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01st November 2013

Something wicked……

I’m not answering the door this evening, partly because I am busy writing this blog, and partly because the neighbourhood is full of wailing children in face paints and expensive costumes demanding chocolate with menace. And the chocolate in this house is MINE.

So I am writing about witchcraft in the context of disability to remind people that there are still belief systems that use ignorance and fear to marginalise, scapegoat and abuse the vulnerable.

In medieval Europe, the notion of disability as the consequence of demonic possession or witchcraft is well-documented. In 1486, two Dominican friars published ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ or ‘The Witches Hammer’, which described how to detect, examine and deal with witches. This publication and the resulting hysteria saw many people identified by physical deformities or mental illness tortured and killed.

There have been many cases in recent times of the abuse of children accused by their families of being witches, happening right under our noses right here in 21st century England. In many parts of Africa and India there is a strong belief in witchcraft as a means of explaining bad luck, disease and disaster. This manifests itself in the ritual abuse of those accused; poisoned, beaten and exiled. This is of such concern to those working in social care across cities in the UK that the government have set up a working group and published guidance on recognising and tackling abuse linked to faith or belief.

A search of the internet fetches up other worrying information, such as this quote from a 1995 U.S. publication called ‘Demon Possession Handbook for Human Service Workers’:

“Parents of children who have certain behavior problems and learning difficulties should consult a Christian psychologist who understands demon possession”.

This is all a bit grim for a Thursday evening, so I should get to the point.

Belief systems across the world support and help millions of people to find comfort and make sense of the things life throws at them. Not all of these seem rational to us, as they are based on the histories and cultures of  people whose lives and experiences are often totally unlike ours. Bias and discrimination stem from a lack of awareness and fear of the unknown.

By representing the people we support in a positive way, by ensuring they are visible, equal and respected members of their community, we can help to dispel myths about who they are. Those old principles of Community Presence and Community Participation; not ‘old hat’ but still good practice in promoting inclusion.

Right – back to my cauldron………………!

Ginny Tyler

Learning Disabilities Specialist

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