Breaking the Chains
IN ALMOST every part of the earth, superstition controls the lives of many people. While many Westerners believe that a horseshoe or a rabbit’s foot will protect them, many Africans carry a gris-gris around their neck to protect themselves from wicked spirits. For the same reason, they also tie a protective string around a new baby’s wrist. Some tribes believe that tying a small piece of gorilla bone to this string will cause the baby to grow big and strong.
River people believe in mermaids, called Mami Wata in the Central African Republic. These are thought to have long blond hair, and it is believed that they entice people to come near the water so that they can grab them and drown them. Some take advantage of this belief. They pour sacrifices into the river to encourage Mami Wata to grab their enemy the next time he comes to the riverbank.
Important in African superstition are the fetishist and the medicine man. The local fetishist throws the nzeke (small seashells) to see what the future holds. The medicine man provides a love potion to enliven the fading love of a mate. If lightning strikes close by, it is thought likely that someone you have argued with has hired a witch doctor to help him get revenge. Some believe that the witch doctor can change men into women, and women into men, even humans into animals!
To the superstitious, chance events take on an ominous significance. If a serpent or a chameleon crosses your path, go home quickly before anything bad happens. If a bird happens to fly into your house, someone is going to die there. If dogs make an unusual racket at night, someone is about to die, or has just died.
To educated people in Africa and other parts of the world, such superstitions may seem unreasonable. But what about educated people who carefully avoid walking under a ladder, cancel an unnecessary journey on Friday the thirteenth, invite a last-minute guest in order to avoid seating thirteen at dinner or check their horoscope in the morning newspaper? Are they not also enchained by superstition?
But what is superstition? And what enables it to control people?
Fear of the Unknown
Superstition is defined as “a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance.” It holds people just as long as they remain ignorant and believe it. When a superstitious person gains real knowledge and sees the unreasonableness of his beliefs, the power of superstition over him is gone. And the best source of knowledge to counteract superstition is the Bible.
Wawa found this out. After she learned what the condition of the dead really is, she lost her fear. She stopped doing the things demanded by superstition and suffered no harm. Now she knows that her superstitious fears were needless.
Many Africans have had the same experience. When they read in the Bible that God created each animal “according to its kind,” they realize that Mami Wata—half fish, half human—could not exist. (Genesis 1:20-27) Besides, no fisherman has ever caught such a creature in his nets and put it on display. Similarly, they realize that a witch doctor could not turn a person into a leopard or a crocodile, since these are completely different ‘kinds.’
The Bible, too, calls animals “unreasoning.” (2 Peter 2:12) So how can a bird or a dog know that someone is going to die? Or how can a serpent or a chameleon (or a black cat, in Europe) bring calamity to someone whose path it happens to cross? In fact, how can a fetishist foretell the future when the Bible says that only God really knows the future. (Isaiah 44:6-8) Reason tells us that they cannot, no more than the stars and planets, billions of miles away, can make any difference in the lives of believers in horoscopes here on planet Earth.
‘But,’ some may object, ‘a snake crossed my path, and two days later my eldest son got sick!’ Of course, that could happen. But what about all those whose children get sick and who do not see serpents or chameleons? Or what about those who see these creatures but do not have problems soon thereafter? Describing the experiences of men, the Bible says: “Time and chance happen to them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11, Revised Standard Version) Yes, things can happen just by chance. Because a person is in a certain place at a wrong time, he may get hurt in a storm. Sickness and accidents do not have to be caused by some enemy’s evil scheme. Many are finding this out, and now their lives are no longer controlled by superstitious fears.
Belief in Magic
There is, though, an aspect of superstition that cannot be ignored. Sometimes there seems to be an uncanny power involved—some may call it magic—that goes beyond coincidence and pure accidents. In the West people know that strange things can happen during a spiritistic seance. One young man described an experience with a Ouija board. He said that he and his friends were sitting around the board to see what would happen, when he was violently thrown off his chair and slammed against the wall at the far end of the room.
In Africa uncanny things are reported too. People insist that they have seen a blond fish woman beckoning them into the river. Or reports are heard of animals speaking and claiming they were once humans. Or sicknesses seem to come in response to a witch doctor’s spell. How can we explain this?
Some uncanny things really do happen, and the Bible tells us why. Here again, knowledge is the way to break the chains of superstition. According to the Bible, there are wicked spirit forces who would like to deceive us. They are not, however, the spirits of the dead. And a person can resist their power.
First of all, who or what are these spirit powers? In the Bible they are called demons, and the chief of them is Satan. We should not scoff at the idea of their existence. Jesus himself knew about them. Where did they originate? The Bible shows they were angelic servants of God that rebelled and became opposers.—Matthew 12:26-28; 2 Peter 2:4.
The Bible also says that Satan “is misleading the entire inhabited earth.” (Revelation 12:9) Hence, it is not surprising that he wants to keep people in the chains of superstition. Can he perform uncanny works in order to deceive them? Yes, he can. For instance, the Bible says that a certain “lawless one’s presence is according to the operation of Satan with every powerful work and lying signs and portents and with every unrighteous deception for those who are perishing.”—2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10.
Thus, if uncanny things do seem to happen, it must be through the influence of Satan and his demons. Of course, Satan is more powerful than any human. But we are not helpless, because God is even more powerful than Satan and He has offered us help if we want it.
The Bible writer James said: “Subject yourselves, therefore, to God; but oppose the Devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) Wawa and many other Africans have accepted this invitation. Having accepted the truth from God’s Word, the Bible, and followed the commands of God as to how they should conduct themselves, they find that Satanic superstition has no power in their lives. They have freedom from former fears.
So it is that they have untied the gris-gris from their necks and the protective strings from their children and have burned these articles. They do not engage in superstitious rituals to placate the spirits of the dead; nor do they fear the spells of witch doctors. They also refrain from wicked things like immorality and violence.
Have these individuals suffered because of this boldness? Quite to the contrary! Jesus promised his disciples: “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32) Sin no longer is the master of these persons. They are protected by God from the possible activity of the demons, and their new knowledge reveals the worthlessness of their former superstitions. Truth has broken their shackles!
Such freedom is available to all who desire it. If you would like to enjoy the freedom from fear that Wawa now has, Jehovah’s Witnesses would be delighted to help you as they helped her.