I became a witch when I visited a Ghanaian church in America. I had never been fond of “spiritual” churches where people saw visions, spoke in tongues and generally scared me. I grew up Methodist. The traditional style of worship suited me just fine, but I missed Ghana, and a visit to that church was a homecoming: squeaky microphones, loud singing, dancing, glittery traditional wear, ostentatious jewelry and doughnut-selling after church. That’s why my son had accompanied me to the Ghanaian church that afternoon, to nibble a bit of Ghana and satisfy my hunger for home.
The scene was one of those after-sermon prayers that lasted years and made my stomach rumble for food. Senior Pastor and Junior Pastor hurried from row to row, pulling out those in need of prayers. The selected, all women, stood before the pulpit. Someone lay a hand on each woman’s forehead, another stood behind her with hands clasped on her shoulders. Invariably the woman swooned and was helped to the ground. The resistant ones got spun around until they lost their balance. One woman rolled from end to end as a church leader tried to throw a cloth over her. Another screamed and sobbed. I walked out to the foyer, trying to maintain inner calm.
When the cacophony died and I returned to the sanctuary, my son leaned into me and whispered that the pastors had come looking for me. Thinking they wanted to say hello and do the “how is our daughter in college” routine, I went to see Junior Pastor after the service. He said they had been seeking to pray for me. I explained that I tended to retreat into myself when church got loud, that I had gone out to meditate. I should have understood what he said next, but I didn’t; I can be obtuse that way. He said, “Maybe we made a mistake. That can happen. But if we don’t obey God and pray for the person, we could be doing wrong.” I smiled, thanked him, shook hands and left.
I continued to visit the church, snoring through sermons. It wasn’t the pastor’s fault. In fact, he was prone to gesticulating, jumping and shouting to get everyone’s attention. I am simply cursed with a short attention span. In high school, I slept through classes that bored me, during those that didn’t, so often that one day, the entire class tiptoed out and left me sleeping until lunch was over. I’ve even slept at discos. The pastor must have noticed my drooping head, because he took to strolling through the aisle as he preached, always ending up where I sat, preaching so loudly that I jerked up, shame-faced. Invariably his preaching would turn to witches. It was always a woman. An old woman hobbling in as he prayed one day until he yelled, “Get thee away from me, Satan!” Poof, the woman disappeared. A woman muttering, a woman doing this, a woman doing that, resentment building inside me as I listened.
After each sermon, the pastor invited those unsaved or who had strayed to come forward for prayers, and I imagined his eyes lingered in on me. I never went, of course. One day, after a particularly passionate plea from his stance in the pulpit, his eyes zeroed on me. He pointed. “You know who you are! You think you are educated so you don’t need God.” He knew I was a teacher. Many women my age in the church weren’t college educated. Not to say they didn’t exist; they did. In the thousands, just not in that church. Apart from the educational gap, decent Ghanaian women didn’t arrive in church wearing dresses; they wore traditional long skirts. I possessed four of those, and I saved them for special occasions. I didn’t care to pay $100 for one. My clothes came from Ross, and my slogan was to never pay more than $20 for a dress. What’s more, I hadn’t officially joined the church nor joined the women’s fellowship.
As Pastor carried on his exhortations, a handful of people went forward, but he continued to stare at me. “I don’t care how long it takes, I’m going to wait here until you come forward! You know you need deliverance! You know who you are!” He pounded on the pulpit. He harangued. He pointed some more. Sweat glistened on his forehead. Folds pleated between his brows. Exasperated to the point of tears, he delivered the malediction: “I curse you! I pray that God strike you with sickness. I pray that He attack your finances. May you never know a moment of peace until you surrender to him! You don’t know. You will perish! May God strike you! You’re going to suffer and suffer until you repent.” That was the last time I set foot in that church. I got it. I was a witch. The lot of women.
If a man dies, either the wife was a witch that cooked and ate him in spirit, or she poisoned him. At the very least, she neglected him. She is yelled at, insulted, shunned, and sometimes, beaten. The persecutors include fellow women. In fact, women are more likely than men to point to witchcraft in a friend, sister, mother or grandmother. Conversely, when a wife dies, pity flows to the husband, and there is no end to the generosity women lavish on him: preparing meals, washing clothes, keeping the house clean. Lord have mercy if he should cry.
Women are branded witches for their intuition, intelligence, seductiveness and longevity. A woman suffering from dementia and babbling to herself can be accused of conversing with evil spirits. Some pastors point to how easily Eve was deceived by the serpent in the garden of Eden, a sure sign of demonic tendency. This has to end. Women must stop turning on other women, particularly the aged who need care, and the bereaved who need sympathy. Pastors and society as a whole must stop demonizing women. Let us enjoy the gifts women bring to all of us, for they are wonderful.