The psychology of bewitchment (Part I): A phenomenological study of the experience of bewitchment

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Ivey, Gavin ORCID: 0000-0002-5537-3504 and Myers, Tertia (2008) The psychology of bewitchment (Part I): A phenomenological study of the experience of bewitchment. South African Journal of Psychology, 38 (1). pp. 54-74. ISSN 0081-2463


The first of two articles on bewitchment reports the findings of a qualitative study based on interviews with a small sample of individuals who believed they had been bewitched. A phenomenological analysis of the data provided a descriptive account of the psychic reality of bewitchment. Those understanding their experience in this way attribute misfortune to the malicious intentions and actions of hated others, who are believed to employ supernatural means to harm their ‘victims’, with real symptomatic consequences. This supernatural interpretive framework relies on a discursive network of witchcraft-related gossip, media reports, folklore, and diagnostic confirmation by traditional healers. Bewitchment beliefs arise within a context of hostile and envious familial and social relations. Despite the distress accompanying the experience of bewitchment, this supernatural understanding was found to offer participants a meaningful explanation for negative life events, especially during times of transition. Muti featured prominently in accounts of ways in which bewitchment is effected and provides the grounds for the experience of being poisoned or possessed by an evil entity. Treatment of bewitchment symptoms by sangomas and spiritual leaders is considered to be superior to that offered by Western medicine.

Item type Article
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1701 Psychology
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Social Sciences and Psychology
Keywords ResPubID19128, bewitchment, magic, muti, phenomenological analysis, spirit possession, supernatural belief systems, traditional healers
Citations in Scopus 17 - View on Scopus
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