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'Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande' -Evans Pritchard

The book written by Evans Pritchard in 1937,'Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande' is about a Central African People. It is an attempt to make intelligible a number of beliefs by showing how they form a comprehensible system of thought and how this system of thought is related to social activities, social structure and the life of the individual.

Among the Azande any misfortune can be and generally is attributed to witchcraft that the Azande consider to be an internal organic condition though its action is believed to be psychic. The witch dispatches what they call the soul, or spirit of his witchcraft to cause damage to others. The sufferer consults oracles of which the Azande have a number of different kinds or a diviner to discover who is injuring him. This may be quite a complicated and lengthy procedure. When the culprit is revealed he is requested to withdraw his malign influence.

If in a case of sickness he does not do so and the invalid dies the kinsmen of the dead man could in the past take the affair to their prince's jurisdiction and exact vengeance or compensation or they could make as they invariably do in the circumstances today lethal magic to destroy the witch.

Azande have a vast body of magical knowledge and techniques some requiring membership of special magical associations that are largely used to protect their persons and activities from witchcraft.

Witchcraft, oracles and magic thus form a complex system of beliefs and rites that makes sense only when they are seen as interdependent parts of the whole. Thus system has a logical structure. Granted certain postulates, inferences and action based on them are sound. Witchcraft causes death therefore death is evidence of witchcraft and the oracles confirm that witchcraft caused it. Magic is made to avenge the death. A neighbor dies soon afterwards and the oracles determine that he died a victim to the magic of vengeance. Each bit of belief fits in with every other bit is a general mosaic of mystical thought.

If in such a closed system of thought a belief is contradicted by a particular experience this merely shows that the experience was mistaken or inadequate or the contradiction is accounted for by secondary elaborations of belief that provide satisfactory explanations of the apparent inconsistency. Even skepticism supports the belief about which it is exercised.

Criticism of a particular diviner for example or distrust of a particular oracle or form of magic merely enhances faith in others and the system as a whole.

An analysis of great number of situations in which discussions about witchcraft arose and of comments on the notion by Azande on many occasions showed further that it provides them with a philosophy of events which is intellectually satisfying. The notion of witchcraft gives the Azande not only a natural philosophy but also a moral philosophy in which is also contained theory of psychology. Even if a man is a witch, his witchcraft does not harm people unless there is an act of will. There has to be a motive and this is always to be found in the evil passions of men, in hatred, greed, envy, jealousy and resentment. Misfortunes spring from witchcraft and witchcraft is directed by evil intentions. Azande do not blame a man for being a witch. It is the evil in him that makes him harm others that they denounce.

The Oracles have an order of importance. Some are less certain in their revelations than others and action cannot be taken on their statements till the highest authority, the poison oracle, confirms these. The poison oracle in its turn is regarded as having more or less significance according to the social status of its owner. A case may therefore go from one poison oracle to another till a final verdict is given by a king's oracle beyond which there is no appeal.

The machinery which operates in cases of witchcraft is thus ultimately in the hands of a king and his representatives which makes the social action the belief entails one of the main supports of royal authority. The operations of witchcraft beliefs in the social life are also closely connected with the kinship system particularly through the custom of vengeance.