Congo: The witch story

This is the story of how you become a witch in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and also Angola.

Firstly, you must understand, you are not born a witch. You become one, often against your own will. It begins when you are approached by a master witch. This will usually be in the night-world, while you dream, but also, it can also happen during the day. This person, who may be known to you or even a complete stranger, will be kind and generous to you, and will offer you food. This food you must refuse. But — if you are young, impressionable, or just plain hungry, you may well say yes.

My readers may remember Persephone. They will be aware that this is a bad mistake.

You will soon become aware of how great a mistake it is, when the master witch visits you again, this time in the night-word, the world of dreams. Your career as a witch has just begun.

That first night — what a thrill it must be! What a vista opens up in front of you. You, who have never been anywhere beyond the few miles where you were born, will travel to places that you never dreamed of visiting — one of the great African cities, Jo’burg, Nairobi, perhaps, or beyond to Europe, or China or even American. Los Angeles! New York!

Your vehicle maybe something simple, such as a sardine can or a shoe box; it may he something far more sophisticated, such as a jet plane. Then, when you arrive at your destination, a whole new life opens up for you for you — markets, shops, cafes restaurants — all the good things you never had. But … well;  you owe a meal. That’s not much to ask for all these riches, surely? But, of course, here comes the rub. Because, you see, while vehicles in the day world are powered by petrol, in the night world, it is a different fuel they use; human blood. And while during the day you are happy to eat beans or goat, at night, you need to devour human flesh.

These things you now must provide. And the blood and the flesh that the master witch demands, is not just any old blood or any old flesh — it is the flesh and blood of those you love — your mother, your brothers and sisters, your father. You must claim them in the night by strangling them in their dreams. Having been murdered in the night world, during the day, evils will then befall them. They will fall ill. Nothing will go right for them, because at night, they are being murdered, and drained of blood, and their flesh consumed.

This is your life as a witch, then. Even the poorest can live a fantastic life. You can become powerful, rich, and famous in the night world, while during the day you struggle to make ends meet. The weak can become powerful. Boys and girls can become men and women. And the cost? The well being of those you love. Or, perhaps, those you don’t love …

It’s a powerful story, and a more familiar one than it seems at first sight. The eating of food is a common theme. The beans ring bells for me as well. One of the sad things about this story is that if the food is repaid to the master witch during the day, his hold over you is lost. It is easy, therefore, to cure a witch — if you can locate them during the day. The cure can be as little as a plate of beans.

Those of you were at the recent Arvon course I tutored with Gillian Cross in Devon may be reminded of the bean man in Jack and the Beanstalk. Simple food can cost so very much …

In England, this story would be a folk tale to us. It does read very much like one — all the way up to that sudden change of motif; human blood, human flesh; murder. In the DRC it’s much more. It’s a myth, and a very potent one. Unlike our own folk tales, or even many of our own myths, out of the bible, it is real living thing in people’s day to day lives.

In a place like the DRC, where so many terrible things have befallen people, and in such a random way, it may seem logical to wonder if something supernatural is behind it.

I think in this country too, when times are bad, such stories proliferate. What I find so strange about it is – why has this myth turned against the children? How can people believe that their young ones are devouring their flesh at night while they sleep? If we came to believe such things,  how would we chose to deal with it, I wonder?

That’s all for not. Good night – and I hope you enjoy your supper; and I hope you know who it was that bought it for you…

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