Saturday, 1 December 2012

Witchcraft: A Panel Discussion

Abraham Kovoor

This is the transcript of a panel discussion on Witchcraft - Fact or Fiction broadcast by CBC (Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation) on March 23,­1971 in its feature "Forum of the Air". 


Dr. Nandasena Ratnapala (Moderator), Lecturer, Vidyodaya University
Mr. Abraham Kovoor - President, Ceylon Rationalist Association.
Mr. George Ondaatjie - MemberCeylon Rationalist Association.
Prof. C.E.C. Bulathsinghala - an astrologer and palmist.
Rev. Fr. Matthew Peries - a demonologist and exorcist.

In the Ceylonese context, witchcraft has to be taken along with demonology, because witchcraft in Ceylon means the employment of a spirit as an agent to inflict harm or injuries, or to gain success or security. It is slightly different from what is found in western countries. Let us ask Rev. Fr. Mathew Peries his idea of witchcraft.

Peries: it is a popular belief that is not confined only to Ceylon. It is believed all over the world among people who accept spirits as discarnate personalities who can cause harm to human beings. They believe that by rituals these spirits can be used for ulterior purposes, as you said in the ritual of witchcraft.

Moderator: In Ceylon there are so many people who believe in witchcraft. Hardly a day passes without some notice appearing in the newspapers about actions of spir­its. Mr. Kovoor, what are your ideas about the subject?

Kovoor: Well, I do not know what this spirit is! We have bodies, we have life, the vital energy produced as the result of respiration, and we have minds, the working of the brain. Apart from these there is no scientific evidence to say that man has a spirit or soul to survive the death of his body. When we stop breathing there will be no more oxidatory work going on in the protoplasmic tissue producing any more life. There cannot be any life without there being a body to breathe. A discarnate spirit cannot have life because it cannot breathe. Of course, as Fr. Peries said, it is universally believed that there are spirits which are discarnate souls capable of appearing as apparitions, capable of talking or throwing stones or doing conscious acts. To be conscious, a spirit must have brain. A spirit has no body and muscles to throw stones. It has no vocal cord and lungs to speak. It is a sort of blind belief among many persons that spirits exist. But there is no scientific evidence to support it. If people see or hear spirits in the dark, it must be due to their hallucinations resulting from their delusional beliefs.

Image Courtesy:
Moderator: Now Mr. Kovoor, in the course of my research work I have come across not only villagers but even the sophisticated educated persons in towns and cities having beliefs in spirits, and their ability to bring about harm or benefit to the people. How can you account for this?

Kovoor: Education has nothing to do with blind beliefs. If you are brainwashed or indoctrinated from childhood in a belief, it is difficult to get rid of those ideas even with your education. These delusional beliefs get rooted in the sub-conscious mind. For example, I myself was brought up with the idea that man has a soul which be­comes a spirit after the death capable of going to heaven or hell. As a child I was mortally afraid of ghosts. It was an uphill task to remove such false beliefs. Although I have go~ rid of all such foolish beliefs, still it may linger in my unconscious mind. Recently I was recording a broadcast talk about ghosts at the Kanatta cemetery at night. Although I did not see any ghost there, if some one had made some strange sound, I would have got frightened because of my sub-conscious fear of them. But on the other hand if Dr. Aries Kovoor, my son, is frightened in a cemetery, he is not likely to experience such fears because as a child he was not indoctrinated about spirits, demons gods and similar nonsensical ideas.

Peries: Some persons believe that there is nothing beyond death to survive. For them demonology is a fiction. To 1110se who believe that men live beyond death, demonology and witchcraft becomes acceptable understanding.

Kovoor: I accept that Demonology and witchcraft become acceptable only to those who blindly believe in survival without any evidence!

Peries: There are so many things we cannot see, but we cannot say tlley do not exist. I have not seen the back of my head.

Kovoor: With a mirror in hand you can!

Peries: I have not seen my heart.

Kovoor: Before the invention of the microscope we never knew there were bacteria. Now we know. Science is broadening the horizon of our knowledge. There is no scientific evidence about a soul surviving the death of the body. If a mosquito does not leave a soul after its death, man too does not.

Peries: We who have examined patients afflicted by spirits have found that they are able to transcend time and space. I have read about girls who were so afflicted speak in foreign language which can baffle hearers. It is only for a short time, and that is the time when they are afflicted. Those are the convincing facts.

I have not seen the wind, but I know it blows. I know it blows when I see the wind ruffling. Therefore I say there is a thing called wind. I cannot say here is the wind, neither can I bottle it. But I know it can harm. In that way we believe that the end of man is not death. Man continues beyond death. For those who believe that, then the rest of sequence follows.

Kovoor: According to Fr. Mathew Peries the evidence for survival is that some persons speak like a dead person, or speak a so-called foreign language. This phenomenon can be explained in psychological terms. It is pure glossolalia. Glossolalia is a mental derangement or neurosis in which a person who has delusional belief in spirits, act and talk like a dead person often in changed voice. I have come across many cases of glossolalia, and even cured them. Similarly, people may behave like a dead person, and even claim clairvoyant powers. This type of neurosis is known as cryptesthesia. There are remedies for such mental afflictions.

Peries: Glossolalia would be only babbling of words without any meaning. There are transcendent states when they can tell about things in another room. That is why I am able to tell you that it is not the same individual, but a different person which came in. This condition stops when the spirit is addressed to by me. I do this accord­ing to the Christian right.

Ondaatjie: Of course, we have got to question whether this has been on a scien­tific basis. Because there is another phenomenon called ESP. Various claims have been made, and very close and exacting tests made. But they have nIl fallen short of any scientific standard.

Modem psychology can give alternative explanations for those phenomena such as a person seeing a spirit, or possession by spirit or demon. The explanation for a person seeing a demon like Kalukumaraya or a spirit is that it is pure hallucination. Psychologists say that hallucination is very often caused by excitement, fear or ecstasy. It is closely related to a person's beliefs, and is coloured by his childhood experiences and fears. In fact our culture is richly laid with many medieval beliefs in various demons and spirits. It is surprising that people see only spirits and demons about which they have heard so much. In this connection it is relevant to say that rationalists, for instance, do not see spirits, nor do they fear spirits!

Bulathsinhala: I do not believe in death. I believe in reincarnation. Death is only a passing phase. Belief in demonology is not mere hallucination. Often people come and say that a woman had died with some attachment. And then what happens? Stones are being thrown into the house, pictures on the wall are being broken. Cow dung and other dirty things are thrown at people. But no person is visible. I was taken there. Paid add taken there. They said a woman who had some attachment to the family had died and that person is creating the troubles. So that is not a hallucination. So, I said there are demons knocking about the place. I believe in witchcraft. I believe in soonyams. I believe in charms. If I am given time I can give colossal evidence to prove that demons are about the place.

Moderator: So you mean to say that persons who die are bom again, and at the same time you say that their spirits could be re-employed through witchcraft to inflict harm on others?

Bulathsinghala: Yes. If they leave this world with bad attachment they corme back to create trouble. They can be harnessed by us.

Moderator: By charms and manthrams, and by certain rituals?

Bulathsinghala: Yes, they can be harnessed by them.

Moderator: What do you think about it Mr. Kovoor?

Kovoor: Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. On three occasions I have challenged all types of occultists in this country through the English, Sinhalese and Tamil newspapers to kill me by their charms, soonyams, vas kavi etc., during speci­fied periods. During these periods I received through the post about 49 charms from allover the island. I have got them with me. The very fact that I am still alive proves that these charms and rituals are of no use. Of course, if I was a blind believer in these myths, there would have been some psychological effect on me.

Again, Prof. Bulathsinghala was trying to establish the reality of spirits through mysterious happenings like the throwing of stones, cow dung etc. Mr. Bulathsinghala, I have Investigated hundreds of cases of poltergeistism where similar mysterious happenings occur. In every case I have succeeded in finding out the person who was respon­SIble for all such acts. They are all done not by spirits, but by mentally sick persons.

Moderator: Excuse me Mr. Kovoor. We have come to the last minute. I am very thankful to all of you for coming and taking part in today's discussion.

We have been discussing "witchcraft" as our second subject, and Mr. Kovoor has said that spirits, from a rationalistic point of view, do not exist. Mr. Ondaatjie too has taken that view. Prof. Bulathsinghala, on the other hand, connects his belief in the existence of spirits with the popular belief people have in rebirth. Rev. Fr. Mathew Peiris has represented the Christian point of view and gave some information about certain singular happenings he has come across.

As a scientist I feel that many of these things have to be scientifically investigated. Prof. Bulathsinghala and Fr. Peries would do well to bring these things before Scientists for thorough investigations. Such investigations are bound to bring good dividends. 

Courtesy: Abraham Kovoor: Soul, Spirit, Rebirth and Possession; Published by B Premanand, Indian CSICOP, Podannur, Tamil Nadu; Date of Publication: 17-02-2000


This whole article is really stupid, all sides of the debate suck, and the rationalist who assumes that everyone is indoctrinated into spiritual beliefs is annoying with his assumption and fails to address people who are raised by atheistic materialist parents who believe nothing and in communities that are generally like that as well and yet a person may still develop beliefs in spirits.

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