witchdoctor, noun

Origin:
EnglishShow more An application of the older (now obsolete) general English witchdoctor ‘one who professes to cure disease and to counteract witchcraft by magic arts’ (OED).
A traditional African healer or diviner, especially one dealing with afflictions thought to be caused by spirit possession or witchcraft; one dealing with physical ailments, a herbalist; one casting either good or evil spells, a sorcerer. See also doctor sense 1 a, Esemkofu, gogo noun1, herbalist, igqira noun2, igqwira, inyanga sense 1, isanusi, itola, ixhwele, moloi, ngaka, sangoma, to smell out (smell), tagati noun, to throw (the) bones (throw sense 2).
Note:
Now used also in general English. The term has been applied to persons of both benevolent and malevolent intent and actions; as a result, and because ‘witchdoctor’ has acquired derogatory connotations, anthropologists now prefer the terms ‘diviner’ and ‘traditional healer’ for those whose intentions are benevolent.
[1731 G. Medley tr. of P. Kolben’s Present State of Cape of G.H. I. 138They believe that it is in the Power of their Wizzards or Witches to lay a Spirit, and for ever prevent its Appearing or being troublesome.]
1827 G. Thompson Trav. 351Disease, especially if of any unusual description, is commonly ascribed to sorcery. A witch-doctor is immediately sent for, and these imposters never fail to encourage such belief.
1835 A. Steedman Wanderings I. 38The people are constantly kept in the most humiliating dread of the ‘Witch Doctor,’ who panders to the avarice of a despot, and enriches himself by the blood of his tribe.
1878 T.J. Lucas Camp Life & Sport 104The witch doctor is all powerful here, as elsewhere in South Africa. He has unlimited power, the lives of innocent persons often being sacrificed to his cupidity or malice.
1905 Native Tribes of Tvl 126There are several classes of witch-doctors, some being specialists in ‘rain-making’, some in ‘smelling out’ or witch-finding; and some having an intimate knowledge of herbal remedies and poisons. The greatest ‘doctors’ usually have some skill in all these arts.
1925 D. Kidd Essential Kafir 41The witch-doctors are often consulted by relations who wish to get some medicine which will counteract the influence of the missionary, who is supposed often to act on people by magic.
1937 C. Birkby Zulu Journey 102The Swazis worship strange gods, whom in times of scarcity..they find it necessary to propitiate. Then the witch-doctors demand a ‘buck’ — their grim euphemism for a human being — to be slain in sacrifice.
1959 L. Longmore Dispossessed 324A witchdoctor is a person who detects witches (and sorcerers) and protects people from them. He is, therefore, recognised as a public benefactor, not an enemy.
1976 West & Morris Abantu 11‘Witchdoctor’ now carries so many connotations and the word has become so coloured by exaggeration that it should perhaps be discarded in favour of the more accurate term ‘diviner’: but it simply means one who doctors against witches.
1983 J. Sono in Daily Dispatch 7 Mar. 1The local belief is that if one owned the hand of a white man — after being treated by a witchdoctor — one would never have to work again.
1990 R. Malan My Traitor’s Heart 185Most of Soweto’s dashing professional soccer teams had a witch doctor..throwing the bones to ensure victory, and its business tycoons hired diviners to advise them on deals.
1992 [see Natal Witness quot. at sangoma].
A traditional African healer or diviner, especially one dealing with afflictions thought to be caused by spirit possession or witchcraft; one dealing with physical ailments, a herbalist; one casting either good or evil spells, a sorcerer.
Derivatives:
Hence witchdoctoring verbal noun, witch doctress noun phrase.
1912 Ayliff & Whiteside Hist. of Abambo 65The Gcalekas appeared led by a famous witch doctress.
1982 Pace Feb. 13Father Alfred Dlamini, of Peddie, where the six youths died said: ‘...Any ministry which goes with witchdoctoring or sorcery is not the healing ministry of the Lord.’

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17311990