Witchcraft, magical spells and Humanism in 21st century Malta

By Leo Igwe

After reading Carmel Cassar’s article on Witchcraft Beliefs and Social Control in Seventeenth Century Malta, one could easily conclude that magical beliefs and occult claims are actually a thing of the past in this country. This is because Cassar analyzed witchcraft belief as if it were merely a phenomenon that manifested centuries ago, not a contemporary issue that lurks in some sectors of the society. Some would argue that Cassar’s article which was written over a decade ago focused on a particular period, the 17th century Malta. Now what about this piece in the current (May 2016) edition of the Air Malta magazine. Titled The Inquisitor’s Palace and the Inquisition, this article suggests that witchcraft belief is history, a relic of the past in Maltese society. The article, written by Lina Farrugia, rightly associates imputations and suspicions of witchcraft with the Inquisition and the early modern European era. Farrugia listed among those who appeared before the Inquisitor as:

“…heretics which included those who converted to Judaism, Saracans, Muslims and pagans; those who blasphemed against God, the Virgin Mary or any of the saints,; those who kept book or writings of a heretical content or defended writing on witchcraft. In fact witchcraft was by far the most common fault or crime committed by the Maltese”.

This ‘common’ crime of witchcraft took various forms including black magic, the use of evil eye, love magic, magical healing and divination. From the quotation, there is every reason to think that the belief in witchcraft and magic has been consigned to the dustbin of history in Malta. Unfortunately this is not the case. Belief in magical spells did not end with the Inquisition. Witchcraft and the occult have continued to manifest in present day Malta.

In fact there are Maltese who are ready to pay up to 3,000 (thousand) euros for the ‘service’ of a sorcerer. According to the Times of Malta, a court in one of the regions has acquitted a man of fraud. He was paid this sum of money to cast a magical spell. The court said the man did not defraud the woman who paid him to perform this magical feat. The police have earlier charged the man of fraud after the woman who paid 3,000 euros to cast the spell realized that the spell did not work. The woman reported to the police when the ‘spell caster’ refused to pay back the money. The man claimed that the money which she paid to him was for his ‘service’. The court ruled that the spell caster did not deceive the woman and did not obtain the money through fraudulent means as charged.

The said spell involves invoking Pazuzu, which, according to Assyrian and Babylonian mythology is ‘the king of the demons of the wind’. The woman believed that the spell in the name of Pazuzu could end the extra marital affair the targeted woman was having with the husband. Magical spell serves a ‘useful’ purpose for aggrieved Maltese. It is a mechanism to ‘legitimately’ channel aggression and assault that would have otherwise been unlawful and criminal to do. Though, the mechanism eventually proved to be ineffective and useless. Hence, the sorcerer was charged of fraud.

There has been a resurgence of witchcraft and demonic beliefs in Malta. Researchers have attributed this development to the wave of neopaganism that is sweeping across the country. Though, Malta is dominantly catholic and Maltese equate paganism to devil worship, Satan and the occult, neo paganism is gaining momentum. ‘Modern’ witchcraft belief is on the rise. The increasing visibility of magical beliefs in Malta may be short lived because a society of humanists, skeptics and freethinkers now exists in the country and is committed to countering the spread of ‘modern’ witchcraft and the belief in magical spells. The group, which recently hosted international humanist events, promotes reason, science and rationality. It opposes superstition and dogma and campaigns for the separation of church and state. This humanist association is set to provide a counter narrative to the bizarre witchcraft notions, and serve as a mechanism to expose the fraudulent claims of charlatans, sorcerers and spell casters who prey on the gullibility of people in 21st century Malta.

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