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Posted by on Mar 1, 2018 in Tell Me Why |

What Is a Witch Doctor?

What Is a Witch Doctor?

Among many tribes the most important member, after the chief, is the witch doctor or medicine man. He or she combines the roles of priest and healer and is regarded with fear and respect. Often he or she may claim to have power over the spirit world, or to be able to read the secrets of the past and foretell the future. The witch doctor is responsible for the magical rites for ensuring rain, fruitful crops or good hunting.

He or she also enforces obedience to taboos and rituals, and may cast a spell upon any man who disobeys them. Such a spell may prove fatal to a victim who believes in it. In his or her capacity as healer, the witch doctor acquires a specialized knowledge of herbs, many of which form the basis of modern medicines. Even so, the cure will not be tried without the use of magical charms, spells and ritual.

The term witch doctor is sometimes used to refer to healers, particularly in third world regions, who use traditional healing rather than contemporary medicine. In contemporary society, “witch doctor” is sometimes used derisively to refer to chiropractors, homeopaths and faith healers. In the north of England, the superstition lingers to an almost inconceivable extent. Lancashire abounds with witch-doctors, a set of quacks, who pretend to cure diseases inflicted by the devil.

A healing ceremony held in Worcester, England on October 26, 2017, is a rare, modern example of the practice in Europe. A sacred river blessing was conducted by a travelling witch doctor at the River Severn after rumors of a cholera risk. Vibrio cholerae non-O1/non-O139 was said to be present in the river due to migrating salmon which had consumed crustacean zooplankton carrying the bacteria.


In southern Africa, the witch doctors are known as sangomas. The Oxford English Dictionary states that the first use of the term “witch doctor” to refer to African shamans (i.e. medicine men) was in 1836 in a book by Robert Montgomery Martin.

BBC News reported, on March 12, 2015, that, “More than 200 witch-doctors and traditional healers have been arrested in Tanzania in a crackdown on the murder of albino people. The killings have been driven by the belief – advanced by some witch-doctors – that the body parts have properties that confer wealth and good luck. According to the Red Cross, witch-doctors are prepared to pay $75,000 (£50,000) for a complete set of albino body parts. Nearly 80 albino Tanzanians have been killed since 2000, the UN says. The latest victims include a one-year-old albino boy, killed in north-western Tanzania. The government banned witch-doctors in January as part of its efforts to prevent further attacks and kidnappings targeting people with albinism.”

nepali shaman

Jhākri is the Nepali word for shaman. It is sometimes reserved specifically for practitioners of Nepali shamanism, such as that practiced among the Tamang people and the Magars; it is also used in the Indian states of Sikkim and West Bengal, which border Nepal. Jhākri shamanism is practiced among numerous ethnic groups of Nepal and Northeast India, including the Limbu, Rai, Sunwar, Sherpa, Kami, Tamang, Gurung, Magars, Lepcha and Khas.

Belief in spirits is prevalent, hence also the fear of spirit possession. Jhākris perform rituals during weddings, funerals, and harvests. They diagnose and cure diseases. Their practices are influenced by Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, Mun, and Bönrites.

Content for this question contributed by Michael Hunter, resident of Greensburg, Decatur County, Indiana, USA