Monday, July 19, 2010

Underground Paganism in the Renaissance. Literally. (The Heathen-Minded Humanists, Part Four)

[The Heathen-Minded Humanists: Part One provides the background of the struggle between Pope Paul II and the Roman Academy; Part Two describes the crisis of 1468; Part Three (which I haven't posted yet) presents the denouement, in which all charges are dropped and the Heathen Academy survives intact; Part Four (below) tells the tale of the surprising evidence discovered four centuries later of the literally underground Paganism that existed in Rome in the 15th century; Part Five looks at the other Roman Academy and its head, Cardinal Bessarion.]

The main focus of this post is on two excerpts from works by Rodolfo Lanciani, in which Lanciani discusses the discovery, starting in 1852, by Giovanni Battista de Rossi, of a number of inscriptions attributed to Pomponius Laetus (aka Pomponio Leto) and other members of the 15th century Roman Academy.

Lanciani was in no doubt as to the significance of these inscriptions:
"One line, one word alone, of the records which have been discovered by us four centuries later, made known in proper time to the court of Castle S. Angelo, would have brought their heads under the sword of the public executioner."
But first I will provide a little background information on De Rossi and Lanciani.

The following is from the entry for Giovanni Battista de Rossi from the online Catholic Encyclopedia:
A distinguished Christian archaeologist, best known for his work in connection with the Roman catacombs, born at Rome, 23 February, 1822; died at Castel Gandolfo on Lake Albano, 20 September, 1894. De Rossi, the modern founder of the science of Christian archaeology, was well-skilled in secular archaeology, a master of epigraphy, an authority on the ancient and medieval topography of Rome, an excellent historian, and a very productive and many-sided author. In addition to his professional acquaintance with archaeology De Rossi had a thorough knowledge of law, philology, and theology. He was the son of Commendatore Camillo Luigi De Rossi and Marianna Marchesa Bruti, his wife, who had two sons, Giovanni and Michele Stefano. Two days after birth Giovanni was baptized in the parish church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva and, according to Roman custom was confirmed while still very young, by Cardinal Franzoni, Prefect of the Propaganda. Up to 1838 De Rossi attended the preparatory department of the well-known Jesuit institution, the Collegio Romano, and through his entire course ranked as its foremost pupil. From 1838 to 1840 he studied philosophy there, and jurisprudence (1840-44) at the Roman University (Sapienza), where he was a disciple of the celebrated professors Villani and Capalti. At the close of his university studies he received, after a severe examination, the degree of doctor utriusque juris ad honorem.
And this is from Rodolfo Lanciani's entry in the online Dictionary of Art Historians (Lee Sorensen, ed. www.dictionaryofarthistorians.org):
Date born: 1847
Place Born: Montecelio, Rome vicinity, Italy
Date died: 1929
Place died: Rome, Italy
Lanciani was a pioneer of a rational, modern approach to Roman cartography and archaeology. He formed part of a core of distinguished late nineteenth-century scholars of the Roman forum who included Thomas Ashby (q.v.), Heinrich Jordan (1833-1886), Christian Huelsen (q.v.), and Samuel B. Platner (1863-1921). In 1967, Richard Brilliant (q.v.) described Lanciani's Ruins and Excavations of Ancient Rome as undiminished in vitality as a study of ancient Roman ruins. His Forma Urbis Romae was "a magnificent map of the city and a marvellous example of cartography as well as an encyclopaedia of typographical information. It is still an essential tool for anyone working on the ancient city" (Richardson). City maps of the twenty-first century typically have a scale of 1:20,000 (five cm on the map equivalent to one km on the ground). The forty-six maps of the Forma Urbis have a scale of 1:1,000. The work is still unsurpassed to this day. Many of his English-language books on Rome were subsequently translated into Italian.
Excerpt One: from Rodolfo Lanciani's Ancient Rome, Chapter One, pp. 8-12 (first published in 1890):
We must now pass to the time of the return of the popes from Avignon to Rome, which marks the beginning of the Renaissance, — the beginning, that is, of the most glorious period in the history of my own nation. At this period, mediaeval Italy had disappeared. A new element, the genius of the ancient world, had risen in its glory, and had fascinated the higher classes of society, the heads of the various states into which the Peninsula was politically divided, the aristocracy, the fashionable and literary circles, and, in a more modest measure, the members of the clergy and of monastic orders. That mighty genius took possession at once of the field of art and science, modified the manners and the education of the higher classes, and even shook, for the time being, the very foundations of the Christian faith. At the head of the movement marched a handful of scientific men, philologists rather than archaeologists, better known under the name of the Humanists. They became professors in the universities, they won confidential positions in princely houses as private secretaries, they attached themselves especially to the princes of the Church. Their engagements lasted only for a short period, sometimes for six months only: thus they were able to move without intermission from town to town, from court to court, from college to college, multiplying, as it were, from one end to the other of the Peninsula, and sowing everywhere the seed which was to bring forth such magnificent harvests.

The study of the Greek language and literature was the most fashionable of all studies: hence the fifteenth century has been called the Golden Age of Hellenism. The beginning of the following century saw the first decline of this pursuit; under the Popes of the Medici family, Greek had already left public life, to confine itself again within the precincts of cloisters and schools, which became, and are now, I regret to say, its last insecure shelter. In order to obtain able masters from the East, especially from Byzantine schools, fabulous prices were offered and paid to those professors who were willing to change their country; but the capture of Constantinople, May 29, 1453, very soon dried up this rich source. These circumstances enable us to understand why, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, men of letters and women of the upper classes could easily converse in Greek; whereas, fifty years later, the same language was no longer spoken, but only read, and was totally forgotten at the beginning of the sixteenth century.

It is difficult to form an idea of such a powerful movement towards classical studies; more difficult to investigate its causes. We can explain something by a reference to Fashion, that despotic and capricious goddess; but this will not explain all. Captivated by hitherto unknown fascinations, eager to tear aside the veil which concealed its mysteries, the Humanists deified and idolized archaeology, and congregated around its temple to partake of the treasures of science which had been kept there in safe concealment since the fall of the Roman Commonwealth, more than nine centuries before. Many conceived the hope or labored under the illusion that pagan science would heal the wounds of society; some followed the movement out of pure love of fascinating enquiries, others from curiosity; the profanum vulgus felt the contagion of example and fashion; the higher classes hoped to find in ancient philosophy the consolations which, to their own misfortune, they had ceased to expect from faith.

Paganism not only penetrated the domain of science, but conquered also the field of fine arts, although this last was exclusively and absolutely consecrated to the service of the Church. The evidence of this fact is to be found everywhere in Italy, in churches as well as in public edifices of Rome, Florence, and Venice. Those genii who surround the Blessed Virgin, holding on high the torch of life; those winged classic youths who are meant to represent angels; those nymphs whose part it is to represent the holy women of Christendom, and whose immodest forms were not considered out of place in a church, — are all nothing but a revival of paganism and of pagan art. Every one knows that Daniele da Volterra was surnamed "il Braghettone," or breeches-maker, because he contrived to cover the most crude nudities of Michael Angelo's "Last Judgment," and that the reclining statue of Giulia Farnese, near S. Peter's chair in the Vatican, the masterpiece of Guglielmo della Porta, was clothed by Bernini with clothes of painted lead. Giorgio Vasari asserts that Perugino could never be induced to believe in the immortality of the soul, although he had devoted all his life to painting saints and madonnas.

I must quote here an incident from the life of the greatest Humanist of the fifteenth century, Pomponius Laetus, because, owing to a recent discovery made in the catacombs of S. Calixtus, on the Appian Way, we are able to solve for the first time a mystery connected with the pagan tendencies of the Renaissance. Pomponio Leto founded in Rome an academy for classic studies, to which the most celebrated literary men of the period belonged: Cardinal Platina, the historian of the Church; Giovanni Antonio Campano, Bishop of Teramo, Pietro Sabino, professor of epigraphy in the University of Rome; Marco Antonio Sabellico, Pietro Pallini, and many others.b All these illustrious members of the Roman Academy, either because they had exchanged their Christian names for names of pagan heroes, or else on account of their extravagant worship of ancient philosophy and civilization, were stigmatized by so‑called public opinion as apostates from the faith, as worshippers of false gods, as conspirators against the authority and the life of the Pope. Imprisoned and chained in the Castle of S. Angelo by order of Paul II, a religious and political action was brought against them upon the charge of conspiracy to secure the supreme pontificate of Rome for their master and president, Pomponio Leto. Cardinal Platina vindicated the innocence of his colleagues, and Pomponio himself addressed to the court of Castle S. Angelo a vigorous speech, the original of which is preserved in the Vatican archives. The lack of positive evidence and the intervention of influential friends caused them to be set free; so that the Academy was able to return to its work, amidst the applause and with the help of cardinals and prelates of the Roman Church.

It is, no doubt, exceedingly remarkable that the evidence against these men, sought in vain by Paul II and his judges, should have come to light only a few years ago, and in a place entirely unsuspected. In the course of the excavations carried on by my illustrious master, Commendatore G. B. de Rossi, in the catacombs of Callixtus, a cubiculum, or crypt, was discovered, May 12, 1852, in the remotest part of that subterranean labyrinth which had been used by Pomponio's brotherhood as a secret place of meeting. On the white plaster of the ceiling the following inscription had been written with the smoke of a tallow candle: "January 16, 1475. Pantagathus, Mammeius, Papyrius, Minicinus, Æmilius, Minucius, all of them admirers and investigators of antiquities, and the delight of the Roman dissolute women, [have met here] under the reign of Pomponius, supreme pontiff [pontifex maximus]." Many other records of the same nature have been since discovered in the catacombs of SS. Pietro e Marcellino and of Praetextatus, in which records Pantagathus (Cardinal Platina?) is styled sacerdos academiae Romanae, and Pomponius again sovereign pontiff.

It is evident that such a priesthood and such a pontificate have nothing to do with the Christian hierarchy; on the other hand, it is difficult to determine whether we have to deal with a more or less absurd pedantry, or with a solemn apostasy from the Christian faith by a handful of dissolute conspirators. One thing only is certain: that Pomponio and his colleagues were very wise in confiding their secret to the deepest and most impenetrable recesses of the Roman catacombs. One line, one word alone, of the records which have been discovered by us four centuries later, made known in proper time to the court of Castle S. Angelo, would have brought their heads under the sword of the public executioner.
Excerpt Two: from Rodolfo Lanciani's Pagan and Christian Rome, Chapter Seven, pp. 358-361 (first published in 1896):
The catacombs of SS. Peter and Marcellinus have another attraction for students. Poor as they are in epitaphs and works of art, they contain hundreds of names of celebrated humanists, archaeologists, and artists who explored these depths in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and made record of their visits. When one walks between two lines of graves, in the almost oppressive stillness of the cemetery, with no other company than one's thoughts, the names of Pomponius Letus and his academicians, of Bosio, Panvinio, Avanzini, Severano, Marangoni, Marchi, and d'Agincourt, written in bold letters, give the lonely wanderer the impression of meeting living and dear friends; and one wonders at the great love which these pioneers of "humanism" must have had for antiquities, to have spent days and days, and to have held their conferences and banquets, in places like these.

In chapter I, page 10, of "Ancient Rome," [see immediately preceding excerpt] I mentioned Pomponio's Academy, and its visits to the crypts of Callixtus. Since the publication of my book, and the subject has been investigated again and illustrated by Giacomo Lombroso and de Rossi. It appears that after the trial which the Academicians underwent at the time of Paul II., and their unexpected liberation from the Castle of S. Angelo, they decided to turn over a new leaf. From a fraternity which was pagan in manners and instincts, which had made itself conspicuous by the use of profane language, and by the celebration of profane meetings over the tombs of the martyrs, they became the "Societas litteratorum S. Victoris et sociorum in Esquiliis," a literary society under the patronage of S. Victor and his companion saints, namely, Fortunatus and Genesius. Their pontifex maximus became a president; their sacerdos a priest, whose duty it was to say mass on certain anniversaries. The most important celebration fell, as before, on April 21, the birthday of Rome. We have a description by an eye-witness, Jacopo Volaterrano, of that which took place in 1483: "On the Esquiline, near the house of Pomponius, the society of literary men has celebrated the birthday of Rome. Divine service was performed by Peter Demetrius of Lucca; Paul Marsus delivered the oration. The dinner was served in the hall adjoining the chapel of S. Salvatore de Cornutis," etc. In 1501, after the death of Pomponius, the anniversary meetings were held on the Capitol; the solemn mass was sung in the church of the Aracoeli, while the banquet took place in the Palazzo dei Conservatori. The convivial feast of 1501 was not a success. Burckhardt describes it as satis feriale et sine bono vino (commonplace and with no good wine).

Was the conversion of the Academicians a sincere one? We believe it was not; they manifested under Sixtus V. the same feelings which had brought them to justice under Paul II.

In the calendars of the Church of Rome only one name is registered on April 21, that of Pope Victor. His alleged companions, Fortunatus and Genesius, were singled out of old, disused calendars of the church of Africa, unknown to the Latins. Why did the academicians select such enigmatic and obscure protectors? The reason is evident. Genesius was chosen because his name suggested an allusion to the genesis (natalis) or birthday of Rome; Victor and Fortunatus, likewise, were considered names of good omen, with a suggestion of the Victory and Fortune who presided over the destinies of ancient Rome.

Under the protection of these alleged saints, Pomponius and his friends worshipped, and celebrated the birthday of Rome, and the goddesses connected with the city.

This state of things did not wholly escape the attention of contemporary observers. One of them, Raffaele Volaterrano, expressly says: "Pomponius Laetus worshipped Romulus and kept the birthday of Rome; the beginning of a campaign against religion (initium abolendae fidei)."

The Roman academy found the means of keeping faithful to its traditions, and to the spirit of its institutions, in spite of the reform of its statutes. Victor, Fortunatus, Genesius, in whose honor divine service was performed on April 20, did not represent to the initiated the saints of the Church, but the fortunes of ancient Rome, its founder, the Paliliae. Still, we are not yet able to discover whether all this was done simply out of love and admiration for the ancient world, under the influence of the Renaissance of classical studies; or from hatred and contempt of the Christian faith: initium abolendae fidei.

Geert Wilders' popularity in the Netherlands increases dramatically

A new poll conducted in the Netherlands by Maurice de Hond has found that if another election were held today, Geert Wilders' Party For Freedom (PVV) would be, by far, the largest vote getter. In fact, the PVV would receive 35 seats in the Dutch Parliament, four more than the 31 currently held by the Netherland's largest party, the VVD (Peoples Party for Freedom and Democracy) led by Mark Rutte (which would be reduced to 23 seats!), and an increase of nearly 50% over the 24 seats garnered by Wilders' PVV in the elections held on June 9.

Meanwhile the right-wing VVD is still trying to form a new coalition government with Labor, the Greens, and the "D66" party (variously described as center-left, radical democratic, and progressive liberal). Both Labor and the Christian Democrats have publicly ruled out any coalition that involves Wilders, while the VVD is open to such a coalition, but would need other partners to form a majority.

Lastly, a new video has been posted here, showing Wilders' announcement of his plans for an "International Freedom Alliance" that will initially include the US, the UK, Germany, France and Canada. Wilders mostly speaks in Dutch, but there are subtitles.

"Children Accused of Withcraft": New UNICEF Report on Africa's "Witch Children"

UNICEF has released a new 59 page report titled: Children Accused of Witchcraft An anthropological study of contemporary practices in Africa
(click that link to download the pdf of the full report). The report is dated "April, 2010", but has only recently been widely publicized first in the African press, and now in the western media.

One of the main themes of the report is that widespread violence against children accused of witchcraft is a very recent phenomenon in Africa, and it is not related to African Traditional Religion, but rather is associated with the spread of Christianity and Pentecostalism in particular.

Unfortunately, the idea that traditional "African superstitions" are behind this phenomenon has been widely disseminated in the West, even by people who are supposedly committed to helping the thousands of victims of these accusations, who often suffer horrific abuse and death.

One man in particular, Gary Foxcroft, has made a career for himself out of sensationalizing this tragedy in the name of raising money for his Stepping Stones Foundation (which Foxcroft runs from his hometown of Lancaster in the UK). Foxcroft and his "charity" have consistently stated that the root of the problem lies in traditional African beliefs. According to Foxcroft, the solution is for Africans to become better Christians, because then they would stop being so ignorant and superstitious.

Below are two excerpts from the full UNICEF report. [Also check out other relevant posts from this blog collected here: The Christian Roots of the "Witch Children" Phenomenon in Africa.]
Excerpt 1. Predominance of Christianity [section 2.2. in the report]

Churches, especially those belonging to the Pentecostal and prophetic movement (charismatic, revivalist, etc.), play an important role in the diffusion and legitimization of fears related to witchcraft, and in particular, child witches. The pastor‐prophet is an important figure in the process of accusing children of witchcraft, by effectively validating the presence of a “witchcraft spirit”. Pentecostalists, for example, present their faith as a form of divine armour against witchcraft, and they participate actively in the fight against Evil that is incarnated through witchcraft.

Despite a lack of precise and detailed information, it would appear that this phenomenon is far less significant in Islamic countries. It is important to understand why reactions to witchcraft in countries of Islamic belief differ from those in Christianized countries. Certain writers believe the difference stems from the ability to translate their religious message. The translation of the Bible into the local language was a priority for early ministers and priests: “The Word of God: open to everyone” (Fancello, 2006:113). For example, in Burkina Faso, the policy of indigenization resulted in missionaries from the Assemblies of God learning the Möré language and investing in translating biblical text (ibid.). In contrast with Christian practice, Islam considers Arabic to be a sacred language and has rejected any attempt at translating religious texts into local languages. “Whoever wants to praise God,” comment Christine Henry and Emmanuelle Kadya Tall, “must do it in Arabic, and submit to learning verses at a Koranic school” (2008: 19). In contrast, by putting sacred texts within everyone’s reach, Christianity has facilitated the successful localization of its message and led to the creation of authentic African movements and churches.

Another possible reason is the difference in the perception of Evil in each of the religions. Witchcraft is able to integrate itself so well within Christian discourse because it has been personified and associated with the Devil or Satan. Do witches benefit from the same support from Satan or the Devil in Islamic discourse? While it should be acknowledged that in Islam there is reference to a satanic force, it is not attributed to a single figure who personifies Evil. Instead, Islam discusses “satans”, in the plural. The satans are generally incarnated as jinns and shayâtîn. The latter spirits are generally considered to be responsible for illness and madness that is attributed to satanic possession. However, it is clear that, although there is a difference in the perception of Evil, Islam does present itself as an antidote to witchcraft, by developing talismans or other counter‐measures to warn of or thwart witchcraft spells or attacks.


Despite the translation of the Christian message and the perception of witchcraft as the Devil’s work, the question remains as to why children are accused more frequently in Christian circles. And why are these accusations less common in Islam? There is not enough detailed data to answer these questions. However, it would appear that the response lies within the doctrines and representations that each religion has with regard to children and their place in the religious system. Generally speaking, the Koran does not address underage children, but rather older children with an understanding of responsibility, or the adults responsible for them. The power of the child thus appears to be reduced. Consequently, a child would not be capable of assuming the role of a witch. In contrast, in Christian belief, there has been a transformation in the perception of children’s power: previously children were considered too weak to practice witchcraft, as in current Islamic belief. Now, however, their “power” seems to be gaining in strength.

Excerpt 2. The Deliverance of Child Witches [section 4.1 in the full report]

Revivalist churches [subsection 4.1.1]

Since the end of the 1980s, there has been a rise of various religious movements in sub‐Saharan Africa. The most visible groups originate in the large “universal religions”: protestant movements (evangelical, apostolic, Pentecostal, Baptist or Methodist) and the charismatic renewal in Catholicism. In sub‐Saharan cities, the public space is filled with these churches. It is of course necessary to distinguish, state André Mary and André Corten, the “historical” Pentecostal churches (Assemblies of God or Pentecostal Churches), some of whom have been present for over a hundred years, and those churches belonging to the “Pentecostal movement”, such as revivalist, spiritualist or African prophetic churches (2000: 12).

Pentecostalism is a religious movement in which followers claim personal experience of a supernatural force, the Holy Spirit. Generally speaking, Pentecostalists believe that everyone can be saved by faith in Jesus. The force of the Holy Spirit within those who have been truly saved is the most obvious characteristic that distinguishes Pentecostalism from other forms of evangelical Christianity. During services, the Holy Spirit is called upon to descend on the faithful and is a necessary presence in ceremonies.

Followers attend services several times a week that can last many hours and take place in a highly charged atmosphere of singing, prayers, trances, sermons, revelations – testifying and confessions – healing rituals through laying on of hands, miracles and offerings. The “high” points are undoubtedly the public or private deliverance sessions, divine healing and testifying typically related to the forces of evil. Followers’ whole lives centre on their church, which integrates them in a new kind of community, the Pentecostal family. They call each other brothers and sisters. The main message of these churches focuses on their ability to use the presence of the Holy Spirit to fight against the satanic world that is incarnated by witches, evil spirits and ancestral spirits. Pentecostalism takes all these imaginary African characters seriously and gives them a new status through assimilation with Satan. These are of course highly syncretistic churches that have successfully integrated African beliefs into their discourse, as well as certain behaviour, such as trances and possession. According to André Mary and André Corten, Pentecostal discourse gains “its strength and ability to mobilize the two imaginary worlds of public space and invisible forces by intertwining them and inventing a new syntax” (ibid.: 17). By manipulating the forces of good to combat the forces of evil, Pentecostalism operates essentially in the universe of demonization.

Deliverance and the “spiritual war” [subsection 4.1.2]

Most Pentecostal churches (revivalist and charismatic) are centred around a pastor or prophet who claims to have been chosen by God through divine revelation. In their main objective to fight an omnipresent evil (witchcraft is an evil force that is still omnipresent), the pastor‐prophets offer their followers not only a better life – financial prosperity – but above all divine healing and deliverance (from where the commonly named, “healing churches”).
Maman Joséphine L. was born in 1954 and began working in 1974 in response to a miraculous divine calling. In 1997, she began to help children overcome bad spirits through deliverance. In her opinion, it is God who has given her this gift. The bewitching of children is shown to her by a spirit and through prayer. (Aguilar Molina, 2005: 27)
The phenomenon of deliverance is, according to Sandra Fancello, “at the heart of the explosion of Pentecostalism in Africa since the beginning of the 1990s” (2006: 147). The practice of deliverance is at essence based on a dualistic vision of the world between the forces of evil and divine power. It is closely linked with divine healing through the fight against genies and evil spirits that haunt African populations by inflicting physical and psychological harm. The personalization of the image of the demon, notably in the figure of the witch, enables churches to declare a “war against Satan” (Meyer, 1995).

Through increased reliance on therapeutic aspects – the miraculous healing – these churches’ discourse focuses on the healing and salvation of the soul, through “exorcisms” that are often accompanied by singing or performance that reduce anxiety. Many confessions by members involve visions or being possessed by evil spirits. While exorcism and promises of divine or miraculous healing apply to the individual – within the family – “deliverance” often contains a collective dimension, that of spiritual war and liberation from evil forces.

This healing by the Holy Spirit is interpreted as being miraculous, and forms part of the validation or certification procedure of the prophet, who is supposed to be capable of healing all kinds of illnesses. These include diabolic, satanic illnesses that modern medicine (that is, “the white man’s”) cannot cure, such as AIDS, cancer and diabetes. Accounts by people who have been “cured” of AIDS can be heard every day on the radio or television. They give hope to all those who have not yet received this deliverance from God. According to Fancello, “miraculous healing is at the centre of conversion strategies of Pentecostal churches” (2006: 148), but is equally valid for other revivalist churches.

The role of pastor‐prophets and “spiritual” treatment [subsection 4.1.3]

The role of pastor‐prophets in these churches seems to be of major importance in the “anti‐witch hunt”, not only through the possibility of bringing deliverance to people possessed, but also through their ability to identify witches. In several African cities, these pastor‐prophets play an essential role in witchcraft accusations against children. Although they are not always at the origin of the accusation – the person is already suspected by the family or members of the community – they confirm and legitimize the accusation. Numerous articles in the press, videos on the Internet64 and anthropological studies indicate that in Angola,65 CAR, DRC66 and Nigeria,67 as elsewhere in sub‐ Saharan Africa, these pastors detect witches through visions and dreams.

Maman Putu, from the Eben Ezer centre in Kinshasa, calls herself a prophet and explains her gifts in the following terms:
When a child first comes here, I first check the condition of his soul. I’m not only a prophet but also a clairvoyant. I start by praying with the child and then I ask him some questions about his dreams and his food situation. I use references and I can very quickly tell if a child is bewitched or not. (D’Haeyer, 2004: 37)
The “spiritual” treatment can only begin once the child has confessed. The confession is often obtained under duress or violence, as one accused of witchcraft, Bruno, explains:
For three days we were not allowed to eat or drink. On the fourth day, the prophet put our hands above a candle to make us confess. So I admitted the accusations and the harsh treatment stopped. Those who didn’t confess were threatened with whipping. (Interview by Human Rights Watch with Bruno, Kinshasa, 30 September 2005)
In exchange for money, the pastors then propose the “soul cure”, which consists of divine healing and the deliverance of the child. In the language of the Pentecostal churches, a child that is possessed by the evil spirits of “witchcraft” must be delivered “from the forces of darkness”. Deliverance ceremonies can last several days, and generally begin with the laying on of hands and prayers; they regularly transform into extremely violent “exorcisms”. According to de Boeck, “the space of the healing church enables the relocation and reformulation of the physical and psychological violence, sometimes extreme, that the accused child undergoes within the family group. In fact, the child is extracted from the threatening family situation in which his place has become very problematic, to be entrusted to a pastor. There, the treatment is often equally severe, beginning with a period of reclusion or quarantine, which may be individual or collective with other child witches.” (2000: 41)

The “spiritual” treatments described in studies carried out in Angola68 and DRC69 also exhibit a violent nature. The “healing” of children accused of witchcraft varies from one church to the next, and from one region to the next. Children are sometimes isolated in the churches for a period ranging from a few days to several months. During this time, they are forced to fast, deprived of food and water for such long periods that some children die.

The treatment can also consist of swallowing potions, administering perfume, spiced sauces, as well as injecting petrol in the eyes or ears. They are also often beaten.70 The surveys carried out by Ballet, Dumbi and Lallou in Kinshasa offer further evidence of the extreme violence inflicted on certain children. Glodie Mbete, aged eleven, recounts her “deliverance”:
The healing ceremonies took place in the revivalist churches. One pastor burned my body with candles. A prophet mama covered my body with a red cloth. In yet another church, they poured the sap from a tree into my eyes. It stung terribly. The healer said that the witchcraft had gone. My eyes hurt so badly. (Ballet, Dumbi and Lallou, 2007: 15)
In this way, the children are not only stigmatized because they are accused of witchcraft, they are also abused and tortured within the churches. The churches claim to eliminate the evil definitively from the child’s body. However, if the child survives this “spiritual” treatment, he will be stigmatized as being a witch and rejected by his family. The phenomenon of the child witches illustrates, as Facello rightly notes, “the paradox of churches that are themselves caught in the trap of witchcraft accusations while claiming to fight against witches. Between witch and counter‐witch, there is a constant switching of places (2008: 78). Another result is that parents sometimes doubt that their child has been healed after deliverance ceremonies in churches. It is not uncommon that after being initially convinced, after experiencing a single new misfortune, the child is once again accused.

Miracle Merchants [subsection 4.1.4]

All the “spiritual” treatments offered by pastors and prophets belonging to Pentecostal, revivalist and other churches require some form of payment. To my knowledge, no church offers these services for free. While the fee may vary from one church to the next, it is generally higher than most people can afford. For example, one Congolese family, for whom the pastor had detected five cases of witchcraft, had to pay the equivalent of €24 plus a piece of sheet metal for each child. Another family had to pay the equivalent of €27 per child, and so on. (Aguilar Molina, 2005: 29). One young believer explained it thus:
The hard‐earned money of the women selling vegetables in the market goes towards building the pastor’s villas or the upkeep of one or other of his mistresses. (D’Haeyer, 2004: 45)
The earnings from a deliverance ceremony, and also during a regular service when the collection plate goes around, are not insignificant. Consequently, a number of pastor‐prophets, including women, have found their calling in the anti‐witch hunt, as is the case with Prophet Helen Ukpabio in Nigeria. She founded the Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries, whose primary goal has become the detection and deliverance of child witches. For these pastor‐prophets, “detecting” child witches brings not only money, but also a certain social status and popularity that draws new members and “clients”, and leads to yet more income. Accusations against children therefore form part of this vicious circle of the prophets’ “business” and their status.

According to Marshal‐Fratani (2001), these days, pastor‐prophets are the new models of social success and power. They are associated with wealth, social status, connections with transnational networks and contacts among the political elite. Their conspicuous wealth – clothes, luxury cars, mobile phones and computers, villas, jewellery, etc. – escapes no one. They own television channels and radio stations, and they do not hesitate to advertise themselves, as the following billboard shows:



All this promotion is part of the goal to increase the number of members, who represent their “wealth in numbers”. Without ignoring their social function, while fighting evil, revivalist churches keep their members afraid of their neighbours and promote fatalism rather than action. Furthermore, although pastor‐prophets represent the fighters in the struggle against the forces of evil, they cannot escape from the suspicion that they are in fact collaborating with these forces. “Through healing gestures and other “miracles” that are supposed to replace the “charlatan witch”, these pastors appear to be endowed with the same extraordinary magical powers, and are therefore witches.” (Marshal Fratani, 2001: 43). This brings them, symbolically at least, closer to their direct “competition”, traditional healers.