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I.5.7.3 Sorcerer, witch doctor, medicine man and medium


Sorcery is a positive magic used for evil purposes. It involves the use of certain materials, objects or medicines for invoking supernatural power to harm people. The materials here are the parts of body on which specific spells are used. It is purely a ‘black ‘magic. Sorcerers are the specialists for sorcery. They are so cunning that sometimes instead of using the tangible relics like hair or nails; they utilize man’s shadow or sleeping soul. Primitives are often scared of society, as they know its unpleasant occurrences. In most of the primitive societies, such an act is not socially approved and so treated as crime against society.


Witchcraft is a malevolent practice with the help of the spirits. Here ills are carried out by means of thought and emotions alone; tangible objects are not used at all. Therefore, when magic works upon the bewitched, the person begins to suffer but the evidences of witchcraft are not left.

The lack of visible evidences makes an accusation harder to prove or disprove. Among the Azande, witchcraft is a part of daily life. Anything that is goes wrong-an ache or pain, poor crops, an accident, loss of cattle-everything is attributed as the malevolent act of the personal enemy who has used witchcraft against him. Witchcraft is thus a part and parcel of all economic pursuit, domestic life and community life of the Azande.

Witch Doctor

The term Witch doctor is sometimes used as a synonym of Shaman and specially refers to the Negroid Shamans of Africa and Melanesia. But actually Witch doctor is a divine personality who exposes the witch. A man either inherits the skill from his parent or learns it from someone else.

In some societies like American Indians, the witch doctors are known as medicine man. When somebody suddenly falls ill, it is thought that the person has been bewitched. Therefore, his friends and relatives try to cure him with care, protection and herbal medicines. But when all the efforts go in vain and the symptoms become alarming, there is no way other than to call a witch doctor who knows the remedy of the illness. A witch doctor generally looks awesome as he paints his face and body brightly with clay of different colors. He burns mysterious perfumes around the patient, mutter strange words; twists own body and ultimately cure the patient with his secret power. He knows the medicines for counter-witchcraft. Sorcerer or Witch Use of supernatural power over others through the assistance of spirits; witchcraft.

Sorcerer and witch both are the malevolent practitioners. So they enjoy very low socio-economic states in all societies. A sorcerer and a witch may be of any sex and usually they are the parttimers.

Both of them are dreaded, as they know the way to invoke the supernatural power for causing illness, injury and death. Sorcerers often use different materials for their magic, so when evidences of their malpractice is found, they are killed by the communal vengeance. But in case of the witchcraft, for the absence of evidences, genuine witches are not always marked out. It is believed that witches possess certain evil substances within their body by which they do harm other people. A magical performance is perhaps responsible for the recognizable changes in the internal organs of the body, which can only be revealed by post-mortem examination. In almost all- primitive societies there are either witch doctors or medicine men or Shamans to act against the evils created by the sorcerers and witches.


Mediums are the part- time religious practitioners and mostly females. They are asked to heal the people while in trance. A medium falls into a hypnotic condition and during that period she is controlled by some spiritual force, external to herself. Different spirits are supposed to communicate with people through the medium.

The process is often referred to as divination, which may be a channel of connection with supernature to get his guidance. Divination often informs a man the source of his misfortunes.

The medium usually obtains the guidance through oracle. Primitives believe that most of the misfortunes arise from the practice of witchcraft.

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