Monday, September 2, 2013

September 2nd, 2013

 Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Fear fuels superstition, fact fuels science. For centuries mankind used fear to create superstitions that would ‘explain’ how things worked. For example, flight. The concept of flight was often shrouded in stories of witchcraft and wizardry, or simple ‘magic’. The flying carpet of Asian origin was a magical device that fuelled stories that could, and still can, enthral a crowd. Climb aboard the magic carpet and simply state where you want to go, and the mythical rug will lift up and take you there, soaring over the cities and deserts, forests and lakes. Then there were the European witches and their broomsticks stories, which had at least a little scientific fact attached to them. Not that they could actually fly, but that that the ‘covens’ had a ritual of rubbing hallucinogenic plant extracts onto the ends of their broomsticks (hemlock, deadly nightshade, henbane, etc. – all of which are poisonous and can, and do, kill) and then applying that concoction via their ‘lady parts’ to induce a psychotropic sensation of flying – or a ‘trip’. Hence the ‘riding on a broomstick’ – it is reported that some of the coven members would ‘ride their broomsticks’ in the streets – clearly whilst on a ‘trip’ – but not actually leaving the ground. Therefore, superstition tells us that ‘witches fly on broomsticks’ but science tells us that ‘members of a certain group practised substance abuse with non-oral methods of absorption that led them to behave strangely’. There is little difference to the LSD addicts jumping off rooftops in the belief that they can fly, whilst they have an altered mind state from drug taking. Perhaps there would have been cases of women jumping off of rooftops with broom between their legs in medieval days, from a similar exposure – but that, I do not know! What I do know is that the drug addict jumping from a ten story building is in for a near certain death, but that jumping off of a small village house may just lead to the neighbours finding the ‘broomstick abusing victim’ laying in the mud in the morning – thus creating a story. 

We can quickly see how the stories began, and managed to propagate themselves through lack of understanding and science! Science is much more humane than superstition. Superstition turns normally sensible thinking individuals into inhumane actors in horrendous acts. During the middle ages in Europe they had two simple tests for ‘so called witches’ or ‘people with magic’. The first one was the dunking chair. A supposed witch would be strapped to a chair and held under water for a period of time. If she died, she was not a witch. If she lived she was. Funnily enough, they all died. The other system was to attach the accused to a wooden stake, place wood around her feet and set fire to it all. If she died, she was not a witch. If she lived, she was. Funnily enough, they all died.

A pattern is quickly forming in the fear and superstition band. Once you have seen a few women killed (since human biology means that people who are held underwater will die, as will those exposed to fire), regardless of their beliefs, race or other persuasions, you fear being accused. Hey presto, the use of superstition to subdue the females in a population. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of women were burned at the stake during the Middle Ages in Europe. What is most offensive to my thinking is that this was a torture aimed at WOMEN. It was used to put fear into women, to subdue and control them. It had nothing to do with their beliefs. If a women was too ‘outspoken’ or dared to challenge the ‘authority’, possibly even ‘stand up to her husband’ or ‘refuse the orders of a [so called] superior’, she was labelled a witch and, in effect, summarily executed – for that is what really happened. What is more, the Church led these outrageous acts. Even midwives could be accused of being witches for administering herbal remedies to ease pain during childbirth, since the Church at that time believed that childbirth pain was a ‘blessing from God’. Interestingly, they used a similar (but much milder) concoction to that used by the covens in their ‘broomstick flying’ sessions, derivatives of which are still being produced by pharmaceutical companies today for labour pain control. Happily, we are not going around burning pharmacists for making such concoctions today!

Superstition does not always lead to such macabre outcomes. There is another abominable practice that goes on even today, by those who seek to inflict fear into others. The practice of making ‘accused of witchcraft girls’ spend a night alone in a church, is still prevalent. All it takes is for a young girl to be a little bit sassy, or to behave a little bit differently to the liking of a parent, teacher or, I am sorry to say, church leader, and that girl can be thrown into a church for the night, alone, frightened and crying – accused of being a witch.

Such treatment does not do anything more than traumatise. It may ‘change the behaviour’ of the child, but it does not build the child up. It is a destructive process that can lead to long-term traumatisation of young person. It may change the ‘visible behaviour’ but it scars the person. Science tells us that we need to CARE for those with behavioural issues, use love and appropriate punishments. There is no place for ‘psychological torture’ nor ‘physical torture’ in the building up of our young people.

Education is the key to our improved humanity. Superstition should be securely locked up in stories for the stimulation of imagination – such as the flying carpet stories, dragons, Anansie, Harry Potter, etc. Superstition should be swept out of our society and replaced with understanding and development, through science and logic.

Sadly, I heard once more this week about a young girl being locked into a church overnight. What is more shocking is that the guardian of the child, who took the matter to the leadership of the community where it happened, was told that leadership and community itself could not understand why it was wrong and would continue with the practice.

Furthermore, we read last week about a 13-year old girl chained to a tree in a prayer camp at Zenu near Ashaiman, without food or water, accused of bringing witchcraft led troubles to her family. The treatment supported by her parents. Evidence indeed of the fear of superstition, and lack of science fact – and frankly, lack of LOVE and CARE.

It is only if we stand together for the care of our women and children – and it really does seem that the women and girl children get the worst accusations – and take time to educate on the science fact, that we will chase the shadows out of the dismal corners, of the superstition led fear, that is holding back our development and punishing women and children unnecessarily.

(Note: The UK repealed its antiquated Witchcraft Act in 1951, having made the last imprisonment under the act in 1944 to prevent a women ‘foretelling of the D-Day preparations’, which was clearly an excuse for something else!)

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail )

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