham, Leicester and Manchester.

But where do these cultural practices become blatant child cruelty punishable by the law?

Rachel Takens-Milne, from Trust For London, a charity that works to combat child abuse linked to witchcraft, says that cases such as that of Kristy Bamu are still rare.

But she added: ‘It doesn’t have to be at this extreme to be abuse. Calling a child a witch and publicly humiliating them is itself a form of abuse.’
And, worryingly, Detective Superintendent Terry Sharpe of Scotland Yard says that witchcraft-linked crime is ‘far more prevalent’ in this country than official figures suggest.

‘Children have been physically beaten and forced to drink unknown liquids in rituals to rid them of evil spirits. They have been starved and deprived of sleep.

‘Children have been blindfolded and had their hair cut off. They have had liquid poured on their genitals and been murdered,’ he said after the Kristy case.

eGov Monitor reports

“Child abuse is appalling and unacceptable wherever it occurs and in whatever form it takes. Abuse linked to faith or belief in spirits, witchcraft or possession is a horrific crime, condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths – but there has been a ‘wall of silence’ around its scale and extent. It is not our job to challenge people’s beliefs but it is our job to protect children,” Children’s Minister Tim Loughton. “There can never be a blind eye turned to violence or emotional abuse or even the smallest risk that that religious beliefs will lead to young people being harmed.”

However the Minister pointed out that there is no “silver bullet” in resolving this. “This plan will help people recognise and know how to act on evidence, concerns and signs that a child’s health and safety is being threatened. Everyone working with children has a responsibility to recognise and know how to act on evidence that a children is being abused,” he added.

National action plan to tackle child abuse linked to faith or belief PDF file

Key Messages: child abuse linked to faith or belief

Key messages from the national action plan to tackle child abuse linked to faith or belief:

Child abuse is never acceptable wherever it occurs and whatever form it takes. Abuse linked to belief, including belief in witchcraft or possession, is a horrific crime which is condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths. [The Government / my organisation] applauds the work being done in communities to tackle this form of abuse and to stand up to the perpetrators.

• Child abuse is condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths, and is never acceptable under any circumstances. Child abuse related to belief includes inflicting physical violence or emotional harm on a child by stigmatising or labelling them as evil or as a witch. Where this type of abuse occurs it causes great distress and suffering to the child.

• Everyone working or in contact with children has a responsibility to recognise and know how to act on evidence, concerns and signs that a child’s health, development and safety is being or may be threatened, especially when they suffer or are likely to suffer significant harm.

• Standard child safeguarding procedures apply and must always be followed in all cases where abuse or neglect is suspected including those that may be related to particular belief systems.

•The number of cases of child abuse linked to a belief in spirits, possession and witchcraft is small, but where it occurs the impact on the child is great, causing much distress and suffering to the child. It is likely that a proportion of this type of abuse remains unreported.

Research commissioned by the DfE in 2006 reviewed child abuse cases that had occurred between 2000 and 2005 to identify any cases where the abuse was linked to accusations of possession or witchcraft. 38 cases involving 47 children were found to be relevant and sufficiently well documented. The children came from a variety of backgrounds including African, South Asian and European.

• Child abuse linked to faith or belief may occur where a child is treated as a scapegoat for perceived failure. Whilst specific beliefs, practices, terms or forms of abuse may exist, the underlying reasons for the abuse are often similar to other contexts in which children become at risk. These reasons can include family stress, deprivation, domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health problems. Children who are different in some way, perhaps because they have a disability or learning difficulty, an illness or are exceptionally bright, can also be targeted in this kind of abuse.

Religion News Briefing, Sunday May 6, 2012

Bert Potter Cult leader Bert Potter dies; a look at how Jim Jones manipulated politicians in San Francisco; and Kate Bornstein is no longer afraid to speak out about Scientology.

Also in this religion news briefing: the rise of paid, online worship in India; plus: 15 years after committing suicide the website of the Heaven’s Gate cult is still online.

Plus: why more Ugandans are turning to Witchcraft, and why a lawer thinks trafficking in brides might be OK. [Read more...]