Within many traditional African religions, there is a belief in spells and magic (usually called witchcraft or, in some places, mutu). In brief simplistic terms it goes like this: physical or mental illnesses are often ascribed to a spell or curse having been put on the sufferer. Often, a relative or villager is suspected of being the 'witch' who placed the curse, usually for reasons of spite or jealousy. A traditional doctor, also called a diviner or witchdoctor, is then required to hunt out the witch and cure the victim. This is done in different ways in various parts of the region, and may involve the use of herbs, divining implements, prayers, chanting, dance or placing the spell in a bottle and casting it into a remote spot (if you find such a bottle in the bush, don't touch it!).

However, services do not come free of charge, and many witchdoctors demand high payments - up to US$20, in countries where an average month's earnings may be little more than this. It's a sad fact that the 'witches' who are unearthed are frequently those who cannot defend themselves - the sick, the old or the very poorest members of society. There are even reports of very young children being accused by witchdoctors of harbouring evil spirits.

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