Send to

Choose Destination
Transcult Psychiatry. 2013 Oct;50(5):622-43. doi: 10.1177/1363461513503880.

Children enacting idioms of witchcraft and spirit possession as a response to trauma: therapeutically beneficial, and for whom?

Author information

University of Amsterdam and Leiden University Medical Center.


This article examines children's enactment of spirit possession idioms and witchcraft in Africa including the meanings such idioms provide and the local healing resources they mobilize. Idioms of haunting spirits in Northern Uganda and witch-children elsewhere in Africa can be interpreted as manifestations of social crises and mass traumatic stress. On the other hand, such idioms also allow children to articulate, reflect upon, and communicate the complex feelings resulting from their precarious positions within families and communities under duress. With the help of Dow's transactional model of symbolic healing, this article explores obstacles to the effectivity of the rich variety of symbolic healing available for haunting spirits in Uganda and points to the generational gap between children and their families and communities. Elsewhere, witchcraft idioms may act as a healing resource at the group level, but at the expense of the accused child. The idioms of evil spirits and witchcraft speak of these children's navigation of the moral universe of their postconflict communities. Given that children's appraisal of their experiences through these notions may also exacerbate their anxiety, interdisciplinary research examining the microprocesses that lead to children being haunted or accused, including emotional and physiological levels effects, is urgently needed.


Africa; child idioms of distress; child witch; haunting spirits; symbolic healing

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Atypon
Loading ...
Support Center