Witches, Jinn and curiosity

My understanding of witches and other supernatural phenomenon is largely developed from watching programmes such as ‘Bewitched’, ‘Sabrina the teenage witch’ and ‘Charmed’. There are also the historical witch trials such as Salem (1692 and May 1693) and Pendle (1612). That is, they are entertaining or historical. A recent training event, however, highlighted the dangers that these words pose, to some of the most vulnerable in our society. The training made it clear that the only way to protect the most vulnerable amongst us, is to put aside our assumptions and be curious about how others use these words. There are people who proudly refer to themselves as witches, but for others it can be a matter of life or death. In some respects the words seem to have taken on a more sinister aspect because of the vulnerability of the people involved, particularly children. “In the past … witchcraft was always associated with old men and women. … Branding children as witches is a recent development” that is contrary to the value most of us place on children and protecting their innocence.

The study of how words change meaning, over time and geography is fascinating. The word sinister, for instance, originally meant left and it is common for children to be encouraged to use the right hand. The ‘bar sinister’ was a way of referring to someone who had been born ‘on the wrong side of the blanket.’ The word jinn is associated with Gin, “mothers’ ruin” or another TV series from the US: ‘I dream of Jeanie’. The word scapegoat also has a diverse history. It could be an animal that is ritually burdened with the sins of others and then driven away or sacrificed. Scapegoating on the other hand is:

“the practice of singling out a person or group for unmerited blame and consequent negative treatment. Scapegoating may be conducted by individuals against individuals (e.g. “he did it, not me!”), individuals against groups (e.g., “I couldn’t see anything because of all the tall people”), groups against individuals (e.g., “Jane was the reason our team didn’t win”), and groups against groups.”

The use of these words differs but, in our age, they have led to the abuse of the most vulnerable amongst us; including the death of children. It is interesting to note why and what can be done about it. In addition, the Public sector has particular duties in safeguarding vulnerable children and adults.

The training and some of the documentation highlighted a number of issues:

Lack of adequate communication, understanding and empathy between migrant communities and UK institutions’ especially the ‘care system’ leading to family break down.

Lack of knowledge rights and obligations leading to misinformation and vulnerability.

High levels of unemployment or the inability to access jobs that match qualifications or experience.

Poor housing and the number of people who live in neglected areas within large cities.

‘Children can also be exposed to some forms of emotional abuse because of the levels of stress and the reality of life experienced by their parents or others looking after them.” (Page 5, Safeguarding African children; see below).

People struggling with their sexual identity.

Children with a disability.

Children living in broken families.

Life can be a roller coaster, full of disappointments and emotions that are difficult to handle and we are often too tired, hungry or unwell to deal with them, in a way that helps us or our communities to feel safe and at peace. Add to that a lack of knowledge, education, or the misuse of power. I was, recently, listening to Bilal Hafeez, talking about the 5 pieces of advice he would give to his younger self. The fifth one took me by surprise, that is ‘run towards pain’. He acknowledges that this is generally something we like to avoid but there can be benefits in doing as he suggests. It is a difficult task but, some of us have the opportunity to become aware of our pain and ‘face it, embrace it, and grow as a person.’ It is particularly important to do so if we are to prevent ‘our pain” adversely affecting ourselves and others. The movie ‘Fallen’ seemed a perfect analogy for how our emotions and unresolved pain can adversely affect others.

Protecting the vulnerable, particularly children, is the responsibility of every member of the community. There is an extensive list of suggestions on how we can do this in ‘Safeguarding African children in the UK series 5- second edition 2017’: page 14. I love the focus of the first one:

Maintain and promote African values that protect children, educate them and make them the collective responsibility of the community.

I love this, particularly, because it reminds us of the value and abilities that many traditional communities possessed but seem to have misplaced.

The title of the conference/training event was Safe Spirituality? So, I would like to end by reminding us that faith and spirituality has nourished many individuals and communities. It may just be, as stated in Holistic Islam:

“our world today is more out of balance than ever before in human history: ecologically, economically, socially and spiritually. Not only are the species of the land, but the species of the sky and sea are suffering and dying, forgetting the sacredness of all life, we have become entangled in our own egotism, nationalistic and sectarian concerns.

Among the issues of great concern are, first, the displacement of traditional spiritual values by the globalisation of consumer culture and commercial values.”

Our rights, particularly those of our Children should include but not be limited to:

  • life, survival and development
  • the right to have views respected and to have best interests considered
  • the right to a name and nationality, freedom of expression and access to information about them
  • the right to education, leisure, culture and the arts
  • special protection for refugee children, children in the juvenile justice system, children deprived of their liberty and children suffering economic, sexual or other forms of exploitation.

There have been many seekers and guide who have helped shine a light on the best path for each of us. One of these is Shaikha Camille Helminski who shares, on YouTube, a reflection on embracing compassion during times of darkness and contraction. One of the many things she says is in the midst of darkness we learn compassion and it is often darkest before the dawn.

May we all be well, healthy and strong:

May we all be happy.

May we all abide in peace

May we all feel safe and secure

May we all be forgiving and forgiven.

May we all feel loved and cared for.


AFRUCA: www.afruca.org

AFRUCA: Safeguarding African children in the UK series 5- second edition 2017 https://www.afruca.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/What-is-Witchcraft-Booklet-2017.pdf

Safeguarding https://independentsafeguardingservice.org/

Indirect government services: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/childrens-human-rights

Bilal Hafeez: https://bilalhafeez.podbean.com/e/5-pieces-of-advice-to-my-younger-self/

Holistic Islam, Helminski, K White Cloud press 2017.

Dark Night of the Soul: Camille Helminski: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=210&v=4jykIDlM_qw

Wicca: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/paganism/subdivisions/wicca.shtml

Scapegoat: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scapegoat

Bar Sinister: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/bar-sinister

wrong side of the blanket: https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/wrong+side+of+the+blanket

The Sinister Influence of the Left Hand: https://blog.oup.com/2010/09/left-hand/

Salem witch trials: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salem_witch_trials

Pendle witches: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pendle_witches

Mother’s Ruin: https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Mothers-Ruin/

USA shows.

Bewitched https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bewitched

I dream of Jeannie: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Dream_of_Jeannie

Charmed: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charmed

Fallen (1998 film): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallen_(1998_film)



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