On witchcraft and lightning

On witchcraft and lightning

MASERU – Some trek to sangomas. Others find refuge in churches.
The fear of witchcraft induced lightning is so deep in Lesotho that many people are forced to seek divine intervention for protection.
They believe that a witch can deploy lightning to kill people or livestock of selected targets.
Many Basotho believe that witches can control lightning.

Some believe that using muti is the only antidote to lightning sent by witches while others believe that churches should be engaged for divine intervention. At Sangomas they receive muti, although there is no tangible evidence of anyone being saved through such interventions.
Many families often depend on the clergy to pray or give them some amulets to fend-off witches.

A number of the members of the Basotho Reformed Church interviewed by David Semenya in 2007, as reported in Verbum et Ecclesia, believed that God would punish those engaging themselves in witchcraft practices.

Semenya found that whenever fortunes tumble, many locals suspect they are bewitched and seek divine intervention.
Amulets, badges and traditional medicines become items of choice to prop waning fortunes or to ward off witches.
Besides amulets, badges and traditional medicines, Semenya mentions other items mostly used to ward off the witches to enhance their fortunes. These include:

l Sewasho: a mixture of medicine and ashes, applied to the face to gain favour with witches. It may also be poured into a person’s bathwater, to ward off witches or have the strength to resist them.

l Metsi a thapelo: This is normally water from the ocean. Before it is given to the person, someone or a priest who is a prophet blesses the water by means of a prayer, and it is then given to the person in need. The water may be drunk or poured into a person’s bathwater before washing. Some carry little glass bottles containing this kind of water wherever they go so that they may look like a powerful person. The unemployed often go to these prophets for these little glass bottles in order to obtain employment.

l Letsoai [coarse salt]: It is blessed with prayer by a priest before it can be distributed. It is thrown around the house or inside the yard with the purpose to strengthen the house against witchcraft.
In the Roman Catholic Church, there are devotional objects like holy water, the rosary, medals and prayer books.
The cross, holy candles, church bells and consecrated herbs are used as means to ward off witches.

The questions that remain to be answered are whether these amulets, badges and traditional medicines really increase or even enlarge life force or ward off witches.

Despite these Christian prayers many people still lose their loved ones to lightning and other illnesses they associate with witchcraft.
An atheist Lee Carter, speaking for Atheists United in the miltontimmons.com, observes that for centuries Protestant and Catholic churches… taught that the air was filled with devils, tempests, and witches.

Carter referred to Saint Augustine who held this belief to be beyond controversy, Saint Thomas Aquinas who stated in his Summa Theologica that “rain and winds, and whatsoever occurs by local impulse alone, can be caused by demons”.
Carter says Christian churches tried to ward off the damaging effects of storms and lightning by prayers, the consecrating of church bells, sprinkling of holy water, and the burning of witches but lightning kept striking.

He says lengthy rites were said for the consecrating of bells, and priests prayed that their sound might “temper the destruction of hail and cyclones and the force of tempests and lightning; check hostile thunders and great winds; and cast down the spirits of storms and the powers of the air.”
He observes that it was only in 1752 when Benjamin Franklin made his famous electrical experiments with a kite and scientifically explained why and how lightning strikes.

The churches objected but at last his scientific explanation triumphed.
Franklin invented the lightning rod, which for decades the churches rejected as opposing God.
At the time, it was common for the priest to pray for the bell ringer who was frequently electrocuted while ringing the blessed bells.

It was also common for the church tower, usually the highest structure in the village, to be the building most often struck by lightning, while the brothels and gambling houses next door were left untouched.

Until the churches agreed to install lighting rods that Franklin invented, the churches were normally victims of the wrath of lightning bolts.
Carter observes that in Austria, the church of Rosenburg was struck so frequently, and with such loss of life, that the peasants feared to attend services.

Several times the spire had to be rebuilt. It was not until 1778, twenty-six years after Franklin’s discovery that the church authorities finally gave in and permitted a rod to be attached, and the trouble stopped. Carter refers to a typical case of the tower of St. Mark’s in Italy.

In spite of the angel at its summit and the bells consecrated to ward off the devils and witches in the air, and the holy relics in the church below, and the processions in the adjacent square, the tower was frequently hit and even ruined by lightning.
It was not until 1766, fourteen years after Franklin’s discovery, that a lightning rod was placed upon it, and the tower has never been struck since.
The lightning rod is a metal rod mounted on a structure and intended to protect the structure from lighting strike.

If lightning hits the structure, it will preferentially strike the rod and be conducted to ground through a wire, instead of passing through the structure, where it could start a fire or cause electrocution. Meteorologist Jeff Haby says Lightning is a flash of light created by electric discharge.

A cloud that produces lightning will tend to also have rain falling out of it.The precipitation process within a cloud is the reason lightning occurs.
As ice and water develop in clouds there is an electrical build-up. The electrical build-up on each ice and water drop is very small but the huge number of ice crystals and water drops creates a large electrical difference between different portions of the cloud.

Lightning occurs to balance the electrical build in the clouds or between the clouds and the ground. Thunder is created by a rapid expansion of air.
When lightning moves through the air it increases the temperature of the air dramatically in a very short period of time.
The air then cools rapidly.
This rapid expansion and contraction of the air gives off the sound waves that are heard from the lightning.
Scientifically, witches have no ability to send rain accompanied by lightning to strike their target.

In 2013 National Geographic found that while most Americans know that “when thunder roars, go indoors” this basic guideline is not as well known in many developing countries, which consistently see hundreds or even thousands of deaths and injuries per year from lightning strikes.
“Experts point to lack of education, but a number of doctors and meteorologists from around the world are trying to change that,” National Geographic reports.

National Geographic bemoans a largely agricultural and labor-intensive economy, poor infrastructure, and a tropical climate playing a role in higher rates of lightning-related deaths and injuries in countries such as South Africa, Malaysia, India, and Bangladesh.
Talking about the safety of homes in the developing countries, the report says open-air designs and thatched and flimsy metal roofs leave people more vulnerable.

And open-air taxis and carts don’t provide the protection from lightning that is typically afforded by solid vehicles.
There are just some areas of the world with no safe place or vehicle to go to when it storms.

“In underdeveloped countries, it is not unheard of to have 18 deaths from the same storm,” the report says.
Lack of solid infrastructure and lightning rods also lead to property and economic losses from the fires that can result from a strike
The report also found that in countries with little or no education on the science of lightning, misconceptions often run rampant.

Police spokesman Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli says Basotho should stop accusing each other of witchcraft in these years of climate change that comes with a lot of hot, windy and excessive rains that are accompanied by lightning.
“It is our plea as the police that the nation be aware of the climate changes,” Mopeli says.

“Let us please try and judge things in a civil, broader way, instead of taking the law into our hands or otherwise the whole nation will soon perish,” he says. He says Basotho seem to mistake global warming circumstances with witchcraft and ultimately end up killing each other.

Majobere Selebalo

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